Does God Cry?

A sermon based upon
Jeremiah 2:4-13
Psalm 81:1, 10-16 (UMH 803)
Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
Luke 14:1, 7-14

https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Jeremiah+2&version=NRSV
https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Hebrews+13&version=NRSV
https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Luke+14&version=NRSV

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14)

I would like for you to consider the question, “Does God Cry?”

Have you had someone in your life that you loved so much and did so much for them (say a friend, a child, a sibling or parent even) that would always seem to find way to “test” your devotion to them? I am sure that my parents may have felt that about me from time to time, if you want …

Read More at: http://tonyswebstudios.blogspot.com/2016/08/does-god-cry.html

The UCC and my “Call”

Reflection on the Call and How the UCC via Plymouth is a Part

My call comes from a long time of wondering, a period of serious doubt of organized religion, returning to Church (via the UCC) and finally hearing again and now contemplating the Call.

The calling to ministry has been part of me since my youth (I just ignored or put that answer on hold). I believe there is a reason for everything and God has made that clear to me including the time away from church as much as the return to church.  I have felt a spiritual connection early in my youth and now rekindled that connection in these years with Plymouth and the UCC.

I participated in the sacraments of baptism, confession, communion and confirmation into the Catholic Church via a family that was devout Catholic and a dad that grew up devout Missouri Synod Lutheran. Going to Mass on Sunday was not optional in my family. Further, as a youth, I was heavily involved with Mass and the Church via serving as a altar boy while a young boy and eventually as a cantor and lecturer at Mass during my high school years. I can recount how I felt in awe of priests and the Church with how people respected them and what they brought to people. Yet as I grew into adolescence, there were serious contradictions within myself with what people were saying I ought to feel.  I grew disconnected from the Church as I could no longer ignore my own feelings.  Since then, I have struggled with organized religion for several reasons —bullying, sexual orientation and how the Church leaders are willing to characterize Truths, but God was still there somewhere.

I grew in education, martial arts, study of Asian religions/philosophy, and work with equality issues along with my career as a software engineer. I found Jesus’s messages throughout many of the texts I was reading for Tao or Buddha even though they were not from Jesus or the Gospels. This leads me to believe that what Jesus was preaching is a universal truth that spans cultures, history and generations. I find a connection to Jesus preaching in my work in social justice for equality and find some of the arguments against social justice have not really changed since Jesus time.  Yet the Truth of Jesus is waiting for us to realize, has always been there, and always will be.

Thus, I still feel that it is fitting that I took the name of Matthew (from the Apostle) for my confirmation name because I had to realize the worth of the cause and be willing to invite Jesus into my being.  My invitation was fulfilled when I realized the mission of Jesus was to grow in the love of God and of neighbor as the primary commandments. (Matthew 22:37-40). Matthew became an evangelist as he realized the grace of Jesus’s teaching included all of society including the outcasts and society’s fringes. I doubt that I can even attempt to put myself in the same breath as Matthew, Saul/Paul, or any Evangelist before, but they provide examples to me of how conversion happens to some.

Again for me, I came from turmoil and rejection of religion given how it played a major part in serous bouts with depression episodes in my life.  That rejection from my members of my family, friends, and loss of child caused serious doubt of self worth, as well as a serious contradiction of what I heard (or taught) about Jesus teachings versus people “of God” were willing to do.  When I was willing to let go of those hooks, I found some confidence, but I was always wondering about God and looking to reconnect in some way. 

Perhaps the Calling yields to helping others find their spiritual connection to God and to the universe through discipleship because I had to walk through a wilderness or two in my life. (Gula, 1996).  My community at Plymouth helped me to think that it was ok to have doubt and to have conflict.  I feel that I can relate to people who have trouble finding God in their lives, and I can help others because I understand the disconnect (similar to Evans (2015) experiences) as much I understand the connection that is there.  I understand how God always will be there in various forms and ways, and I can show the diverse ways one can come to experience and know God.

I found the UCC by Plymouth through several other groups that were already meeting here. When I heard the words “no matter who you are or where you are life’s journeys…”, I first met that with serious skepticism yet it certainly didn’t sound like anything that I had heard at a church. I heard more sermons and decided to join with my spouse and that meant I was drawn to also be active again in church just like I was as youth. I became a Deacon, got involved with Chancel choir, and stepped up to be a Stephen minister. The combination of these I also was hearing again the call and decided that this time should answer.

While I still have a place in my heart for Catholic traditions, I have grown to love and admire the work the UCC is doing with the message of Jesus as being a real truth and a real place of refuge for some.  Plymouth has become a home to me where I can express myself, learn from others and just be. To me, the UCC finally seemed to put into practice the words of Jesus that I was reading and hearing rather than confusing with personal bigotries and traditions.

The UCC has made it clear there is more than one way to worship God with its focus upon decentralized autonomous congregations. Also, the UCC General Synod speaks not only to member Churches but also to the world at large about issues where religion has often played significant roles in hurting people. This vocal recognition by the UCC helps me to realize that perfection is nice but not available to us as people. That reflection also helps me and others to realize we are not the only ones that have strayed from the good path, and that there is a path to forgiveness if we are first willing to recognize our part in life’s choices.

God has called me here for some reason for this time, and I have yet to learn where this will take me. Further the training from Stephen ministry will aid in my future pastoral work as it has already taught the value of listening and being truly present.  Being a Deacon has helped me understand the worth of some traditions and to respect the differences in how people worship.  Being a minister, I will pray that my words and the meditations of hearts will be worthy in God’s sight always.

References

Evans, R. (2015). Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving and Finding the Church. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.

Gula, R. M. (1996). Ethics in Pastoral Ministry. New York, NY: Paulist Press.

