10Q10Q -- faith, life, rethinking church, following Jesus...stuff

Come join in the discussion of faith at the Koinonia Page where scripture and life intersect in conversation and exploration. Visit on Facebook, Twitter, and Dave's Web Page too! I'd welcome your company at Palmyra First United Methodist Church, where I hang out, too, come and see!

Friday, May 12, 2017

Planning, Potholes & Pit Stops -- It's All here!

16 God loved the people of this world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who has faith in him will have eternal life and never really die. 17 God did not send his Son into the world to condemn its people. He sent him to save them! John 3:16-17 (CEV)

  The story of God's strategic plan is in all of our holy story from Genesis' creation to Revelation's new Jerusalem.  We know it didn't always go smoothly, remember the Garden of Eden--oops, the Israelites wandering in the wilderness--oh my, and the disciples scattering after the crucifixion--yikes!  We also know the powerful success of God's strategy of Love at the empty tomb--yes, the Holy Spirit's fire at Pentecost--wow, and the power of the Body of Christ infectiously Loving through the Church--amazing.

Palmyra First UMC is beginning a strategic planning process, and to be sure it will parallel the ups and downs of God's story.  We'll get some things right the first time, and we'll make a few humbling stumbles.  We'll enthusiastically embrace where God leads us, and we'll rebelliously grumble in our discomfort and discontent.  Perhaps, most importantly, God's redeeming grace will shine through in the end, when we choose this  journey.

Strategic planning will stretch us personally; God will call and nudge us to new places.  Sometimes we'll say "Yes" easily.  Most often we'll doubt, dodge and ditch God's invitation for a while.  We'll need one another for honest feedback, loving challenge, and mutual support, while we adapt and love on.

Strategic planning will stretch us as a church; God will call and nudge us to new ministry, forms, neighbors and places.  Sometimes we'll embrace the new with excited hard work.  Frequently we'll avoid, forget, and distort God's invitations to us.  We'll need much prayer, holy conversation, and Jesus-inspired boldness, so that we can adapt and love on.

Strategic planning will stretch us in our resources; God will challenge us beyond what we can see.  Sometimes we'll step out faithfully with generous choices.  Anxiously we'll act protectively, territorially, and selfishly--both as a church and as individuals.  We'll need God Moments told joyously, personal faith lived entrepreneurially, and administration lived transparently, assisting us to adapt and love on.

Saved and stretched, stretched and saved, is the story of God's Love in Jesus, the holy story, the Bible's story.  This timeless invitation and challenge starts from the inside-out, "Will I trust God and go where I don't choose, can't see, and quite possibly am not comfortable?"  My prayer, as pastor and follower of Jesus, is that we all help one another answer, "YES!" because we trust the life transforming, world changing, soul saving Love of God in Jesus Christ.
   
10,000 Joys in the Way of Jesus Christ, Pastor Dave

   *All bible story references and genuine conversation about them available from  dave@pfumc.us

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Questioning Easter

"They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they didn’t find the body of the Lord Jesus. They didn’t know what to make of this."  Luke 24:2-3

 We celebrated Easter with singing and shouting about our risen Lord, but like the women and the early disciples we struggle with what to make of new life on an ordinary day. We sing hope, yet look live in fear.  The disciples saw the empty tomb and were amazed, but didn't believe until later.  We celebrate promise and live limits.  What I'm getting at is that certainty is the opposite of faith.  We celebrate a gift, a path, a direction, a love, an experience.  We celebrate a mystery that is barely expressed in any one account, or accounted for in any one expression. We celebrate a faith that includes both doubt and confidence.
Don't despair.  Do what those first followers did, ask fierce questions:  Who took Jesus?  How can I believe unless you show me?  How could we possibly feed this crowd?  Put those question alongside the celebrations, the stories, the testimonies, and the truths, then take a step.  Take a step in any direction, but take a step.  That's a step of faith.  Yes it is, because it's mixed with all that other stuff, God stuff, life stuff, YOU stuff!
OK, I may not have the whole thing down in a perfect formula.  There's probably a flaw in my argument somewhere, there usually is.  But I'm taking a step into a conversation with you.  I'm leaning into my experience of new life this Easter, of Jesus, of Love and tip-toeing forward.
How about you?  Yep, I sang "Christ is risen..." and I shouted "He is risen indeed!"  I also did all of that with questions, hurts, hopes, opportunities, struggles and so much more swirling in my life.   It's usually a bit of a jumble.
Yet, it's my jumble, my story and because of Easter (at least as a key in a bigger story/truth/promise) my hope.  So, I'm singing, hunting eggs, chowing down with family, and telling my story.  Not because I've got it all together, but because something bigger's got me.  The words I have for that are Jesus, Love, God, and Easter. My experience of God is a Love that won't let me go, a dependable Love.
Now, I'd love to hear your celebrations and laments.  I want to hear your story, struggle, hope, and the words you have for them.  You see, Easter means to me, that there's room for all us to look at the situation and not know what to make of it right now.  Let's have a meal and talk it over.  I'm confident there's more possibility to be found. 
That's why I celebrate Easter.  Why I say "Christ is risen."  And why I'm still wrapping my mind, heart and life around all that means.  Happy Easter.  Christ is Risen Indeed!
   

