Friday, February 18, 2011

View from the Lay Leader’s Chair

by Derek Lang

“Does everyone go to heaven?”  “Does God know the future?”  “Should Methodists believe the end of the World?”  These questions might seem sacrilegious, but they were some of the questions that we grappled with in our first Conference Lay Minister (CLayM) training session. CLayM is a program for laity wishing to further their training in ministry.  It was started about 20 years ago to develop volunteer ministers to pastor churches that could not otherwise afford a minister. There are 105 CLayM graduates in the Cal-Nevada Conference, but only about 25% are pastoring churches. The other 75% are serving their local churches as “ordinary” lay persons.

I am enrolled in the CLayM@home program, so much of the training is done via video and submitting answers to questions via e-mail (basically a contemporary correspondence course). We also have two all-weekend retreats. Though I am still discerning where God is leading me in this new direction of faith, the clincher in deciding to take this training was the set of topics that we would cover. For example, our video topics to date included church history, Wesleyan theology, the Bible, and planning worship. Regardless of whether I pastor a church later, teach Sunday School, lead a Small Group, or help with worship, these topics were relevant.

This past weekend was our first retreat. We covered the topic of Call, equipping for ministry, and spiritual disciplines. In our church, many of us have done Spiritual Gifts inventories.  But there are other types of “spiritual personality” tests and analyses to better understand how people lead and/or engage in ministry.  For example, one evaluated spiritual gifts, leadership/interaction styles, spirituality types, and task types. Spirituality webs were a way to classify individuals and congregations as head, heart, pilgrim, mystic, servant, and crusader. We were encouraged to investigate family systems theory as a corollary to church dynamics. We were also given many resources and references on preaching, Wesleyan theology, finances, faith-sharing, pastoring the ill, and leadership. I will put several of these books in our library once I get through the program.

The second day was spent with Rev. Steve Creel of Visalia United Methodist Church on preaching. I assumed that it would be a whole day of lectures. Needless to say, I was wrong. We started immediately with an exercise where he gave us a topic and 2 minutes to come up with a short  sermon/message. My first one was giving a sermon on the wages of sin after a single woman pregnant out of wedlock asked me to give her guidance after worship about aborting the baby. I managed to get through that one unscathed. But was not so fortunate when we had to give the bulk of a sermon we would need to write for our next retreat. Our CLayM coordinator warned us that Steve was the equivalent of American Idol’s Simon Cowell for preaching.  We had 1 hour to prepare, and everyone got very pointed remarks (yours truly was no exception).  But we did learn a few things about our role as preachers and techniques in structuring concise, meaningful sermons.  We will see how that translates into actual preaching!

I think the most inspiring part of the weekend was spending time with the other CLayM trainees. Everyone had such a passion for ministry and spreading the Good News to the world.  The word “evangelism” seemed intrinsic to everyone’s ministry.  It was not a matter of “we have to attract people to church to stay alive,” rather, they saw the hurts of the world and were driven by the Call to offer hope and healing to the world.

The Heart of Christianity

by Charlie Ho


On October 31, 2010, the adult Sunday school class started an introspective faith journey, using the book by Marcus Borg - The Heart of Christianity or THOC for short.

Since that Sunday, we’ve chatted with one another – about the ways of our heart.   Guided expertly by Pastor Emily, we’ve explored theological questions that probably should be asked and answered by oneself.  But beyond the questions, Pastor Emily stimulated our minds with new clipart images each session; reviewed/summarized key and deep points; played audio and video clips of Marcus Borg speaking directly on a specific topic; and gathered us in Christian community to be challenged, taught, and inspired.

What is faith?  What is “real” and “true”?  What’s the difference between “beliefs” and “practices”?  How do we “see” God?  Do we need to be born again?  Is the Kingdom of God the same as Heaven?  What is sin and salvation? What is Christian tradition?

Throughout the eleven sessions thus far, we’ve heard wisdom from the young; fresh thoughts from the old; and some really interesting comments from the “in-between-ers”.  We learned new definitions and ideas and even some Latin (most of which I’ve quickly forgotten).  Who, but the gifted among us, would remember words like Assensus, Fiducia, Fidelitas, or Visio?   Luckily, Pastor Emily distributed notes and “cheat sheets”.  (By the way, all those foreign words above are different words that flesh out “faith”.)

Borg also showed us a different “lens” we can use to read and interpret the Bible - what, for example, do the Gospel authors mean to tell us when they wrote it?  By acquiring an awareness of the historical thinking about the possible metaphorical meanings, and meditating on the sacramental nature, the Bible may become even more meaningful than through a literal approach.

Being a Christian is being transformed by a loving God.  The Kingdom of God is part of the deal as we learn to love what Jesus loves. Maybe it is as simple as that.  But then again, we haven’t finished the book yet.  There are still four more sessions.

