As one of our hymns says, "This is a day of new beginnings", both for Zachary United Methodist Church and for the Willis Family. I want you to know that we come to this time of new beginnings with great enthusiasm and excitement! I believe that God has had a hand in bringing us together and has a great ministry for us to do together. I am truly looking forward to getting to know each of you and joining you in your ministry here.
I want to express how grateful we are for the way that you have made me, Marie and Michelle feel at home here in Zachary. One of the things that we have experienced over the years of itinerating from church to church is that among the people called United Methodists there is always a ready made family awaiting us. And indeed, we have experienced this sense of family among you. We are appreciative of all that has been done to welcome us and for the many acts of kindness. It is evident that the Spirit of Christ abides among you.
A change in pastors always brings about a certain amount of anxiety, both for the church and for the pastor's family, but it gives me great comfort and hope to see how you have loved and supported your former pastors and their families. I give thanks for their faithful ministries, especially for Greg and Cynthia, whose foundation of ministry we are privileged to stand upon. Seeing how you accepted, loved and supported them, knowing that none of us are perfect, I know that you have the heart and capacity to love us, too.
As we adjust and try to get settled into our new home and surroundings, we are counting on your grace and patience. Know that we welcome opportunities to get to know you and for you to know us better, so invitations and visits are encouraged. It is my prayer that God will bless our new beginning in ministry together. I give thanks that God has brought us together, and I look forward to what God has in store for us to do in the years ahead.
Have you ever heard the parent of a troublemaking son or daughter dodge responsibility with the protest, "No child of mine ...", or disown that same little one in a crisis when the other parent appears —"your child has really done it now ..."? Parents (myself included) are often quick to expect perfection from their children, and are shocked when it doesn't appear .... "You should know better!", we say.
Yet, far from having the right to pose as mature and sinless adults (whether we are parents or not), we too are often merely disobedient children in the eyes of God. As Paul writes to the Roman church, "All have turned away from God; they have all gone wrong; no one does what is right, not even one." Paul isn't talking about the Roman church's child care program here, he's talking about the grown ups. But God proves himself to be a good parent: he doesn't hide the fact that we belong to him. He doesn't disown us at the first sign of childish rebellion ... or the second, or the third, or ever, really.
On the contrary: even while we were lost in our sin, Scripture says, God showed that he was not willing to lose a single one of us. He sent Christ to die in our place while we were still sinners. Jesus took our place on the cross, and experienced the death and separation from God that we deserved. God didn't wait for us to come to our senses, or to prove that we were going to "behave" for the duration. This gift, this forgiveness, is not a reward for good behavior. It is free and undeserved. Even so, God says, "You are worthy of this gift becauseyou belong to me. I am your father, you are my child. I love you, and I am not willing to lose you."
Psalms, 79.4, 8-10O LORD, how long will you be angry with us? Forever? How long will your jealousy burn like fire?
Oh, do not hold us guilty for our former sins! Let your tenderhearted mercies quickly meet our needs, for we are brought low to the dust. Help us, O God of our salvation! Help us for the honor of your name. Oh, save us and forgive our sins for the sake of your name. (NLT)
Credit: Bright Sadness: A Devotional for Lent
Dear Friends of ZUMC,
I shared in worship services this morning I have been asked by Bishop Harvey to serve God in another church. Words cannot begin to express the feelings we have about departing from the place we have been privileged to serve for 11 years. Sadness, joy, loss, new birth, concern, and confidence are all part of what we are experiencing. Will you please take a moment to pray for us and the church in the upcoming time of transition?
Our family will move the last week of June. Until that time we will be working on the transition with Zachary’s newest pastor, Rev. Ricky Willis, who will preach his first sermon on June 29! Be sure and keep Ricky and his family in your prayers as they prepare to begin their journey to Zachary.
My wife and I are pleased and humbled by the appointment to Broadmoor UMC in Shreveport. It is a 2,700-member congregation with an excellent staff led by the well-respected Rev. Ken Irby the past nine years. Rev. Irby will remain in Shreveport as the new district superintendent.
