Monthly Archives: September 2011

September 29th, 2011 eNote

Below is my weekly email to the Tonganoxie UMC congregation.  I share it here so that others can keep in touch with what the church is up to.  Let me know if you’d like to be added to the list to receive the note weekly.

Dear Tonganoxie UMC Family,

          I am sending this note a day earlier than usual this week as I will be leaving this afternoon for a quick trip to Nebraska.  I have been invited back to Nebraska Wesleyan, my alma mater, to meet with a campus ministry group tonight and to speak to a couple of classes tomorrow.  I am excited to be back on campus and look forward to the opportunity to share a bit of my story with students currently enrolled.  This evening I’ll be talking about my call story and the journey into ministry with the group of campus ministry students.  Tomorrow morning I’ll be sharing some of my experiences interning with the Interfaith Youth Core and the years I spent coordinating the Days of Interfaith Youth Service in Northwest Indiana.  I would be most grateful for your prayers that my time with them and what I have to say would be a blessing to the students.  Before I leave town I want to share a few things with you today.
New Staff Addition (Kind of)
          Since last November Keith Shank has been serving as our Youth Director, a staff position designed to be half-time at roughly 20 hours a week.  Staff Parish voted this week to hire Keith for an additional 10 hours a week as the Director of Media and Technical Ministries.  The job description will be firmed up in the coming weeks, but responsibilities will include putting together and running projection for Sunday worship (and eventually coordinating a team of volunteers to do this), assisting with filming and editing video for church projects, developing graphics for church projects, and overseeing the building and management of a new website for the church.  Since late spring and early summer Keith has been doing many of these things for the church.  Providing him with the staff hours and compensation specifically for this will now give him back the initial 20 hours a week to focus on youth ministries.  I am excited about all of the potential that this staffing move provides for both our youth and media/technical ministries!
Lay Leadership for 2012
          Churches are, at their best, communities of Christians who combine their gifts and skills to do the work of God in the world.  In order for our church to best function we need skilled and willing lay people to serve in a variety of capacities.  There are administrative teams like Finance, Staff Parish (church HR, if you will), and Trustees.  There are also a variety of program teams; currently we have active Caring/Outreach, Christian Education, Mission, Vision, and Worship Teams.  Next Wednesday, October 5th, the Lay Leadership Team will meet for the first time to begin discussing Ministry Team needs for 2012.  I would love to hear from you regarding two different things.  1.) What team are you interested in being a part of?  2.) Who in the church do you think would be good members of various teams?  Please prayerfully consider these questions and feel free to respond by commenting here or sending me an email.
Upcoming Fellowship and Food Opportunities
          In the next week and a half there are a couple of great opportunities to share food and fellowship with our church family.  Both of these opportunities are also a great time to invite a friend or family member who doesn’t regularly worship with us to come and connect with our church in a relaxed atmosphere.
          Next Thursday evening, October 6th, the UMW is sponsoring a Soup Supper in Hughes Hall from 5-7pm.  There is no set charge for the meal, but a free will donation will be collected.
          Next Sunday afternoon, October 9th, our church family will be heading to Kerby Farms for a great time of fun and fellowship as we pick pumpkins, explore a corn maze, and ride a hayride.  We will be leaving the church at 3:30pm and will return by 6pm for a potluck meal.  Even if you’re unable to join us for the trip to Kerby Farms, feel free to come for the potluck at 6!  Kerby Farms’ admission price is $5.00 for anyone over 3 years old.  Pumpkins are sold for 40 cents a pound.
New Worship Series Kicks Off This Week – Better Together
          Make sure to join us this Sunday in worship (and through the month of October) as we journey through a new sermon series, “Better Together.”  We’ll explore the dual realities that as individuals we are better when working with others and that as a community of faith we are better when people are living out their faith together.  We will begin this Sunday by looking at how we are better together through the act of “Praying Together.”
          I look forward to being with you in worship on Sunday and hope that you have a great rest of your week.  It is, as always, a blessing to be your pastor.
Grace and Peace,
Jeff
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Harvest Time 09 25 11

My sermon from September 25th, 2011 based on Matthew 9:35-38 and Matthew 22:34-40.  5th of 5 in “Lessons from the Farm” series.

