Pastor’s Corner – November 2016

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On Nov. 7th, at 7:00 p.m. First Christian will be hosting an Election Eve Prayer Service in partnership with Faith Lutheran Church. This service will remind us to continually pray for all those who will be elected on Tuesday, whether our candidates win or lose. The unity of our faith is greater than the lines drawn by political parties and elections. I hope you will come out on Monday night to prepare for the election by seeking the presence of God.

By the time most of you will read this, I will have completed my fifth decade of life. In the grand scheme, turning 60 isn’t that long to walk through life, until it is your turn to do so. As a child with my birthday the day after Halloween, most of the party atmosphere was spent on the day before, and the approach of Thanksgiving and Christmas could overshadow my birthday. As a child I spent a good number of birthdays being sick, too much candy and/or dramatic changes in temperature in Northeast Ohio could have been the cause.

Now I try to slip my birthday amidst my oldest daughter and youngest daughter’s birthdays (Elisabeth shares Nov. 1 and Micah’s is Nov. 3). It was far easier when they were younger. But the necessity to provide an article for this newsletter has led me to think more deeply about my 59 years of life and the purpose of Thanksgiving.

When we give thanks, we often skim the upper layer of the things for which we should give thanks. We are grateful for family and friends, we are grateful for our success in life and work; we are grateful for overcoming illness and challenges. While this is acceptable and good, what happens when we look more deeply on the times we should have given thanks to God in our lives.

I am grateful for the family into which God placed me. It wasn’t perfect, but then again perfection isn’t the goal. I was loved and given the space to become who I was supposed to become. I lived in a time when I could get on a bicycle and ride all over my hometown with friends and in the summer be home for lunch and supper and dark as my boundaries. I was able to go through school and find my place not in one niche or circle, but rather as a person that connected to most of the members of my class regardless of cliques. I attended a great college and built strong ties to classmates, the same can be said about my seminary experience.

It is with profound gratitude that I give thanks for my wife and children. They have kept me sane and level (excluding those times my children attempted to drive Marsha and I over the edge). Now that they have partners and children, I am grateful that they can be driven into sanity after being driven to the other side as well.

I am also grateful for the opportunity to serve the church in all the different capacities to which I have been led. I am grateful for the good as well as for the not so good, because they have all provided lessons I needed to learn. I am especially grateful for the challenges that lay before me as First Christian seeks to re-vision our mission in Warner Robins. We will move through this time together and with God’s help be the best church for this place and time.

I am grateful for all the saints who have crossed my path and demonstrated how to live Christ-like. These saints performed no miracles as we would define them, but rather miraculously loved, listened, and taught with grace and confidence by the way they lived and treated other people.

We all have several weeks before Thanksgiving arrives. Take this time to look back over your life and remember the names and faces of the saints in your life, the people and events that helped to shape you, the gifts that were given. Also remember the struggles that made you stronger, wiser, more compassionate, more the you that you have become. Then, when you have recalled all the people and events, express that gratitude in all that you say and do to everyone you meet. After all, you might be the very saint that God needs to put in someone else’s path.

Shalom, Darrell

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Pastor’s Corner – October 2016

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By the time you read this, we will have completed our first Fall Festival. On Oct. 1, we are holding a Fall Festival for the Pre-K through 3rd graders and their families of Miller Elementary. There are going to be games and food and all sorts of fun for the people coming to the church. This is the first event since we completed the Hope Partnership for Missional Transformation program.

I am reading a book that referred to churches like ours stepping forward out of our comfort zones as going out into the mission fields, out on the edge. This triggered a connection to the heritage of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). Our church began on the frontier of this nation.

We are back on the frontier of our church in Warner Robins. With this as inspiration, I have prepared sermons for the month of October looking at the core of our denomination for guidance as we move into the frontier. Rather than traditional sermons, there will be time for thoughts and dialogue as we explore how our founders looked at the Bible, focused upon communion, structured the church, dealt with challenging issues that might divide, and looked at other denominations.

