Tuesday, February 26, 2013

My March 2013 Newsletter Article

Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
Grace and Peace in Jesus Christ,

First, both denominations of our churches, the United Church of Christ and the United Methodist Church, have designated Sunday, March 10, as a special offering Sunday called “One Great Hour of Sharing.” Please see elsewhere in this newsletter for more information about how each denomination uses the proceeds of this offering and please prayerfully consider your donation to OGHS.

Secondly, when you give to our churches, what happens to the information? Confidentiality is very important issue for many people. They don’t want others prying into their giving patterns. Who are the people that know what you have given? First would be the Financial Secretaries. For many churches this is one person but ideally should be two people. The Financial Secretary collects the offering, counts how much has been received, records your individual or family giving, and deposits the money. They then notify the treasurer the amount deposited. They also report monthly to the Church Council the amounts that have been received. Sometimes quarterly but always annually, they report to you how much you have given. You may then use those reports to adjust your giving (hopefully more) and to report your charitable contributions to the IRS.

Another person who may know your giving is the Treasurer who works closely with the Financial Secretary and is sometimes a check upon their work. The main purpose of the Treasurer is to pay the bills of the church. Together with the Financial Secretary, the Finance Committee, and the Church Council, treasurers work to maintain the financial health of our churches. The Treasurer and the Financial Secretary are expected to maintain strict confidentiality as dictated by their fiduciary duties and law.
A final person who may or may not know your giving information is me, your Pastor. There is debate about whether or not a pastor should know this information. If I know who gives what will I be tempted to treat the big givers differently than the small givers? Truth be told, it is a real temptation. On the other hand, how can a pastor lead and guide a church without knowing all the information? The giving patterns of the members (and guests) of the church people is one tool, one small piece of information, that can help.

Most years, I don’t know and I don’t want to know who gives what to their church. I remain faithful in my giving and I pray that you will too. This year, however, I did review the giving patterns and it is very revealing. (However, if you were to ask me about who gave what I couldn’t tell you with any specificity. I don’t generally remember those details.)

Here is what I have learned.

1. There are many people who are giving generously, some, even, who are tithing. I can only guess that they are tithing because I don’t know anyone’s income. Some generous givers may be described as “big givers” but many are “small givers”. The actual dollars don’t matter as long as we are generous (Romans 12:8) and joyous (2 Corinthians 9:7).

2. There are a number of one or two time givers, usually guests or family members who attend once or twice a year. We give thanks for their generosity. If they live in the area we should be inviting them back to church because their presence is precious to the life of the church (without worrying about the money).

3. There are many in our churches who attend regularly who could give more. Some may only be able to give a little more but many can give much more. If you are able to give more, please pray about how much more you may be able to give and then please make that financial commitment.

So, what should we be giving? The “gold standard” is 10% of our annual gross income (Numbers 18:26 and Malachi 3:10). That is an Old Testament standard. The New Testament standard is generously and joyfully (see #1 above). Want to know how well you did? Divide the total amount reported on your church giving statement by the Adjusted Gross Income you reported to the IRS. The result will be a decimal. Move the decimal two places to the right and that is the percentage you gave. Example: You gave $1,354 and your AGI was $29,372. In dividing the result is 0.0460983. Moving the decimal to the right and rounding gives you 4.61%. Not bad, but can you give 6% this year or $1,762 (assuming your income stays the same)? (Full disclosure: I give 10.7% split between the two churches.) How have you done in your giving to the church? Is there room to grow in your giving? Can you step up to the next level with the future goal of tithing? I pray there is room and you are willing.

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary

Readings for March 3, 2013

Hello Everyone – Grace and Peace to All,

Lent moves toward the Death of Jesus with the surprise and miracle of Easter around the bend. That is just like life – we are all moving toward death yet the surprise and miracle of Life is not only around the bend but with us always. Things change; people change; disasters happen; miracles renew. The following came in an email I receive every week with sermon illustrations.

This notice appeared in the window of a coat store in Nottingham, England: "We have been established for over 100 years and have been pleasing and displeasing customers ever since. We have made money and lost money, suffered the effects of coal nationalization, coat rationing, government control and bad payers. We have been cussed and discussed, messed about, lied to, held up, robbed and swindled. The only reason we stay in business is to see what happens next."

