Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Whiteboard: Community

So what does it mean to live in community?

This week's sermon scripture from Matthew 18:15-20 orients us in the right direction.

 ‘If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’

By the way, you've gotta love the fact that "where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them" shows up as the lectionary reading for the Sunday of Labor Day Weekend...where there really might only be two or three people gathered in some churches this weekend!

Come join us this Sunday and fell the presence of Christ active and alive in our community of faith.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Newsbrief: Duststorms and Brainstorms

The latest dust storm had just blown in.

In fact, it was actively blowing in.

I walked from my car to the church office with a small towel covering my mouth and nose so that I wouldn’t breathe in the dust last Thursday evening.

It was nearly 6:30 PM, the appointed time for our Outreach Meeting and I was sure that nobody would be there. Who in the world wants to drive out in the middle of a dust storm on a weeknight around dinner time to come to a committee meeting?

Turns out, a room full of people, that’s who!

Because this wasn’t any ordinary meeting. This was an Outreach Meeting at First Christian Church Scottsdale, and since Outreach is such a core issue to who we are as a community of faith, well, people weren’t going to miss it. As folks kept pouring into my office we had to drag in extra chairs and reorganize the seating arrangements a couple of times. We ended up with a dozen folks crammed into my office and for the next two hours we talked Outreach and Mission Opportunities for our church. The commitment to outreach and putting our faith in action is so deep in this church, and I’ve never been prouder!

(By the way, some folks really did face a dangerous road to get here during the dust storm and had to turn back. I completely understand and I’m glad they made it home safely and are planning on being a part of the outreach work we do here at FCC Scottsdale.)

It was a marvelous meeting!

Bob and Judy Stall (our We Serve Coordinator and Minister for Outreach respectively) did a fabulous job facilitating the conversation and helping us to brainstorm a whole list of possibilities for the coming program year. We also talked about the “in-reach” programs for members of the church and discussed the opportunity of becoming a Global Mission Church. But mostly, we brainstormed, and we came up with a long list of possibilities and assigned specific people to follow up on specific projects.

Which leads me to the invitation. We’ll be meeting again on Wednesday August 31 at 6:30PM in my office to actually choose which projects we feel called to undertake in the coming year. It is an open invitation for everyone in the church. Come by to hear about outreach projects and help us decide where we’ll be focusing our energies in the coming months. I’ll see you Wednesday August 31…hopefully without the dust storm this time around!

Yours in the journey, Rev. Brian

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Whiteboard: Following Christ

This Sunday's Gospel reading (Matthew 16:21-28) picks up exactly where we last Sunday's Gospel reading left off.

So it made sense that this week's Whiteboard picture should draw on the images of last week's Whiteboard picture.

Last Sunday Christ invited us into the conversation when he asked, "Who do you say that I am?" This Sunday we wrestle with what it means to follow Jesus. What obstacles stand in our way? What fears hold us back? What cross must we face in order to live into the fullness of the promises that we know through the grace, mercy, and love of God.

Ode to the Pumpkin Patch

{Many thanks to Julie for this great announcement from this past Sunday's worship service. Sign up sheets are still available to help unload pumpkins on Saturday October 8 as we get everything set up for our big fall fundraiser for the Outreach Ministry at First Christian Church Scottsdale.}

Fall will soon be in the air.
Pumpkins will arrive without a care.
First Christian friends will help unload,
Hundreds of pumpkins -- white  green and gold.
Please sign up today, look for me after church.
The more the merrier, the easier the work.
Saturday morning October the eighth,
This mission outreach opportunity will really be great!
Your support is appreciated, old and young. 
The pumpkins are coming. This day will be fun!

Three Things from the Outreach Meeting

The Mission Outreach Team met this past Thursday at 6:30PM. Here are the three things you need to know from that meeting:

  1. We highlighted the current "in-reach" programs in place to assist members at FCC Scottsdale. This includes the In-Reach Loan Program, the Pastor's In-Reach Fund, our onsite Food Pantry, and gift cards for groceries or gas.

  2. We spent the bulk of the meeting exploring new opportunities. We brainstormed a tremendous list of outreach opportunities and will meet again on Wednesday August 31 at 6:30PM in my office to choose which projects we will focus on for the coming year.

  3. We continue to explore what it means to become a Global Mission Church. For more information on this amazing program organized jointly through the Disciples of Christ and the United Church of Christ then click here.
The Follow-Up Meeting on Wednesday August 31 at 6:30 in my office is open to everyone. Please come join us as we choose our Outreach Projects for the coming year! See you there!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Newsbrief: Transformation

"Write down whatever comes to mind when you hear the word transformation."

