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

Pastor’s Corner – December 2015

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Can a red cup represent Christmas? I fully believe that it can, especially if it is a red chalice bearing the cross of St. Andrew. Our chalice reminds us of the centrality of communion in our lives and worship, and the cross of St. Andrew reminds us of the Scottish heritage of our founders. The celebration of the birth of Christ is not about snowflakes, or what we call a decorated tree, but rather the acknowledgement of our responsibility to care for the infant Jesus we see in every person we meet.

It is not about spending a lot of money buying things that we don’t need and may not even want. It is about caring for those who are lost, wandering the world, seeking for shelter and loving grace. Christmas tells the story of a family seeking shelter so that a birth may occur. The best that could be provided was the shelter of a stable or small barn, the feed trough as a bed for an infant. We erect our Nativity Scenes in our homes and churches and on our lawns. We look with glistening eyes upon live Nativity Scenes put on in our communities.

In contrast, we fail to see the homeless people sleeping on the street. Some of these homeless have served their nation in the military and have been cast aside due to the stress they encountered during that service. Some are people from war torn areas seeking safety; some are fleeing to a place of hope for a better life. We love to look at the Nativity scene. We don’t want to notice these others seeking for a bit of comfort and shelter.

I am aware of the concern and fear, especially regarding the refugees from Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East. There are always those who will seek the easiest path to what they perceive as power and control. There may be some who are not good people. But if we never meet them, how can we tell? If we don’t care for them, how can we convert them from enemies into friends? Jesus taught through his actions to love those that most push aside, so we should care for those who are despised in order to heal those that most won’t even acknowledge.

Celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior this month. Celebrate less with arguments about cups and names and more with love and grace; the same love and grace that the babe whose birth we celebrate showed us when we were of no account. Love your God with all your strength, all mind and with all your spirit, and love your neighbor as yourself. May you have a blessed Christmas and may you be a blessing this Christmas to someone in your community.

Shalom, Darrell

Pastor’s Corner – November 2015

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We can always use a good laugh.  Here are several humorous thoughts that I have found over the years.  “Add these to your list of Murphy’s Laws (if anything can go wrong, it will):  1. Inside every large problem is a series of small problems struggling to get out.  2. No matter how long or hard you shop for an item, after you’ve bought it, it will be on sale somewhere cheaper.  3. Any tool dropped while repairing a car will roll underneath to the exact center.  4. The repairman will never have seen a model quite like yours before.  5. You will remember that you forgot to take out the trash when the garbage truck is two doors away.”

“A man walked into the post office one day and purchased a card.  He turned to the man next to him and requested, ‘Sir, would you mind addressing this card for me?’  The man, thinking the poor fellow could not write, gladly helped him out.  When he handed the card back, the man needed another favor.  ‘I hate to bother you again,’ he continued, ‘but would you mind writing a short message on the card for me?’  The kind gentleman agreed to his second request and wrote out the message as the man dictated it to him.  He gave the completed card to the man who looked at it for a moment and then asked for one more favor.  ‘I know this is an imposition, but would you mind doing one more thing for me?  At the end of the message, would you apologize for the horrible handwriting?’”

This month we will celebrate Thanksgiving.  We will gather and likely eat too much as we begin a long stretch of holiday events.  We will travel, spend time with family and friends.  We will laugh and share stories, we will play games and watch games on TV.  Hopefully, at some point during this time we will remember to express gratitude for the chance to do all of these things.

The word “thank” seems to be entering retirement.  We don’t hear it as often and we may not use it as much as we did at another time.  I found this information like the stories above, “We are told that the English word thanks comes from the same root word as think.  Maybe if we would be more thinkful, we would be more thankful.”

May this verse “Thanks Be to God,” by Janie Alford help you discover the power and the blessing of being thankful, especially during this season.
“I do not thank the Lord,
That I have bread to eat while others starve;
Nor yet work to do
While empty hands solicit heaven;
Nor for a body strong
While other bodies flatten beds of pain,
No, nor for these do I give Thee thanks;
But I am grateful Lord,
Because my meager loaf I may divide;
For that my busy hands
May move to meet another’s need;
Because my doubled strength
I may expend to steady one who faints.
Yes, for all these do I give thanks!
For hearts to share, desire to bear,
And will to live,
Flamed into one by deathless love–
Thanks be to God for this!
Unspeakable!  His Gift!”