Social Media and the Church

After a discussion question was posted in a PATHWAYS course, I felt it worth an effort to post some useful tips for ministers and church leaders to consider with respect to social media.  My professional background is heavy technology as a software engineer and I have been instrumental in helping to bring government, public and private organizations into the realm of social media and cloud technologies.

I did a brief look at several material posted online to “help” and persuade people to start doing social media for their respective churches. Most of these gave ideas for invoking types of social media in church communications and reasons why you should “be on social media” as a church. I found this to be dangerous notion without a serous and vetted plan as well as an understanding of what social media can do and what one should plan when invoking social media and cloud technologies. I will modify this posting as I read more.

First I am reposting the post that sparked this particular posting/subject.

DQ.  After reading the various denominational guidelines for the use of social media, discuss how social media can limit your privacy as a pastoral minister. Make three recommendations for the use of social media by pastoral ministers.

As someone who works in technology and has helped major companies develop social media strategies, this question speaks to my expertise. Social media as an extension of the Internet (and in general as communication strategies) is an opportunity to reach out to people with a message and to influence a following. Social media comes with instant notification and projection of the messages (either to further the projection or in response to such).

1) Carefully Manage personal interactions – One issue with social media is how one is being portrayed online and the first part of that issue is up to the minister to portray a positive image online, as if anything that is said by the minister can be used for or against the minister. Thus, rational and careful use of wording, postings, likes, and associations can help to minimize potential embarrassments via social media. A simple understanding of personal impact to social media is to realize that once something is posted, forever will it be. Thus, anything that is posted online has to be considered as appropriate imagery of the minister or of that person’s work, preferably in a positive light. Gossip, hearsay, or confidences shared should be forbidden from a church’s or minister’s social media content.

Question of what about material posted prior to “maturity” as to what should be course of action for such things as “youthful” or otherwise unwise indiscretions that could find themselves in present conversations. A minister will need to be prepared to explain and if there is actual change from such previous immaturity. Of current life engagements, ministers will need to be conscious of actions displayed online where something like visual alcohol consumption may not look good for a church that has a dry campus or hosts AA meetings.

2) Use social media to learn about what people are saying about your church. Another is to be mindful of what people are saying about their congregation or church actions. Whether your church or organization active in social media, someone, somewhere, is already discussing stuff about you and the question is whether you want to be a part of the conversation or to help to influence that discussion. Using some of the social media strategies employed be many different organizations can be useful for understanding underlying feelings with respect to the church, pastor, staff or religion as a whole. Using hashtag references can help one monitor and guide specific conversations. Doing web queries for people discussing the church can be useful to finding out some general opinions. Social media can also be used as an extension of outreach from the church (provided the outreach is given some direction on how to use that communication and when a clergy (or other source) might be needed).

Caveat to point 2) Finding out what people are saying to the social media crowd may also reveal negative opinions being expressed. The question for ministers is how to use that information in constructive ways rather than to use it for purposes of condemnation or isolation of the person(s).

3) Use social media (cloud) to provide technology needs for the church while minimizing costs. Social media applications can be used to minimize the cost of technology and to allow more people to participate in or to coordinate groups for the church work. Dropbox, Google Groups/Drive, Facebook groups, and podcasts are just a few of the apps that can be used to organize information and groups within and for the church. Anything that is used with express purpose of expanding the church mission would need to be considered for conflicts of interests, participant expectations, privacy, governance, and scope of use for the application as it pertains to the church group. For example, our Chancel choir uses Facebook group to disseminate information about rehearsals as well as link to other groups that are performing similar pieces(e.g. YouTube recordings). Those bits of information are from the music director and the list is not used for any other purpose. No groups using social media, cloud or remote technology should be allowed to use the lists or church groups to distribute non-church related info (e.g. politics, sales, etc) and the leaders of these groups should be expected to adhere to this.

 …  A question was then raised as to whether there are materials that I would recommend for church leaders as a text for implementing social media.  I posted this response.

I have strategy book (while for business may be broadly interpreted for non-profit and churches) ::
Baer, J and Naslund A. (2011). The Now Revolution: 7 Shifts to Make Your Business Faster, Smarter and More Social. Wiley:Hoboken, NJ

There are plenty of people that give advice and say to use Facebook and all, but to really maximize the technology use, one can go beyond the casual likes, postings and friending as part of social media. Let me look through my resources to find more of what you might be wanting.

There are a couple things to keep in mind and I would be happy to give guidance as well.

What is your communication strategy ?
how does social media channels fit in this and how does/would it tie back to your website, church groups and worship?
What are the policies of the church regarding technology use, dissemination, social media, whistle-blowing? (Consider the readings from [below] if you dont have one.)
What are your needs, that may or may not be solved by technology??

Below is a listing of on-line resources for social media use.

Bible in 90 Days

As part of a church group exercise, I participated in “Plymouth Reads the Bible in 90 Days” which spanned January into April 2015.

There is much to lift up from this experience, as I was in the midst of my own discernment for ministry.  Thorough reading of the text has reminded me of long lost lessons as well as a greater understanding of the power of scripture to motivate people to something greater than oneself. It is clear that people of faith will endure much “trial and tribulation” and that faith has many rewards.

I believe that I will be able to write about the teachings of the scripture with a more understanding heart of why Jesus, Abraham, and Moses were so important to revealing and to inspiring the hope that is within each of us. The Bible is as much a reflection of humanity as it is a proclamation of God and the covenant, or as Paul calls it “the promise” in his many letters. Love, endurance, discipline, pain, anger, and humility are all revealed here.

I encourage people to take time to read, not just your favorite passages but to incorporate all parts into your reading regiments.  I have included a copy of Devotions that I wrote May 2014.