Pastor’s Corner – July 2018

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“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men (people) are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.” These were the words that still inspire us from the Declaration of Independence. This document is 242 years old this month.

Alexander Campbell, one of the founders of what became the Christian Church, the Church of Christ (non-instrumental), and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) was an admirer of Jefferson. One of the traditions of the college he started, Bethany College, was to read the Declaration on the Fourth of July which was also the day of graduation during his lifetime. (I am grateful that graduation was relocated to Memorial Day weekend.)

We are the only mainline denomination to be founded in the United States. As we celebrate the Fourth this month, let us reflect on how much of this document is reflected in the practices and structure of the Disciples.

We ordained the first woman as clergy in the late 1800’s. We ordained African Americans before that. We expect the congregation to be self-governing. We encouraged education of all people, including the members of the church as all of us are to be able to study and read Scripture, not just the clergy. Our clergy are ordained elders who preach and as such hold no more authority than any of the elders of the congregation. This is reflected in our General Assemblies where every congregation gets 2 congregational representatives plus an additional representative for every 100 additional members. If a church has 200 members they get 3 votes and so on.

We, as Disciples should cherish this understanding that our church reflects the power of equality for all people in the nation and in the church. Yes, we have historically bent and broken this covenant of equality, however, we can repent and recall that all of us have been created in the image of God and that all of us, regardless of societal, ethnic, racial, and creedal distinctions, are brothers and sisters with Jesus.

May your Fourth be blessed and may you be a blessing to the people around you.

Shalom, Darrell

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Pastor’s Corner – June 2018

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This past Saturday, May 19, I got to hear a wonderful sermon. I didn’t get up early enough to actually watch the Royal Wedding, but with the benefit of the Internet, I was able to select segments to view. I heard the gospel choir sing “Stand By Me” and I listened to the entire sermon of Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, Rev. Michael Curry deliver a powerful message to people from around Great Britain and other countries who came for the wedding as well as millions who watched it all on TV and online.

He spoke of Love. He chose a passage from the Song of Solomon. I hope everyone knows that this is a book in the Bible. If it has been a while since you have read this book, look at it again. This is the passage he read, “Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flames of fire, a roaring flame. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it.”

He then moved on to quote Dr. Martin Luther King, “We must discover the power of love, the redemptive power of love. And when we do that, we will make of this old world a new world, for love is the only way.”

Love has the power to bridge and remove the chasms that seems to exist between people. We are in a world that holds fast to the concept that it is all about “us against them.” We fear those who look different, speak a different language, practice another faith, wear unusual clothing, or hold a different world view. We seem unable to grasp that we must discover the commonality that can bring together all of our brothers and sisters, the commonality that our faith dares us to LOVE EACH OTHER, and to LOVE GOD WITH OUR WHOLE SELF.

Love is stronger than fear. All we have to do is trust that love is stronger than anything we may face. In our current world, fear is the driving force. We have to get our own before we can risk loving others. This is not the way that Jesus taught us to live. It is the way of the world. Let the flame of love kindle a fire in our hearts that can bring people together to build wholeness for everyone, (SHALOM).

There is another place that is watched Rev. Michael Curry. HE starts off a video of religious leaders challenging us to reclaim the name of Jesus and his teaching of love for our brothers and sisters, not to use His name to claim worldly power or advancement, but to lift up those most marginalized in the world. Rev. Curry is joined by other names that we might recognize, Rev Sharon Watkins and Rev. Cynthia Hale. Go online and look for the video produced by Sojourners titled Reclaiming Jesus. Watch it in light of the sermon on love and pray for the strength to love as Jesus loved us.

Shalom, Darrell

Pastor’s Corner – May 2018

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This month there is an interesting coincidence taking place. On May 20 we will celebrate Pentecost within Christianity and within the Disciples of Christ we will mark Mental Health Sunday. This struck me as I prepared worship material for the month of May and prepared for the work of the Mental Health Initiative workshops that take place this Saturday at the Regional Assembly in Columbus, GA.