This morning we conclude our series, “Lessons From the Farm on Growing in the Christian Life.” For the last four weeks we have explored various attributes or principles of the Christian life, specifically as they are related to images and metaphors from the farm and from agriculture.

If you have been with us through this series you know that none of the principles shared or the lessons are particularly earth shattering or new; they’re simply the kinds of things that we often know, but struggle to actually live day to day.

On the first Sunday of this series we talked about the reality of the human condition, all of the stress and pressure of living, of trying to meet the expectations that others place upon us. We likened the mess of the human condition to being stuck in the mud and addressed the reality that, try as we might, we aren’t able to get ourselves unstuck. As the starting point for our spiritual lives we must surrender our lives to Christ and then turn to follow him. In this act of surrender we are able to get unstuck from the mud.

On the second week we talked about the next step in our Christian journey, the need to be in community and relationship with other Christians. We talked a bit about the act of putting up a field’s worth of those small square hay bales and how to try to do so on one’s own would be a nearly impossible task. Just like putting up hay, we identified that growing in our Christian faith is not to be done alone.

A couple of weeks ago now we talked about what the gardens of our souls need as we seek to grow into who God wants us to be. Specifically we talked about the weeds that can grow out of control and choke out the good that God hopes for us. In order to grow as God would hope for us to grow in the Christian life we must tend to the weeds, we must use discipline.

And last week we talked about the need to effectively manage the manure in our lives. If you were with us last week you’ll remember that we named the reality that manure happens. There is no denying or hiding from this reality. However, we also named the fact that it is not the manure of our lives that will ultimately define us, it is what we do with the manure in our lives. And so we talked about the need for a manure management plan, a way to turn the manure of life into compost, something that can be rich and life giving to others.

As we conclude this series this morning we’re talking about the end, goal, purpose, mission of the Christian life. As we explore this reality today we do so using the framework of the harvest. Again I asked Ben Myers, one of our resident farming experts, to tell me a little bit about what the harvest means in the life of a farm. Hear what he had to say…

(Ben’s Harvest Video)

Some of what Ben says here is key. The harvest is a very important time, of course, it is the culmination of months of hard work. And so you watch very closely and you wait very patiently so that you might harvest at the just right time so that your work hasn’t been in vain. When it is time for the harvest, we can see if the things we have done in cultivating our spiritual lives have been done well.

Throughout this series we have talked a lot in generalities about the life that God would want us to live, the fruit that God might hope for our lives to bear. As we talk today about preparing for the harvest, I want to spend just a bit of time talking a bit about what that life might look like, about what it is that God might hope for from us.

In the passage we read a few minutes ago from the 22nd chapter of Matthew Jesus gives us insight into this very question. He is essentially set up in this story. The Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Saducees when they put him to the test. So the Pharisees, the religious rulers of the day, gathered together and one of them, a lawyer we’re told, asked him a question, ‘Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?’ By asking Jesus this question, the lawyer was seeking to trap him, to have to give priority to one law at the expense of all the others. Jesus’ response, is magnificent…

‘“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.’

What kind of fruit does God look for in our lives? What should be the goal or the end or the purpose of the Christian life? You should love God with all your heart, soul, and mind. You should love your neighbor as yourself.

To love God with our whole heart and soul and mind is about more than simply professing love or even than feeling affection. Loving God with all of our heart and soul and mind requires energy and work and investment on our part. Regularly being engaged in worship is an important part of this, having time and space in our routines where we can pause and breathe and feel God’s spirit at work in our lives is important. Gathering with other Christians to sing songs of praise and to hear the scriptures read and God’s word proclaimed is an important part of growing in our love with God.

Sometimes we will need to do these things even when we don’t particularly have warm and fuzzy feelings toward God. The closest illustration I can make to this is the relationship that we have with our partners. There are times that I don’t necessarily feel warm and fuzzy feelings toward Heather. You’ve experienced this, right? You’re tired, you’re stressed, you and your partner have been going in a million different directions trying to stay on top of the demands of life and it’s just not really much fun.