On Wednesday night, at our Midweek Lenten Worship, we will read John 6. Not all of it, of course, but I would encourage you to read the entire 71 verses. It starts with the Feeding of the 5000, has a short interlude involving walking on water, and then the long discourse on the Bread of Life. It ends with some disciples leaving Jesus and a declaration by the writer of Judas’ betrayal.

Our readings for Sunday are:

Isaiah 55:1-9 – Many who have studied the book of Isaiah see several writers within the passages. The tone and message is distinct between three sections of the book. “First Isaiah”, corresponding to chapters 1-39, is all about faithfulness to God before the destruction of Judah and Jerusalem by the Babylonians. “Second Isaiah”, chapters 40-55, is all about hope and expectation just prior to the return of the Israelites from captivity in Babylon. “Third Isaiah”, chapters 56-66, concerns the political and religious turmoil in Jerusalem after the return from Babylon. The writers of Isaiah II and III could have been disciples of the original Isaiah ben Amoz. Our reading is full of hope and joy. A call to join God’s feast and the renewal of the Davidic Covenant. I really resonate with verses 8 and 9 especially when people speak about God and the Bible in absolutes. God’s way are not our ways so why do we think that we can stuff God to our little boxes?

Psalm 63:1-8 – One of the best things about the Psalms is the variety of emotions and feelings that the psalmist brings. Psalm 63 is one such Psalm. Don’t just read the first 8 verses; read the entire 11 verses. (Many have commented that the Lectionary Committee avoids the difficult verses that might give readers and listeners qualms.) The first 8 verses is all praise and joy for God who gives love and protection. Verses 9 and 10 suddenly turn to darker thought about what may happen to the psalmist’s enemies. Verse 11 returns to rejoicing in God but tack on one final thought about liars: their mouths will be stopped!

1 Corinthians 10:1-13 – We seem to be hop-skipping through Paul’s letters during Lent. When reading Paul’s letters to the church in Corinth, remember that he was dealing with a conflicted church, some of whom didn't like Paul. In our passage, Paul references some terrible calamities that are attributed God in the Old Testament. Verse 7 refers to Exodus 32. (Actually, in verse 27 Moses, using the name of the Lord, commands the deaths of 3,000 people.) Verse 8 refers to Numbers 25:1-9 (impaling idolaters and adulterers). Verse 9 refers to Numbers 21:5-9 (poisonous snakes). Finally, verse 10 refers to Numbers 16:41-50 (all of chapter 16 is disquieting, to say the least, with an earthquake that kills some rebels and a plague that kills thousands). Why does Paul hold up these passages? Perhaps verses 6 and 11 will help. They are examples and perhaps Paul wasn’t above using a little shock therapy for this conflicted church. Did God actually kill or order to be killed the thousands of people in those passages? Remember, the Bible is as much a revelation about the nature of humanity as it is about God. The human way would be to kill rebels, idolaters, and adulterers (and blame God for it), but that is not God’s way (Isaiah 55:8). Keep reading . . .

Luke 13:1-9 – Do the worst of sinners get killed by God in accidents or at the hands of others? Not according to Jesus in our passage. We are all in the need of repentance as we all face death. (Do you drive a car? Then you face death.) If we don’t repent or if we do repent, we will die. The point is our need for repentance so that we may bear fruit for God’s Kingdom. God will also keep providing the manure (fertilizer) we need to bear that fruit.

Do we need a little fertilizer this week? Will our roots break out of the boxes that bind us so that we can bear God’s fruit for God’s Kingdom? (I think I’m mixing too many metaphors.)

Remember, God is Faithful.

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary Taylor

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Readings for Sunday, February 24, 2013

Hello Everyone,

First, for those interested in the United Methodist Church and our Annual Conference it was announced yesterday that our North Star District Superintendent Alan Bolte has been appointed to Grand Rapids UMC after serving 8 years as superintendent. We wish him the best and pray for the Spirit to work through him in Grand Rapids. Also announced, the lead pastor at Coon Rapids UMC, Rev. Mark Miller, has been appointed as our new District Superintendent.

For those who are a part of the United Church of Christ, the Minnesota Conference is still in the search process for a new Conference Minister to replace the retiring Rev. Karen Smith Sellers.

We begin a sermon series for our Wednesday Evening Lenten Worship titled “I AM”. I just got off a video conference workshop with Marcia McFee at Worship Design Studio who asked us to write a “topic poem”. Here is what I came up with to use with our Lenten Worship:

Here, Everywhere
Giving, Connecting, Loving
I give to you

Worship is at 6:00 PM at PUC (with Soup & Sandwiches at 5:15 PM) and 7:30 PM at GEUMC. I hope to see everyone there.