Alexander Campbell and his father, Thomas, lived and ministered on the western border of Virginia and Barton Stone in the heart of the Kentucky frontier pulled together people who were out on the edge, beyond the familiar they had known before. The world in which they lived was dangerous, challenging, and even frightening. They needed a place to gather and people upon whom they could count on, not people who would look down on them or judge them as less than others. Sound a bit familiar? Aren’t we in a similar world today?

We grew up as a denomination in this world. Yes, we didn’t always get it right, but we did our best in that time. We can do the same by remembering from where we came. I hope you will participate in an exploration of our heritage.

Shalom, Darrell

Pastor’s Corner – September 2016

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Much is happening within this church. We have finished the self-evaluation part of the Hope Partnership for Missional Transformation and have now begun the journey to live into our new mission statement; We Seek to Love God by Loving Others.

We have entered into a joint project with Faith Lutheran Church and All Saints Episcopal Church to provide an after school program for children of Westside Elementary School. The program, “Path to Shine”, seeks to help borderline students in early elementary school. It meets once per week while school is in session. It is a Jubilee Ministry of the Episcopal Church. We already have a list of volunteers to fill in a variety of roles in the program.

We are also gearing up to host a Fall Festival for the students, parents, and staff of Miller Elementary School. We will play games, have inflatable equipment, serve hotdogs and chips and have a good time during the October 1st event. The Fall Festival team began meeting August 24th to put it all together.

We are also trying to arrange a special worship event for the blessing of animals and involve rescue groups as well as people wishing to have their pets blessed. Having had two daughters who had pet albino corn snakes, I will bless the reptiles. (I won’t handle the venomous varieties.) Watch for the date to be announced and bring your pets to be blessed.

First Christian undertook these efforts so that we could answer one question, “If our church ceased to exist, would anyone in the community notice?” We want that answer to be a resounding yes. Therefore, we have begun the process to serve our community, not just to serve ourselves. This includes seeking a college student to work with our youth on Sundays and midweek. We will also begin training opportunities for better equipping this congregation to do the work before us, to be better Disciples.

The immediate goal is to become a flexible congregation that can quickly respond to our needs and the needs of the surrounding community. We will strive to respond as Jesus taught His disciples to respond, with grace, forgiveness, and love. We do not have to be a big church to make a big impact.

Shalom, Darrell

Pastor’s Corner – August 2016

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It is July 21st as I write this article. It has been a month of fun and opportunities. There is much work ahead of us as a congregation, but God will walk with us.

On the other hand, it has also been a month too full of tragedy. People killed for no reason by terrorists, by those charged with upholding the law, by those whose anger has led them to the taking of life. How do we, as Christians, respond to all that has happened and unfortunately, may continue to happen? Currently, people are demanding that sides be taken to decide who is right and indicating who is wrong.

But what about a course based upon the message of the Gospel? Could we find wisdom to confront the problems we face? It is my prayer that it will be so.

Terrorists do not act rationally. By definition, they only act in order to create fear and confusion. Whatever their cause, it is only a smoke screen for the real goal of disrupting life as most of us live it. The motivation is that if we are afraid enough, we will change how we live our lives and begin to distrust everyone we meet and thus become the people we never wanted to be and the very people demonized by the terrorists.

We still live in a world where people are judged by their skin tone, their speech, their nationality, their gender and on and on ad nauseaum. Most of us are unaware when we do judge. We respond to triggers taught to us by our culture when we were young. Unless we have experienced that “judging the book by its cover,” we can live in ignorance of it taking place. We can no longer act as though people of color, from First Nation people, to Latino, and to African Americans, no longer are victims of prejudice. Yes, there are people of every nationality, skin hue, and language who are criminals, disturbed, violent, even evil. But Not All people.

The same is true of the brave men and women who don a uniform to protect and serve. The overwhelming majority respect the citizens they serve and treat them with dignity. But as in all professions, the only ones who grab the headlines are the ones that make bad choices and continue to make bad choices. Let us not demonize the people who daily do their jobs and never cross the line into violence just because we see others in the news doing terrible things.

Jesus taught his disciples to love and forgive. He challenges us to seek the heart of the person without judging the actions of that person until we see the full story of their life. We need to center ourselves in the stories of how Jesus received those that others wanted to cast aside. We need to hear over the blasting voices of media, the compassionate words that Jesus spoke to those rejected.

