Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Whiteboard: Freedom

When the Fourth of July falls so closely after a Sunday, I like to take it as an opportunity to preach about the theology of freedom.

I typically try to avoid using Sunday worship to talk about secular holidays, and building a worship service around the blessings of freedom seems a fair way to approach the subject from a faithful perspective. It is also a handy way to remind people that we'll still have worship on the holiday weekend!

God's gift of freedom is celebrated and shared (and occasionally criticized -- think of God's own protests about "This stiff necked people" in the book of Exodus!) all throughout scripture. The Genesis creation stories show us that from the very beginning God has imbued us with the freedomto choose...and that sometimes that gift of freedom leads us away from God's desired pathway for our lives. When Christ called his very first Disciples, he did the inviting but it was of their own free will that they chose to follow.

One of the strongest admonitions of the divine gift of freedom comes from Galatians 5:1. Thus the central place that passage takes on my whiteboard this week (surrounded by fireworks, naturally!)...

Galatians 5:1 tells us, "For freedom Christ has set you free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery."

Through the power, grace, forgiveness, mercy, and love that we know through Jesus we are set free from all things that would oppress us and pull us away from God's call in our lives. God does not force us into a life of worship and service (such would simply be another form of enslavement) but rather frees us from our bonds and invites us to find meaning and purpose in our lives through God. That is what it means to be truly free...and that is worth celebrating on Sunday morning!

See you in church this Sunday!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Newsbrief: Pastor's In-Reach Fund

I’m proud to use this space to formally announce the creation of the Pastor’s In-Reach Fund.

In the coming days and weeks you’ll be hearing more about the program. I’ll be talking about it from the pulpit this coming Sunday. Next week there will be a full-page description of it on the “We Serve” Page in the Newsletter with lots of details and descriptions.  But I wanted to start getting the word out and, well, that is what the Newsbrief is all about!

We are a church that does Outreach really, really well. Last year we were recognized as the congregation with the Highest Per Capita Giving to Disciples Mission Fund in the Arizona Region. Recently we have sent several thousand dollars to Joplin, MO in response to the devastating tornado that ripped through town.

Because of the financial problems that our country and many of our members are currently experiencing, the Administrative Council has created a new financial aid program specifically targeting the dire financial needs of members of our own Church. So instead of Outreach (where we reach outside of our church family to respond and offer support) this is In-Reach (where we reach in to support members of our family of faith).

The Pastor’s In-Reach Fund will provide gifts up to $500 (with no expectation of repayment) for church members who need financial assistance. The fund will be established with seed money from the Undesignated Mission Fund in the amount of $2500, but if any members wish to contribute directly to the fund you can do so by designating your financial contributions to account #6316.

If you would like more information about the Pastor’s In-Reach Fund, or to find out how to apply for a gift from the Pastor’s In-Reach Fund please contact me directly.

Yours in the journey, Rev. Brian

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

On the Whiteboard: Feeding the 5000

I'm straying a bit from the Lectionary Cycle this coming Sunday. Normally the Matthew 14:13-21 text would not come up for several more weeks, but other worship plans for the summer have bumped it from that spot. Rather than missing the power and glory of the Story of the Feeding of the 5000 I moved it up to this Sunday.

Come this Sunday to find out why my Cajun Grandmother is firmly convinced that Jesus was himself a Cajun.

Come this Sunday to see what this miraculous text about abundance and invitation has to say to us as a people of faith.

Come this Sunday because we'll conclude the service with a special word of recognition and blessing for our Church Campers before they head off for a week of at Camp Pinerock!

Come this Sunday to worship the God of life and love and blessings right here at First Christian Scottsdale!

Father of the Year

On Father's Day each year First Christian Church Scottsdale gives out the "Father of the Year" Award to one of our members. This year's recipient was the Rev. Bill Barnes!

Here are the words shared in worship on Sunday as the Award was announced and presented to Bill. The speech was written by Bill's daughter, the Rev. Judy Stall (FCC's Minister of Outreach) and read by Bill's son-in-law Bob Stall (FCC Elder and Father of the Year in 1981). 

First let it be known that I was not on the committee which decided the Father of the Year but they have asked me to make the presentation.