Our reading for tomorrow night is John 4:1-42, Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well.

Our readings for this coming Sunday are:

Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18 – God’s covenant with Abram (later Abraham) that Abram’s descendants will be numerous and that a later generation will possess the land. The covenant ritual enacted here involves sacrificing animals, splitting them in two, passing between the carcass sides, and promising, in effect, “If I don’t do what I promise, may I be treated like these animals.” God makes this promise to Abram. How do we signify our promise to keep our covenant?

Psalm 27 – This Psalm seems to be schizophrenic. On the one hand, the Psalmist knows that the Lord will protect and conceal him from all enemies and therefore the Lord should be praised. On the other hand, the Psalmist seems to also say that he doesn’t feel the Lord’s presence while his enemies are attacking and is pleading for the Lord’s return. In the very last verses, 13-14, the Psalmist calms himself with the hope that the Lord never abandons. Are there days when we don’t feel the Lord’s presence despite our knowledge that God’s Spirit is always with us?

Philippians 3:17-4:1 – “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.” I don’t think Paul is looking for flattery here, but he does understand that we imitate others. The big question is “Whom do we imitate?” If we unknowingly imitate those around us we become like them and become enemies of God (“the cross of Christ”). The goal of Christian life is the imitation of God and God’s love. Jesus’ entire life was in imitation of God’s love even if it meant going to the cross. So, if it is hard to imitate God then try imitating Jesus. If that is too hard, the Paul urges his readers to imitate him as he imitates Jesus who was the perfect imitation of God’s love. By loving as God love our lives (humble bodies or the body of our humiliation) are transformed to Jesus’ glory. Who do you imitate each day?

Luke 13:31-35 – Jesus is headed toward Jerusalem. Chapters 11 through 18 are primarily the teachings of Jesus with a little bit of movement and actions such as healings. The Pharisees, who have been challenging Jesus, warn Jesus of Herod’s intentions. Since Jesus is intent on going to the seat of political and religious power in the area, he is aware of what will happen. Jesus’ way of peace and love will be rejected by the powers, as it always is (the killing of the prophets). This rejection of peace will eventually lead to Jerusalem’s destruction in 69 CE. How do we, as the Body of Christ, help to transform society without rejecting peace? Can societal transformation happen without violence?

May the Lord Bless you in all that you do as you serve God by serving others.

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary Taylor

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Readings for Ash Wednesday and Sunday, February 17, 2013

Hello Everyone,

What a wonderful and difficult weekend we had! I kept expecting the storm to start late Saturday night and, in fact, got up during the night a couple of times to check. The snow really didn’t start coming down hard until around 9:00 AM on Sunday. I ended up with 11 inches of snow at home by Monday morning. I really do not like having worship cancelled but I also want people to be safe. (I heard that a local pastor friend of mine went into the ditch on Sunday morning as he tried to get to his first worship service.)

Anyway, this week marks the beginning of a time of preparation for Easter that the church calls “Lent”. It all begins tomorrow with “Ash Wednesday”. Ash Wednesday services are scheduled for 6:00 PM at Peace United Church and 7:30 PM at Grey Eagle UMC. As is our custom, ashes will be imposed on all willing to receive.

Here are a couple of interesting articles about Ash Wednesday and Lent that are quite informative about why some churches observe both, as we do.

What is Ash Wednesday?

How Lent can make a difference in your relationship with God.

Our readings for Ash Wednesday are:

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 – The prophet warns of impending doom but the Lord calls the people to repent and return.

OR Isaiah 58:1-12 – You might just finish the chapter through verse 14. The prophet calls the people to the proper worship of the Lord: loosing the bounds of injustice, freeing the oppressed, sharing food with the hungry, giving shelter to the homeless, and clothing the naked.

Psalm 51:1-17 – The psalmist acknowledges his sin and asks for pardon and cleansing from God.

2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10 – This passage comes in a larger section that my Bible titles “The Ministry of Reconciliation”. God is at work in Christ to reconcile us to God but the choice is ours. If not now, when?

