Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Sunday, September 27, 2015

English Ministry News and Notes 2015-9-27

  • Have You Signed Up Yet? We'd love for you to be a part of World Communion Picnic Sunday and Fellowship. Please sign up today by connecting with Frances. $10 gets you a bento lunch (no one turned away for a lack of funds). If you are able to offer a ride or need a ride, please connect with Al. All are invited to bring sweets or snacks to share and camping/outdoor chairs. Please come!
  • Learning Together - We've kicked off a new series learning about the New Testament each Sunday at 9:30 a.m. If you have ever wished you knew more about the Bible, would like to strengthen your scriptural understanding, or just love to learn, join in. Pastor Moon starts promptly at 9:30 a.m.
  • Small Groups - You are urged and encouraged to participate in one of our 4 small groups at CCUMC to nourish your discipleship and strengthen our relationships. Please connect with Burt/Jane/Brenda, Becky, Pastor Moon, or Pastor Emily.
  • Prayer Invite - Please hold Aeri in prayer as she spends the week in Kumi with our YCVM partners and friends. Please remember Jenny Wong as she prepares for her upcoming mission trip. Please pray for Wendy Lee as she and Thomas prepare for their wedding.

Proof for the Power of Prayer, Rev. Tom Schwartz

The New Testament tells us in James 5:16 that “the prayer of the righteous is effective and powerful”. Scientists may have actually found concrete evidence that this is true.

One of the emerging new treatments for depression, anxiety, and stress-related illnesses is a therapy called mindfulness meditation. Although clinicians have developed it from ancient Buddhist meditational practices, there seems to be a Christian counterpart as well. The technique is found in prayer as practiced by Christian monks of the 6th Century onward. Praying in this way has been shown to actually “rewire” key circuits in the brains of practitioners. This rewiring results in demonstrated changes in the way the pray-er responds to life. In particular, people who habitually pray in this way have been found to be protected from the effects of stress. They are less depressed, less anxious, report higher levels of satisfaction with life, and better health. This is true even when other factors, such as differences in social support and personality characteristics, are accounted for.

Although there is some evidence that any kind of prayer can contribute to such effects, the type of prayer that is most powerful possesses certain characteristics.

First, it engages the practitioner in the “present moment.” People who pray in this way learn to become aware of thoughts, feelings, and memories that arise. Rather than dwelling on these inner sensations, the pray-er simply learns to release each one from consciousness as it occurs. Father Thomas Keating is the developer of a contemporary prayer technique known as centering prayer. He likens the pray-er to a scuba diver who is sitting on a rock at the bottom of a deep river. Each of the thoughts and sensations that pass through the pray-er’s mind is like a boat crossing above the diver on the surface of the river. The diver simply notes the crossing of the boat. Then she returns to meditating on the fact that God is surrounding her with grace in that present moment, just as the water engulfs a submerged scuba diver.

Another characteristic of this form of prayer is that the pray-er learns to disengage his mind in order to focus on the presence of God. Some people have referred to this type of prayer as a training of one’s attention. The practitioner learns to let go of the constant stream of thoughts that crowd our consciousness. Practitioners of mindfulness meditation do this by learning to concentrate on the act of breathing.

Each time they find their mind wandering, they simply, and gently, return to concentrating on the act of breathing. Keating suggests that the difference between Christian prayer and the clinical practice of mindfulness meditation is the difference between the training of one’s attention and the training of one’s intention. The Christian learns to concentrate on waiting on the presence of God. In essence, it is not so much about asking God for things. Instead, it is about listening to what God wants to say to us. It is simply learning to be silent in the presence of God.

Scientific research suggests that the ability of this type of prayer to rewire the brain of its practitioners is directly related to the amount of time spent in this type of prayer. Like exercise, the more one practices it, the more one enjoys the benefits of it. Keating suggests setting aside a period of 20 uninterrupted minutes once or twice per day. Therapists who employ mindfulness meditation say that 20-30 uninterrupted minutes once per day is enough. Either way, the message is clear. The extent to which we place ourselves in God’s presence is the extent to which we reap the concrete benefits. I have found that, by practicing this type of prayer once daily, my level of contentment and joy increases markedly. So does my experience of the presence of God in my everyday affairs. I find this to be enough to keep me returning daily to this practice of meditational prayer.

