Wise Ones Still Discern

On December 4, 2016, a North Carolina gunman entered a Washington, D.C. restaurant to “investigate” some information he read on social media. He believed a “fake news” story was real news and went to self-investigate and administer justice. I don’t want to be an alarmist, but this is scary stuff.  Websites, such as snopes.com combat Internet fake news every day so you can check snopes.com to find out if the news you read and receive in email is fake news. However, social media users currently invent and perpetuate fake news faster than reasonable folk can correct and debunk it.

Some newly elected officials who’ve mastered manipulation used fake news throughout their campaigns to score the votes from the unsuspecting and easily deceived. My advice is do not believe everything you hear or read. To combat fake news, you can also support reliable media sources.

Traditional news agencies have been greatly impacted by the shift to online media, but old style reporting by educated professionals continues to be a social necessity. When layoffs impact a news producer, the fact-checkers and proofreaders are often the first to receive pink slips. However, they have essential roles. We need reliable and trustworthy news.

The invention and proliferation of fake news is actually not new news. King Herod famously circulated some fake news after the birth of Jesus. When the Magi entered the land of Israel in search of the One the stars indicated would be king, Herod learned of their border crossing and requested that they meet with him in Jerusalem. Upon hearing that the foreigners followed the star of the King of the Jews, Herod the Great deposited some fake news, “Wonderful, and when you find him return to me with the baby’s GPS coordinates [my paraphrase] that I too may go and worship him.”

The first century headlines would have read, “Herod Seeks Baby to Worship.”

However, something about Herod strikes the wise men as peculiar. They discern that they should travel another route home and neglect to mention the cradle location to anyone as they journey on their way.

The angel of the Lord provides Joseph with the real story. Herod plans to murder the baby. Therefore, “Gather up your family and get out of town fast. Don’t stop running until you cross the Sinai [my paraphrase]and enter into Egypt.”

Fake news stories in our own day might also become a matter of life and death. We must be diligent, and we must pray for discernment—which is one of the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. Truth exists, and the spiritually discerning can still find it and spread it.

Herod sought a baby;  that much of the fake news story was true, but he was selfish and prideful and wanted to kill the boy rather than worship him.

Thank God for the discernment of wise men (and women) who can still find Jesus and discern fake news!

Ordained in God’s Time

Teddi Therkildsen’s upcoming ordination on the afternoon of November 6 has me in a spirit of Thanksgiving for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and our tradition of calling men and women into a set-apart ministry of the Gospel.

Disciples have ordained women for more than a century. We honor Clara Celestia Hale Babcock as the first woman ordained in the Christian Churches in 1888 in Erie, Illinois. (The first woman ordained in America was Antoinette Brown in 1853.) Rev. Babcock held pastorates in four churches over 36 years, conducted numerous evangelistic meetings, and personally officiated at the baptisms of at least 1,500 people, at several weddings, and at more than 172 funerals.

Rev. Babcock was born on May 31, 1850 in Fitchville, Ohio, and died a day after performing baptisms on December 12, 1924. In her obituary in the Christian Evangelist, a writer remembered that “her converts and acquaintances esteemed her for her strong intellect, clear presentation of the scriptures and effective appeal on behalf of Christ.”

If we consider the American culture in which Rev. Babcock became ordained and worked in ministry, this accomplishment is truly amazing. She was ministering for three decades before she could legally vote in this country. (The 19th amendment ratified on August 18, 1920 guaranteed Rev. Babcock’s right to vote.)

She might have worn her first pair of trousers a year or two before her death, but not likely since that didn’t really catch on until the 1930s. Only in my lifetime have women started wearing pants to church (and some people still frown upon it). It wasn’t until 1978 that pregnant women’s jobs were protected, and Rev. Babcock bore six children.

Social equality seriously began with the gender revolution of the 1970s when women achieved the ability to enroll in an Ivy League school (1969/77), the right to run in the Boston Marathon (1972), the equality to serve on a jury (1973), the right to apply for credit (1974), and so forth.

Rev. Babcock of the Victorian and Reconstruction eras was about a decade ahead of her time, but for at least 1,500 people who came to know Jesus and live as his Disciples, she was right on time—ordained in God’s time.

Much More Lies Beyond–Discover It

pillars-of-herculesAccording to Greek mythology, Hercules carved out and heaped up some rock pillars along a narrow pass creating the Straits of Gibraltar, which lies between Morocco and Spain and connects the Mediterranean Sea with the Atlantic Ocean. For all of ancient history, the Pillars of Hercules marked the edge of the then known world, and they supposedly bore the warning Non Plus Ultra, which translates as “nothing farther beyond.”

The carved words, Non Plus Ultra, served as a warning for sailors and navigators to turn around and go no further. Danger. Danger. According to Plato’s account of the area, the lost realm of Atlantis was situated beyond the Pillars of Hercules, in effect placing Atlantis in the realm of the Unknown as further proof of why sailors should turn around.

When Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor (and King of Spain as Charles I) came into power in 1516/1519, he adopted Plus Ultra (“more beyond”) as his personal motto upon advisement of his doctor. The optimistic doctor’s idea was to encourage Charles V to ignore the ancient warning and to take risks, surpassing fear’s limitations and going farther beyond. This Plus Ultra phrase implied, of course, that some medieval people already suspected that the world might have much more beyond the Straits of Gibraltar. Shortly after adopting his motto, Charles V approved Ferdinand Magellan’s voyage on behalf of Spain, which led to the first European voyage of discovery to circumnavigate the globe, proving that the Earth is round.

Eventually, Charles’ motto Plus Ultra became minted on the Spanish dollar to encourage all Spanish explorers to go beyond the Pillars of Hercules and on to the New World. Today, the national flag and emblem of modern Spain bears the Plus Ultra inscription along with images of the Pillars of Hercules.

Imagine living in the unmapped, unexplored, and uncharted world before the 1500s, completely unaware that something more lay beyond your own conception of it—afraid to believe in what you could not understand and unwilling to risk yourself for what was uncertain. We now know that the narrow-minded inquisitors who persecuted Copernicus and Galileo were fools. And yet, today, many people limit their spiritual life to the realm of Non Plus Ultra, as though life has “nothing beyond” what we can presently see and experience. However, each Spring we hear resurrection’s call to believe in “much more beyond.”

Plus Ultra—it’s actually a hopeful motto that might be helpful for all to adopt, else we might never discover what lies on the other side of life’s narrowest passage.

Frazzled for a Fantastic Reason

magiEach year during the holy-days, I watch various members of the congregation work until they are frazzled. One might ensure that the church decorations are perfect. Another coordinates our mission activities so children in need obtain gifts. Still another purchases food by the car load and heaves it into the church for food boxes. Some that don’t have a lot of spare change find the money to buy cases of canned goods for others.

So many go the extra mile because for people who love Jesus, the extra mile still matters.

When I am exhausted because of preparing advent materials, all the parties (one day this month I ate at four different church-related events), the flurry of activity inside the church, the Christmas parade, the extra banquets in the community, in addition to my day and night job as the Senior Pastor, I remind myself that I am frazzled for a fantastic reason. I also go the extra mile because I love Jesus and the extra mile still matters.

The extra mile mattered to the wise men (magi–astronomers/astrologers from the East). Just because they were wealthy does not mean that they lived a life of leisure. As scholars, they likely managed their own full schedules and had other business to attend to. However, they packed their bags and hit the road when they saw the star. They might have been frazzled by the time they reached Bethlehem, but they knew it was for a fantastic reason.

Perhaps going the extra mile brings all of us closer to Christ.

Want to know more about the work of these astronomers/astrologers and the reason the stars were so amazing during Jesus’ birth?
I recommend this Star of Bethelehm youtube video about the stars 2000 years ago: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=01f6RyguFns

Fall—Hooray for Strawberries?

I know—most US-Easterners don’t think of Autumn as the Strawberry season. We seek the best sweet potatoes and head for the pumpkin patch, or drive to the mountains to pick apples. This time of year, farmers put in their garlic and cabbage. I’m green—eat in season; I get it.

However, I was fortunate enough to live on the West coast in California for four years. And there I discovered that September and October strawberries are much sweeter and tastier than their April-May cousins. I remember the day of my first taste of a September strawberry like it was yesterday. While working in the middle of the Silicon Valley one perfect September day, I walked to a nearby farm stand for lunch and purchased some strawberries—kind of surprised to see them fresh out of the field like that in the Fall. Those dark-red-velvet-colored strawberries burst with flavor as deep as their texture. I bought and ate them every day until the rainy season began on October 31.

If you don’t believe me, instead of reaching for the orange-colored gourds at your grocery, get some Watsonville, CA strawberries and see if you aren’t surprised by the flavor.

On the California coast, where it doesn’t usually get as hot as here, strawberry farmers are able to keep the same plants producing for several months, not just the six weeks of the strawberry season in NC. The more mature plants produce sweeter strawberries. By mid-July or August in NC, farmers have already reset strawberry fields to lie dormant for the winter until February when the farmers put in the new plants. Eastern-US strawberry plants never get the opportunity to grow up and show us what they really can do. It’s so sad.