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21 – This section, including missing verses 7-15 which is the “Lord’s Prayer”, comes from Jesus’ “Sermon on the Mount”. This sermon covers chapters 5, 6, and 7, and is the longest speech of Jesus in Matthew. Basically, Jesus says that our faith in giving, praying and fasting, need not be a public show because God knows.

Our readings for Sunday, the first Sunday of Lent, are:

Deuteronomy 26:1-11 – Moses calls on the people to remember what the Lord has done for them by offering the first fruits of the land to the Lord and by reciting a short liturgy about God’s deeds.

Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16 – Psalm 91 provides the words for the much loved hymn “On Eagle’s Wings”. The psalmist knows and understands a God who will provide refuge and protection to all whom God calls.

Romans 10:8b-13 – Those who believe and confess Jesus as Lord will be surely saved.

Luke 4:1-13 – This past Sunday our Gospel lesson was about the transfiguration of Jesus. We now jump back in the story to read about Jesus’ temptation in the desert. This comes after Jesus was baptized (Luke 3:21) and the beginning of his ministry (Luke 4:14). The Gospel of Mark tells us nothing about Jesus’ time in the desert except to say that he was tempted. Matthew tells the same story as Luke but they differ in the order of the temptations. The temptations Jesus faced are the same we face: the temptation to care only for ourselves; the temptation to seek power; and the temptation to use scripture in a self-serving way or to turn away from God’s Way.

Have a great week serving God by serving others.

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary Taylor

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Readings for Sunday, February 10, 2013

Hello Everyone,
Grace and Peace in Jesus Christ,

Did you watch the Super Bowl this past Sunday? What a strange game. One side dominates the other through the first half. Then a high powered half time show by BeyoncĂ©. The second half begins and the lights go out. Once the lights were restored, the other team makes a valiant comeback only to lose. Cheryl and I watched until the blackout and then switched to “Downton Abbey”, her favorite show. When we finally returned to the Super Bowl, it had somehow transformed itself into an interesting game.

I mention this because this coming Sunday is “Transfiguration Sunday”. Does “transformation” have anything to do with “transfiguration”? I looked up the word “transfigure” at dictionary.com and the first definition includes the word “transform”.

Our readings this week center on the Transfiguration of Jesus.

Exodus 34:29-35 – This story follows Moses’ second trip up Mt. Sinai to received the tablets of the Law. (Moses had smashed the first tablets when he discovered the Israelites worshipping the calf idol.) When he comes down from the mountain, Moses was unaware that his face had a brilliant shine to it. (If you check out the Douay-Rheims version of the Bible you will read that Moses’ face was “horned” which is another translation of the Hebrew word that also means “ray of light”. This reading led several Middle Ages artists to depict Moses with horns. See HERE and HERE.) Encounters with God leave a person changed. Has your encounter with God, Jesus, and the Spirit given your life a shine?

Psalm 99 – The Psalmist praises God and God’s justice, equity, and righteousness. The Psalmist seems to also say, though not explicitly, that since God spoke to, listened to, and forgave Moses, Aaron, and Samuel, God is willing to listen to us.

2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2 – While Paul uses the Exodus text for his discussion in this reading we need to be careful when reading Exodus not to read it only through Paul’s understanding. He is using a familiar story to highlight a problem in his day. With the coming of Jesus Christ, a new understanding of the Law is in order. Those who don’t know Jesus see and understand the law as if a veil was over their minds and hearts. With Jesus, that veil is removed and we can see clearly the glory of God in Jesus. This is the new hope into which we live which transforms our lives (we are transfigured?) into the image of Christ.

Luke 9:28-36 (37-43) – The disciples went over the mountain to see what they could see. And what did they see? Jesus turned brilliantly white, Moses, and Elijah. And what did they hear? God. And what did they do? Well, Peter made a bit of a fool of himself, wanting to build tabernacles for the three. And, in the optional reading, they disciples could not heal a boy with a demon (epilepsy?). So, what is a good transfiguration for? In all three of the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke), this is the turning point of the story. From this point on, Jesus is bound for Jerusalem where he will be arrested, tried and convicted, sentenced, and crucified. This is also the reason that the story of the transfiguration is read on the last Sunday of Epiphany. We will begin Lent next Wednesday, Ash Wednesday, and begin our Lenten journey to the cross with Jesus.

Have a great week serving the Lord who is greatly to be praised!

Peace in Christ,
Pastor Gary Taylor
Peace United Church, Long Prairie
Grey Eagle UMC, Grey Eagle