May this month of Thanksgiving be blessed.  May you be a blessing to others.  May you love as you have been loved.

Shalom, Darrell

Pastor’s Corner – October 2015

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Welcome to October.  I write this in September and already there have been Christmas items available for sale at Cracker Barrel.  Thanksgiving isn’t far off either.  The age old question, “What do you want?” will be asked many times.  Of course, there are always people willing to volunteer their desires without being asked.

I read this passage this past week in “Christian Century.”  Can you guess when it was written?  “What concerns us is that we should get richer all the time, to have enough for extravagant spending every day, enough to enjoy a lazy life under their patronage; while the rich make use of the poor to enjoy a crowd of hangers-on to minister to their pride….The laws should punish offenses against another’s property, not offenses against a man’s own personal character.  No one should be brought to trial except for an offense, or threat of offense against another‘s property, house, or person; but anyone should be free to do as he likes about his own, or with his own, or with others, if they consent.”  “Christian Century,” August 19, 2015

This sounds like something people say today.  Or maybe back in the late 1800’s.  Would you believe that this quotation is from St. Augustine’s book, The City of God.  It creates this statement as the defense of a wealthy Roman citizen in the last days of a dying empire.

We need to be aware of anything that places property as superior to other human beings.  This can be seen in areas where plants that give off toxic fumes or just bad smells are located in communities where poverty is high and political capital is low.  If we don’t want something in our neighborhood, why should we settle for it going into someone else’s?

We are to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas in the coming months.  These celebrations should call to mind not our success, but rather, as Christians, our responsibilities to our brothers and sisters who suffer from the lack of what we take for granted.  Remember, Jesus was asked, “When did we ever see you hungry, thirsty, naked, or oppressed?  You do remember his answer, I hope.

Look around this month.  How many times do you see Jesus in need?  How many times can you look away?

Shalom, Darrell

Pastor’s Corner – September 2015

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Back in February of this year, I was invited to a Clergy Summit at the Museum of Aviation.  At this summit we learned about the struggles taking place in the lives of the civilian work force.  The Wing Chaplain and the Base Chaplain explained how the Chaplains serve the military personnel, but are limited in what they can do for the civilian workers.  They also shared some of the struggles when people do not understand the work of the military chaplain.

As a result of this summit, The Robins Ministerial Alliance has been created.  The goal of this alliance is to bring together faith communities to provide support not only for the military but specifically for the civilians who work on base.

The 21st Century group has created a website that lists all the programs offering help in a variety of ways and a variety of faith traditions.

A group of on-call clergy responders is being created to respond at a moment’s notice to any emergency situation faced by civilian workers.  These men and women will meet people on the base or where ever they need to go to offer support.

A training program is being developed to provide education for civilian employees within faith communities so that they can recognize and respond to co-workers in need.  The goal is to have people already on base, who have been trained in how to contact and help provide the information, or where to acquire the information, to get people the help they need.

I am involved in this program, so watch for more information and future events that will provide the members of our congregation about the work of supporting base personnel.

On Wednesday, September 9th, the New Beginning Assessment from the Hope Partnership will be at our church to begin the process of providing us with guidance as we look to the future of our church.  Mr. Jim Bane will be here starting in the mid-afternoon and will meet with a variety of people, and finally will have time to talk to a larger group of our congregation that night.
3:00 Meet at the church for a tour of the building and property.
4:00 Review the finances with the Treasurer and/or Financial Secretary.
4:30 Windshield tour of the community.
5:30 Dinner with the Pastor, Board Chair, and Regional partner.
7:00 Appreciative Inquiry Session with up to 30 church participants who are interested in the future of the congregation.

This can be a great opportunity, if we fully participate and are open to possibilities.  I want to encourage everyone interested and available to take part in this program, especially the Appreciative Inquiry.