The Mental Health Initiative is a pilot program of the National Benevolent Association partnering with the Georgia Region for 2 years. The second year ends at the end of this year. We have constructed a framework for the MHI team in Georgia to continue to work and prepare new participants to become involved.

The Mental Health Initiative seeks to “cultivate welcoming, educated and inclusive congregations by countering the stigma of mental illness and raising awareness of mental health. By providing care and support for clergy and seminarians. By providing resources and educational support for Disciple congregations, clergy, seminarians, and community members. Encourage collaboration, sustainability and innovation of mental health ministries in congregations and the Georgia region.”

Within the life of a congregation we always remember those who need prayer for health crises. We pray for people fighting cancer, heart problems, injuries of the body and many others. We are more reticent to mention family and friends who struggle with depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety issues among others. We pray for the health, total health of people and acknowledge that we need God’s help in our health care, physical as well as mental. Let us set aside our discomfort regarding mental health and acknowledge that discomfort so that we may offer true welcome to people who seek God’s presence in their struggle for full health.

Pray for the Georgia Mental Health Initiative. If you would like to become involved in this work, email GAMHIteam@gmail.com. We need clergy, laity, mental health professionals, and anyone passionate about helping in this mission. Currently we have 6 teams composing the GAMHI team; Executive Administration, Clergy Care and Renewal, Events, Resources, Mental Health Justice, and Communications preparing to carry on this mission within the Disciples of Christ in Georgia.

Shalom, Darrell

Pastor’s Corner – April 2018

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This past Sunday we heard from Denise Bell, our Regional Minister, as she shared possibilities for our next step as First Christian in Warner Robins. She encouraged us to seek our vision for how we want to minister in the name of Christ.

To seek this vision we need to recall the reason for starting this church as well as looking at our community and discovering how we can offer grace and hope. This will need all to be in prayer and investing ourselves to looking around the community and talking to people to discover the real needs in Warner Robins. We also need to share our thoughts and visions with each other. This also presumes that we will speak honestly and listen gracefully.

The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) claims to be “a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world. As part of the one body of Christ, we welcome all to the Lord’s Table as God has welcomed us.” Our vision should bring to life this understanding of our Church.

Since the Lord’s Table is the heart of our faith and worship, let us start at the Table to seek our vision. At the Table we are called to share in this meal as we are, not as we hope to become. We come with our stains and injuries, our pains and our joys, our fragility and our weaknesses. None of us have approached the Table whole. Only in receiving from the Table do we begin the journey to wholeness.

Will our vision reflect this understanding of the Lord’s Table and allow any and all who want to come and receive be permitted to do so? Can we be open and affirming to everyone who needs this gift? Let us prayerfully consider what our new vision will be and as brothers and sisters of faith, work to make the vision visible to Warner Robins.

Shalom, Darrell

Pastor’s Corner – March 2018

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March is the month that either comes in like a lamb and goes out like a lion or come is like a lion and goes out like a lamb. This year no matter how March begins, it will go out like a lamb. We begin in Lent and by the end we have entered Holy Week. Therefore, March will go out like a Lamb.

We will continue our journey of Lent, looking deeply into our faith journey, discovering our strengths and limitations as we prepare to receive the gift of Easter morning.

Discipline is often an unpleasant word. We never liked it as children, adults don’t like it much better. Yet discipline is exactly the focus of Lent and this final month of the journey. On the first Sunday of Lent, I gave 6 challenges to the congregation for Lent. These challenges could also be seen as disciplines, practices that can strengthen our faith life. Take a look at them and see if they might help you.