So far, the class has motivated me to come to church early.    Sunday school is really fun.   Either this old guy is regressing, or maybe the entire adult Sunday School class is … – could it really be that we are all being “born again”?

Join us at 9:30am in the Annex for the next few Sundays and find out!  A seat
will be saved for you.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

The Sermon on the Mount: A Practical Guide to Faith-Full Living

“…the beauty of the vision is found in Jesus’ tenacious belief that humanity can find practical ways to live into peace, justice, and kindness.  This vision is not realized without genuine change or clear intentions.” [Vision Beautiful, Sean M. Gilbert]

In the second year of Jesus’ public ministry (after his baptism), he walked up a hill on the northeast shore of the Sea of Galilee and began teaching his disciples.  What he taught as the crowds gathered has become known as “the Sermon on the Mount.”  Some of Jesus’ most well known teaching are contained in this “sermon.”  You might think of the Beatitudes (Blessed are…), the Lord’s Prayer, the idea of “turning the other cheek,” “loving your enemy,” and the challenge to notice the logs in one’s own eyes before nagging your neighbor to remove the speck in his.

Most of us sitting in the pews today think of ourselves as “practical people.”  We have little use for pie-in-the-sky ideas and much prefer concrete tasks that lead to tangible outcomes.  We are a community of “doers” – happy to dive in and get our hands dirty whenever the call is made.  As “practical people,” we sometimes wonder, “How do I translate all this stuff in the Bible to my own life?  To my life as a sister-in-law or grandparent?  To my context of work, family, or community?”  It can feel like such a stretch that we content ourselves with simply being nice or kind without getting into the nitty gritty of it all.

The Sermon on the Mount is the perfect sermon for “practical people.”  In it, we can see how big, complex concepts like God’s love and justice are translated into the here and now of our everyday lives.  Jesus takes the religious laws that people loved to argue about and mapped out how to live them concretely.  In this sermon, he gets into the nitty gritty of real relationships, feelings, and behavior and leaves very little doubt as to what it looks like to live faithfully.  I other words, here is Jesus’ practical guide to following him.

This week, we begin a five-week sermon series studying the Sermon on the Mount.  I encourage you to dive in and get your hands dirty: to prepare for each Sunday’s worship time by reading a reflecting on the weekly focus scripture, and by taking seriously how to apply Jesus’ teachings in your own life.  Another significant way to dive in is to participate in a weekly small group.  There, you’ll have the opportunity to consider: What are Jesus’ words saying to me…today?  Small groups offer a nurturing space to grow, find support, and be accountable.

  • Jan. 30th – Matthew 5:1-12/ Blessings ReInterpreted
  • Feb. 6th – Matthew 5:13-20 / Staying Salty and Bright
  • Feb 13th – Matthew 5:21-37 / You Have Heard It Said
  • Feb. 20th – Matthew 5: 38-48 / Going the Extra Mile
  • Feb. 27th – Matthew 6: 24-34 / Guest Preacher: Rev. Elmar De Ocera (Pastor, South Hayward UMC)

May the vision Jesus casts take hold of us anew.  May we hear for ourselves the words that lead of Life.  And may we have the courage to be truly practical and find ourselves transformed.

Peace, Pastor Emily

View from the Lay Leader’s Chair

By Derek Lang

Laity Sunday is a day when we celebrate the contributions and gifts of the laity in the church. “Lay person,” “lay member,” “laity,” while cutting across denominations has a special place in United Methodism. Methodism started in the Americas with Lay Preacher Francis Asbury being sent by John Wesley. He would later become an ordained pastor and our first Bishop with Thomas Coke. But the role of the laity was not always lifted up in this way. Methodism became more and more exclusive to the clergy until the Methodist Protestant Church broke from the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1829 over the lay involvement in the leadership of the church. It was not until 1939 that the church would reunite and laity were given membership to Annual Conference. Can you imagine breaking up an entire denomination because the laity were not asked to do more??? That is our United Methodist heritage – the belief that laity are in integral part of the church and not just a passive audience. We offer our Spiritual Gifts and Graces to God in response to a personal call from God and to be engaged in God’s community as a fundamental tenant of this faith called Christianity.

Spiritual Gifts are those abilities and callings that God gives each of us. As op-posed to talents or vocations, spiritual gifts may come and go in accordance with God’s plans for us. In other words, God makes sure that we have what we need to do God’s Will. It may not be natural for us and we may not even be the best at whatever the task is, but it will be sufficient and our success is usually in ways we never thought of. The key is to committing to do God’s Will and God will do the rest. What is your Calling? What are your Spiritual Gifts at this very moment? Some of these are listed below:

Administration Exhortation Miracles Shepherding
Apostleship Faith Knowledge Compassion Giving Leadership Teaching Discernment Healing Servanthood Evangelism Helping
Prophecy Wisdom Tongues Interpretation of Tongues
I invite you to read about these Spiritual Gifts and take the online assessment to discern your gifts at the United Methodist Church website: