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Christmas Letter 2016

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“For it is good to be children sometimes, and never better than at Christmas, when its mighty Founder was a child Himself.”

? Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

 

Amid the preparations for Christmas each year there always seem to be a few voices, that either share the joy of “Good tidings” or proclaim a, “Bah, Humbug!” on the whole business of Christmas. Truth be told often, we adults, are less than excited about Christmas: not the birth of the Christ Child in the  manger, but in the hurried schedules, crowded shopping lines, and the amounts of money spent on needless items. All of the trapping of a modern Christmas can leave one feeling overwhelmed and more apt to sound like old Ebenezer, than to share in the awe-inspiring  joy of the nativity.

 

In the face of these times and cultural issues it becomes helpful for the church and disciples, like me and you, to remember the value of sharing joy. This is joy not founded in what we manage to cook, buy, or acquire, but the joy founded in the scripture; the excitement or new birth, the baby Jesus – the hope of all people. We need not give into the pre-conversion Scrooge, but instead,  we are to embrace the attitude of those within the story of Jesus, like Simeon, saying, “for my eyes have seen your salvation,  which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2:30-32)

 

Jesus is God’s light in our world, a light that influences our hearts, heads, and mouths. When we share in this Advent, this Christmas, we share in the joy of what God has already done, is doing, and what will be done.

 

In light of this, we, as a church, are planning to celebrate with the following opportunities.  These are opportunities to thank God for the priceless gift of Jesus Christ.

 

Children’s Dinner Theater: (Our children’s program production of a wonderful Christmas story)

December  17th 5:30 PM

 

Musical Christmas Celebration Service:  (A musical celebration of Christmas lead by our choir.)

December 18th 10:30AM

 

Christmas Eve Candlelight Services: (Traditional carol and candlelight service)

December 24th 5:00 PM & 7:00 PM

 

Christmas Day Blessings of the Toys Service: (An informal family friendly Christmas Day service. Children (old ones too) are encouraged to bring their new favorite toy and come ready to worship,

December 25th 11:00 AM

 

Please join us as we seek to celebrate the exciting joy of Christmas!

 

With great hope,


Rev. Clayton Payne

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Thankful!

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What am I thankful for?

 

It is this time of year that we turn our attention towards the things that matter most. I think we do this not just as the holidays approach, but as a practice of knowing that in the coming days and months the year is coming to a close; another year, another cycle around the sun… a few more grey hairs.  So, we take a look back and review our year with the hope filled days of the holiday season. Often we do this while eating that great meal of Thanksgiving and in those moments we share the joys that have lead us back to this meal once more.

 

So as I sit behind my desk, on this early November afternoon, I begin to ask what am I thankful for?

 

So here is my list as it pertains to church, life, and my everything:  

 

I am thankful for prepositions, because otherwise there would be no list,

a church committed to improving itself,

leadership that loves God and strives to love their neighbor,

volunteers that serve by cooking meals, delivering food, playing kickball with local children after school,

things our church will make for NICU babies, the homeless, and those who are in need,

Those awesome people that attend any given Sunday and do not have a reserved pew,

Money given towards making our church a more welcoming place,

Disciples made in bible studies in homes, in Sunday school classes, and in coffee shops,

Children that come to church ready to engage, bringing their bibles, and yes put their heads in instead of hands during prayer times,

Prayer warriors,

Teachers,

Choirs,

Ushers and greeters,

Piano players and choir directors,

Smiling faces that make tough days alright,

Knowing that people are praying for the pastor,

Knowing that people are praying for the pastor,

Knowing that people are praying for the pastor,

Repetition, repetition, repetition,

Church workdays,

Trustees,

Lay leaders,

New missions,

Good attitudes,

Potlucks,

Church dinners,

Friends,

Family,

Sometimes crusty people that remind me that grace is growing in all of us,

The willingness of others to put up with this crusty person from time-to-time,

The church,

Preaching,

Sacraments,

Bonhoeffer,

New people coming to faith,

My wife, my family,

And above all the God made known in Jesus Christ, for this last I am eternally grateful!

