Monday, June 19, 2017

Making Disciples through VBS

We had a great week of VBS full of God encounters and making disciples.
When we talk about making disciple of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, there are four things we do that we know produce authentic disciples. Those are Worship, Intentionally Develop Faith in Small Groups, Serve Others, and Make New Disciples. All of those things happened through VBS this year.

Serve Others. Fifteen adults, including Hattie, served the children of our community this year and showed the love that marks our faith with those kids. Patricia was so caring, she even had a little boy ask about her marital status! Service is never just a one-way street, though. Older kids helped younger kids cross the street and partnered up with them for activities.

Small Groups. Small groups are all about intentionally developing our faith. The kids learned how God gives us hope, special abilities, forgiveness, and family this week. We ate together, played together, and learned together, and prayed for each other. In fact, one of our rough-and-tumble kindergarten boys offered a prayer for Von when he had to leave to take care of his sick mother. We all learned that this little boy’s gift is prayer!

Make New Disciples. Monday night we only had 7 kids at VBS, so I challenged the kids to double that number for Tuesday night. With that challenge one girl came up and asked with all seriousness, “Can I invite more than one friend?”  The next night we doubled in attendance, and every night after new kids came because every kid was excited about church and busy inviting friends. What started at 7 swelled to 26 kids.  By the end, 6 kids had brought 12 friends to church.

Worship. The kids had me sweating Friday night. It was 2 minutes before the program, and one family and my kids were all that had arrived for the program. But sure enough, by 6:05, we had 19 kids and 22 adults, a total of 41 people worshipping together! The kids sang praise to God. We offered $144.50 for God to use in his Lenca church. We heard the messages of hope, calling, forgiveness, and community. Lastly we thanked God for those who had served and praised God for a birthday in our midst. Lastly, our kindergarten boy prayed for our meal together, its own form of communion.

            God used VBS in some unexpected ways. I wasn’t expecting the crowd who came. I wasn’t expecting the gifts those kids shared. I wasn’t expecting the number of friends they would bring. God is always doing unexpected things and it is clear that he was busy working through VBS this year. We offered ourselves to his mission, and he used us to produce an unexpected harvest. I don’t think he is done yet either. What will he do through the relationships we built during VBS? I don’t know…and I can’t wait to find out!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

My Ordination Sermon

This sermon was preached at LaFontaine UMC on June 11, 2017, the first Sunday following my ordination. I hope by sharing it, it will help you reflect on your own calling, whether it be to professional ministry, or to share your gifts, passions, and graces in another way in God's name.

When I was in eighth
grade, I went to a revival at my church. I listened to the pastor preach about serving others. He pointed out two of the members of his church who served others and he invited us to do the same. I went home that night and I couldn’t shake the feeling that God was speaking to me. And that night, I told God I would give him my career, to do with it as he thought best, knowing that it would be a career marked by service.

There have been lots of bumps in the road since that initial call, but I have done my best to follow it and as God often does, he clarified that for me that meant pastoral ministry. In high school there were those who told me women weren’t called and told me I was being prideful for even considering being a pastor.  And I questioned if God made a mistake.

Then I went college and majored in pastoral ministry and learned the deep roots of women proclaiming gospel, starting with the women at the empty tomb and Mary the mother of God. I learned about the church planters who led churches in Paul’s absence like Dorcas, Julia, Junia, Lydia, Persis, Phoebe, Priscilla, and Dorcas. I learned how that call had been carried down through the ages, and how men just couldn’t shut us called women up.

I started as an associate pastor at Bremen Church of the Brethren at the age of 20, and learned to pace myself. I learned to have grace with myself and that ministry does not always go according to plan.

After I graduated I started searching for a church to serve with my husband. We went down to Mississippi to a church of 12 people, and learned what it was to have to close a church.

When we came back and I searched for 9 months for a church to serve in in the Church of the Brethren and the Wesleyan Church to no avail, I learned what a woman pastor had told me in college meant, “If you can do anything else, do it.” Because I couldn’t. I was relentless. The call was like a fire within me that could not be put out by being ignored or rejected. I knew that while I had been good at every job I had had, I was not satisfied with them, and my call weighed heavy on me. And Nick to this day reminds me of this whenever I am ready to give up.

When a United Methodist Pastor shared our name with their District Superintendent, I learned what Methodists meant when they talked about being connectional.  It’s more than just a friendly handshake when we run into each other, but a commitment to work together and support each other.  And when we started co-pastoring our first 2 point charge, I learned that how a church reacts to the message has just as much to do with them as it does with the words I share. Same sermon, 2 different reactions.

When we moved to Saratoga so that I could go to seminary and serve as a part time pastor, and I worked with the church to begin supporting a global mission. This year at Annual Conference, I heard that what started in that little church is still going strong. The Indiana Conference gave $28,000 to support the three Sierra Leone pastors who had visited our little church years ago so that they could continue their seminary education that they may one day teach in a new seminary in Sierra Leone.

Then God brought me here to LaFontaine, where I learned the joy of seeing God move in a community in both personal transformation and the transformation that happens when we work together. The transformation of this town that is making LaFontaine great again is because of the people moved by God in our pews and our willingness to provide financial support as a church to community initiatives like revitalizing the park and reimagining the town festival.

This year marks 20 years since my initial call, 14 years that I have been serving as a pastor, 9 years within the United Methodist church. Some of those years have been harder than others. There have been times I have been ready to give up, when ministry has felt more like passion week than the resurrection.  When I have been unsure of whether God’s will would be done at the end of the day.  And there have been moments when I have felt like the luckiest person in the world.  I have seen God heal families in the midst of death, save marriages, and taken the lonely and given them a place to belong. I have seen those deserted by their families find their true family in the church. A family that takes them to doctor appointments, brings them meals, and even plans their funeral.

I have seen God replace hearts of stone to hearts of flesh. I have seen God take the dry bones of Ezekiel, and made a new people loyal to him. I have seen God take the river of life to the deadest parts of the world.  I have seen the death of Friday and the new life of Sunday.

On Saturday June 10, 2017, for the first time, I was fully recognize as an equal in our Conference. As an Elder called by God and given the graces and gifts to fulfill that call in the local church. It has taken 20 years, 6 churches, and 2 degrees to get to this day. But what it has taken man so long to acknowledge, has not slowed down God’s use of me. From the moment he called, the moment I said yes, he started using me for his good purposes.

Maybe you sense a call in your life to something more. Maybe God is calling you to a life dedicated to serving others, as he called me so many years ago. If he is, I encourage you today to answer that call.