The greatest temptation in society today, is to believe the deception that is “us against them”. We claim to be all created in the image of God, yet we buy into the idea that our “image” is better than another person’s image. We need to remember the words from Amos, “Seek Justice (for everyone), Do Kindness (to everyone), and to Walk Humbly with God (all of us together).”

Step away from the noise and confusion of our modern media, and listen for the still, small voice of God.

Shalom, Darrell

Pastor’s Corner – July 2016

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By the time you read this article, the subjects in the article will be part of history. During this past week and half, we have heard of a young woman being raped by another student and how his punishment was reduced to prevent further harm to him, and the events in Orlando and the violence committed by someone who was in need of help but turned to the example of people who hate and kill. I am not going to complain about guns. I will call us to be responsible in our actions.

I read an article that my cousin, Mike Vandervort, posted from another HR person that touched me deeply. The author called us to be accountable to the people around us. The young woman was violated once in an alley, but then violated again at the trial when they dug into her history to see if she was “that kind of girl”. The court was concerned about the damage to the rapist.

The shootings in Orlando have become the fodder of politicians and talking heads while little is done to find ways to reduce the opportunities for people who shouldn’t have access to legal weapons continues. No words will restore the hearts and spirits of those who suffered the loss of loves ones, nor heal the scars of those who have survived. One person, for reasons we may never understand, decided to make a statement with violence. We are being left to jump to the conclusion that it was motivated by extreme religious views. Was it that or an easy handle to grab to explain what seems mindless?

How do we as Christians react to all of this? Some voices encourage young women to dress more reservedly since young men (and older men) can’t behave properly. Some voices suggest that we all carry weapons so as to prevent violence with tools of violence.

The prophets often speak of doing kindness, seeking justice, and walking humbly with our God. Maybe if we removed this concept from a verbal event and made it the determining drive for all of our actions, we might come closer to the prophet’s intent. Trying to place blame for our actions upon others never worked when we were children. Why do we accept it so easily as adults? If we thought about our actions in relation to kindness, justice and God, would you or I make different choices?

This is personal responsibility. It cannot be forced, but if enough people start being responsible in this way, it might influence others. Rapes will still occur, but maybe we will recognize the victims as the ones needing support and compassion, and encourage justice toward those who commit the crimes. But along with justice must come the hope for redemption. Justice is never about getting revenge.

Historically, the early church responded to violence by not resisting it. Christians willingly refused to face violence with violence in the early church. They walked into the arena to face death in the knowledge that they were God’s, even in death. Doing kindness, seeking justice, and walking humbly with God might make us rethink how we deal with gun violence, maybe even how and why we feel the need to possess weapons. Fear of what might occur can motivate us to seek security systems and weapons for protection. Yet, we know that people with excellent, expensive security systems become victims. Those who have weapons have had those weapons turned against them as well. In truth, the only guaranteed security that exists is the security of God’s Love and Grace. It cannot prevent incidents like Orlando, but neither will more weapons. What it can do is give peace to us as we acknowledge that we cannot be separated from God.

This is not easily done. It takes a lifetime just to get started. Maybe that is why we are called to be disciples and students. We always need to learn how to be Christ-like as the conditions of the world challenge our resolve to love God and to love each other. Disciples who admit that we do not possess the answer to the questions of “WHY” these things happen learn that the only appropriate answer is to stand with those who are hurt, those who have been damaged, those who grieve and those who need. Are you called to be a Disciple?

Shalom, Darrell

Pastor’s Corner – June 2016

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School’s out, vacations begin, what’s next? The beginning of summer is often a time for a pause in all that has gone on this year. A time to sit back, reflect and look to what’s next. At some point this month, we will make a bold decision about the future mission of this congregation. We will have finished the house groups, shared their visions with leadership and then built a consensus for the congregation to consider and select.

We have four graduates from high school who are using this time to prepare for what is next. There will be college for some, work and then training for others. There is a college grad in our family of faith already into her graduate program to make ready for her next step. In the time line of our congregation, we are daring to step forth into a new direction. At the time of this writing, I don’t know what it will be. But that is alright, because I know that whatever it is, God will guide us.

