Thursday, March 30, 2017

Whiteboard: Hope in a Time of Despair

On Sunday we'll continue our Lenten " a time of..." sermon series.

Drawing on John 11:14-45 (The Raising of Lazarus) and Psalm 130 (A Prayer of Deliverance) we'll be talking about "Hope in a Time of Despair."

During the sermon I'll be talking about, well, one of the most famous pieces of graffiti in the world.

It comes from Banksy (internationally renowned street artist and provocateur) and it is named "There is Always Hope."

Take a look at the image. What do you see? What is happening? What exactly is the little girl doing?

Because it turns out that people encounter this image in one of two very different ways. I'll be talking about that, and the about the very nature of hope in my sermon on Sunday.

I HOPE to see you there!


John 11:14-15, 38-45 Jesus Raises Lazarus

Then Jesus told them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead. For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.’

Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ 

Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead for four days.’ 

Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’ 

So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upwards and said, ‘Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.’ When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ 

The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’

Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

Psalm 130 Waiting for Divine Redemption

Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.
Lord, hear my voice!
Let your ears be attentive
to the voice of my supplications!

If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities,
Lord, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with you,
so that you may be revered.

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits,
and in his word I hope;
my soul waits for the Lord
more than those who watch for the morning,
more than those who watch for the morning.

O Israel, hope in the Lord!
For with the Lord there is steadfast love,
and with him is great power to redeem.
It is he who will redeem Israel
from all its iniquities.

Three Things from the Elders Meeting

The Elders had their regularly scheduled meeting this past Sunday following the Membership Potluck.

As is our practices, here are "The Three Things" we want you to know from that meeting.

  1. The Elders have made dozens of visits and contacts with our church members
    Our Elders are reaching out to the homebound and hospitalized members of our congregation on a regular basis. They are checking in with the members of their Shepherding Groups. They are extending the care and compassion of Christ. The reported number here ("dozens") is a bit loose, because they are still formalizing the total number of visits, cards, phone calls, and emails they have sent out...but know that your Elders are hard at work in their care-giving ministry!

  2. They Cleaned-up Their Visitation Lists
    You probably don't know this, but the Elders keep a detailed list of our homebound members, those members in hospitals, those members recovering at rehab facilities, and members in need of prayer. We update those lists weekly via email correspondence, but at our Elders Meetings we walk through those lists, name by name to offer any further updates and discern who is missing from our lists and who has graduated off of them.

  3. Prayers for our Baptismal Candidates
    I reported to the Elders on Sunday that we have three baptismal candidates this year: Jordan, Darren, and Henry. As they are completing their "Pastor's Class" with me in preparation for baptism on Easter Morning, I asked the Elders to please keep these three youth in their prayers. Jordan, Darren, and Henry are as excited to be baptized and fully welcomed into the membership of this congregation and the fellowship of the wider church as any baptismal candidates I have ever seen!

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Whiteboard: Abundance

Typically we think of Lent as a time of giving things up. We set aside those stumbling blocks in our lives and we strive to give up those old vices or bad habits. Lent then becomes a time of negation.

Which makes it kind of strange to talk about Lent as a time of Abundance.

But that is the flip side of the coin, isn't it?

That as we are turning away from those old vices and bad habits we are, in fact, moving toward spiritual health and wholeness. In a world that is so much defined by want and shortcoming it is remarkable that our faith reminds us, time and time again, that ours is a God of abundance. God's love is eternal and God's forgiveness reaches out to us and God's mercy washes over us. Ours is not a God who comes up short and leaves us wanting, but rather a God who ever walks with us, strengthening us, empowering us, leading us and guiding us every step of the way.

We see it best in one of the most popular and familiar passages of scripture. In fact, it is probably why Psalm 23 is one of our very favorites, because it reminds of everything that God is and promises the gifts of God's abundance.

So this Sunday we'll be continuing our Lenten Sermon series by drawing on Psalm 23 to talk about "Abundance in a Time of Want." I'll see you in worship!


Psalm 23 The Divine Shepherd

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Three Things from Admin Council

The Administrative Council held their regularly scheduled meeting this past Sunday immediately following the Worship Service. Here are "The Three Things" you should know from that meeting:
  1. S.A.I.L. Coming up on June 14 to July 19
    Our Summer Adventures In Learning series will return for a third straight year, with the program running every Wednesday Night from 5:45 to 7:30 from June 14 to July 19. There will be dinner, Bible stories, dramatic performances, crafts, songs, and wonderful fellowship! Postcards will be going out shortly to all of our young people and volunteer opportunities will be coming up for our church members!
  2. Understanding our Love Gift Policy
    Mary led an excellent discussion on the church's "Love Gift" Policy. (For the record, "Love Gifts" are any financial donation that is made by a member or a friend of FCC Scottsdale that is not a part of their regular pledge or offering). The discussion helped all of the Admin Council members come to a clearer understanding of our church's financials, the difference between designated and undesignated gifts, and how we can better record the wishes of the giver for our church records. If you would like to see a copy of the "Love Gift" Policy then just contact us in the church office.
  3. Introduction of the General Minister and President Nominee
    Rev. Brian offered a thorough introduction of the Rev. Teresa "Terri" Hord Owens who is our nominee for the General Minister and President of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). The election will happen at General Assembly in Indianapolis this summer. Rather than rehash the introduction that was offered, you can learn more about Rev. Terri at the "Meet the Candidate" page on the website. In fact, stop by regularly because they are updating that page all the time with new materials!