Even in these times I know I am to show my love to her as her partner. I am to act in loving ways. So it is with our relationship with God. Sometimes we feel really close to God and it’s easier to do these things. Sometimes we don’t feel particularly close to God, but we are still to take the opportunity to show our love.

The other piece of this, then, is that we’re called to love our neighbors as ourselves. I realize that statements like these often lend themselves to the most favorable definition possible. You might seek to define love as simply as you can or to define neighbor as narrowly as you can, but I challenge you to think expansively about this. Define love as generously as you can, define neighbor as broadly as you can. Love your neighbor as yourself.

John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement that evolved into our United Methodist Church called these two things, loving God with all our heart, soul, and mind and loving our neighbors as ourselves, sanctification. It is important to understand that growing in the Christian life is to be a daily journey that unfolds throughout the course of our lives. I often try to look at it like this. Today, I hope to love God and to love my neighbors just a little bit better than I did yesterday. Tomorrow I will hope to love God and to love my neighbors just a little bit better than I do today.

There will be days when I fail to do this. There will be days when I make mistakes and turn my back on God. There will be days when I fail to extend love to my neighbors, but the good news is that even in the midst of my failings God loves me and forgives me and calls me into another day. I invite you to consider adopting this perspective. I know you’ve heard my say it before, but it’s worth repeating here, God love you exactly the way you are, but doesn’t want you to stay that way.

Bit by bit, little by little, day by day, over the course of a lifetime, we can make incredible progress as we grow into the people God calls us to be.

The harvest that God hopes for in each of our lives is that we do these two things and that we do them better today than we did yesterday. We are to love God with all our heart and soul and mind. We are to love our neighbors as ourselves.

The extent to which we do these two things is the harvest our lives bear. However, there is another way in which the harvest of our lives can be measured and gauged. This is related to the other parable we read a few minutes ago. Jesus is traveling through Galilee healing and teaching and performing miracles and Matthew explains to us that 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37 Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few; 38 therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest.’”

Jesus saw hurting and broken people who were in need of a shepherd. Jesus charges his disciples with going out into the field and to helping people meet and connect to God. Jesus lived for reaching people who have no connection with God. Jesus calls us to help with that work. We are sent out to help find others who are lost and hurting, we are sent out to share the good news with others who might join us as workers cultivating the great harvest.

Regardless of who you are, the family you come from, where you work, or the connections you have, there are people in this world with whom you have unique and special connections. You all know people who trust you in ways that they would never trust me. I’m the pastor, it’s my job to tell people about Jesus, it’s my job to tell people that God loves them. I know this might sound odd, but people are sometimes less likely to hear those things from than they are from you. You are just a friend or a co-worker or a neighbor, you don’t necessarily have an agenda.

I was recently told the story of a man who was traveling with his family and staying in a hotel. One evening the man and his daughter were in the lobby playing a board game and they watched as a woman came into the hotel to check-in. Sitting in the lobby they couldn’t help but overhear as the desk clerk had to explain to the woman that her credit card had been declined. The woman was clearly embarrassed and expressed frustration, saying that she wasn’t sure what she could do. She said she was going out to her car and would look for another card and come back in a few minutes.

Without really thinking the man grabbed a pad of paper and wrote a couple of notes and took them to the front desk with his credit card. He handed them to the clerk with one note on that read, “I am a Christian and want to share God’s love by paying for that woman’s hotel room tonight. Please don’t tell her it was me and please just hand her this other note when you tell her her room is paid for.

The man returned to his board game with his daughter and the woman soon came back to the desk. The clerk explained to her that her room was paid for and handed her the second note that the man had written. It simply read, “I am a Christian who believes deeply in God’s love. I also believe that as a Christian I am to share that love with others. I have paid for your hotel room tonight and want you to know that God loves you.”

The woman was clearly moved and expressed her disbelief to the clerk who simply said that it had been an anonymous gift. After the woman went upstairs to her room the clerk came over to the man and expressed how much his gesture had touched her. “I’m going to call my boyfriend and tell him what I witnessed on my break and I can’t wait to tell my manager on Monday. What you did is one of the neatest things I have ever seen anybody do.”

Do you see the power of what this man did? In one simple gesture he shared God’s love with the woman who needed a room for the night. He showed his daughter what it looked like to extend Christian love. He showed the desk clerk how Christians share God’s love and give. His actions also impacted the desk clerk’s boyfriend who would hear the story that night as well as the hotel’s manager who would hear the story early the next morning. The man who put forth the effort to share God’s love in this simple act would later say it was the best $60 he ever spent.

You too can do things like this, can share God’s love with a hurting and broken world in seemingly simple and insignificant ways. And so I leave you with a couple of questions. What fruit are you going to bear? What will the harvest of your life look like? This is why we’re here. The harvest is plenty, the laborers are few.

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September 23rd, 2011 eNote

Below is my weekly email to the Tonganoxie UMC congregation.  I share it here so that others can keep in touch with what the church is up to.  Let me know if you’d like to be added to the list to receive the note weekly.

Dear Tonganoxie UMC Family,

Several times this week I was shocked as I looked at the calendar and realized that September was rapidly coming to a close.  It is hard to believe that 2011 is almost 3/4 of the way over.  It is hard to believe that the holidays will soon be upon us and we will soon ring in 2012.  I spent Tuesday of this week mapping out worship for the rest of the year and roughly outlining plans for 2012.  I am excited about all of the opportunities that we will have to grow together as we worship God in the coming months and do hope you’ll continue to make Sunday mornings a priority in your relationship with God!  This morning I want to share a couple of things with you related to worship.

Thank You for Your Excellent Summer Worship Attendance

Church worship attendance is typically at it’s lowest point of the year during the summer months.  That said, I want to commend you for your faithfulness to being in worship through this summer.  In 2009 our average worship attendance for June, July, and August was 87 people/Sunday.  In 2010 our average worship attendance for June, July, and August was 95 people/Sunday.  This summer our average worship attendance for June, July, and August was 109 people/Sunday.  Over the course of the last two years our summer worship attendance has increased by just over 25%!  The numbers reflect the exciting energy that has been and is building here with our church.  I want to thank you for your faithfulness in worship attendance this summer, I am excited to see how this energy continues to build through the rest of this calendar year!

Help Me Plan Sermons for 2012

Over the next couple of months I will be seeking to formalize plans for preaching and worship in 2012.  As I do, I would value your input!  About what kinds of things would you like to hear a sermon series? With what topics/ideas/issues do you wrestle?  About what questions of faith would you like to learn more?  If we were going to do a series or two geared specifically at inviting new people to be a part of our church what do you think your friends and neighbors in the community might find interesting or compelling?  Please give it some thought and feel free to send me an email with any ideas that you might have.

Join us Sunday as we Conclude “Lessons from the Farm”

This Sunday morning we will conclude our series “Lessons from the Farm on Growing in the Christian Life” by talking about “Harvest Time.”  We’ll talk about the type of harvest God desires in our lives and how we can take everything that we have learned through this series and use it to be the people God intends for us to be.  I do hope that you’ll plan to be in worship Sunday and I look forward to seeing you then!

When I think about how much this church has grown in the last couple of years and how exciting these last few months have been, I find myself feeling incredibly energized about the future into which God is calling us.  You are a wonderful congregation and it is a blessing to serve as your pastor!

Grace and Peace,

Jeff

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Manure Management 09 18 11

My sermon from September 18th, 2011 based on John 12:24, Romans 5:3-5, and Romans 8:28.  4th of 5 in “Lessons from the Farm” series.

Today we continue our series “Lessons from the Farm.”  A series that we designed to help us take a fresh look at some of the keys to growing in the Christian life.  Through this series we’re exploring agricultural metaphors and lessons from farming as they pertain to our spiritual growth.  The hope for this series is that we might be reminded of and inspired to live out some of these important truths so that we might fully live the life that God has called us to live.