On Sunday, September 13th at 3:00 p.m. there will be a meeting of the Corporate Board of the Vineville Christian Tower at First Christian Church in Macon.  As many of you are aware, for the past several years there has been a lawsuit in the courts involving the VCT Board.  That suit was withdrawn over six months ago, and since it has not been reintroduced in that time frame, the suit is over.  Even though the Christian Church Homes of Northern California (a Disciples of Christ group) bought the Vineville Christian Tower property a couple of years ago, it was necessary to maintain the VCT Board during the court case.  Now that the case is finished, the Board can meet to take final actions to end the corporation.

This does not mean that we no longer have a mission with the Vineville Tower.  There are still people living there who continue to need people to reach out for worship and special events.  I know that for many, Macon is a long trip, yet it is no farther away than going to Perry, or Fort Valley, or Hawkinsville.  We may no longer own the building, but the Tower remains a witness to the ministry of the Christian Churches of Macon and Warner Robins.  Pray for the VCT Board, and dream of ways to continue the ministry at the Tower.

Shalom, Darrell

Pastor’s Corner – August 2015

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At the end of the Gospel of John, Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?”  Each time Peter responds, “Yes, Lord” and each time Jesus repeats either “feed my sheep” or “feed my lambs.”  We read this as an act of contrition for Peter’s three-fold denial the night of Jesus’ arrest.  But the command given to Peter pushes it in another direction.  In the Bible, anything repeated three times is of extreme importance.  The triple confession, but also the triple command, reaches past Peter and should be heard by all who claim to love Jesus.

I am writing this article during the week I leave for the General Assembly in Columbus, OH.  I read a story from Columbus, GA about the new rules limiting the feeding of the homeless in a public park cared for by the Public Utilities Department.  There are other cities around the country that have made it illegal to feed people in public spaces.  It is a rapidly growing trend.

I appreciate the concerns about lawsuits and the presence of people who may be unstable.  I understand that it takes away from the attractiveness of the spaces for other citizens.  I can see why people find the sight and smell of hundreds of street people to be off putting.

But we are already very good at seeing through those we choose not to notice.  I am reluctant to offer assistance to a person at the entrance or exit of the highway.  I have seen the cardboard sign, “Will Work for Food”.  I know that some of these people are not truly in need, but merely seeking tax free cash.

Jesus also told His followers that there would always be poor people.  We cannot overcome that which has no end.  Why even try?  The hungry and the needy are too many.

But Jesus didn’t tell Peter to feed all of the sheep and all of the lambs.  Peter couldn’t be everywhere.  He could only be in one place at a time.  Maybe the command is to feed the sheep and lambs where he was at the given time.  It wasn’t a command to end all hunger, but to provide a meal for the sheep and the lambs, more along the idea of a large picnic, or like the feeding of the 5,000.

The law says don’t feed the hungry in public, unless you are a licensed food establishment, like a restaurant with an outdoor patio seating area.  But what if I invite friends to a picnic and what if we have enough food with us to invite “new” friends to share in our picnic.  Would that be illegal?  Should I care if it might be?

If Jesus asked each of us, “DO you love me?”  Would we have the courage to answer knowing that he will tell us to feed His sheep?  How will you answer?

Shalom, Darrell

Pastor’s Corner – July 2015

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There will be a called Congregational Meeting on Sunday, July 12th, during the Sunday morning service.  The reason for this meeting is to make a decision regarding the Hope Partnership program New Beginning.  Some material was shared at the Fellowship Dinner in June.  If you were not able to be at the dinner, I will share some information here.

This program is part of our denomination.  You can go to www.hopepmt.org/nb for their website information.  This program teaches churches how to be transformation leaders.  It guides congregations in change that brings churches from institutions to sources of missions.  Sort of moving from a “what was” mindset to a “what is” mindset.  Another way that they express this is to move the focus of the church from member comfort to service to the community.

There are three steps to this process.  The first involves interviews with church leadership, demographics of the community, review of congregational history and activities.  Then they produce a 60 page report.  This report guides churches with future options.

The next step is leader training for small groups and the pastor.  The training will guide the leadership through the next step.

The last step is a series of house meetings of about eight people in a group.  The group reviews the options and then begin work toward a vision statement.  These groups meet over six weeks.  When this is concluded the congregation makes a decision about what the next step should be.

Processes such as this have a price.  Normally the charge is $3,800.00.  But because the whole region is working through this we are getting a break and the cost is $2,800.00.

