Tuesday, September 27, 2011

It is one of my favorite Sundays of the year.

The Sunday when we celebrate Christian Unity and the blessing of the Lord's Table.


I've often joked that World Communion Sunday really should be one of the highest of holy days for the Disciples. After all, it is the Sunday when our brothers and sisters in all sorts of churches from all sorts of denominational backgrounds all over the world celebrate the unity we have in Christ by breaking bread and sharing the cup at the Lord's Table. These are the great theological themes for us as Disciples of Christ -- Unity, Diversity, and the Centrality of the Lord's Table.

No wonder I love World Communion Sunday so much!

See you this Sunday!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Newsbrief: Prayer

A number of people have asked me about the poem that Al Beasley used as the Opening Prayer this past Sunday.

So I thought this might be a nice space to share it with you!

The poem is titled “Prayer” and was written by Spanish poet Gloria Fuertes, translated by John Haines.

Here is the full text:

You are here on earth, our Father,
For I see you in the pine needle, in the blue torso of the worker,
In the small girl who embroiders, with bent shoulder,
mixing the thread on her finger.
Our Father here on earth, in the furrow, in the orchard, in the mine,
In the seaport, in the movie house, in the wine,
in the house of the doctor.
Our Father, here on earth,
Where you have your glory and your hell,
And your limbo in the cafes, where the rich have their cool drink.
Our Father, who sits in school, you are in the groceryman,
And in the man who is hungry, and in the poet---
But never in the usurer.
Our Father, here on earth, reading on the bench in the Prado,
You are the old man feeding breadcrumbs to the birds on the walk.
Our Father, here on earth, in the kiss, in the grain of wheat,
In the hearts of all who are good.
Father who can live anywhere, God who moves into any loneliness, you who quiet our anguish here on earth,
Our Father, yes we see you, and those of us who will see you soon, wherever you are, or there in Heaven.

Yours in the journey, Rev. Brian

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Whiteboard: Power of the Gospel

This coming Sunday we will hear the religious authorities of his time questioning Jesus about his authority to preach and teach. The full text comes from Matthew 21:23-32 and includes the following exchange:
"When he entered the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to him as he was teaching, and said, ‘By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?’ Jesus said to them, ‘I will also ask you one question; if you tell me the answer, then I will also tell you by what authority I do these things. Did the baptism of John come from heaven, or was it of human origin?’ And they argued with one another, ‘If we say, “From heaven”, he will say to us, “Why then did you not believe him?” But if we say, “Of human origin”, we are afraid of the crowd; for all regard John as a prophet.’ So they answered Jesus, ‘We do not know.’"

It gives me an opportunity to share one of my favorite songs: Ben Harper's "Power of the Gospel." The lyrics from that song not only influence my sermon this week, but they are filling up the Whiteboard as well...

The lyrics to the song go a little something like this:
It will make a weak man mighty
it will make a mighty man fall
it will fill your heart and hands
or leave you with nothing at all
it's the eyes for the blind
and legs for the lame
it is love for hate
and pride for shame

that's the power of the gospel

that's the power of the gospel
that's the power of the mighty power
that's the power of the gospel

gospel on the water

gospel on the land
the gospel in every woman
the gospel in every man
gospel in the garden
gospel in the trees
the gospel that's inside of you
the gospel inside of me

that's the power of the gospel

that's the power of the gospel
that's the power of the mighty power
that's the power of the gospel

in the hour of richness

in the hour of need
for all of creation
comes from the gospel seed
now you may leave tomorrow
and you may leave today
but you've got to have the gospel
when you start out on your way

that's the power of the gospel

that's the power of the gospel
that's the power of the mighty power
that's the power of the gospel 

Come join us for worship this coming Sunday as we celebrate the good news of Jesus Christ and the power of the gospel!

Three Things from Administrative Council

Administrative Council had their regularly scheduled meeting this past Sunday immediately following worship. Here are the Three Things you need to know from that meeting:

  1. The Church Growth Team is blowing and going! The Visitor's Welcome Center has been unveiled and the Church Growth Team is hard at work in helping us accomplish our stated goal for the year of being better about welcoming our new visitors. Keep an eye out for volunteer opportunities and future training events in this regard!

  2. The Outreach Committee needs your opinions, your commitments, and you support! In the coming weeks you'll have an opportunity to complete the Outreach Ministries Survey which will not only help us choose our outreach mission projects for the coming year, but will also share valuable information about our ongoing projects as well. Please fill out a survey (available at Sunday morning worship or coming straight to your house as an insert in October's Newsletter) and drop them off in the "Outreach Survey" Box in the Narthex.

  3. I am excited to inform the church that I will be serving as the "Local Mentor" for Katie Sexton while she completes her Master of Divinity through Lexington Theological Seminary's Online Degree Program. Katie is a Disciple of Christ living here in the Valley of the Sun and a member at Foothills Christian Church. There could be some fun overlap between Katie's degree program and the work we are doing here at FCC Scottsdale...but in the meantime please keep Katie in your prayers as she pursues her calling in ministry!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Newsbrief: Visitors Center

Did you notice anything new on your way into the Sanctuary last Sunday?