We began the series several weeks ago by talking about the first step to experiencing the life that God wants for us.  The important step of surrendering our lives to Christ allows us to turn and follow him so that we can be freed from the mess that is the human condition, we can finally get unstuck from the mud of life.

Two weeks ago then we talked about the next step, the important role that Christian companionship or community plays in our spiritual growth.  We are not designed to operate in isolation from others and so we need to connect with people as we seek to grow into who God would have us be.  We need the strength and support of community and at the same time we need to be engaged in community for the sake of others who need our strength and support.

Last week then we talked about the importance of discipline as we grow in our spiritual lives.  As we explored this lesson we looked at the need to tend to the weeds in crops or in gardens.  I confessed that this summer we neglected the garden for a few weeks in the midst of the craziness of moving in and then it got hot and several more weeks went by and all of a sudden we had a mess on our hands…  And I invited you to think of these weeds as a metaphor for our spiritual lives.  To produce the fruit that God hopes for us, we must tend to the weeds.

This week we’re going to talk about manure.  I imagine that many of you have seen the bumper stickers or at least heard the sentiment that, well, to paraphrase,  “manure happens.”  We know this right, in life there is suffering, hardship, pain, unpleasantness.   These things are as much a part of living as manure is a part farming.

A couple of weeks ago now Heather and Hannah and I were having a leisurely breakfast on a Saturday morning and out of the corner of my eye I saw a horse and buggy traveling down the road.  I grabbed Hannah and we ran outside excited to see the horse turning to go down our street.  We watched horse go by and Hannah waved at it excitedly.

About a week later I was out in the yard working on Friday during my day off and the same guy came by again and stopped to chat.  After he left I found myself thinking about the years that I had gone to horse-back riding camp as a kid and how neat I thought horses were and I began to think that it might be fun to have a horse someday.  That afternoon I was poking around online and did a little bit of looking into what exactly that might entail and was blown away by how much is involved with having a horse.

You have to get them shots, and take them to the vet, there is some kind of  paste you have to put in their mouth, you have to keep them clean, you have to have a farrier come and put shoes on them, you have to feed them (a lot), and then you have to clean up after.  And do you have any idea how much manure horses make from all of that food that you feed them?  The average 1,000 pound horse creates 50 pounds of manure a day.  That’s nearly 9 tons of manure a year from one horse.  Manure happens…

This is not just the case with farm animals, but with our lives as well.  Bad things happen in life.  You will lose loved ones.  You will experience tough times.  You will be betrayed.  You will be disappointed.  There is no hiding from these realities.  But it is not these realities that define us, it is how we respond to these realities that defines us.

In dealing with the manure of life it seems that people most often take one of two approaches.  Some people choose to be in denial of the fact that manure happens and so when it ultimately does they’re not prepared and are totally blindsided, taken aback and paralyzed by the painful reality they’re experiencing.

The other extreme approach that some people take is to fixate on the possibility of manure, to be so consumed by worrying about the potentially bad things that might happen that they again become frozen in fear.  Of course, neither one of these options is particularly helpful.  The best solution is to recognize the fact that bad things do happen and to have some helpful/healthy perspective regarding this reality – to have a manure management plan.

When we are paying attention we can’t hide from the reality that bad things happen.  Death and pain are a natural part of the cycle of life.  This time of year we see this all around us as the colors leave plants and trees, things that we have planted in our gardens bear fruit for the last time and die.  We enter into a cold and dark winter with a sense of trust and a hope that new life and resurrection will come in the spring.  As people of faith we enter into this season mindful of Jesus’ words from today’s gospel reading, “Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

This cycle of the seasons, of life and death, is a natural part of living in this created world.  Yet so often people still struggle with the questions of why.  Why must things die?  Why must there be pain and suffering?  As people of faith we have the assurance held by the Apostle Paul when he wrote to the Romans, “…we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us…” and “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”

But even in the midst of these assurances, times of death and decline can be incredibly difficult.  Nonbelievers and even sometimes people who consider themselves to be believers, struggle with the notion that God can be all loving when so much pain, so much manure, exists in the world.  And so the question of why, why there is so much manure, is a totally legitimate and honest question.