There are some interesting family connections with Broadmoor. My wife’s grandparents, Frank and Grace Green, actually held the organizing meeting for BUMC in their living room in the Broadmoor neighborhood, and Grace gave the founding pastor, Rev. George Pearce, rides to appointments as he did not have a car! My wife’s father was a charter member of Broadmoor as well.
Please remember that the work of the Kingdom of God continues regardless of who the leaders are in each church. I urge you to increase your support – prayers, service, financial – to ZUMC in these days of transition!
Grace and peace,
My grandfather had this saying I always thought was strange: “You’re going to get my goat.” There was no goat in the room. There was not a goat in the house. Or the yard. With time, however, the meaning became clear from the context. I was doing something irritating. He was telling me to change my behavior. The source of that phrase is interesting. Racehorse owners to this day often put a goat in the stable yard alongside nervous high strung racers. It helps quiet them. Whatever the reason, it works. And the horses get very used to their goats. Sometimes, on the eve of a race, gamblers or other owners would steal the goat from a rival’s stable. They knew if they succeeded in “getting their goat” that horse would not run as well in the race next day. Life gets our goat. It’s a little uncomfortable. Life often gets our goat. It’s irritating. We live nervous high-strung lives. People use drugs, therapy, and exercise to combat the stress. We have not made use of a simple thing that contributes to mental well-being and serenity: worship.
Frankly, we NEED the experience of worship. The church offers us forgiveness. We aren’t angels, and never will be in this life. We struggle with temptations, succumb to stupidity, and mess up our own and others’ lives. But week after week the church tells an old story. We can recount this story in new ways, familiar ways, in the box, out of the box…but the story does not change. The story of a God who loved and loves and will love us. A God who sent a Son to us so we could grasp the depth of divine love. A Son willing to die upon the cross to reveal this love will go to the death for us. A Son willing to save us from the darkness that resides in our own hearts. In worship, through familiar forms and expressions, this story is told again and again. We need to hear this message repeatedly and respond to the message. Worship gives us a vision of who God wants us to be. It also enables us to see that God needs what we can do to make God’s way – the way of peace and love – known in our town.
Don’t make worship an option in your life.
Come as often as you can.
“…this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies
ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus”
(Philippians 3:13-14). Recently read about a plane crash on take-off, caused in part because it was carrying too much weight (ice on the wings and excess baggage). We can crash and burn if we’re carrying too much baggage. Like the baggage of unrelinquished hurt. If we’ve carried 2013’s
hurts into 2014, we may be surprised to find that we’re headed for a crash. We simply
can’t fly high like God intends if we’re too heavy for takeoff. I get Paul. He’s talking about the future. He says he’s doing one thing: FORGETTING. But he adds something: MOVING ON. Two
separate things? Or intimately related and so we can’t do one without doing the other?
Forgetting is not the same as not remembering. (Yes I forget things – especially
at the grocery store – but that’s not what we’re talking about here.) Here’s what I mean: daughter arrives from college for Christmas break Friday night. I get in my car Saturday morning. I back into her car. A 3 m.p.h. love tap. At the perfect angle to tear both bumper “covers” (no Virginia, there is no such thing as a car bumper any more). Repair cost? I’m not telling. Won’t forget the sting of this for a while. A longggg while. Thank God, the memory of it actually serves a purpose: look before backing up.
Maybe this is what Paul was getting at: forgetting what lies behind means remembering
this was the starting point for a new beginning. We don’t forget that which hurts. Paul is
remembering as he writes about moving forward. We can’t forget our past. We can’t erase our
past. But we can get past our past and move into a better future. We may need to leave
behind hurts others have inflicted on us or we may need to release ourselves from self inflicted
wounds. For Paul it meant moving closer to God through Jesus Christ.
We can remember how others have hurt us, or we can remember them in terms of what the
Christ did for them. It’s our choice. Some hurts just won’t go away, no matter how hard we try. They are scars we will carry to the grave. But we can strain (it takes that much grit) forward to what lies ahead IF we ditch self-pity and grudge-nursing. It’s moving on to “higher ground”.
Get free of old hurts by reframing them in the love of Christ for all people. Otherwise, many
wonderful dreams for 2014 will never take flight.
Here are some questions for you to ask yourself: Am I really awake, aware, present, to God in
my life now?