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Thanksgiving in an Unsatisfied Time

On the Third Sunday of Lent I want us to consider: What if Thanksgiving wasn't just a holiday meal featuring turkey and stuffing? What if Thanksgiving was a spiritual discipline -- a conscious, consistent act of carefully discerning the blessings of God and offering a word of gratitude? What would happen if we took an entire week, right in the middle of this Season of Lent to be thankful?

Because I'm willing to bet that if we did that, then something amazing would happen to us.

I'm willing to bet that if we started looking out for the things we can be thankful for, that we'd find them at every bend.

I'm willing to bet that suddenly, we'd have this amazing list of blessings to share...not because God is rewarding us with favors because of our thankfulness, but because our thankfulness opens our eyes to the blessings that have been there all along.

It is easy to get sucked into the vortex of dissatisfaction. To focus all of our energy on what we want, on what is wrong, on what hurts and what isolates us. We see that in this Sunday's scripture passage from Exodus 3:11-17, what I like to call "An Official Meeting of the Back to Egypt Committee." The Israelite people "thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, ‘Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?’" It is easy to be unsatisfied.

It is so much more life-giving, though, to focus on thankfulness -- on what is blessing us, on what we have to give, on the generous spirit that fills us and lifts us and sets us free. We see that in our other sermon scripture for this Sunday, Psalm 95: "Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise! For the Lord is a great God!"

This Sunday we'll look to take a break from "The Official Meetings of the Back to Egypt Committee" and instead focus our energies and our spiritual disciplines on the way of Thanksgiving.


Exodus 17:1-7 Water from the Rock

From the wilderness of Sin the whole congregation of the Israelites journeyed by stages, as the Lord commanded. They camped at Rephidim, but there was no water for the people to drink.

The people quarreled with Moses, and said, ‘Give us water to drink.’ 

Moses said to them, ‘Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you test the Lord?’ 

But the people thirsted there for water; and the people complained against Moses and said, ‘Why did you bring us out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and livestock with thirst?’ 

So Moses cried out to the Lord, ‘What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me.’ 

The Lord said to Moses, ‘Go on ahead of the people, and take some of the elders of Israel with you; take in your hand the staff with which you struck the Nile, and go. I will be standing there in front of you on the rock at Horeb. Strike the rock, and water will come out of it, so that the people may drink.’ 

Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. He called the place Massah and Meribah, because the Israelites quarreled and tested the Lord, saying, ‘Is the Lord among us or not?’

Psalm 95 A Call to Worship and Obedience

O come, let us sing to the Lord;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
For the Lord is a great God,
and a great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also.
The sea is his, for he made it,
and the dry land, which his hands have formed.

O come, let us worship and bow down,
let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand.

O that today you would listen to his voice!
Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,
as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,
when your ancestors tested me,
and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.
For forty years I loathed that generation
and said, ‘They are a people whose hearts go astray,
and they do not regard my ways.’
Therefore in my anger I swore,
‘They shall not enter my rest.’

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Whiteboard: The Second Sunday in Lent

I met with our Moderator, Judy K., this week and in our wide ranging conversation we really drilled down on one particular question: What does it mean to be God's people in such a time as this?

When Judy articulated the question with just those words I jumped up and grabbed my worship plans for the Season of Lent...because, well, sometimes the Spirit moves among us.

I showed Judy that I'd been planning a "Faithfulness in this Time" sermon series.

We kicked things off last Sunday with a sermon on "Forgiveness in an Unforgiving Time" and I'll continue the series this week with "Assurance in a Time of Fear."

If you are anything like me, when you see that word "Assurance" then the familiar words of an old church hymn fill your mind.

Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine

O what a foretaste of glory divine
Heir of salvation, purchase of God
Born of His Spirit, washed in His blood

This is my story, this is my song
Praising my Savior all the day long
This is my story, this is my song
Praising my Savior all the day long

Perfect submission, all is at rest

I in my Savior am happy and blessed
Watching and waiting, looking above
Filled with His goodness, lost in His love

This is my story, this is my song
Praising my Savior all the day long
This is my story, this is my song
Praising my Savior all the day long

"Blessed Assurance" is one of the most beloved and well known hymns that we have as a church. It reaffirms the promises of God's blessing, the gift of his love, and the power of Christ to claim us and change us.

In the midst of a world that tells us so many stories (that we are unworthy, that we are insignificant, that we are in constant danger, that all is lost) we dare to affirm that "this is my story" (a story of salvation, glory, and the gift of Christ Jesus). 