Just as NC farmers pull up immature strawberry plants and throw them aside, sometimes I think Christians give up on other people (or ourselves) too easily—we don’t let people mature and grow and develop before we dismiss them as inconsequential, worrisome, “no-counts.” Not only don’t we take an interest in their lives, we don’t bother to check in periodically and attempt to reconnect and possibly guide. We judge one inappropriate behavior, and we are done forever.

The Lord (our example), however, farms like a West coast strawberry farmer and patiently lets a person’s character build, gently guiding until the fruit of that person is plentiful and beneficial, flavoring the earth.

James 1:4-5—Let perseverance finish its work
so that you may be mature
and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God,
who gives generously to all without finding fault,
and it will be given to you.

New Disciples Initiative: Mission First

During the July 2015 General Assembly (GA) in Columbus Ohio, The Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins laid out a new plan to emphasize mission among all the ministries (general, regional, and local) of the covenanting Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) entities.

Disciples already emphasize pro-reconciliation/anti-racism, new and transforming churches, and leadership development. And now we add Mission as another priority of the church.MissionFirst

We begin our new emphasis to be a Mission First denomination by providing input at “Mission Gatherings” in our region about what types of mission are important to our local communities. Afterward, a Mission Council will meet to read through the stories, suggestions, and testimonies and identify common mission themes important to Disciples. In the third phase of this discovery process, the various ministries of our denomination will receive information from the Mission Council and a governance board will help ensure those ministries well serve local and regional efforts. Then, when we are on the same page with appropriate resources and support, our whole denomination will begin to make a dramatic impact through our various congregations and entities.

You can watch an overview video online at missionfirst.disciples.org

The discovery and organizing phases will occur from now through 2016. At the 2017 GA, Dr. Watkins will provide additional information about how our church will improve to make us all more missional.

If you want to sign up to attend a mission gathering and provide input, you can do so at missionfirst.disciples.org/mission-gatherings/sign-up/

gaMISSION-RestoreAllen and I participated in the Habitat Restore Mission on Monday morning during the 2015 General Assembly. Here we are at the sign-in desk with young and old Disciples—all eager to work.

Summer Worship–Testimony Time

During the summer, Dr. Johnson invites church members to share their testimony during the Sunday worship service. Please consider sharing your life story (or an important period of time in it) when God moved in your life to bring salvation, renewal, or growth. Time is limited to 12 minutes. Training is provided.

If you know and love Jesus, you have a story to tell, and we want to hear it. Please contact the pastor for more information and to schedule your testimony time.

When I was in seminary working on my Master of Divinity degree, one professor stressed again and again how we need to listen to one another’s stories. So we each in turn had to share our testimony about how God had moved us to enroll in divinity school.

Essentially, this is what we have throughout the pages of our Bible. People have given their testimonies about encounters with God and other people have written them down to share with future generations. Several times in Acts and the letters of Paul, we hear Paul’s testimony about the night the lightening flashed causing blindness but eventually opening his eyes to the truth about Jesus.

I’ve never been shy about telling my God-story. In fact, I have shaped and refined it into three or four packages that I can present depending upon the amount of time provided.

Most remarkably, whenever I give all or a portion of my testimony, someone else is dramatically impacted. So I know God uses my story, and that’s one of the reasons I offer it so readily.

If you’ve never written your testimony before, try it now. One of the easiest methods is to begin with a Scripture or a hymn that reminds you about your life, or tell a chronological story that highlights key events when you experienced God nudging you or saintly Christians directing you.

During one of the lowest points in my life I moved to Cary in May 2000. I immediately began visiting several churches trying to connect with some nice but Biblically-literate people, but none of the churches seemed to be what I was looking for. I was getting discouraged, but then I visited a church and the person who met me in the parking lot as I was trying to find the correct entrance was named “Hope Christian.” Seriously, that was her name—Hope Christian. Incidentally, that’s the church where I met my husband Allen.

Stuff like that doesn’t just happen—it’s not coincidence, but providence, I think. God has special agents everywhere trying to give us the hand signals, alarm bells, train whistles, and neon lights that we need. I believe it is helpful to hear about these moments in the lives of others so we will be more alert when God speaks to us.

Thieves Are Everywhere

I got an email today from an “attorney” with the same name as an attorney
whom I know, and the email said:

How are you doing? My regrets for this sudden request,we made a short trip to Larnaca.On our way to the hotel my family and i got mugged and all our cash,cellphones,credit cards and other valuables were all stolen at gun point. It’s such a traumatic experience for me,we need your help flying back home as i am trying to raise some money.The embassy has just issued me a temporary passport but i have to settle my hotel bills with the manager and take care of other expenses.

I only have access to the internet,i need your help financially and i promise to make the refund once i get back home. You are my last resort and hope,please let me know if i can count on you also i need you to keep checking your email because it’s the only way i can reach you.