The world teaches us to be afraid, to let fear dictate how we react and how we make decisions; fear people who are different, fear the scarcity of resources, fear the unknown of tomorrow. As disciples of Jesus, we are to live in faith, the opposite of fear. Courage is not the opposite of fear. Faith is. We have faith that God will guide us. We have faith that Jesus walks with us. We have faith that there is no power in all of God’s creation that can separate us from the Love of God.

Society may call this foolishness, but then we are to be fools for God. There once was a son of a wealthy merchant who argued with his father about the needs of the community. The father, in anger, told the son if he didn’t like the way he provided for the family, he was welcome to surrender everything he had received as the father’s son. Tradition tells us that he took off all of the clothes his father had purchased and walked out of his father’s house the way he had entered the world. He is credited with the creation of a community that encouraged men and women to work together to help the people around them, to spend time in prayer and worship, and to live on the simple things that they could grow and make on their own. We know this man’s name; it was Francis from the town of Assisi.

Do not fear because you lack what modern society says you must have and protect. What we truly need is to trust and have faith in God to provide us what is truly needed and that we can accomplish great things when we walk in faith.

Shalom, Darrell

Pastor’s Corner – May 2016

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As this month begins, the House Groups have finished their first week of meeting. This is part of the Hope Partnership for Missional Transformation. The participants are learning a process that will lead to a big step in how we can answer God’s Vision for First Christian Church in Warner Robins.

Whether you are in a group or not, continue to pray for God’s guidance as we explore the understanding of what church is and how we can respond to God. This is among the most important things we have done as a congregation.

After the groups meet, the group leaders and I will sort through their decisions and present the assessment to the board and then to the congregation. We all need to be involved in responding to the results of the House Groups efforts.

We are at our best when we come together as the people of God to love as we have been loved. Let us roll up our sleeves and get ready to work for God in Warner Robins.

Shalom, Darrell

Pastor’s Corner – April 2016

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Did you know that language changes over time? The definition of words can alter and can even reverse themselves. Once upon a time, to call a person “nice” was an insult and that to say something was “awful” was a compliment. To apply the “nice” was to indicate that they were like the people from Nice, France. It was a notorious place at the time, and the people were not nice by our current definition. This is no longer the case for the city of Nice. “Awful” was meant to fill someone with awe, quite a transition for both words.

Our understanding of words can also alter. Once upon a time we called the church “the Church of Jesus Christ”. We now often refer to it as “my” church. If we think about this particular transition of meaning, it is quite sad. We have moved from thinking that the church is about doing the Will of God and made it more about doing the will of the people who take part in the activities and life of the congregation. Yes, we still read the Bible and pray. We still go to worship and give to mission work. But, so much of our time and energy is directed toward the care and nurture of those already considered part of the body of Christ.

What do “we” want to do? What do “we” like or dislike. What do “we” think needs to be done?

We are entering a time of study and reflection with the idea of seeking what God wants us to do and be. We are to pray about this, talk about this, study about this, and most importantly, listen to God about this. House groups will be meeting to pray and consider. I hope that everyone would be part of the praying for this particular congregation of Jesus Christ that we may discover who we really are and what God would call us to do.

Everyone in the church needs to be praying, even if you no longer live in Warner Robins, please keep us in prayer. If you are here, attend one of the groups so that we can discern the call of God for the whole body of this congregation. Every voice and every heart should be part of this work. It can be a frightening time, but it can become a time for greater understanding of God working in this church.

We will become the heart, hand, feet, and voice of this manifestation of the Church of Jesus Christ at 100 N. Houston Road in Warner Robins, GA. You will be an essential part of the Body of Christ, and we need all the parts to come together for this work of discernment.

Shalom, Darrell

Pastor’s Corner – March 2016

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This month we will celebrate Easter. Easter marks the dramatic victory of life over death, of freedom over fear, and of hope over despair.