  1. One day a week go without accessing any social media platforms. No Facebook, no Twitter, no Instagram, etc. It can be amazing how much time is spent reading the feeds of people we know, think we know, and checking out cat videos. Invest that time each day doing something else, such as talking to people directly.
  2. One day a week substitute watching 30 minutes of news with prayer for a list of people, places and events that need prayerful support. We can become addicted to the idea that we “need” to stay informed. Most of our news is opinion and not details that help us understand and come to a course of action. Let us instead pray for leaders (local and global), prayer for healthcare workers, pray for educators, pray for whoever and whatever comes to your mind and heart.
  3. Invest 15 minutes more per day reading the Bible or something that helps you understand and learn something about our faith. If you don’t invest 15 minutes reading the Bible, how can you understand our faith?
  4. Pick 1 day each week to intentionally recognize and greet the people you encounter during the day. This includes the people you know as well as the people you encounter during the day such as store clerks, office workers, etc. Speak to them with warmth and joy.
  5. Visit someone who does not get out of the homes or are in care facilities.
  6. Create a Sabbath hour each week. We are supposed to have a day of Sabbath, but in reality, most of us need to start with a single hour and gradually add more time until we finally achieve the Commandment to honor the Sabbath. Take that hour and reflect upon God’s creation all around you. Listen to the bird and the wind rustling the leaves, watch the clouds, feel the grass and the earth. Honor all that God created.

These are the challenges that might help you during the final weeks of Lent. May you be blessed in self-discovery and arrive at the empty tomb filled with joy.

Shalom, Darrell

Pastor’s Corner – February 2018

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We have reached the second month of the new year. On February 14, we will begin the season of Lent. Lent is the 40 days of preparation for the joy of Easter. How should we get ready?

One of the normal practices that is done currently is the “giving up” of something for the season of Lent. People give up sodas, candy, social media, among many more. This is a good discipline. We could all pass on somethings we consume or spend our time doing. But let’s make it even better.

If you stop purchasing something that you usually purchase daily or weekly, take the money you would normally have spent and turn it into something constructive. At the end of Lent, give that money to Habitat, or Society of St. Andrews, or St. Jude, or any other special service group.

If you give up something like social media or other activities that take your time, turn that time into something constructive. Use that time to read the Bible, practice spiritual disciplines such as journaling, prayerful listening, or meditation. If you can do so, invest that time in volunteering, visiting those who live alone, or helping out a neighbor.

Why do we do these things? What is it we are seeking to accomplish during Lent? We are challenged during this season to examine our own lives and practices and discover if they fit how a Christ-like life is to be lived. Do we need to have all the things that we have and want? Could we live more simply? Do our possessions interfere with practicing our faith?

Let us all take this month to do self-examination and see if we need to redirect our course. The people who talk about getting ready for retirement always talk about reviewing our path to retirement, why not do the same for our Christian life here and beyond.

Shalom, Darrell

Pastor’s Corner – January 2018

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A brand-new year has begun. What will it become? Will it be a blessing or a struggle? Chances are it will be both. How should we approach the next 12 months?

Maybe the best thing to do in this new year is remembering the practices of Christians through the centuries. Practices that go back to the early days of our faith. Practices of prayer, meditation, focused reading of the Bible, and living compassionately.

We all pray at various times of the day. We pray at church. The typical type of pray practiced is when we ask God to act in some manner to help those hurting, or sick, or in need. This is a good practice to maintain. However, we could add another dimension to our prayer life, the practice of listening to God. Early Christians would repeat a short phrase over and over to focus their minds in order to actively listen in their prayers. Phrases like “Lord Jesus, forgive a sinner like me.” Once your mind in calmed, you let your mind be open to the guidance that God may provide.

Meditation can begin in the same manner as the praying described above. It can also be accomplished by focusing on the flame of a candle and listening. In many ways, meditation is a way to pray, to open yourself to the presence of God around you. At various times during worship, I “center” myself by closing my eyes and envisioning my feet sinking into the floor like tree roots seeking the Earth God created. Then I imagine reaching upward toward God and being open to the flow of God’s presence through all of us.