And it’s not just a questions that people today wrestle with, it is a question that many of the authors of the bible struggled with.  The book of Job is full of these questions about why bad things happen, especially to faithful people.  The Psalms are filled with songs of pain and despair, people crying out to God.  Through the Bible we see time and time again the reality that storms and earthquakes exist as a part of life.

It seems like whenever a tornado or hurricane strikes and brings destruction and despair with it, there are religious leaders who make bold claims like the storms must be punishment for sin or that God was seeking to teach someone a lesson and sent the storm.  Often statements like this make nasty assumptions about the nature of God, that God would negatively impact the lives of hundreds if not thousands of people or even kill people just teach a sinner a lesson.

In the early 2000’s after a hurricane came through Florida and caused some remarkable damage, then governor Jeb Bush said something fascinating.  He said that hurricanes are the price of living in paradise.  This way of thinking is very different than the mindset that God sends storms as punishment and I believe it is a faithful and a helpful understanding of how God is at work.

Florida is a beautiful state with gorgeous beaches and a wonderful climate.  However, when the sun’s rays heat up the waters of the ocean to approximately 82 degrees, winds pick up and storms begin to form and the winds and the storms begin to swirl and hurricanes can be born.  The very same elements of God’s created order that make Florida so beautiful, the warm temperatures, the water, the breeze,  also open the door to the possibility of storms that can cause serious devastation.  These storms, like the manure of life, are a natural part of the process for living.  Manure happens.  Again, the question is what are you going to do with it?

When I was doing my research about horses and began to learn about manure, I knew I was going to be preaching about this in a few weeks so I did a bit of research regarding what needs to be done with that much manure and it turns out that there are four different things that can be done with manure.  As I talk about these I invite you to hear the parallels that exist between what people choose to do with manure and our spiritual lives.  In these options, I hope you might begin to put together your own manure management plan.

The first option for dealing with manure is to simply pile it up.  You can just put it off into the corner of the yard and  keep adding to it.  Day after day, the more manure there is, you just add it to the pile.  The pile gets bigger and bigger, but you just try to keep it out sight and out of mind.  The problem with this plan, however, is that the pile will eventually grow to the point where you can’t simply hide it.  It will eventually get so big that it will overshadow everything else in your life.

Another option for dealing with manure is to try to burn it.  If you douse manure in the right combination of chemicals, some kerosene and gasoline, you can burn it.  From what I understand, this isn’t a pretty process!  The burn creates a horrible smell and it can be a nasty messy process and sometimes it can even cause other things to catch on fire.  I have heard that most people who try this once, don’t try it again.  Yet people do keep trying this, dumping chemicals on the manure pile hoping that it will simply burn up.  We all know people who have tried to deal with the manure in their lives like this, by dumping chemicals on it and hoping it will go away.  It isn’t any prettier when people do this with their lives.  It can be incredibly destructive.

Another approach that people could take to dealing with manure is to bury it.  You can dig a big hole and put your manure in the ground.  You can dig a lot of little holes and put your manure there, but there are a couple of problems with this plan.  The most obvious, of course, is that your yard is full of these holes.  A more significant problem is that if you do this, the manure won’t break down.  Without exposure to oxygen the manure will always be manure.  Thirty years down the road the manure that you bury will still be there, lurking under the surface.  We have seen people do this with the manure in their lives, haven’t we?

The fourth option for dealing with manure, the ideal option, is to compost it and turn it into fertilizer.  If manure is taken care of and treated in the right way it can be transformed from something nasty and unpleasant to something of great value that gives nutrients to the things it touches.  This is my hope for your life, that you might learn to manage your manure in such a way that allows it to become something life giving.