Those were the instructions at the start of the Congregational Vitality and Transformation Team meeting I attended Wednesday.

Complete with a stack of large Post-It Notes and a collection fine point markers the seven of us went to work brainstorming, dreaming, and discerning.

Passion ... Engagement ... Resurrection ... Kingdom of God ... Cocoon ... Joyful ... Hard... Challenge ... Calling ... Christ-centered ... Direction ... Painful ... Process ... Spirit ... Hope ... Courage ... Risk ... Alive … Discipleship ... Purpose ... Fun … Emerge …

You may or may not have heard me talk about the Congregational Vitality and Transformation Team (CVT, for short) before. It is a pilot project in the Arizona Region right now that I am grateful to be a part of. The CVT includes six ministers from Arizona who are serving different churches from around the state who feel called to this kind of revitalizing ministry. Our Regional Minister Denny Williams invited each one of us to the table, and he is the seventh member of the CVT. We are working together to figure out exactly what this work of transformation and revitalization means...for us, for the congregations we serve, and for the Arizona Region.

So, church, how about you? What comes to mind when you hear the word transformation? What about vitality? Or revitalization?

As we start putting our words out there along with our hopes, our prayers, and our dreams for what is to come then maybe, just maybe we'll begin to share in the dream that God has for our congregation. And that is when we'll know that these words we are tossing around aren’t just describing transformation they are describing us.

Keep a look out for more snippets and updates from the good work that is going on with the Congregational Vitality and Transformation Team!

Yours in the Journey, Rev. Brian

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Whiteboard: Matthew 16:13-20

"Who do you say that I am?"

People have answered that question in a lot of ways over the years.

Jesus has been called the Prince of Peace, the King of Kings, the Only Begotten Son of the Most High, the Anointed, the Christ, Beautiful Savior, Light of the World, Good Shepherd... and so many other things that look nice on a church’s wayside pulpit!

Every time we try to pigeonhole Jesus into just this one camp or just that one singular understanding, the scriptures remind us that even in his own time people struggled to know and understand him, and fumbled with the right turns of phrase to truly capture what Jesus was and is.

Just when we think we know Jesus as the all loving, all caring, peace-monger he curses a fig tree and kills it or goes stomping around the Temple with whip in hand chasing out the money changers. Just when we think we know Jesus as the bringer of the revolution ready to topple the earthly kingdoms and forcibly remove the world’s oppressors he tells us to love our enemies and turn the other cheek. Jesus, it seems, always has another side for us to ponder, and another surprising revelation to give. It’s not easy to know Jesus, much less to follow him.

This Sunday we inherit Peter's good confession ("You are the Christ. The son of the living God.") from Matthew 16:13-20 as our scripture reading. Which means that we get the chance to wrestle with Christ's question all over again, "Who do YOU say that I am?"

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Newsbrief: Market Uncertainty

Members of the Administrative Council and the Elders are used to the way that I like to end meetings.

I always ask, “What are the three things we want people to know about from this meeting?”

It is a communication technique that helps us to assemble our talking points, figure out what is important, and then get the word out. For me, the “Three Things” shapes the way I think and talk.

So, as big plunges in the Stock Market and the recent downgrade of the US credit rating have folks legitimately worried about global economic uncertainties and the ways they will hit home, here are the “Three Things” that I want you know about our church right now:
  1. The finances at the church are in good shape. We are fortunate as a church not to have any outstanding debt. We own all of our property outright and don’t have to worry about things like debt servicing expenses or fluctuating variable rates. Presently, our budget has lined up almost dollar for dollar with our actual expenses. Your generosity and support of our church has us in a good financial spot. Don’t get me wrong, we still need you to give! But rest assured that financially things are good at the church right now.

  2. The Pastor’s In-Reach Fund is available. You’ll remember that earlier this summer we launched the Pastor’s In-Reach Fund. This is a designated pool of money that is set aside for direct aid for church members who are in need of a one-time financial gift of up to $500. If folks find that they are suffering during these tough economic times, please know that your church family can help. Please contact me directly to find out more about the Pastor’s In-Reach Fund.

  3. My door is always open. If you are really shaken up by these economic downturns (or any other worries or concerns for that matter) please don’t hesitate to stop by the office and see me. Or drop me an email. Or give me a call. As your pastor, in times of difficulty and uncertainty I am here to support you, to be with you, to listen to you, and to pray with you. Let me know if you would like to get together.
As a people of faith we take solace in knowing that the love, mercy, and grace of God don’t bounce around like the stock market, but are steadfast and abounding. May the strength and compassion of our loving God be with you now and always.