10,000 Joys in the Love of Jesus Christ, Pastor Dave

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

I'm Following Jesus with Questions

Today I was listening to a Science Mike and Mike Gungor Lost & Found Podcast 1 & 2. (2 here).  I was reminded just how my faith in God is foundational for me, and yet so much of church, theology and what is raised up as Christianity in this time is, at the same time, open for discussion.  I found Science Mike's (his nickname)  axioms to offer intriguing perspectives for me as my faith grows and matures embracing God's Love and mystery.  

 Here they are:


  • Faith is AT LEAST a way to contextualize the human need for spirituality and find meaning in the face of mortality. EVEN IF this is all faith is, spiritual practice can be beneficial to cognition, emotional states, and culture.
  • God is AT LEAST the natural forces that created and sustain the Universe as experienced via a psychosocial model in human brains that naturally emerges from innate biases. EVEN IF that is a comprehensive definition for God, the pursuit of this personal, subjective experience can provide meaning, peace, and empathy for others.
  • Prayer is AT LEAST a form of meditation that encourages the development of healthy brain tissue, lowers stress, and can connect us to God. EVEN IF that is a comprehensive definition of prayer, the health and psychological benefits of prayer justify the discipline.
  • Sin is AT LEAST volitional action or inaction that violates one's own understanding of what is moral. Sin comes from the divergent impulses between our lower and higher brain functions and our evolution-driven tendency to do things that serve ourselves and our tribe. EVEN IF this is all sin is, it is destructive and threatens human flourishing.
  • The afterlife is AT LEAST the persistence of our physical matter in the ongoing life cycle on Earth, the memes we pass on to others with our lives, and the model of our unique neurological signature in the brains of those who knew us. EVEN IF this is all the afterlife is, the consequences of our actions persist beyond our death and our ethical considerations must consider a timeline beyond our death.
  • Salvation is AT LEAST the means by which humanity overcomes sin to produce human flourishing. EVEN IF this is all salvation is, spiritual and religious actions and beliefs that promote salvation are good for humankind.
  • Jesus is AT LEAST a man so connected to God that he was called the Son of God and the largest religious movement in human history is centered around his teachings. EVEN IF this is all Jesus is, following his teachings can promote peace, empathy, and genuine morality.
  • The Holy Spirit is AT LEAST the psychological and neurological components of God that allow God to be experienced as a personal force or agent. EVEN IF this is all the Holy Spirit is, God is more relatable and neurologically actionable when experienced this way.
  • The Church is AT LEAST the global community of people who choose to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. EVEN IF this is all the church is, the Church is still the largest body of spiritual scholarship, community, and faith practice in the world.
  • The Bible is AT LEAST a collection of books and writings assembled by the Church that chronicle a people group's experiences with, and understanding of, God over thousands of years. EVEN IF that is a comprehensive definition of the Bible, study of scripture is warranted to understand our culture and the way in which people come to know God.

I share these both as a window on my faith and in deep interest for how these work or don't work from your perspective.  


I find these axioms more on the At Least side to resonate and find I go further.  For you they might be more helpful on the Even If side.  And perhaps you can challenge my thinking as you push back for more or less.  It is in the conversation that we all grow.