What does my daily behavior say about the person I really am?
The responses we have to these questions provide true material for reflection. How
much do you reflect? What are the highs and lows of your day, your week? I thought I’d
share some of mine from the past week with you.
High: ringing in the new year with Cynthia (well, at about 7:30pm)
Most loving: glimpsing a mother holding hands with her young child
Most poignant: witnessing the the tears of a grieving family
Funniest: the expression on the father of the bride’s face at one point
Most challenging: encouraging someone who was down
Loneliest moment: my youngest departing for a trip
Sense of accomplishment: being part of a beautiful wedding
Most humbling: prayer with a terribly injured person
Most appreciative: Carla Murray playing at the last minute
Most inspiring: hearing an old country preacher testify to the faith
Most frustrating: realizing how quickly another year has passed
Most liberating: writing another sermon
Quietest: driving home after a funeral in the rain
Most amazed: seeing people transform the fellowship hall into a gorgeous reception space
Most holy: serving Communion
Most joyous: seeing a family totally thrilled to be in a new home.
That’s in one week. God is with us every moment of our lives. It is truly amazing how
often these moments are holy ones. Do we stop to take notice of everything and marvel at
God’s presence in these things? If nothing else, pay attention to your breathing this week….
As Advent winds down to its ending on Christmas Eve, I'm doing what I tell everyone else to do: take a moment to reflect in the midst of a trying season. Several things pop in my mind: being prayerful for those who really suffer this "happy" time of year. For those of you in mourning, our prayers and love surround you in your loneliness and pain. For those of you physically suffering right now, our hearts go out to you in your pain - if we could take it from you, we would. And for those of you caring for loved ones, we hope and pray you will sense the helpful encouraging presence of God in your soul in the midst of your tiredness.
For those of you in trying circumstances: the only thing that can make Christmas "merry" is to experience the deep love God has for you in your wounded heart. Know that you are loved. Know that you are not alone in your depression and sorrow and brokenness.
And I've been reflecting on gifts. Oh, gifts themselves aren't so important; however the thought behind every gift received does matter more and more. As the years pass, I'm learning that gifts take new and varied forms. The best gifts come with skin on them! (Here you will expect an exposition on the Incarnation. Well, that's too obvious. It's the ultimate gift. But here's the secret: the Incarnation is revealed in the hearts, minds and acts of the people - the believers- around us today.)
What am I talking about? Gifts with skin? Zebra skin rugs or something? Nah. It's all about YOU. You volunteering your time and talents in the name of Christ for others is the best gift of all. Why? Goes back to the Incarnation. You represent the Incarnation to others.
Perhaps the greatest present this Christmas is the way we use our God-given gifts to reflect the Light of the World. I am blown away by how many people we are helping directly in our community this Advent. The families dealing with domestic violence; the poor; the staff at Zachary Elementary School we've adopted. Walking in to the church office building today, there were three different areas where items were being collected for various missional activities, while in the foyer of the sanctuary there are loads of food piled up for distribution. Pretty amazing how many gifts we are giving others because we have received the gift of salvation.
There are other "gifts with skin on them" around here!
Jan Whiddon is a great gift. She keeps the church organized. She keeps the pastor organized. She is always pleasant, has a deep faith, and is a prayerful person.
Don Bass is a great gift. He's the most important person in the church. He keeps our church in great condition.
Jason Gafford is a great gift. He keeps our church grounds manicured.
Joe Dilmon is a great gift. He is a faithful steward. With Joe in charge, we have accountability and peace of mind regarding the church's business management. He is a hard worker and loves this church very much.
Cathy Borneman is a great gift. She's a great gift because she oversees a group of great teachers who make our Little School the best in the area.
Myrna Rabalais is a great gift. She is our financial secretary and is always a pleasant soul to be around, as well as a dependable steward.
Chris Stephens is a great gift. Do you realize how talented he is? We sometimes forget how blessed we are to have him.
Our new choir director is a great gift. Daryl Johnson is calm, cool and collected every Sunday morning. We are so blessed to have his leadership.
There's Cyndi Hadden. So faithful. So good at organizing the Sunday morning children's ministries. So good at inviting others to participate in this ministry.