Our honoree was born in Kansas City, Mo. to a humble Disciple family, his father drove a city bus and his mother was Sunday school superintendent for twenty years. Both this gentleman and his brother became Disciple ministers.

He dated his wife to be, went to the service and came back to marry her at nineteen. (He knew a special person when he saw her!!) They were young parents having their first child at age 20 and second at 25.

He served our denomination for over 40 years in the ministry: first as minister of a church in
Missouri which he founded; as Vice Pres of development at Christian Theological Seminary;
and finally as Vice President of Development for the Disciple denomination at the national level.

So he comes to Arizona to retire, to finally rest and ends up: helping the church on the building
study committee and the property committee; substituted as teacher and preacher; doing
community work for Girls’ Ranch and Talison and was on the Board for Waymark Gardens,
at one time a Disciple retirement community. He has found time to go fishing, go to the cabin
(where he lives with the “catch of his life”) and to be with all the children, grand children and great

As busy as he was when he was working, he always had time for his two daughters. Whether the family was going on trips, teaching the girls to fish or playing catch he has always been there to help them, advise them when asked (well not always asked) or just needed help. Those two daughters grew up and got married. He officiated at both of their weddings and helped his daughter with two of the
grandchildren’s weddings, next year a third one.

Then he got be a grandfather. He went to work bragging about his 5 grandchildren. Ask the grandchildren and they will tell you it was always special when they got to visit or
have Granddad (and Grammy) come and visit. Trips to the lake ,rides on the boat, visiting the Indiana State fair, rides on the John Deer and even cutting a softball diamond in the grass…I guess he thought ….”They will come!!”

Funny or corny as he may be, he will make you laugh and then make an important point or give support to you in any way possible.

The best thing he did was marrying Shirley which allowed two daughters to have a wonderful father and their husbands to have a tremendous father-in –law, which meant 5 grandchildren (Jason, Emily, Ryan, Megan and Will) have a special person called “Granddad” and Nicholas, Brayden and Blake to have a Great –Granddad.

So for father, granddad and great granddad of the year for 2011 it is a special privilege for me to say that this recognition and honor goes to Bill Barnes. We all love you Granddad!
Congratulations, Bill. You are a wonderful example for all of us and a deserving recipient of the 2011 Father of the Year Award!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Newsbrief: PRC

On Saturday the PRC will have its next meeting.

Don’t know what that abbreviation stands for? Don’t worry! That’s what this Newsbrief Article is for!

The PRC is the Pastor Relations Committee here at First Christian Church Scottsdale. This is a small group of committed folks in the life of our church who have been tasked with one single responsibility – Monitoring the relationship between the Pastor and the Congregation in order to keep it healthy, vibrant, and strong.

We have a terrific PRC. The members are Scott Eubanks, Beth Porter, Jeanne Thompson, and Marilyn White. See, I told you, it’s a terrific group!

We have regular quarterly meetings to sit down, check in, and talk about what is going on in the life of our church. There are two questions that set the agenda for the PRC:

1)     What are you excited about at the church right now?

2)     What challenges do you see at the church right now?

We’ll be meeting this Saturday at 1PM in the Library. I hope you can keep us in prayer as we undertake our meeting and I’d love it if you would consider those same two questions that we’ll be discussing at the PRC Meeting. What are you excited about right now at FCC Scottsdale? What challenges do you see for us?

We’ve got plenty of wonderfully exciting things going on at the church, and we worship an awesome God who will help steer us through whatever challenges might come our way.

Yours in the journey, Rev. Brian

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Whiteboard: Genesis 1

This coming Sunday we get to look back in order to look forward.

Sounds silly at best and whiplash inducing at worst, right?

But that is the journey of faith. We look back to the stories of our faith that they might be able to tell us who we, and when those lessons really take hold they propel us into the fullness of the possibilities that God is preparing all around us.

This week when we look back, we look WAY back. All the way back, in fact. To the beginning.

Our scripture text week will be the first Genesis Creation Story. The rather oddly annotated Genesis 1:1-2:4a -- it just flows off the tongue, doesn't it?