Right there past the greeters?

Big table, red tablecloth, gift bags – did you see it?

That is our new Visitor’s Center, friends. It is first roll out from our Church Growth Team (thank you, Shirley, Nancy, and Bob H.) in helping us move toward one of our stated goals for this year – Being better at welcoming visitors.

If you didn’t stop by the Visitor’s Center last Sunday, here is what we have there: The smiling face(s) of our volunteer (s) ready to specifically welcome our visitors, a great big sign announcing that this is the Visitor Center, a gift bag filled with information about our church and opportunities for folks to plug in, a stack of brand new pamphlets that tell the FCC Scottsdale Story, a sign-up sheet so that new visitors can get follow-up information from us in the church office, and a stack of blue nametags so that our volunteers can hand-make a nametag for our visitors.

It is a pretty slick operation, and I’m extremely proud of the hard work our Church Growth Team has put in behind the scenes getting everything together! And now, we need your help.

You see, the most important part about the Visitor’s Center isn’t the gift bags or the pamphlets or the sing-in sheets. Those are lovely pieces of material that do a nice job introducing our church to folks who might not know much about us, but they aren’t what will help folks feel connected.

The most important part of the Visitor’s Center is…(drumroll please)…the volunteers who help staff it! That’s you, friends. That is you!

In the coming weeks you’ll be hearing about a Training Event for volunteers to staff the Visitor’s Center. It is really easy, really fun, and a great way help the congregation grow.

More details to follow, but please prayerfully consider being a part of this growing ministry at FCC Scottsdale! In the meantime, stop by the Visitor’s Center, check out the materials, and give a heartfelt welcome to anybody you see wearing a blue handmade nametag!

Yours in the journey, Rev. Brian

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Whiteboard: Daily Bread

What do we mean when we say, "God provides"?

That is the question at the heart of this Sunday's sermon.

We have two familiar stories as our scripture lessons this Sunday, and each one helps us wrestle with the question of God's providence.

The first reading comes from Matthew 20:1-16 and is the surprising parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard. The landowner goes out in the morning to hire daylaborers. They agree on the regular daily wage and off to work they go. Then he goes out again a little later to hire more laborers and agrees to "pay them what is right" and off to work they go. Then he goes out again at Noon and 3PM and 5PM hiring more folks promising to pay them what is right. And at the end of the day when it is time to settle up...the landowner pays everyone the same regular daily wage no matter what time they came to work! The outcry from the first laborers hired is as consistent as it is expected, "That isn't fair!" The landowner responds with a word about promise, blessing, and generosity:

But he replied to one of them, “Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?” So the last will be first, and the first will be last.’
Our sermon scripture will continue to flesh out what it means to say "God provides" with the miracle story from Exodus 16:2-15 -- the story of Manna from Heaven. This story doesn't end with the people complaining, rather it starts there! The Israelites, recently liberated from the cruel oppression they knew under Pharoah's hand in Egypt, are complaining that life was better back in Egypt and they wonder aloud, "Why didn't God just kill us in Egypt instead of bringing us out here to the wilderness to starve to death!" God hears their cries and decides to test their obedience by providing them daily bread that falls miraculously from the heavens (and fresh quail meat too!).
Then Moses said to Aaron, ‘Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, “Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.” ’ And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked towards the wilderness, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. The Lord spoke to Moses and said, ‘I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, “At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.”
So what does it mean when we say "God provides"? How has God provided in your life? And what kind of response do we muster up in the face of all that God has given us? Come join us this Sunday at FCC Scottsdale as  we wrestle with these questions and celebrate the grace, mercy, love, and generosity of our amazing God. See you Sunday!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Whiteboard: Kick Off Sunday

That's right, the NFL Season isn't the only thing that officially kicks off this coming Sunday! First Christian Church Scottsdale will be having a Kick Off Sunday of our own to mark the official start of our Fall Program Year!

{Note: I know, the NFL Season actually starts up on Thursday night with that ridiculous ratings grab of a first game. But is okay, the analogy still holds. Several of our program pieces have already started up in advance of Kick Off Sunday too!}

You'll also notice a second theme emerging from the Whiteboard this week. I try my hardest during worship to keep us firmly rooted in a single theme. Each Sunday the hymns we sing, the prayers we pray, the sermon I preach, and the scriptures we read are all carefully planned in order to propel us in the direction of that single theme. It makes things complicated and messy when we have more than one focus during worship. But occassionally it is unavoidable. And this Sunday is one such occassion.

This coming Sunday will not only serve as our Kick Off Sunday at First Christian Church, but it also marks 10 years to the day since the attacks on this country that took place on September 11, 2001. It is the reason that I broke tradition with the Whiteboard this week and actually included the date of the worship service as well. We will spend some time in worship reflecting on 9/11. There will be a moment of silence and an extended time of prayer. We'll also spend time in worship focusing ourselves on where God is calling us in the coming year and the specific programs that we have in the life of the church that are starting back up after a long summer's hiatus. We'll draw on Pete's question about forgiveness and the Parable of the Unforgiving Slave from Matthew 18:21-35.

There aren't easy segues to tie these two pieces together and so we aren't going to try and force them together into a single uneasy theme, but rather recognize that there is a lot going on in our world, in our church, in our lives, and that sometimes we are pulled in multiple directions at once. Through it all, may God be glorified and may we feel the presence of Christ and the leading of the Spirit as we gather for a time of worship.

I'll see you on Sunday!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

WoC: Hope Rising in Joplin

{Editors: My good friend and Associate Director of Week of Compassion Brandon Gilvin sent out the following update from Joplin, Missouri this afternoon.}

There's a lot going on in Joplin, Missouri. Joplin torando aftermath Picture taken in the days following the tornado in Joplin, MO. That's the first thing you notice when you drive through town.

Everywhere, you see hand-painted or custom-printed signs that read "Rebuild Joplin." A local coffee shop sports a gigantic map of the city with pushpins marking the May 22nd tornado's path. There is as much work going on as there was when I first visited Joplin a few months ago, but the nature of the work is definitely shifting from immediate relief and clean-up to longer-term recovery. First Christian Church is winding down its ministry as a distribution center for those affected by the tornado, and South Joplin Christian Church is still a construction zone, filled with a crew repairing damage throughout the building. The church's leadership is looking beyond the repairs and has started to make plans for the future. A long-term recovery committee has emerged and begun its work, and Week of Compassion partner Church World Service has helped provide support and training for the committee. Joplin tornado Picture taken in the aftermath of the tornado.

 Geographically, Joplin sits on the Southwest edge of Missouri, a short drive from many communities in Kansas, Missouri, and Arkansas with active, mission-minded Disciples churches who have provided courageous, compassionate leadership in offering relief and clean-up to tornado damage in Joplin. Last Wednesday, I gathered with Disciples pastors from Joplin and the neighboring tri-state community, committed lay leaders and ecumenical partners, and Ozark Lakes Area Minister Dr. G. Michael Weinman to flesh out a long-term recovery plan among Week of Compassion, Disciples Volunteering, the Ozark Lakes Area, and supportive congregations. We had a great meeting, and I am happy to announce that things are in motion.

  • As is almost universally the case with initiating a long-term recovery process, there are many pieces in play, including city zoning ordinances, recruiting and training disaster response case managers, and streamlining a volunteer coordination system for recovery, but, thus far, the plans are as follows: Disciples Volunteering and South Joplin Christian Church will launch a mission station in Joplin sometime between November 2011 and February 2012. Neighboring churches in Neosho, MO, Pittsburg, KS, and Columbus, KS, will complement this initiative by offering additional and overflow housing for volunteers. Once the mission station opens, registration for week-long Disciples work groups will be managed by Disciples Volunteering . 
  • First Christian Church, Bentonville, Arkansas, will continue to provide housing for short term (1-3 days) volunteer work groups. Easily accessible for churches traveling from the south, FCC-Bentonville can be contacted for more details by following this link
  • We are continuing to explore a partnership with the United Church of Christ in supporting the work of the South Joplin Christian Church Mission Station. As longstanding ecumenical partners, we're all excited about the possibilities, and we're working hard to make sure our policies and procedures are complementary. 
As Joplin rebuilds, we are, through our partnership with Disciples Volunteering, ready to make things happen, and ready to be part of long-term, sustainable solutions. Thank you for the prayers, gifts, and hopes that you have all brought to the table, as we have prepared for this recovery. We're looking forward to what our partnership brings forth. For more information about Disciples Volunteering's Disaster Response Programs in Joplin, MO, and in Tuscaloosa, AL, please visit their website .

Newsbrief: Nine Years

Nine years ago I was still using the first computer I had ever purchased for myself. It had a half-a-gigabyte hard drive, took up the entirety of the card table I used for a desk, and cost about $2500.

Nine years ago the only internet access, I had, came through a dial-up modem that connected to a telephone line.

Nine years ago my cellphone could only make phone calls, Facebook hadn’t been invented, and Arizona Cardinals super wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald was just starting his freshman year in college. It is amazing how much things change in nine years – technology, innovation, the sweep of history.

What is so significant about nine years ago, you ask? Well, on this day nine years ago Susan and I were married!

It was a beautiful ceremony in the sanctuary of the church where she grew up in Kirkwood, Missouri. We were surrounded by friends and family, and after the ceremony we processed with all 200+ guests down the street to the local children’s museum where we had our reception! It is the greatest night of my life.

It is amazing how some things stay timeless – love, sacred promises, those moments that come to define our lives.

On my ninth wedding anniversary I can’t help but wonder what the next nine years have in store -- for my family, for our church, for our world. What will change? What will remain constant? What are the timeless things that not only will endure, but will help shape the ways that we respond to a constantly evolving world?

It is exciting to dream about what this church will look like in the year 2020, where God will be leading us, and what new opportunities and possibilities will be there for us to respond to the good news of the Gospel.

So take a little time today and reflect with me. Where were you nine years ago? What has changed? What has remained constant? As we look forward, what are your dreams for our church in the coming years? And, what will we have to do to get there? I look forward to hearing all of your answers and living into the future with you all.

Yours in the journey, Rev. Brian