We know the story of Easter, but we often miss the profound transformation that took place. A prophetic healer challenged the status quo of the world and the powers in charge said it will cost your life. Crucifixion was the most profound method of humiliating execution available at the time. To be hung on a cross was to erase your name and memory from all who once knew you. Those who died on the cross offended the authority of Rome and their families often refused to attend the execution because they feared that they would be seen as supporting the cause of the person killed.

Jesus died on the cross. Rome was satisfied that they had the last word. God spoke another word and life returned!

We follow someone who was executed by the state for a capital crime. We should be embarrassed. We should be ashamed. Instead, we hold to the vision that God is always the last Word and that Word is always LIFE.

During this month, we will be recruiting participants for House Groups as we move forward in the Hope Partnership for Missional Transformation. Yes, I know that sounds like jargon. What it means is that we are preparing ourselves for a journey we will take to discover God’s mission for First Christian Church in Warner Robins. During this month we will pray for guidance and for the willingness of all of us to listen to God and each other and ultimately make a bold decision about our future mission.

This will mean a great deal of work. We are being asked to commit about 2 hours a day for 6 weeks to meet and journey through the material with openness, honesty and most of all prayer. It is vital that we have at least 30 people participate in these House Groups. It would be wonderful to have more.

Just as the disciples’ lives were transformed by the discovery of an empty tomb, so may our congregation be transformed. This is not a program to fix problems. It is to get a profound discovery of God’s call for us. Fishermen, tax collectors, and all the other jobs that the Disciples had before the tomb was found empty became secondary to the Call to Mission that they discovered. Much like the Disciples, after we complete this process, we will make attempts to answer God’s call. Sometimes we will fail. Sometimes we will not recognize our success, and sometimes we will be amazed at what God does through our efforts.

If you are in Warner Robins, sign up for a House Group. If you live elsewhere or cannot commit the time, pray for us as we journey toward mission.

Shalom, Darrell

Pastor’s Corner – February 2016

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Lent begins this month. Lent is the season of personal preparation for Easter. We are to take the next 40 days (not including Sundays) to make ourselves ready for the Resurrection event. Devotional books will be available this month for every family as well as the opportunity to gather change in a box for the Society of St. Andrew. The Society of St. Andrew focuses upon dealing with hunger. Among the things that they do is gathering volunteers to glean fields for the hungry. For instance, during the General Assembly in Columbus, volunteers bagged potatoes for food banks and soup kitchens. They bagged thousands of pounds in an afternoon. In Georgia St. Andrew gathers volunteers to gather apples to give to food pantries and soup kitchens. It’s something to think about as a congregation for the fall.

Many people think of Lent as a time to give up something. Usually what is given up is something we should avoid doing or manage better already. Maybe this year, rather than giving something up, add something. Add a specific time to read the Bible or devotional material; add a time to have family prayer; add a time for volunteering in some way; add a time for practicing spiritual discipline (meditation, fasting, or others. I have books that describe these disciplines).

Lent is a time that we are to be better prepared to receive the amazing blessing of God’s Grace. We DO NOT earn this Grace. It is freely given. This does not mean that we shouldn’t do anything, but rather, that we focus upon responding to the God who provides us with this opportunity.

We are challenged to pay attention to how well we love our neighbor, how we treat each other, how closely we follow the path that Jesus taught His disciples to follow. If in this time of reflection we discover places we fall short, we are challenged to do better. It is not a time to count the times we have failed, but instead to make the effort to do better. This isn’t a time to beat ourselves for our shortcomings. This is a time when we assess ourselves and find the places to improve. Think of it as preparing a TO DO List. We do not put a lifetime of things on the list, we don’t even put down a week’s worth of tasks. We are to list a single day’s list of things that can be accomplished in a reasonable day’s time. Our Lenten To Do List should focus on one aspect to improve at a time. If you don’t pray often enough, deliberately set a specific time to do so. If you can’t find the time to read the Bible, designate a daily time to do so.

This is how to develop our spiritual discipline; one step at a time, and not down loading it all at once. We didn’t learn to read on the first day that we tried. Over 40 days, new habits can be established and new gifts discovered. This is a journey worthy of your time.

Shalom, Darrell