Focused Bible readings are different than just reading selections of passages, but rather reading small sections repeatedly. Select a special passage for you and as you read it over and again, stress the first word, then the second, and so on through the entire passage. But rather than reading it one time right after another, pause between each reading and think about the meaning of the passage with the new understanding of the focus being on a new word. Don’t rush this, let each reading settle in your thoughts and understanding, then go to the next time through stressing a new word.

Finally, we come to living compassionately. This goes beyond being nice to other people. It means being aware of how everything we do has an impact on the world and people around us. As we are the stewards of all that God created, we need to act responsibly toward every-one and everything that God has made. We cannot “fix” everything and everyone. We can examine how we treat the people around us. We can examine what we throw away and waste. We can do better to respect that which God created.

Maybe these tools will impact how we review the year 2018 next January.

Shalom, Darrell

Pastor’s Corner – December 2017

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Here we are at the end of another year. We are in the full-on Christmas pressures loaded upon us by our jobs, our friends, our family, and most often by ourselves. The point of the season is to remember that this time of year is not about us at all. It is about discovering that infant hope within each of us.

Shepherds and Magi didn’t travel to feast on wonderful delights or to trade gifts trying to impress each other. They didn’t fill their days with event after event. They arrived with what little they had and gave thanks for what they discovered.

We need to join them on this journey this month. With all that is occurring in our world, we need to travel with shepherds and Magi again.

We need to discover the awe of all that God has created. We may not have a fantastic star shining in the sky, but we can go out on a clear night away from the lights of cities and stare up into the night sky and see the wonder of all that God laid out. We can seek the bright lights among the stars and rejoice and be amazed.

Take time to sit quietly as the shepherd did before the angels started singing. To rest in the presence of God. Then sing carols or listen to the others sing and recall the angels singing to the shepherds.

We need to wander around our community and find the grace and hope in people around us. We need to spend time with our neighbors sharing joys, comforting pains, and living in the love of our neighbors.

With all the pain that surrounds us, we need to remember that the point of the season is not about spending money. It is about recognizing the infant Jesus in each person. It is about treating everyone as we should see them, as the image of God before us. We need to step away from the fear, anger, hatred, and partisanship that modern society encourages.

May your holiday season be blessed. May the New Year be filled with hope and promise. But most of all, may you be the blessings, the hope and the promise for the people around you. May you bear the image of God clearly through the end of 2017 and into 2018.

Shalom, Darrell

Pastor’s Corner – October 2017

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As I write this, Puerto Rico is being hit by Hurricane Maria, the second hurricane they have felt this month. Earthquakes have again hit Mexico. Concerns about nuclear weapons in North Korea and Iran cause us worries. And there are people predicting the end of the world on September 23 (if you get the chance to read this they were wrong). I could go on adding other crises from around the world, but I think this is sufficient for the point.

On this scale, you and I are overwhelmed by the desperate need to help those who suffer and fear and lost so much. We pray for them and that we never should experience such an event. We can give a gift to Week of Compassion and other agencies trying to help people in desperate situations, but we don’t believe that it will help everyone. Despair grows.

Our Tuesday evening Bible study is reading Mark. Last night we read the second feeding of the multitude which is followed by Jesus and the Disciples getting into a boat to cross the sea. During the journey, the disciples worry that they only have 1 loaf of bread, despite witnessing a second feeding of multitudes. The saw Jesus take a few loaves and some fish and abundantly feed over 9000 people, but when it comes to feeding themselves, they worried about scarcity of bread.

As Christians, we are to listen to the wisdom of Jesus and discover the blessings of God. God created a world of abundance. We are taught that there can never be enough for all. When disasters occur, we fall back on the lessons of the world and not on the lessons of our faith. We become susceptible to those who point to events as signs of the end times and our lack of resources to offer help.