So how do we do this?  What is needed for the best manure management plan?  Last month I visited a bit with Ben Myers, a member of our congregation who has farmed for years, and asked him to tell me a little bit about the process of using manure as a fertilizer.  I began by asking if you could just take the manure and put it on what you want to grow.  Let’s hear what he had to say…

(Manure Video)

You can’t just take the manure and put it straight on to what you want to grow.  In fact, I learned this week that to do so would be counterproductive.  The microbes that help break down the manure require nitrogen to do their work and will steal this nutrient from plants actually inhibiting their ability to grow.  You can’t just put manure straight onto something, it takes time to turn manure into something like fertilizer.

The other interesting thing that Ben said is that it takes weather, the breeze and the sun to make this happen, to turn manure into fertilizer.  Something fascinating that I learned this week is that ideally you should turn your manure to expose it to the air and to the sun to help it break down into fertilizer.  The best case scenario is that you would turn it every 7 days.  Just think about that…  It is going to take time to turn manure into fertilizer, but while you give it the time it is also good to turn it and to expose it to the breeze and the sun every 7 days.

When we are dealing with the manure of our lives, it will take time for that to become something that can be rich and nourishing.  However, as we move through our weeks and our months we need to be in worship, encountering God and growing with one another so that we can turn that manure, so that we can expose it to God’s holy spirit, so that it might be transformed into something good and rich and nourishing that is a blessing to others.

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September 16th, 2011 eNote

Below is my weekly email to the Tonganoxie UMC congregation.  I share it here so that others can keep in touch with what the church is up to.  Let me know if you’d like to be added to the list to receive the note weekly.

Dear Tonganoxie UMC Family,

Several mornings this week I got up early and went for walks before the sun was up and I could definitely tell that fall was in the air.  I love the changing of the seasons!  When spring comes I love the warming break from the bitter cold.  As fall now begins I love the cool refreshing air that is such a relief from the oppressive heat of summer.  There is something special about the seasons of change when we can experience relief from something that has become tiresome and the newness of what is to come.  I think it is much the same with our spiritual lives, that there are particular times of the year when we are more likely to experience a new beginning, a fresh start.  This Sunday, September 18th, is National Back to Church Sunday, a day I believe has the potential to be such a time.  In today’s email I want to share a couple of things with you that are going on in our congregation and then invite you to be present (and to consider inviting others to join us) for a fun Sunday in worship.

Administrative Council and Potluck on Sunday

This Sunday at 11:30(ish), following the second service, our Administrative Council will be meeting and having a potluck lunch in Hughes Hall.  These meetings are an important time of sharing, dreaming, and planning as a congregation.  The meeting and the meal are both open to all members and friends of our congregation and I would invite you to come and participate.  All ministry team leads (committee chairs) are expected to be there or to have a representative from their team present.  Everyone is welcome!  Childcare is available.

Three Questions for the Community

At last month’s Administrative Council meeting I shared three questions that I wanted people to go into the community and ask of three people over the course of the next month.  I also shared them here in my weekly email.  They were:

  1. Do you go to church?
  2. Why or why not?
  3. What are the greatest unmet needs of our community?

I encourage all of you to find people in the community to ask these questions and then listen hard to what they have to say.  We’ll spend a little bit of time reflecting on these answers this Sunday at Administrative Council.

Sunday Mornings Full of Opportunities

Last Sunday we kicked off our new fall schedule of Sunday morning activities and I want to make sure that you are thinking about these great things so that you might make it a point to come and be a part of them:

  • 8:15-11:45, Connections Cafe is open to grab a cup of coffee, a bite to eat, or conversation with friends (both old and new).  It is located upstairs on the north side of the hall between my office and the Chapel.
  • 8:30, Informal/Contemporary Worship in the Chapel.
  • 9:30, Children’s Sunday School (pre-school – 4th grade) downstairs in Hughes Hall.
  • 9:30, Middle School Sunday School (5th – 8th grade) downstairs in the Computer Room.
  • 9:30, High School and College-Aged Sunday School downstairs in a classroom.
  • 9:30, Adult Sunday School Class upstairs in the Parlor.
  • 9:40 Crossroads Sunday School class (a class for people of all ages using the Nooma video series) upstairs in the Conference Room.
  • 10:30, Traditional Worship in the Sanctuary.