 In this Christian season of examining our lives of faith, Lent--getting ready for Easter, I find myself reflecting.  What are you thinking?

P.S. My explorations and sharing are all a part of asking myself, not only why my faith in Jesus is important to me (and what it looks like), but also how or if it holds value for others.  I have friends and acquaintances who come from questioning places and I genuinely want to listen, understand and explore.  Thank you all for being a part of my life.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Women on the Edge

What if love, not force, is most important in life?  Getting ready for Christmas, Advent in my circles, is all about entertaining a relentless Love-that-will-not-let-us-go, and that does the impossible.  Getting close to such a thing takes us close to the edge, dangerously amazing places.

Speaking of Mary & Elizabeth in Luke's Gospel, Brian McLaren writes, "...the actual point of these pregnancy stories... is a challenge to us all: to dare to hope, like Elizabeth and Mary, that the seemingly impossible is possible.  They challenge us to align our lives around the 'impossible possibilities' hidden in this present, pregnant moment." (We Make the Road By Walking, Brian McLaren p. 69)

The seemingly impossible is possible...hmm.  While pondering this for teaching and worship this week I watched Kathryn Schulz's video, "On Being Wrong,"  a TED talk, about a basic human aversion to being and feeling wrong, and how it limits us. (Well worth the 18 minutes to watch.)  This same human predisposition also makes it hard to willingly believe God can make the impossible possible.  Schulz unwraps why we feel "right" even when we're wrong.  She prompted me to ponder if I might be wrong in my assessment of the "impossible," anything labeled impossible, especially when it comes to God.   

Schultz presents a choice to either, be misled by our feelings of rightness, or to embrace a different perspective beyond the "...tiny, terrified space of rightness and look around at each other and look out at the vastness and complexity and mystery of the universe and be able to say, 'Wow, I don't know.  Maybe I'm wrong.'"  Could I be wrong and the impossible really is possible because of something I can't see or feel at the moment?  Trusting something bigger than a feeling seems to me a fair description of what Mary & Elizabeth did.  It might be a reasonable way to describe faith.

Let's look at the story about these two women in Luke's Gospel.  Elizabeth, unable to have a child, learns a baby is on the way.  Mary, young and unmarried, is invited to participate in the life-threatening impossible, and she says, "Yes!"  (Luke 1:5-48) to this possibility.  Both circumstances and participants illustrate paths of feminine leadership, the kind that is a conundrum to the religious establishment (then and sometime now).  Both exhibit allegiance to God, "...who doesn't rule with the masculine power of swords and spears, but with a mother's sense of justice and compassion." (We Make the Road, p.69)

What if you and I regularly entertained the realities of our limited rightness, along with Schulz, and considered the possibilities of God's mothering justice and compassion that births such a love impregnated impossible?  What would change?  What would unfold?  Mary's son "...Jesus ...consistently model(ed) her self-surrender and receptivity to God." (We Make the Roadp.70)  Christmas is undoubtedly a time of wonder, imagination and faith.  I certainly think so.  But, maybe I could be wrong.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Let Love Win

I was a bit surprised this morning by the election results.  Not what I expected, or preferred.  And truth be told, my preferences are not what count the most here.  I do trust that God is at work in this territory.   I pray that we can find new ways to work together and love one another,  love the stranger, and love our enemies, because I believe Love is more powerful than anything. Love wins.


If you rejoice today, I rejoice with you in your gladness.  If you lament today, I willingly wait with you in your pain.  If you are hopeful, or fearful, anticipating or dreading, I pray that Christ's Light and Love may speak to your greatest hopes and fears, leading you in the way of Shalom.  

I commit to continuing to work for the common good and God's justice in the world.  I commit to continuing to seek love over hate, both within myself, and in the world.  As I tell my congregation, "When I say 'Everybody's Welcome', I mean everybody.  God is working with us all. And all of us need work!"  My door and my phone are open to you all.