The Stewarts - Lonnie and Susan - certainly have been a gift to so many persons of so many ages at ZUMC. They are truly devoted servants of Christ and they do amazing things in their quiet, humble way.
There's Jennifer Bass who does so much to ensure Wednesday night suppers run smoothly and deliciously.
Another gift is Emily Nevarez, who has transformed our website and maintains both it and ZUMC's presence on the internet via Facebook and Twitter.
Phil Gagliano and Mary Williams are great gifts to our church. Really, if I was gone for six weeks and they were gone for six weeks, whose absence would be more sorely missed? Theirs, hands down. After all, they keep the campus neat and sweet for the rest of us.
What about our sound people? Skip Hudson, John Hadden, Mark Antoine are keeping it real. They have made lots of improvements this past year and contribute to the high quality of worship we enjoy every Sunday morning. You're a gift.
It is so wonderful - such a gift - to pastor such an amazing group of people. The people - you - are the gift. Really, the church is people, not buildings. It's about people doing things great and small to make a difference in other's lives for the sake of the kingdom! It is the response to love.
Way to go Church!
Merry Christmas and God bless you all,
Advent: A Time of Preparation
In chapel this week, I told the Little School students that we have entered December, and we are to consider it a "birthday month" for Jesus. I got the idea for "birthday month" from hearing about so many people having not just a birthday but a birthday week! Really, it is a birthday month: we prepare to celebrate the birthday of someone we love. We call this time of preparation "Advent". Let's break this word down: ad- means toward; -vent means moving. So we are moving toward the celebration of the Incarnation. The four Sundays prior to Christmas Day are the Sundays of Advent. We hear the words the prophets spoke, prophecies the Christian Church has embraced as foretelling the Messiah's birth and clueing us in to the requisite preparations we must make to "prepare Him room" in our hearts. The liturgical color - purple - reminds us of the royalty of the Christ Child/King. The lighting of the Advent wreath - growing brighter each Sunday as an additional candle is lighted...and then on Christmas Eve, the large center white candle is lighted as a symbol of the coming of pure love - in the form of a baby - into our troubled world. There is also the large Chrismon tree at the front of the sanctuary; it is chockablock full of symbols representing Jesus Christ. All of these serve as aids to help us prepare once more for the deeper, truest meaning of Christmas: God loves us so much He gave us Jesus so we could know God in a deep and meaningful way, and consequently live deeper more meaningful lives on earth. So gather with me as we keep preparing our hearts for the coming of the Christ Child!
Consecration Sunday Update:
Let me give you a final Consecration Sunday update:
108 families (couples/singles/youth) shared their Estimate of Giving with ZUMC to assist us in planning our 2014 ministry
One-third of these folks increased their commitment and support for 2014
Based on current patterns of support, we can expect to receive from all sources about $513,000 for mission and ministry in 2014
28 new families shared their Estimate of Generosity with ZUMC
30 families that had not shared their Estimate of Generosity in 2013 did so for 2014
195 families have financially supported ZUMC in 2013
The United Methodist Foundation has created a ministry centered on pastoral leadership. The program, "Leadership Excellence Advancement Program" (LEAP), has the goal of developing pastor's leadership abilities. Your pastor has been accepted to participate in this two-year program. There will be three retreats in 2014 and 2015; there will be numerous assignments to clarify leadership style; readings in leadership, interact with the congregation to improve skills such as preaching, community involvement, and cultivating congregational generosity; interaction with an executive coach and a clergy mentor, experience continued growth and map a plan for ongoing learning; and spend time in theological reflection on the nature of personal and congregational leadership. The Foundation has generously underwritten the cost of LEAP: the amount spent on continuing education will be the lowest since my beginning service here in 2003. There is no doubt ZUMC will benefit from this experience because I am committing myself to engage this congregation in my learning and development. This is an exciting opportunity that I hope and pray will be of great benefit to our congregation!
On his first visit to Australia, a Texan was being shown around a vast ranch. "Why, this would be just a teensy little corner of my spread back home," he said. When his host showed him a huge herd of cattle grazing, his comment was "Purty, but they'd get lost among my herd". A kangaroo suddenly came up from behind him and leaped by. The startled Texan cried out, "What in tarnation was that??" His Aussie host smiled and asked, "You mean you don't have grasshoppers back in Texas?"