By a process of data mining, it’s not only advertisers and marketers but SCAMMERS and CROOKS who have our email addresses and know all about us and who we associate with. I worked in the Silicon Valley as a computer professional, so trust me when I say this, no information you electronically share with any business or person is actually private (regardless of how private and safe you think it is).

Whoever sent this to me will not fair well, because I am praying that God delivers the world from evil and injustice, from scammers and thieves, from this person doing wrong. Thieves

I know several people in New Bern who have recently been scammed by telephone and by email. So please heed this warning. Regardless of how real it seems, do not give your private information to anyone who calls threatening you or coercing you. Do not give your checking information, your banking information, your credit card, or social security number to anyone. No authentic company or representative will call you and make a request such as this. If you receive a threatening call, phone the police. If someone phones you and asks you for financial information or to complete a financial transaction, hang up and phone me or phone your children.

My attorney friend is not in Larnaca, but my God knows all about this. And at this time of the year, I also feel obligated to report that Jesus told a confessing thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” Thieves are everywhere.


A Leadership Lesson: Whipping the Grasshopper with Wholeheartedness

In the story of the spies exploring the Promised Land in Numbers 13, Caleb returns and says “We should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it.” Joshua also wants to take the land. But the majority of the spies who had gone with Caleb instead reported, “We cannot attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” Then, they spread bad reports about the area that they had explored: “The land devours those living it. The people are giants, and we seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.”

How can this “blue-ribbon” group of leaders and advisers to Moses return with such different opinions. A quotation from Christian author, “Helen Luke” helps differentiate these two accounts by the spies. “A spy is one who penetrates into a hidden mystery, and a spy of God is one who sees at the heart of every manifestation of life… the mysterium tremendum that is God.”

Most of the leaders no longer believed in their strength and the power of their God to provide. Interestingly their self-deprecation includes the remarkable awareness that since they viewed themselves as inferior, surely those outside saw them this way as well. So true. When we feel small we look small to others.

Three giants cause timid leadership that refuses to believe in the abundance of God: fear of failure, self-pity (which is dangerous and addictive in groups), and ego paired with jealousy. A later recount of the spy exploration in Joshua 14 includes information that Caleb did not succumb to these large enemies. It says that his report was honest because he “wholeheartedly followed the Lord.”

Likewise, to say yes to the Lord and God’s plans for the future of our church, leaders need wholehearted devotion to God. The pathway of wholeheartedness is being able to receive from God what God intends for us (even if we don’t know how we can accomplish it). Wholehearted leaders put down their reservations about God’s ideas and set aside their self-protection from how God’s ways might change them. Doing so requires a fullness of commitment that perseveres at the deepest levels of decision making.

By the way, it’s nominating time. We are looking for courageous leaders who have a quiet certainty in God’s calling and provision for us. If you are bigger than a grasshopper, please say, “Yes” to the call.

Connecting Our Disciples, Congregational, and UCC Communities

With the ever-increasing number of people relocating to New Bern from our northern states, our church is uniquely poised to offer a familiar church of welcome. We have an opportunity to capitalize on our shared heritage and existing connections with the northern congregational church.

This is important because many of our recent church visitors are members of congregational churches in Connecticut, Maine, and other northern states. Most of their churches are also associated with the United Church of Christ.

In 1989 the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) approved a historic partnership of full communion. The two churches proclaimed mutual recognition of their sacraments and ordained ministry.

Though remaining two distinct denominations, the UCC and Disciples have committed through their partnership to seek opportunities for common ministry, especially where work together will enhance the mission of the church.

The partnership is a unique experiment in U.S. ecumenism. In every setting of the two churches, UCC members and Disciples are serving Christ side by side. There are now dozens of “federated” congregations affiliated with both denominations, and it is now common for Disciples and UCC ministers to serve congregations of the other denomination. The shared Global Ministries Board formed by the UCC’s Wider Church Ministries and the Disciples’ Division of Overseas Ministries, unites the international mission work of the two churches.

In April 2013, denominational leaders forged an even stronger relationship between the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) to celebrate 25 years of this ecumenical partnership. Key national leaders in both denominations (including our Disciples President and General Minister, The Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins; The Rev. Dr. Ron Degges, president of Disciples Home Missions; and The Rev. Timothy James, associate general minister of the National Convocation, among others) now have Standing in the respective partner church, and considered ordained ministers by both denominations.

I will be in the process of asking the UCC to recognize my Disciples Standing so that I will have dual Standing (or “privilege of call”) in both Disciples and UCC and can market this partnership more to our northern newcomers. It is possible for our Broad Street Christian Church to officially become a “federated” church with UCC, and that might be something that we want to think about for our future.