 The First Creation Story in Genesis (yes, there are two of them and they are both lovely and amazing) tells us about the sheer awesome of God...and then amazingly enough tells us that we are created in God's image. Imagine that! A God with the power to order the universe, separate light from darkness, and oversee all of the wondrous things in creation managed to manufacture little old you and me in God's own image

And what's more, God said that creation was good. Every single step along the way. The first day's work? It was good. The second day's work? It was good. You and me and the elephants and the seahorses and the broccoli florets? It was good! In fact, you'll see a little reference to what God had to say about the whole thing when God finished up the sixth day and looked around at everything that was there. I'll give you a hint. It is not only good. In fact, it is even better. 

Come join us on Sunday to find out what I mean!

Oh, and as an added bonus, you'll get to see how a Chia Pet fits into the whole story. No really! How is that for incentive?!? See you Sunday!

After Pentecost

What a fantastic Sunday at First Christian Church Scottsdale!

Everyone looked resplendent in red, the sanctuary was beautifully decked out, and balloons were flying!

That's right, balloons.

There are two things that I knew people were going to remember about Pentecost Sunday this year:
1) That we flew helium-filled balloons clear up to the ceiling of the sanctuary!
2) Melissa's delicious homemade, gourmet cupcakes at Fellowship Hour!

Trust me, it takes a lot of pressure off the sermon when you already know that memories will be made elsewhere in the service!

Our Worship Committee was hard at work behind the scenes making sure that those memories were going to be made. I'm forever indebted to them and want to take a moment to thanks Carrie (our chair), Dorothy (our decorating leader), Sandi, Daryl, and Kendra for making everything happen from candles to balloons, to red vestments, and even acolytes!

Oh, and Melissa, thanks for letting me bring home some extra cupcakes. They were just as big a hit at home as they were in the Fellowship Hall!

Newsbrief: Pentecost

When it comes to defining some of the often indefinable words and expressions of our faith I have a favorite resource I turn to.

It is called “Wishful Thinking” by theologian, humorist, and Christian minister Frederick Buechner. With a mixture of whimsy and abiding faith he often spells out the vocabulary of our faith with a clarity and purpose that few others offer.

Plus, the book is also only 126 pages long, which also helps!

For the definition of “Holy Spirit” here is what Buechner writes:

The word spirit has come to mean something pale and shapeless, like an unmade bed. School spirit, the American spirit, the Christmas spirit, the spirit of ’76, the Holy Spirit – each of these points to something you know is supposed to get you to your feet cheering, but which you sometimes can’t rise to…

Like its counterparts in Hebrew and Greek, the Latin word spiritus originally meant breath (as in expire, respiratory, and so on), and breath is what you have when you’re alive and don’t have when you’re dead. Thus spirit = breath = life, and aliveness and power of your life, and to speak of your spirit (or soul) is to speak of the power of life that is in you. When your spirit is unusually strong, the life in you unusually alive, you can breathe it out into other lives, become literally in-spiring…

God also has a spirit – is Spirit, says the Apostle John (4:24). Thus God is the power of the power of life itself, has breathed and continues to breathe himself into his creation. In-spires it.

I hope to see you this Pentecost Sunday (remember to wear something red!) as we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit and God’s abiding presence in our lives.

Yours in the journey, Rev. Brian

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Whiteboard: Pentecost

This coming Sunday is Pentecost! Come join us as we celebrate the promised gift of the Holy Spirit! 
This Sunday's sermon will build on two scripture readings that are often pitted at odds against each on Pentecost Sunday. 

The first is the story of the Tower of Babel from Genesis 11:1-9. It details the ways in which God mixed up the languages of the world when people decided to build a tower ostensibly to storm the gates of heaven. The typical lesson from this text is that diversity is bad and God muddled up the languages of the world to punish us...but I'm not so certain that it best take on the subject. Particularly because of...

...the Pentecost Story that we find in Acts 2:1-21! Here we find the Disciples of Jesus gathered in one place when the Holy Spirit comes to them in a rush of wind and through tongues of flame. Quite an appeareance! Yet that isn't the most amazing part of the scriptural account. No, the most amazing part is that when the Disciples speak people from all over the world hear them as if their were speaking their own native language. Suddenly the Holy Spirit has brought the blessing of understanding and the gift of diversity and difference is formally and fully made known!

Come join us this Sunday (and don't forget to wear something red!) as we celebrate the Blessing of Understanding, the Gift of Diversity, and the Power of the Holy Spirit. See you there!