Jesus was teaching his disciples to trust in the act of generosity to make a difference. Generosity is contagious, people witness the sacrifice made to help and respond by sharing their resources rather than hiding them away. We witnessed the generosity of people in the victims of Hurricane Harvey as people of all walks of life put themselves at risk to save lives and rescue people trapped in flood waters. They didn’t think it was strange or unusual, it is what they believed they were supposed to do for their brothers and sisters. They used their resources to rescue, feed, and protect others and didn’t worry about running out of something for themselves. They “fed” thousands. So can we!

“Fear not!” We are the hands, faces, actions, and compassion of our God visible in the world. If we want to see miracles, we have to be willing to participate in the making of miracles that are needed. None of us are exempt. Age is not a limitation, wealth or the lack of it is not a limitation, depth of faith is not a limitation. Fear is our only limitation in order to be part of the miracles needed in our world today. God Is With Us! We have to try.

If you never get to read this because the world did end, we are still God’s children. If it doesn’t end, we are still God’s children with the mission to love our neighbors as ourselves, to seek justice, do kindness, and walk humbly with our God.

Shalom, Darrell

Pastor’s Corner – September 2017

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Marsha, Kathryn Peters, and I traveled to Springfield, TN to see the total eclipse in August. Springfield is north and west of Nashville and we were out in the country north of the city. Near where we were staying was a church and we sought permission to watch the eclipse from their parking lot. The pastor’s family welcomed us along with a mother and college aged son from New York City and a family from northern Mississippi. We shared in conversation, laughter, music, and watermelon. Then we reached totality. In awe we sat around looking at the ring of the sun’s corona visible around the moon. As we watched, the moon continued it journey through space and a small bit of the sun appeared and the ring of light was turned into a ring with a bright gem on the ring. These words pale in the effort to describe the event. All of us were overwhelmed by the experience. We were united with generations past who looked to the sky in fear due to the onset of night in the afternoon of the day. We witnessed an event displaying the amazing work of God.

In August, we were all able to watch the overwhelming experience of the dismaying work of human beings. We witnessed the destructive energy of hatred released in Charlottesville, VA. Groups with a history of hatred toward anyone who looks or believes differently than they do, gathered in VA and expressed their views that some of or brothers and sisters are less deserving than those marching. Nazism is destructive and antithet-ical to our faith. The KKK claims to be Christian, yet espouses the belief that anyone not “white” deserve to be second to themselves. Historically, the KKK is a homegrown terrorist group by the modern definitions used to-day.

How do we as Christians respond to these groups? Do we take to the streets to physically battle against them? Do we declare war on them? NO!

We should stand in opposition to these groups. But we should be standing in loving opposition. Not with hateful language of the Neo-Nazis, the KKK, the Alt-Right but with the language of faith. The faith that pray-ers for those who hate. The language that speaks love for everyone, especially if they do not look or sound like the rest of us. The language of Jesus who told us to turn the other cheek, to go the extra mile, to forgive too many times to count, the language that led to the Cross.

As Christians we should stand between those who hate and those whom the hate groups see as tar-gets. We will teach love to overcome the hatred they learned during their lives.

The excuse for all of this was centered around the removal or destruction of statues of Southern Civil War leaders. The Civil War represents the story of Cain and Abel played out on a national level. We fought be-cause some had repented of their sin of buying and selling human beings and others had not. I am aware of the “State’s Rights” argument. But it was the focus on the State Right to own human beings to provide the workforce to compete with the industrial states. This is not to say that these statues should be destroyed. It means they should be utilized as a national lesson of the price that was paid for the decision to see people of color property, not brothers and sisters. This lesson should reflect upon the history of this nation even before it became a nation and include who we failed to see our brothers and sisters who lived here before Europeans arrived. We must acknowledge the sin of the prideful belief that my way is superior to any other way that I don’t like or understand.

We, as Christians believe in love and forgiving grace. We must not limited this practice to our words, but put them to work in our lives.

Shalom, Darrell