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Showing posts from 2016

What We Learned Along the Way

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Our Leadership Board has been intentional the last several years about Salem’s direction. Our goals this past year have been to engage everyone in the life of the church; to develop a system of congregation care; to continue holding “bridge events” outside the building to reach out to our community; and to increase the payment of our apportionments from 40% to 50% (our giving beyond the local congregation to support the general church as well as our denomination’s mission locally and throughout the world). We learned much as we worked on these goals. We learned that while God is in control, everything takes longer than we think it will. We have to have patience and trust in how God is working. We discovered that it’s hard to get people to commit, especially to long-term things, but it’s more fruitful with a personal invitation from someone already participating. We also wondered if perhaps we’re attempting to do too much, if the congregation is sometimes spread too thin. Still, we’re con…

Being Saints

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Who passed the faith on to you? You’re here because of somebody. It could be your mom, dad, grandparent, spouse, friend, neighbor, co-worker. It could be an entire congregation. The thing about Christianity is, it’s all about relationship. Someone with whom you’re in relationship passed the faith along to you.  In 2 Timothy 1:5 the Apostle Paul says to Timothy, “I am reminded of your sincere faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now…lives in you.” Timothy’s faith is indebted to those who preceded him, his grandmother Lois and his mother Eunice. Faith is handed down, in this case, from mother to daughter to son. For many of us, faith is passed from generation to generation. In November we observed All Saints, a celebration of the Communion of Saints. So first, we give thanks for the people who have gone before us, the people who passed the faith along to us. We’re standing on their shoulders. We are who we are because of them. Furthermore, we are where…

For the Next Generation

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There is a tale found in the Talmud, the compendium of Jewish civil and ceremonial law and legend, about Honi the Wise One. When he saw something that puzzled him he would ask questions so he could unravel the mystery. “One day, Honi the Wise One was walking on the road and saw a man planting a carob tree. Honi asked the man, ‘How long will it take for this tree to bear fruit?’ The man replied, ‘Seventy years.’ Honi then asked the man, ‘And do you think you will live another seventy years and eat the fruit of this tree?’ The man answered, ‘Perhaps not. However, when I was born into this world, I found many carob trees planted by my father and grandfather. Just as they planted trees for me, I am planting trees for my children and grandchildren so they will be able to eat the fruit of these trees.’” We reap the fruit of trees planted before we were even born. Our ancestors planted and tended trees for us. Likewise, when we plant trees, we do it for those who follow us. When we plant an ac…

The Storms of Life

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Jesus woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Mark 4:39My family and I vacationed in the upper peninsula of Michigan. Lake Superior is quite massive and is capable of powerful storms. One day we were out on the water on a glass bottom boat, touring shipwrecks, the result of powerful storms. The gospels tell a story about Jesus and the disciples out on a lake in a boat in the midst of a great storm (Matthew 8, Mark 4, Luke 8). The waves were crashing into the boat. Jesus was asleep. The disciples woke him up, fearing they were going to drown. Jesus immediately calmed the storm and the disciples were amazed. We all experience storms in our life. A week ago, my daughter, Mara, found a lost dog in our neighborhood. She chased the dog down and took care of her. By the time my wife, Joy, and I got home, the shelters were closed and the police wouldn’t send anyone to pick up the dog until the next day. So we created a shelter the best we could in our backyard. I l…

Serve Like Jesus

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Jesus said, “Whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant…For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve.” (Mark 10:43, 45) In worship a few weeks ago, we heard that, as God’s people, we are to be a blessing to the whole earth. The covenant God made with God’s people, beginning with Abraham and Sarah, is that the LORD blesses us in order to bless others; all the families of the earth will be blessed by us (Genesis 12:1-3). Through Jesus we have been grafted on to God’s people. So we are meant to be a blessing to all the people of the earth. Tom Long, a preaching professor in Atlanta, tells a story about the city where he lives that sounds like 1974 in Cedar Rapids when Interstate 380 was built. “A decision was made to build a new freeway into Atlanta…A swath of houses was condemned, and eventually a whole neighborhood was torn down to make way for the highway. For a short time, though, families were still living in those houses, homes that many of them had lived …

Moving Rocks

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My parents wanted to put some loose rock down on the side of their house this spring. There’s a patch there where the grass doesn’t grow well between the house and their neighbor’s wooden fence. So they went out to a store and bought eighteen 50-pound bags of rock. I said, “That’s a lot of rock! How are you going to get it to your house?” They thought they might be able to put it in their car and just take several trips. I was very concerned for them. I don’t live in the same city and couldn’t just run over to help them. They’re both in their mid-seventies and they’ve both had some health issues. I told them I didn’t think that was a good idea. After all, I said, that’s 900 pounds of rock! I didn’t think they had any business, physically, trying to move 900 pounds of rock.  My mom replied, “That isn’t 900 pounds of rock. Let’s see, it’s 18 bags, each bag is 50 pounds…well, when did you get so good at math, Mr. Smartypants?!” I thought they should buy the rock in bulk and have it dumped ri…

Unity without Unanimity in The United Methodist Church?

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General Conference, our global family reunion that speaks officially for The United Methodist Church, met during May. Read the letter from the Council of Bishops here. It wasn’t a smooth start as delegates struggled for several hours over three of the days, deciding what rules would govern their conversations and whether they would use new technology (tablet computer) or old technology (colored cards) to communicate with the presiding bishop. From the beginning, there was mistrust. As I followed social media, I was surprised and disappointed in the behavior of some who claim to be followers of Jesus. Like the culture at large, many in the church try to demonize other Christians who don’t agree with them. Sadly, too often we have allowed people outside the church to determine our language and behavior. Our bishops indicated they are trying to hold us together in unity. Unity, being together, is not the same thing as unanimity, having the same mind. The question remains, can we have unity …

General Conference Begins Today

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General Conference, the once-every-four-years meeting, begins today, May 10, in Portland, Oregon. It is the top legislative assembly and the only body speaks officially as The United Methodist Church. 864 delegates elected by their annual conferences will consider 1044 petitions. Half the delegates are clergy and half are laity. Bishops lead the sessions, but have neither voice nor vote. This United Methodist meeting gathers brothers and sisters in Christ from Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America. In addition to the legislation and times of worship, there will be many celebrations, including what we have accomplished through Imagine No Malaria. More than 1 million mosquito bed nets have been distributed and more than 250,000 people have been diagnosed and treated. Many lives have been saved! During the 11-day session, there will be many issues discussed and voted upon as our church continues to be shaped. There are several proposals to restructure the ministries of the general church.…

Membership and Discipleship

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“How do you become a member?” That’s a question I'm asked fairly often at my church. It’s a good question that deserves a helpful answer. First, while we love to receive new members (and we will during this Easter season!), I want to let you know that our mission isn’t to make new members but to make new disciples of Jesus. Our initial focus, therefore, is to connect with people and help them to first become and then grow more mature as followers of Jesus, who go on to live in a such a way that they participate in God’s mission to transform, to renew the world. So you don’t need to become a member of Salem. That’s not our goal. And all are welcome to be a part of Salem regardless of membership. That means your baptism, wedding, or funeral can happen at Salem even if you’re not a member. We’re more concerned about your connection to and participation in the congregation. You can worship and serve and be a part of the church in every way except for two. You have to be a member to serv…

Keeping Time

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In 24 Hours That Changed the World, Adam Hamilton points out that we believe Jesus died at the age of 33 after a life of approximately 12,000  days. The Gospel writers devoted most of their work to just 1,100 or so of those days, the last three years of his life. Their primary interest, however, was one particular day—the day Jesus was crucified. The gospel writers believed this 24-hour period changed the world. It may be helpful to explain how time was counted in Jesus’ story. It’s a little different than how we keep time. For most of us, a day begins and ends at midnight. This doesn’t hold true on a Jewish calendar, not in the time of Jesus and not today either. In the beginning, when God created time, the night was created first and then the day. “God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, a first day” Genesis 1:5. Therefore, a Jewish day begins at nightfall and ends the following nightfall. Of course, exactly when nightfall…

State of the Church 2016

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2015 was a momentous year for us! Each year, in assessing the state of Salem, we take a look at some benchmark statistics. Our membership now includes 235 professing adults. We also have 38 baptized infants and children— so 273 total. This past year 7 members died while we received 15 new members. That means we have received 81 new members since arriving at our current location a little over five years ago! We will be receiving more new members come Easter. Our worship attendance increased again. We averaged 209 this past year, up from 185 in 2014 and 177 in 2013. That’s close to 20% growth in the last two years! Salem’s attendance, at its lowest point after the flood in 2008, was 126. We’ve grown more than 65% since then. One of our goals for this year is to continue holding “bridge events” outside our building to reach our community. We’ll keep doing things like the Easter Egg Hunt and Trunk-or-Treat. And all of us need to keep inviting those we know who aren’t active in another chur…

Engage: Our First Goal for 2016

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I really enjoy The Incredibles, a movie about a family of superheroes. At one point, the dad becomes complacent. He's led an exciting, adventurous life, but now his wife needs him to engage in the real life of their family and world. In 2011, the Study Committee, a requirement for our construction, presented a report to the Leadership Board and Staff. Near the end of the conversation, we named Salem’s three greatest strengths as welcoming others, our mission focus, and our teaching. Salem’s three most significant weaknesses were lack of space, lack of youth and youth ministries, and lack of hands-on mission work. The three changes we most wanted to see were a building project, the development of hands-on mission work, and engaging more people fully in the life of the church. Over the last five years, I’m pleased that Salem hasn’t simply focused on building a new church facility. That’s been a huge accomplishment, of course, but we know the church is the people, not the building. So …