Rev. Brian

Congratulations Coolwater!

This past Sunday saw the Dedication of the church building for Coolwater Christian Church.

It was an amazing event and truly a blessing to be there in Coolwater's own building for the Dedicatory Worship Service.

Rev. David Shirey preached up a storm (and grinned from ear to ear during most of the service!). Their Building Chair Ron Nierman brough words of greeting from all of the Architects, Design Group, City Officials, and Subcontractors who worked so hard to construct such a beautiful church building (and challenged the church to complete the next phase in the building project within five years!). Our Regional Minister Denny Williams led us in prayer. There was beautiful music, much rejoicing, a sumptuous dinner that followed and all the while that space was filled with the hopes and dreams, promises and passions that can only come from our God of love and life.

What a great day. Congratulations Coolwater. We look forward to continuing to journey with you in ministry and bearing witness to the wondrous things that are yet in store for you all in the service of Christ!

For more on Coolwater Christian Church, visit their website at www.CoolwaterChurch.org.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Newsbrief: Joplin (Part 2)

Rev. Brandon Gilvin is the Associate Director for Week of Compassion. As I've mentioned before he is a good friend of mine since seminary and was one of my groom's men at my wedding.

Last week Brandon's calling through Week of Compassion sent him to Joplin, Missouri to provide a pastoral presence to those so deeply impacted by the devastation of the tornado that tore through town and to help coordinate relief efforts.

On Wednesday June 1, 2011 Brandon sent out this message:
It had barely been a week since the tornado hit Joplin, MO. Josh Baird, Director of Disciples Volunteering, and I arrived in Joplin around 10 on Monday morning and found our way to First Christian Church. In the heart of Joplin’s downtown, First Christian was not hit by the tornado, and had generously opened its doors as an emergency refuge immediately following the storm’s passing. Since then, the church’s family life center had been transformed into a center of activity, where donations for the battered but resilient community are collected, sorted, and distributed. We quickly found Fay Blevins, the pastor at First Christian; Jill Cameron Michel, the minister at South Joplin Christian Church; Tyler Whipkey, her student associate; and Michael Weinman, Minister to the Ozark Lakes Area of the Mid-America Region, and gathered together in Fay’s office for a time of prayer, discussion, and brainstorming. It was, as it has been every time I’ve made some sort of pastoral visit following a disaster, humbling.

Jill, Tyler, Fay, and Mike all shared with us the things they had seen over the last week. It was incredible to sit and listen to four pastors, whose words were filled with both worry and wisdom, speak to what it means to minister in a time of such devastation and what a long-term recovery might look like, how to develop local partnerships for responding over the long term, and how we, as Week of Compassion and Disciples Volunteering, could be supportive and help facilitate connections with the wider church and resources for long-term recovery. We spent time with a few church members who, like the pastors, spoke of a deep love for their community as they described the ways they were pitching in—whether that meant searching through debris for loved ones and strangers, or whether that meant organizing the volunteers who showed up with baked goods, bottled water, and bags of clothes to donate.

Then we headed out. The devastation was incredible. “Matchsticks and splinters,” were the words that Josh used to describe the houses shredded by the tornado’s vast path of destruction: a path that worked its way northeast from the southwestern edge of Joplin. Some houses were still standing, and I saw on many of them the haunting spray-painted symbols that I first encountered in areas of New Orleans affected by Hurricane Katrina.

The quick tags left by rescue crews to mark what crew has searched which house and what--or who--they have found tell brief, quick, sometimes painful stories:

“3 Bodies Found”
“2 Animals Safe”
“All Clear.”

As we traveled streets once wooded, now bare, and I saw those—and other markings...

“God Bless Joplin”
“Thank You!”
and a simple

...my mind went back to the Shema, perhaps the central prayer in morning and evening prayers in Judaism, recorded in Deuteronomy 6:

Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Driving around and seeing response teams and volunteers from all over the country, made up of everyone from Mennonites to Muslims, I began to conflate the sacred words of covenant and care found in the Torah and written on one’s doorpost with the words cast across brick and plywood in Joplin, because amidst all that destruction, those symbols and spontaneous outpourings of hope and care seemed prayerful. There was something sacred about that spray paint.