This Sunday I'll be telling the little known origin story of "Blessed Assurance" to help us hear those words with fresh ears and to know that these promises are ours...even in times such as these.


Psalm 121 Assurance of God’s Protection

I lift up my eyes to the hills—
from where will my help come?
My help comes from the Lord,
who made heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber.
He who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.

The Lord is your keeper;
the Lord is your shade at your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day,
nor the moon by night.

The Lord will keep you from all evil;
he will keep your life.
The Lord will keep
your going out and your coming in
from this time on and for evermore.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Whiteboard: The First Sunday in Lent

Our friends at the SALT Project (the good folks behind the Advent Family Devotional Calendar we used last year) have put together an excellent Lenten Devotional Booklet. It comes with weekly spiritual disciplines, scripture prompts, and a meditation guide.

I'll be introducing the Lenten Devotional Booklet during my sermon this Sunday and we'll be using it each week throughout the Season of Lent.

And here is the thing: The SALT Project's Lenten Devotional Booklet has a fabulous "introducing Lent" section. Here is what they have to say:

The name "Lent" comes from the an old English word for "lengthening,"
referring to the gradually longer days of springtime. From Ash Wednesday
to Easter Sunday, what was cold becomes warm. What was dormant 
awakens. Just as green shoots break through the winter earth, so the
church stirs into action to proclaim the Easter mystery: in dying, God
destroys death and in rising, God delivers and proclaims newness of life.

Throughout Lent I'll be leading a sermon series on the spiritual gifts that we can develop like "green shoots that break through the winter earth" as we too stir into action. I'll be kicking things off this Sunday by focusing on the gift of forgiveness and exactly what it means for us to be "A Forgiving People in an Unforgiving Time." 

I hope to see you this Sunday (when we'll be handing out the Lenten Devotional Booklets to everyone at worship) and all through this holy season in the life of the church.


Psalm 32 The Joy of Forgiveness

Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
Happy are those to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

While I kept silence, my body wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer.

Then I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not hide my iniquity;
I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’,
and you forgave the guilt of my sin.

Therefore let all who are faithful
offer prayer to you;
at a time of distress, the rush of mighty waters
shall not reach them.
You are a hiding-place for me;
you preserve me from trouble;
you surround me with glad cries of deliverance.

I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding,
whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle,
else it will not stay near you.

Many are the torments of the wicked,
but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the Lord.
Be glad in the Lord and rejoice, O righteous,
and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

I was in Indianapolis earlier this week for the General Board Meeting of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada.

Since we’ve developed this practice with our leadership board here at FCC Scottsdale, it only seems fair to do the same thing for the General Board…so without further adieu, here are “The Three Things” you should know from that meeting!

  1. We formally nominated the Rev. Terri Hord Owens as our candidate for General Minister and President of the denomination.
    So there is a little bit of confusion in the church on this one. The General Board is NOT tasked with calling the next President of our denomination – only the General Assembly can do that. What the General Board does is affirm the nomination of a candidate selected by the Search Committee that is then forwarded on to the whole church for a final decision. So at the General Assembly in July we’ll have the chance to call a new GMP, and our candidate is the Rev. Teresa “Terri” Hord Owens.

    Rev. Terri is the Dean of Students at the University of Chicago Divinity School where she works with ministers in training, helping to develop the leaders of our tradition and other protestant denominations. In addition to that fulltime job, Rev. Terri also serves as the Senior Pastor of First Christian Church of Downers Grove, IL. That means that she has a unique, first hand understanding of bi-vocational ministry and what it means to serve in a small church context.

    What’s more, ministry is a second career for Rev. Terri. She has over 20 years of corporate experience where she served as an executive and consultant with technology companies. She specialized in working with large teams, restructuring organizations, and creatively meeting the needs of large scale operations.

    You can learn more about Rev. Terri by clicking here.
  2. We formally launched a new Mission Imperative for the church.
    We have been doing a two year Mission First! Pilot Project as a General Church. As a part of that process more than 80 Mission Gatherings were held throughout the United States and Canada, with the intention of hearing directly from our churches and rallying around a common mission imperative.

    At the General Board Meeting the Mission Council unveiled our Mission Priority: “God calls us to work with and for children, youth and young adults so together we may share and receive the good news of Jesus Christ by creating communities of healing, learning and transformation.”

    The hope is that this Mission Priority will help orient the work of local congregations, focus the programs of General Church units, and foster cooperation between local churches.

    You can learn more about the Mission Priority and the Mission First Project by clicking here.
  3. We approved a boatload of reports and resolutions for General Assembly this summer.

    The whole church will be gathering in Indianapolis this summer for General Assembly from July 8-12. In the build up to General Assembly we received reports from all of the General Units of the Church and the Regions as well (and that was really exciting! There are incredible things happening in the name of Christ!). We also edited official resolutions for consideration (which is about as boring as it gets, but is nonetheless necessary work!). Those reports and resolutions will posted on the GA Website shortly.

    You can learn more about General Assembly by clicking here.