While a decision is required about participation by July 15, the fee is not needed until the end of the year.  I want to encourage everyone to do some research and pray about this.  Talk to each other about your thoughts.  Then come to the congregational meeting on July 12th.

Shalom, Darrell

Pastor’s Corner – June 2015

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On May 16, I attended the L.I.F.T. Conference at First Christian in Macon.  This event was sponsored by our Regional Church.  The speakers were Rev. Jorge Cotto and Tony Rodriguez from Central Christian Church in Coral Gables, FL. and Rev. Dr. Gilberto Collazo from Church Extension where he is in charge of the Hope Partnership for Missional Transformation.

L.I.F.T. stands for Loving, Impactful, Transforming Communities of Faith.  The promotion for the event asked five questions.  If the answer was yes, you were part of the target for the conference.  These were the questions:
1.  Do you need a push in moving toward being the church that God wants you to be?
2.  Are you asking God what is next for your congregation?
3.  Are you struggling with which way to go in your vision and mission planning?
4.  Is change often the topic of conversation in your congregation?
5.  Do you have more memories than dreams about your ministry?

Did you answer yes?  I did, which is why I attended.

During this conference, Jena Kennedy from Chestnut Ridge Christian Church in Marietta shared about her church’s changes.  She shared that the congregation decided they didn’t want to be the best church in the community; they wanted to become the best church FOR their community.  Among the steps they took was to Embrace Change.  They also restructured their Constitution and By-laws to be more Nimble and to be quicker in response to ministry vision.  They also acknowledged that it was okay to fail.

It is better to try and realize a mistake, than to let fear prevent even trying.

Rev. Cotto and Tony dialogued about their congregation’s transformation.  Coral Gables was a declining, primarily Anglo congregation.  They intentionally called a Hispanic pastor since the neighborhood around the church had changed since the church started in 1927.  Currently they have three services on Sunday morning, English, Spanish, and Spanglish.

Central intentionally developed a spirit of Commitment and Compromise, meaning that the work of ministry and the church was no longer theirs, but belonged to God.  By beginning this way, a spirit of Respect, Love, and Patience developed.  This meant that everyone had a voice and it was heard.  It didn’t mean that everyone got their way, but they all worked together in discerning what God was leading them to become.

Central stresses Unity and Identity.  Unity does not mean uniformity.  Rather it welcomes all voices to the discussion and patiently allows God to guide them to consensus.  Identity is the responsibility to learn Who We Are as part of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).

They also intentionally have two people in charge of all ministry teams, one who has been in the congregation for some time and someone newer to the church that feels led to be involved in that ministry.  In this way, they celebrate their traditions but also welcome new ideas and ways of doing ministry.  This encourages a positive outlook, even when things fail.  They don’t look for the person at fault in failure; they go back to their vision of their ministry to the community and try something else.  The last point Tony and Jorge made was the challenge of leaving their (and our) Comfort Zones.  They endorsed Chestnut Ridge’s attitude of becoming the Best church for their community.

I am sharing all of this because I believe we have an opportunity to create within this congregation the potential for being the best church for Warner Robins.  To that effect, I want to share news of an opportunity to explore New Beginnings.  There will be two opportunities to learn what this entails.  We were told that this would NOT be a Church Growth program, rather it is a church transformation work.  On Friday, June 5th at 7:00 p.m. at First Christian Church in Albany or on June 6th at 2:00 p.m. at First Christian Church of Atlanta in Tucker, New Beginnings will share what is involved and how the program can serve our congregation and our Region. 

By joining New Beginnings they would do an assessment of our congregation in late August or early September.  In November our congregational leaders would gather to learn how to facilitate a congregational conversation to decide on moving forward or not.  There is a financial commitment to participate, but by working within the Region, the cost is spread out over all the congregations taking part.

Their flyer reads, “The Process works!  Congregations connect to mission in new ways.  Leaders have clarity about the direction the church can go.  In many cases the church grows.”

I believe that this is a great opportunity for our church.  I encourage any of our leadership who are available on either of these dates to join me in attending one of these meetings.  I will be going to Albany of Friday, June 5th, and I would love company.

Shalom, Darrell