Some people have critical spirits. They look for the negative in situations and are disappointed when it doesn't come. Some are busy finding ways of one-upping others. In their heart, they are pessimistic. Sadly, it is exceedingly difficult being around such persons because one never knows what will set them off on another boorish infantile rant.
Thanksgiving calls for positive faith. It requires optimism!
I love Jerry Hilbun's story of what happened in a nursing home one Thanksgiving. The small resident population was gathered around their humble Thanksgiving table, and the director asked each in turn to express one thing for which they were thankful. Thanks were expressed for a home in which to stay, families, etc. One little old man in his turn said "I thank the Lord for two perfectly good teeth, one in my upper jaw and one in my lower jaw that match so I can chew my food".
The Biblical record about thanksgiving is instructive. Despite-and frequently in the middle of-harsh difficult situations, the characters of the Bible give thanks. Paul counted his blessings even after countless floggings, beatings, imprisonments, being shipwrecked, betrayed, and deprived of food and drink.
Really, the Pilgrims were following in the footsteps of those characters of the Bible they knew so well. Same with calling for a Day of Prayer and Thanksgiving in the darkest days of the Civil War.
Some folks manage to be thankful for so little, while others seem never to find reasons to give thanks. Please count your many blessings-say thank you to those who surround your life, and those of your loved ones, with care, touch, and nurture. Say thanks to God who enfolds our lives with grace. May you and yours celebrate this upcoming Thanksgiving with abundant attitudes of gratitude. Thank you for your friendship and your involvement in ministry at ZUMC.
I'll see you this Sunday as we gather to do what it says in Psalm 95:2 - "Let us come into His presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!"
7 Important Stewardship Lessons
1. We are not the owners
Joseph was a steward in Potiphar's household. He was put in charge of caring for his master's possessions and his master's household. I sometimes confuse myself because I'll write my name on books and other items I own. This habit is a little misleading because everything I own - everything you own- is the property of God and God has given us the job of stewards. The day is coming when I will pass my books on to another to aid them in their ministry.
2. We act on behalf of the Master
A steward doesn't get to buy what she wishes with the money of another. She makes executive spending decisions that she believes to be in line with the will and wishes of the owner. In a similar way, we must not protect our own self-interest while managing God's money. Instead, we seek to use it in a way that is in line with God's will and wishes for God's property. Of course, we best discover God's will and wishes through the Bible.
3. The key quality of a steward is trust
If someone is going to ask us to oversee his estate, then surely he must trust us. With trust always comes expectation. To be trusted with something is the greatest of blessings and the greatest of burdens. We must do what is trustworthy and honorable with what we have received.
4. We are entrusted with different amounts
As stewards, we should rid ourselves from either jealousy or a judgemental heart. We are not asked to analyzed and criticize what other stewards are doing. Instead, we simply look at what we've been entrusted with and ask how we can bring the most glory to God with what God's given to us. There is a danger spending too much time concerned with the speck in our sister's eye, while we have a plank in our own eye.
5. We must anticipate an evaluation of our performance
When a master puts a steward in charge of his possessions, the steward should expect to be evaluated based on his performance. His performance is not one that earns the respect of the master. Instead, his performance recognizes the sovereignty and greatness of the master. Life is lived in response to the great blessings the steward has received. His evaluation will be based on what was first entrusted to his steward and based on the current results. A steward always anticipates the question, "Were you faithful with what was entrusted to you?"
6. Stewardship involves much more than money
We're stewards of all we have - gifts, environment, education, experience, and so on. We are who we are because of what we've been given by God. Are we using it - all of it - for our Lord's praise, honor, and glory?
7. Good stewardship may require training
It's rare for a person to instinctively know how to best manage all the resources of a master. There will be lessons to learn and habits to change. If I don't know how to budget, then learning about budgeting would be an act of good stewardship. If I don't know anything about investing, then learning how to invest would be an act of good stewardship. Good stewardship may require good education. If we seek to live for the praise and honor of God, we'll frequently remind ourselves of our proper role as God's stewards and servants.