  

 

 

   

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Overcoming Casual Prayer

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Overcoming a Casual Prayer Life

 

Over the last few weeks we, as a congregation, have engaged the subject of prayer. We have talked about how simple prayer truly is, that it is not complex and at its most simplistic core is just talking to God. We have talked about the fact that as a congregation, if we are not praying then we can expect nothing to be transpiring.

 

With all of this said, I think the most troubling thing in the church to today is the casaul prayer life. Now let me first say I am by no means the first to say this and in fact early Methodists like E.M. Bounds would have heralded this message from the rooftops over a 100 years ago, but casual prayer lives are troubling. What I mean by casual prayer life is simply that  idea or action of being unconcerned! When you look up the word “casual” the definition is just that:  relaxed and unconcerned.  For many of us, if we are honest, we are unconcerned with our faithfulness in prayer. This is troubling!

 

Let’s put it this way, our pray lives are summed up in the dinner time prayers of a family ready to eat. The idea that we’ve got something to do and we need to get that done so we can get down to real business. Have you ever sat in a church meeting where the pastor’s prayer felt like the first agendized item that needed to be overcome in order to get down to “real business” of the meeting?  This is often the whole of our prayer lives and they are reduced down to the ritualized necessities.

 

Maybe you and I are not guilty of the get it done mentality, but we might very well be guilty of prayers that are so safe that honestly we could answer them ourselves. We are afraid that in asking we won’t be heard, or worse yet, the answer will be no. So why bother asking for more than we can accomplish? With this kind of pseudo prayer the church moves from a band of radical disciples, following an even more radical Lord, to a group of functional agnostics that are ensuring the wellbeing of the institution by not asking too much or by being too hopeful.   

 

Thus, our prayer life is filled with pleasantries, but not much progress.

 

It doesn’t need to be this way; and Jesus never designed the church to be like this!

 

The heart of biblical prayers show the individual prayer's willingness to engage in wrestling with God. God desires to see a showing of all our emotions, showing a true desire for the thing prayed for and/or about. Biblical prayer is about honest communication with God in non-ritualized/ non-obligatory ways whereby we bring all that we are before the Father in worship and supplication. It is like a child desperately in need of help and asking a loving parent for assistance.

 

So today I want to offer a few suggestions in helping us get our prayer lives more where they need to be:

 

Pray past your obligation

 

If you want to be helpful in the lives of other people and your church;  pray past the so- called obligation. It works like this:  when you come to the end of your Christian obligation to pray for your church, neighbor, pastor, or whatever it is…  then we really start praying.

Pray for your church every day, twice a day, until it feels like a burden and then… keep praying even more in frequency and fervor.

 

Be Persistent   

 

    Jesus teaches about this in Luke 11 telling a story of how persistent prayer for the Spirit results in answers. If we are not persistent in prayer, then often we will not change. The act of asking again and again is an act of submission that often results in not only the prayer somehow being answered, but often more time than not, us being changed for the better in the asking.

 

Pray to God about your church growing, pray about your leaders being active, pray about the faith of your family, and do it all with the persistence that lasts years not hours. I cannot tell you how many times in my own life that prayers that I have said for years have been answered, even when I almost forgot that I still was asking.

 

Be persistent!  

 

Pour out what is true

 

    I went to the hospital room of a woman facing surgery once. She didn’t know me, she just wanted the chaplain to say a word of prayer before surgery. In those moments she told me how upset she was,  how much her life was a struggle, and how much life stunk in the days around her surgery. All of this was said with a southern closing of well I best not complain;  God’s been good. I asked her if she had expressed any of her hurt to God about what was taking place in her life at this time. She looked shocked at the question. How could she express that to God? We did just that, she cried out before God about all that had taken place in the last few months of her life:  surgery, family, all of it. I stood there listening knowing that in this moment she didn’t need a chaplain to pray for her;  she needed to pray before God about all that was on her heart. I could feel the Spirit’s presence in the room in this woman’s prayer and the tears rolling down her cheek. When we got done praying I could see the sense of relief on her face:  life was still not easy, surgery was less than an hour away, more problems were still to come, and family was still difficult:  but God was there and she knew it.