Please plan to be here on Sunday and to engage in one of the many opportunities that exist!

Invite Someone to Join You for National Back to Church Sunday

As I mentioned above, this Sunday is National Back to Church Sunday.  This week’s sermon “Manure Management” is a continuation of our “Lessons from the Farm” series that you won’t want to miss!

If you were with us last week in worship we used a promotional video for National Back to Church Sunday.  You can view it again here.

As I shared last week, part of my hope is that we be a community of faith where all people, regardless of their past or their hesitations about church, will feel welcome.  Please consider sharing this video with a friend or a neighbor or a family member and including an invitation along these lines, “This week in church our pastor is preaching a sermon called Manure Management and I’m excited to hear what it’s all about.  It’s also National Back to Church Sunday and I wondered if you might want to come with me.  There is coffee.  There is food.  There are friendly people.  I could meet you there and introduce you to a couple of people.  It really isn’t that scary and I think you would be glad you came.”

I hope that you have had a wonderful week, that you are enjoying this beautiful beginning to fall, and that I’ll see you Sunday in church.  As always, know that you are in my thoughts as prayers as a congregation and that I consider it a huge blessing to serve as your pastor.

Grace and Peace,

Jeff

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God and Football

I recently finished Chad Gibbs’ God and Football: Faith and Fanaticism in the SEC.  In general I found the book to be an entertaining and thought-provoking read and thoroughly enjoyed it!  Following in the footsteps of his family, Chad became an Alabama football fan at an early age.  In young adulthood he enrolled at Auburn University and, much to the dismay of some of his family, converted his football loyalties.

I was particularly struck by an exchange in the book between Chad, his friend Jordan (from PAC-10 territory), and Rachel a campus pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Auburn.

Rachel told us how she was born into the Auburn family.  “My grandfather played here, his face is on one of the murals outside the stadium.  He used to lay down the law to us grandkids, saying if we were going to be Auburn fans, then we would have to act like Auburn men and women.”

“What do you mean Auburn men and women?” Jordan asked.

“It’s a family thing,” I said, and Rachel nodded.  “But not always something that is passed down generation to generation.  I’m in the Auburn family, but I came by it a much different way than Rachel.  I think really it means you are part of something bigger than yourself. When you go out into the world, you are representing Auburn, and when you need help, you know Auburn people will have your back.”

Jordan nodded, though I’m not quite sure he got it, and walking back to our tailgate, I started to understand why.

“What you are describing as the Auburn family,” Jordan said, “is really what the church is supposed to look like.”

When I thought about it, he was right.  In fact I think Auburn sometimes does a better job of being the church than the church does.  Walk around campus on a game day wearing orange and blue, and you will certainly feel loved and that you are part of something big.  At tailgates we welcome and feed strangers, something that almost sounds biblical.  As a matter of fact, at least once a day I see someone post a prayer request on an Auburn sports message board, where dozens of Tiger fans promise to lift up prayers on their behalf…  in many ways Auburn had become my church.”

I have experienced similar feelings as a KU basketball fan and imagine that many others who are a part of various fan bases around the country have as well.

Have you had experiences like this, being a part of a group that does a great job of being “the church” even if said group has nothing to do with the church?

Any thoughts on what our churches can learn from these fan bases about loyalty, care for one another, and community?

I would love to hear your thoughts!

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Voices that Care Flashback

Over the weekend Heather cleaned out the piano bench and rediscovered the sheet music for this blast from the past.

Last night she spent some time playing it on the piano and singing it and then we watched this video a couple of times.  We were thoroughly amused by the sheer 90’sness of it all and playing a fun game of “name that 20 year old celebrity.”  This morning I can’t get the song out of my head and thought I’d pass it along.

Do you remember this song?

What celeb were you most excited to see when watching the video?

Has there been another big celebrity driven pop phenomenon like this since?

Talk amongst yourselves…

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