I share a few of my friends facebook posts here because I think they offer something that may be of use in our quest to be with God and one another in this spirit of love.  At least they have invited me to reflect:
  • Today I hold my head high ... For I look to the hills. From where does my help come? My HELP comes from the Lord! -- Jennifer Williams
  • Jesus followers are people of hope. In victory or defeat, Jesus followers find hope. Oh, be inspired today! Decide that both wins or losses move you only to hope (Psalm 27). Be well. --Pastor  Vance Ross 
  • Today, I return to the words that taught me my worth years ago (refuting those who told me I could only be a Pastor's wife since I was a woman...). These words remind us of who we are called to be as God's people: "There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus." May our churches truly be sanctuaries for all people right now. -- Dawn Taylor Storm
  • By the rivers of Babylon—there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion. On the willows there we hung up our harps. For there our captors asked us for songs, and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land? - Psalm 137:1-4   --Eric Law
  • Congratulations to our new president-elect, Donald Trump. I am praying for you, especially that you will be successful in keeping these promises you made during your victory speech: " I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be president for all Americans...See More  --Dan Roth
  • I write this from a tree stand in the forest on a rainy gray morning. I cannot deny that I'm disappointed in the choice our country has made. I have been blessed in my life to gain understanding and perspective from many people who are different from me. I have been blessed that I've never truly been fearful of the person who holds the nuclear codes. I have been blessed that I've been raised in a culture that preaches love over hate. Please consider your neighbors whose fear...See More  --Dan Kirby
  • "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well" were words written 600 years ago by Julian of Norwich (1342-1416) in her Revelations of Divine Love. This is believed to be the earliest work in English written by a woman. Julian of Norwich's words are worth repeating this night: “all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well." --Leonard Sweet
  • To my African American friends, I love you. To my LBGTQ friends, I love you. To my Muslim friends, I love you.  To my friends with disabilities, I love you. To my fellow women friends, I love you girl. ... See More  --Jessica Yagel
So many thoughts. Such division, among Christians, in our nation. John Wesley said, referring to the Love of Christ, "If your heart is as my heart, lend me your hand." Jesus prayed, "I am not praying just for these followers. I am also praying for everyone else who will have faith because of what my followers will say about me. I want all of them to be one with each other... Then the people of this world will believe that you sent me."  (John 17:20-21 CEV)

You matter to me and to God.  Love is more powerful than hate. (1 John 4:18)  May we all help Love Win!  In your mercy Lord, hear our prayer.

And with my friends I pray for all, our leaders, those forgotten...all.


Check out devotionals for Nov. 9
Upper Room
commonprayer.net



Thursday, September 22, 2016

7 Keys of a Powerful Life

Dillon Rooke at Hot Metal Bridge
Pittsburgh, PA -- A New Thing!
What a wonderful summer.  Thank you for making the time available. Thank you for the wonderful ministry that you cared for with such skill and faith.  Thank you for welcoming Pastor John for your needs;  he did a marvelous job.  Thank you for daring to be God's called people of Love.

Here are some quick observations:

Seven themes arose for me:
o Community -- intentional outward reaching relationships;
o Listening -- Deep, constant, responsive listening to one another and the world;
o Flexibility -- The speed and risk-taking were amazing, faith-filled, and a consistent theme;
o Prayer --  Every last group spoke of prayer and discernment;
o Authenticity --  Holding conversations about all of life in everyday language of faith;
o Focus -- on calling, people, mission and strategy at hand;
o Tables-- There was a lot of eating!  A place of relationships, learning, caring, & holy conversation.
Three Commonalities:
o All sought to Love with the "Everybody's Welcome" Love of God and it showed. 
o All worshipped-- and no two worship services were the same. 
o All cared for administration, staffing, funding, education familiarly and experimentally.

In the weeks ahead I'll be listening to you and to the Holy Spirit for where this takes us.  I have some ideas and invite you to what I hope will be monthly food and conversation.  I do know that we've accomplished some amazing things with God's grace and there are things we have not accomplished.  I do know that continuing to do exactly what we've been doing doesn't hold much of a future and I also know adapting quickly is hard and necessary.  And finally, I do know that God has entrusted this community and congregation to all of us, so it won't be me telling anyone what to do, but God guiding us all.