Yours in the journey, Rev. Brian

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

3 Things from Administrative Council

Administrative Council met this past Sunday immediately after worship. Here are the three things you should know from that meeting:

  1. We formally approved a 50th Anniversary Committee. In February of 2014 we'll celebrate 50 years of ministry at First Christian Church Scottsdale! That historic day will be here before you know it...so we're putting together a committee and have plans in place to include them in forthcoming budgets and business sessions.
  2. The Church Restructure Group is making major progress. Building on one of the goals we named at the Administrative Council Retreat at the start of the year, Sandi DeFeo presented the basic framework that will undergird our new church structure -- with an emphasis on picking up the pieces that have fallen through the cracks (important things like Fellowship, Education, and Church Growth!). Plans are being made to amend the by-laws and allow us to start living in to this new structure in the coming year.
  3. The Church Growth Team continues to make headway. This was another big goal identified at the Administrative Council Retreat and this group is working hard to bring a renewed spirit of growth to the congregation. Look for some new "Growth Related" changes to start popping up as early as Kick-Off Sunday on the 11th of September!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Whiteboard: The Canaanite Woman

I can never remember how to spell her name. In fact, it isn't her name at all. It is a geographical (or even theological) reference that we use to identify her, rather than her name since her name is never given in the text.

So we call her the Canaanite Woman...and I misspell it almost every time I write it (just there, Spell Check fixed it for me). I always end up with an extra "n" and at least one missing "a". I mean, what word has "a" for two consecutive letters?!?

Anyway, I don't like the reference we have for it, but I absolutely love the story. Matthew 15:21-28 gives us Jesus having an argument with the Cannanite Caananite Canaannite Canaanite Woman (misspelled it three times there). She has a daughter who is possessed by a demon, she asks Jesus for help and the argument ensues. And here is the thing...Jesus picks the fight! And what's more...Jesus doesn't win the argument!

Here is how I put it up on my Whiteboard this week, comic book style:

It is an amazing story that points us in the direction of the ever expanding nature of God's grace and the radical welcome that Christ extends to us...even if it takes a little argumentation and a clever turn of phrase from the Canaanite (I got it right that time!) Woman to get us there.

Come join us in worship this Sunday at First Christian Church as we dive deep with this passage from Matthew and explore the ways that God is expanding the table for each and every one of us!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Newsbrief: Growing Up

My son starts Kindergarten on Monday.

{Shakes head in disbelief. Takes a deep breath. Starts typing again.}

It happened so fast. It seems like just the other day I was holding my newborn son in his favorite pose (head nestled in my hand, the entirety of his body balanced easily on my forearm). Now he's a Kindergartener who is writing his own name, solving simple math problems in his head, and starting a whole new chapter in his life. It is a rite of passage and a rhythm in our world that I am getting to experience firsthand.

You see, it is that time of year again friends. When our young ones at our church head off to school again, and all of the teachers in our church head back too! It is a time of excitement and anxiety, of new beginnings and transitions.

As our kids (and our teachers!) head back to school let us continue to lift them up in our prayers that school might be a nurturing, safe, supportive environment. May it be the kind of place where they can explore and discover, learn to love learning, and enjoying growing into the very fullness of what God is calling them to be.

In fact, lets not just pray that for their schools. Lets offer that same prayer for our church too. That we can be a welcoming and loving place for children and young people to feel nurtured and safe and supported. May we at First Christian Church be the kind of place where our young people can explore and discover their faith, learn to love learning, and enjoy growing into the very fullness of what God is calling them to be.

I'm glad that we've found a terrific school for Henry (he'll be continuing at the Montessori Academy, a charter school just up the street from our church) and I'm profoundly happy that we've found a caring, supportive church home that will love him up as he continues to grow!

Thanks for praying for my son and for all the other youth in our church who are headed back to school in the days and weeks ahead.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Whiteboard: Walking

This coming Sunday's sermon is based on Matthew 14:22-36.

After feeding the 5000 (not counting the women and children, who were surely there too), Jesus sends the Disciples away in a boat to the other side of the Lake. It gives Jesus some much needed alone time to recharge his batteries and restore his soul, and he does just that by going into the mountains to pray. Meanwhile, the Disciples' boat is battered by waves and drifts far from the shore overnight because the wind was working against them. So the morning comes and Jesus comes out to greet the Disciples...by walking on the very surface of the water.

Here's the picture on my whiteboard this week:

It is a miracle story in a chain of miracle stories. One that greets us with all kinds of invitations and challenges. This Sunday we'll wrestle with a couple of 'em...and do it with a story about my Cajun uncle's miraculous hunting dog. See you on Sunday!