 

When we tell the truth in prayer, even in the expression of anger to God, we strengthen the relationship and in doing so, we find that we are not alone.

 

Prayer is about communication:  open and honest, heartfelt and true. May our prayer for Cherryvale, our community, and our families be the kind of prayers that pour out before the throne of God!    

 

  

 
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The Good Samaritan & The Questions We Ask

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“Good Samaritan”

We all know this story is one that we have heard many times. In fact, it has been told to us so much that its message has become stale; simply being reduced down to modern cliche statements like “ be nice to people”. However, this passage has the potential to change us if we read deeper and hear God’s fresh words within the story.

So today we ask the question, what is it about this story that Jesus wanted his listeners, and us, to learn about what He expects?   

In order to answer this question we must fully understand the implications of the story and those depicted in it. Jesus uses the example of three people to a religious leader that has just asked the question, who is my neighbor?   

He then starts to tell a story of three people that see a Jewish man beaten, robbed, and left for dead on the side of the road. This man finds himself in the ditch left for dead, with no hope unless a passerby makes an intervention. Along come three people. The first is a priest, and yet seeing the man’s need, he is not moved to compassion and he walks right on by and down the road. The priest is following the “religious purity laws” by not touching what he thinks might be a dead body, but in doing so, is not living out a sense of grace. This is truly sad; this priest is considered a religious leader within his community and he shows no desire to help someone in need.

The  story continues as Jesus says that another man who walks down the road  is a Levite. However, seeing the man in need does not move him to compassion, instead it moves him across the road where he can walk less encumbered by the sight of a helpless broken person lying in a ditch.

Jesus, being the masterful storyteller that he is makes a bold move. Saying that the third and final man to walk by this helpless person in the ditch is none other than the arch enemy of the people of Israel; a Samaritan. To say that Samaritans were held in contempt in the first century would be an understatement:  they we despised. Israelites in the first century would often walk hours and days out of the way to simply avoid stepping foot in their lands. Many considered them worthless at best, and had no desire to show ANY level of hospitality.  This was the greatest of insults in the first century culture. No hospitality = No love. However, Jesus says that the Samaritan walks by and sees the this broken man; beaten, robbed, and left for dead. Upon seeing this, he is moved to compassion. He has compassion for someone that would not necessarily have compassion for him. Yet, he takes this man, puts him on his donkey and carries him to the local inn. It is a lowly Samaritan who takes pity upon the man, helps him and even pays to be sure his needs are met when the Samaritan has to leave.  The Samaritan saw the man in his need and had compassion on him.  The two religious men, men who were supposed to teach others how to live for God, ignored the man’s immediate needs because of their own need to maintain cleanliness in the sight of their ritual purity laws.

Thus, the story reflects from where the religious leader asks the question “who is my neighbor?”  It is out of contempt for others, not because he truly wanted clarification, but because he wanted justification:  justification to reduce the number of people for whom he would have to show compassion.  Like us, this leader felt he had a right to judge others and act accordingly.  So since Samaritans were not inherently good in the minds of first century Jewish people, he had the right to ignore them.  He did not need to worry himself about the injustice being done to “such as these” as long as he followed the religious purity laws.  

But Christ calls us to more than that.  He asks us to step out in faith and stand up for those who are considered unwelcome.  However, like the religious leader, we ask questions meant to let us off the hook, to justify our position and relieve our sense of guilt.  We are looking for some space to wiggle through and not be faithful to what we know we should do. We look for room to be able to walk to the other side of the road and keep going without being overly encumbered… This is wrong!  

But there is more to this story than just the meeting of the man’s physical needs.  The story tells us that God is moved by our need for grace. Jesus sees our unholy, beaten down spirits, and pours out God’s grace upon us.  We have done nothing to deserve His love and yet He consistently pours it out for us.  The parable also shows us that God never leaves us alone on the side of the road beaten and left for dead.  

So what are we being called to? What is expected of us?

We are being called to have the compassion of the Samaritan.  The church is to reach out and touch those who are perceived as being culturally unclean and supply their need in the name of Christ.  

The question being asked by the religious leader is not one simply of who is my neighbor, but what does it mean to be faithful?  Thus, the answer to the question shows that our connection to God is lived out in our willingness to assist our neighbor.  

So who is your neighbor?  Who is it that you are being called to see in a new light and offer the hope of Christ?  How are you going to answer God’s call to be “the Good Samaritan?”

These are questions only you can answer.

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Bears and the kingdom of God

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After almost a week of All God’s Children Camp I was sitting & having a conversation with some of the leaders. The conversation somehow turned from camp to recent issues with bears. The camp had seen a few of nature's fury friends in the past week. The trash had been too much of a temptation and had caused the advent of an overly friendly bear…

 

As we talked and discussed, this small group of adults began to share the antidotal advice we are all prone to bestow. We agreed on thoughts like don’t move, stay still, and remember, play dead. All of this  lead up to the humorous idea expressed by our District Superintendent Rev. Dave Rochford.  The group bantered back and forth saying that they should run, with Dave saying he didn’t have to outrun the bear, just the slowest one in the group. Then it dawned on me that the issue was not the bear, the running, nor this humorous story, but the fact that this is the way our churches function. We outrun the danger of death not by outrunning the bear, but by outrunning the slowest one amongst us to change. Our Churches are struggling and we too are struggling for this reason because we feel this is an okay response to our current predicament… Just outrun the one who is lagging behind.

 

This is troubling for two reasons:

 
  1. Change is not a response to faithfulness, but external stimulus.

 

This seems pretty straight forward. When we live with the external stimulus of death or irrelevance as our motivation, we miss the mark on faithfulness and instead try to simply outrun everyone else. This can be summed up simply as the, “do it better than them” style of ministry.

There have been many occasions in the Scripture where this is depicted when God’s people receive their inspiration for change not from God, but from something else. Take for instance, the people of God in Israel. All they want is to be like everyone else; they didn't want judges as a form of governance, they wanted a king! The king for them represents an external motivation to “outrun”, “be like”, or simply “fit in” with the rest of those around them. This is not from God. When we gain our call to be faithful we do not gain it from the desire to outrun, we get it from the desire to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. For too long the conversation has been about death:  a much needed conversation as churches close and die around us. It has always been framed in “if we don’t change we are going to die”. How about we frame it differently:  “if we don’t change to reach new people, different people, diverse people… we will not be faithful as followers of Jesus.” When we enter the conversation about change, we often leave Jesus out and instead hijack the conversation to focus on best practices. No dying church has ever said, I wonder what the best practices are; most likely they are of little concern. Thus, pastors have helped frame this conversation as change or die; and in doing so have perpetuated stimulus as the need for change. Instead it should be stated that if you do not change you will no longer be faithful, Jesus is calling us to change!

 

2)   We only have to change enough to outrun the others around us.

 

This is inherently flawed logic, but it is often the logic of the local church. If we could just do better than (_________ Church Name), then we would grow. This again puts a huge focus on the faithfulness or the lack thereof of another congregation. As a pastor I cannot count how many times I have been guilty of idolatry, the of loving another church’s __(Fill in here) ____. We need to change our focus; wishing  that our congregation would be the best that it can be, not just that it would simply be better than the others that surround us.

 

The apostle Paul advises us that we are to “run the race to win”. We as churches and pastors often run for second, third, fourth, fifth, but just not last; dear Lord never last, because of bears… In striving for second to last we never challenge our congregations to huge and unrealistic goals, but we instead find ways to play it safe and stay in the midst of the pack. Making disciples is always about running full speed ahead. It has an urgency that is not for the slow of foot, nor is it for those that are content with being truly second tier. Our goal must never be second to last, our goal must always be making disciples and striving for the very best.  


May you stay way from the bears!

 

  


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