I'm excited about the possibilities.  Check out the September sermon series on some of the Themes, they're archived on www.pfumc.us.  Join in the fun of food and conversation together in the weeks ahead.  Pray diligently.  Talk with your Koinonia group about where God is leading.  God is doing a new thing!  Can we see it!

10,000 Joys in Jesus Christ, Pastor Dave

This was written for the Palmyra First UMC Newsletter October 2016

Friday, September 9, 2016

Study Renewal Summary

It is good to be home!

It is busy to be home with all the resting routines bouncing into place.

Here's a summary of the summer.


"The best experiences are surprises (beyond our control) or invitations (relational and personal)."
                                                                                                                                                      -Journal note Mon. June 27, 2016

"I am creating something new. There it is! Do you see it? I have put roads in deserts, streams[a] in thirsty lands."
                                                                                                                                                      -Isaiah 43:19  (CEV)

No easy answers emerged by taking time apart, but clarity and renewal surfaced.  The path yet ahead holds many challenges, all able to be met with God.  Experiencing God in this summer stands above the information, although the insights and learning will be vital.  God moments flowed. Here are a few:

  •         On June 5th, the day before departure, I received two glorious prayers and one complaint.  The email complaint clouded my mind briefly until Dave Yascavage stopped in the office and offered to prayer for me as I set out.  What a gift.  Then Mike Poltonavage led the 9am congregation in prayer for me, hands laid, and encouragement abounding.  Unexpected.  Unparalleled.  Wonderfully uplifting.  God at work.
  •         Toward the end of June (29th) I was driving toward Haywood St. UMC in Asheville, NC.  Frustration was high between their pastor being on paternity leave and playing email and phone tag for months, so I was just going to drop in and see what I could find.  150 minutes before my arrival I took a call from Haywood's Executive Director letting me know that their weekly meal was on Wednesday and followed by weekly worship at noon.  It was 9:30am Wednesday!   I made a bee-line to a most amazing worship service and ministry setting.  God's timing.
  •         In July (26th) I spent a week with my extended family at Ocean City New Jersey, only to discover "A Future with Hope" United Methodist Housing ministry working 2 doors down from us.  I peeked my head in the door to meet Katie Quigley, their regional coordinator and a team of High School girls doing rehab work.  Turns out this work parallels our PF 6:8 work, and John Schol (Now bishop and previously long-time Eastern PA colleague) was instrumental in its beginnings.  A moment of celebration and learning from being present between the plans.
  •        There are more stories about the amazing ministry of PFUMC with youth taking new leadership,  Noah's Little Ark team intentionally stepping into and handling new challenges, and SPRC hiring a new choir director.  I could add many "aha!" moments where God spoke deep in my soul to my dreams and my fears.  All important and ready for our conversations and work together.
These God Moments strengthened my faith, enriched the time of study and renewal, and illustrate the hope we have in Christ.


Of all the ministries I visited, 5 stand out as most relevant and most enjoyed. (See notes that follow summary)  All taught me something important.  The 5 are Haywood St. UMC-A ministry with the Homeless,  A Church for All People UMC-A ministry with the community, Calvin Presbyterian-A contemplative ministry approach, Rutherford Campus of Crosspoint UMC-a church restart with a homey feel, and New Birth UMC-a ministry rooted in the Latino community of Lebanon.  If I am to keep this report manageable I must move to the common ground these and other churches demonstrated to me.  As well as a few insights.

Small, large, rural, urban, new, established, contemplative, active...no matter the unique personality and circumstance of the congregation, they each shared these 7 attributes:

  1. Community -- Each congregation found ways to build intentional outward reaching relationships that made a difference in the life of the larger community, that if withdrawn would be noticeably missed.  This was not a single ministry but an ongoing dialogue;
  2. Listening -- Deep, constant, responsive listening to one another and the world.
  3. Flexibility -- Each ministry could tell stories of hearing about a changing need or circumstance and within weeks adapting structure, funding, staffing and/or program to address that discovery.  The speed and risk-taking were amazing, faith-filled, and a consistent theme;
  4. Prayer --  Every last group spoke of prayer and discernment.  It took varying forms in each setting, while consistently looking to God. More often than not, the prayers were non-traditional and interactive.  (Walking prayer, labyrinth, staff devotional exercise, intentionally listening conversations in the community...)
  5. Authenticity --  Holding conversations about all of life, including sin and salvation.  Not a finger-point or blame game, but a consistent acknowledgement of our struggles and God's desire for transformation.  This honesty was always a mutual journey with one another, and never a spiritual fix-it clinic.  It's expression often used language of love, support, challenge and mutuality, grounded in Christ.
  6. Focus -- Each church was persistently listening for their calling and continuously adapted to meet that calling by going somewhere new, ceasing something familiar, failing often and trying again and again and again.  This was a discipline of passion.
  7.  Tables-- There was a lot of eating!  Eating around tables provided connection to community both within and beyond.  Tables openned to the homeless, the inquirer, the questioner, the friend.  Tables set weekly at a predictable place and portable meals.  The Lord's Table consistently showed up in worship on a weekly basis.  And tables were a primary place of relationship building, learning together, caring for one another... holy conversation.

What I haven't accounted for are the predictable church commonalities
  • All sought to Love with the "Everybody's Welcome" Love of God and it showed. 
  • All worshipped, even though no two worship services happened the same way or all at the preferred Sunday Morning slot. 
  • All cared for administration, staffing, funding, education, and the variety of method continued to span the spectrum of familiar patterns to experiments of grace.

I note the alignment of these common observations with the Bishop's 5 Call to Action measurements of worship, small groups, new faith commitments, people serving in mission and resources given to mission.   I can see many of these elements in the work of Palmyra First UMC.

So what does all this mean?  My growing insights and thoughts are:

  1. Pay attention to the common elements.  For PFUMC we struggle with focus and flexibility (quickness), perhaps most, but they all are important;
  2. Build on Assets, strengths, and gifts.  Asset Mapping and encouraging people to work in areas where they have passion, gifts, strength, and interest is key;
  3. Encourage Stories and Conversations.  We are a task culture and not always encouraged to share leisurely conversation or stories.  Testimony is story.  Teaching is story.  Strong community is built on healthy conversation and story.  We need to intentionally make space for these encounters;
  4. Engage a systematic approach to life together (not legalistic) but a pattern to help with the routine.  (Remember these communities might change on a dime too!)  This was harder to quantify yet evident and anecdotally important to pastors and staff;
  5. Focus with Love-- Hold tight to the mission and not the method. Welcome all knowing that our call may only touch a particular group today.  We trust that God is bigger than any one moment or movement.


Next Steps that I'm suggesting:

  •        Study Renewal Conversation -Sept. 18th, 11:45-1:15pm.  The format is a coverded dish or simple lunch (30min), a 20 min laity presentation on insights from "Faith in Action" and summer,  a 20 min presentation by Pastor Dave on insights from the Study & Renewal time, and finally 20 minutes to begin a conversation and ask one another questions.
  •        Plan Monthly conversation gathering(s) for 90 minutes around tables to explore Asset Mapping, our call, our focus and things that grow out of our learning.
  •         Leadership look at staffing and structure for emerging ministry, consistently simplifying board/council/administrative structure and staffing for focal areas was a common observation.
  •        Pray, Worship, Love -- stretching ourselves to renewed openness to the Holy Spirit.


There are many more stories and observations to be shared in sermons, around tables, in conversations, and beyond.  God was at work when I crashed into the bee on I-26 in South Carolina.  God showed up with power as I attended AA meetings.  God spoke to me through two Taiwanese strangers and my grandson.  Ask me to tell you more stories.  They are many because God's generosity is great.

Salvation/Discipleship is not a commodity to be distributed or traded, but an adventurous relationship to be invited into.  Places making disciples and making a difference in the community are engaging the 7 common elements listed and the predictable commonalities with passion, and God-given uniqueness, on a journey with Jesus Christ.

One last word.   On my return I am not planning to change everything.  The only changes will be God's.  I'm simply planning to ask renewed questions and share the stories of my journey and see where God takes us.  Remember that this journey unfolded with your willingness to risk a new experience of Study Renewal.  Never forget how powerfully God used you during these summer months.  Hold tight to the God who promises us new life and willingly walks with us in the good and the hard.   Onward in Christ!

10,000 Joys in The One Who Makes Us Whole
  

Pastor Dave