We made our way to South Joplin Christian Church, which stood at the northern limit of the storm’s path. South Joplin had lost a roof and sustained significant damage, but was a flurry of activity as the restoration crew provided by their insurance company gutted rooms, pulled up carpet, and made plans for repair. In a Sunday School room, scrawled on a blackboard for what must have been a lesson on the Psalms just hours before the tornado hit, were the words “O GIVE THANKS TO THE LORD; CALL ON HIS NAME”

An unintended but serendipitous prayer for Joplin. Gratitude and hope amidst tragedy. Resilience marked in spray paint and chalk.

Thanks, indeed, to God.


Last week we made an appeal to the members of FCC Scottsdale to help raise funds for our sister church, First Christian Church Joplin (it is the church where our own Sandi DeFeo grew up), as they serve as a primary response station for their community. I'm proud to say that we raised over $1200 and are sending those funds along with our prayers and well wishes for this community.

Let us continue to keep everyone impacted by this terrible disaster in our thoughts and prayers. Let us lift up those who lost loved ones, lost their homes, lost their possessions, lost their sense of safety and wellbeing. Likewise let us lift up all of those, like FCC Joplin, Week of Compassion, and countless others who are helping to respond to the disaster day by day and week by week.

Rev. Brian

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Whiteboard: The Ascension

This Sunday in worship we'll celebrate Christ's Ascension.

After Christ's earthly ministry, after his healings and teachings, after his miracles, after his death on the cross, after his resurrection from the grave, and after his resurrection appearance to the Disciples and first believers...after all those things Christ ascended to the right hand of the Father in Heaven.

Yet his earthly ministry was not vacated. Instead, it falls squarely on his believers still alive and at work in the world to be the very Body of Christ active and engaged in living out his ministry.

What a responsibility!
What an opportunity!
What a calling!
What a great reason to come to worship!

Come gather with us this Sunday as build our worship service around the text from Acts 1:6-14 and celebrate the power of Christ that is still at work in the world today.

Newsbrief: Tornado Relief

First Christian Church Joplin
Sometimes the national news hits close to home.

Such is the case with the tornado that ripped through Joplin, Missouri earlier this week devastating a small community in the southern part of that state.

You see, my niece and nephew spend the bulk of their summer vacation in Joplin with their father. As soon as we heard about the tornado my wife and I scrambled to find out if the twins were safe (they were, fortunately this was one of the last weekends they were scheduled to be with their mother, my sister-in-law, in St. Louis).

Within a couple of hours Week of Compassion had sent around an e-mail blast informing everyone of the devastation from the tornado and of their roll in working with churches and relief agencies right there on the ground in Joplin. The message in that e-mail blast was simple: “What can you do to help? Three things: Pray, Pay, and Stay.” That three word slogan means that what folks need most right now are your prayers, your financial contributions to relief agencies  and as strange as it sounds to stay away for the time being. On that last one, it turns out the last thing that Joplin needs right now is teams of unorganized volunteers pouring into the community. The time will come for volunteers, but right now they simply need skilled professionals and organized teams doing the heavy lifting. Week of Compassion has a special fund set-up to benefit the victims of all the tornadoes that have ravaged the US already this year, click here to learn more and to give. So we pray, pay, and stay.

But sometimes the news hits closer to our church home too, and this is one of those cases. You see, our sister church First Christian Church Joplin was largely spared by the storm. They are presently serving as a primary response center in Joplin. FCC Joplin is also the church where our Vice Moderator Sandi DeFeo grew up and was baptized. So we have a connection. Sandi has been in touch with their pastor, Rev. Fay Blevins, and has made arrangements to make financial donations directly to the church for their local relief efforts. It is a unique opportunity for us to directly support one of our sister churches.

So if you feel moved to make a donation then there are two options. You can donate to Week of Compassion and designate your gift for tornado relief
knowing that the funds will go to benefit those throughout the country who have been impacted by storms. Or you can give directly to First Christian Church Joplin knowing that your donation will go straight to one of our sister churches that is reaching out in the midst of the recovery in southern Missouri. We’ll be taking up that special collection for FCC Joplin this coming Sunday. Simply make your checks out to FCC Scottsdale (we’ll be collecting the funds here then dispersing them) and make sure to mark your donation for Fund 1034 “Joplin Tornado Relief”.