The power of prayer to change other people may yet be a matter of scientific debate. But the power of prayer to change the one who prays seems to be increasingly well established. I encourage you to join me in practicing the type of prayer that avails much.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Sunday, September 20, 2015

English Ministry News and Notes 2015-9-20

  • Special Offering to Benefit Wild Fire Victims—Bishop Brown invited the whole Conference to respond compassionately and generously to the wild fires that have ravaged California. All giving will go to the Conference’s Disaster Response Fund immediately.
  • Small Group Ministries (SGM) Kicks Off - Small groups are vital to the vitality and growth of our spiritual lives. They allow us to get to know others more deeply, and to strengthen our connection with God. Every member of CCUMC is urged to participate in at least one small group. In the new season, we will hold groups in Castro Valley, Union City, as well as a Men's and a Women's group in Oakland. Join in!
  • YOUth Gathering - next Sunday, Sept. 27th.
  • World Communion Picnic Sunday, Oct. 4th - We are heading to the great outdoors to celebrate World Communion. You are invited to sign up today. Bento lunches are $10 / person, no one turned away for lack of funds. In fact, you can donate extra so someone in need might be able to attend with ease. Joint worship will begin at 10:30 a.m. at the Crolls Garden picnic site in Alameda (near Crab Cove.)
  • Ensure KCVS Thrives! We will celebrate another year of vital, life-changing ministry in Kumi at the 6th Annual Benefit Dinner held on Friday, Oct. 16th. Please connect with Jane or Arlene for tickets! Let's make this year's dinner bigger and better than ever!
  • Prayer Invite: For Aeri as she continues to minister and teach in Kampala.

Ambition, Carl L. Schenck

This is week 4 in our 5 week series studying the letter of James. You are invited to read the whole letter through (it’s short!) as well as study each week’s focus passage. May our faith expand, grow, and be put into action through the series!

Ambition fuels human behavior. Many events in people’s lives are motivated by ambition. A shopkeeper strives to find new ways to display goods in the ambitious hope of being more prosperous. A scientist pushes back the frontiers of knowledge because of a love of knowledge. We all know students who burn the midnight oil. All are motivated by ambition.

Ambition is the fuel for many helpful human behaviors, but there is a dark side to ambition. How many people have wrecked their lives because their ambitions were so great that they sacrificed all other values on the altar of their ambitions? We have seen the human wreckage left behind by people who abandoned, manipulated, or abused their families by seeking their own ambitions. Ambition is a healthy motivator of good behavior and good activities, but it also has a more demonic side.

Henri Nouwen was a Catholic priest and academician. His academic pursuits took him to a teaching post at Harvard, a great accomplishment for anyone in the academic arena. Yet Nouwen reached a time in his life when he was not satisfied. He left his comfortable teaching post at Harvard, teaching some of the most brilliant students in the country, and became a worker at Daybreak, a home for adults who were mentally disabled. After Nouwen had been at Daybreak for a time, he wrote:
Most of my past life has been built around the idea that my value depends on what I do. . . . I fought my way up to the lonely top of a little success, a little popularity, and a little power. But now, as I sit beside the slow and heavy-breathing Adam [a resident of Daybreak]
I start seeing how violent that journey was, so filled with desires to be better than others, so marked by rivalry and competition, so pervaded with compulsion and obsessions, so spotted with moments of suspicion, jealousy, resentment, and revenge. (Quoted in Pulpit Resource, November 12, 1990)

The Bible is skeptical about ambition. The book of James is a primer on practical Christianity. The writer says “selfish ambition” is earthly, unspiritual, and devilish. Hardly a recommendation, is it? James goes on to write that the primary results are disorder and wickedness.

In a wonderful Chinese folktale, a woman loses her only child in death. She goes to the holy man and asks him to bring her child back to life. He replies, “Search for the home that has never known sorrow, and, in that home, find the magic mustard seed and bring it to me. Then we will have the power to bring your child back.” The woman’s first stop is a great and luxurious palace. Thinking everything will be good and joyful there, she knocks on the door saying she is looking for a place without sorrow. “You have come to the wrong place,” they reply, and recount all the sorrows that have come to that home of power and wealth. The woman says to herself, “Who is better able to help these people than I who have had such misfortune of my own?” She stays to comfort them, and later continues her search, which takes her to the hovels and the palaces of China. In each place she becomes so involved in ministering to other people’s grief that she forgets her own. In her forgetfulness, she finds healing and peace.

Those who would find their life must lose it. Those who would be first must be last. This teaching runs so counter to our ambitious ways; but don’t we have to admit that Jesus was right? Our ambitions are compulsive and suspicious and obsessive and jealous and resentful and full of revenge. The only ambition that truly gives life is the ambition to serve others—no matter what the cost. O Lord, make us ambitious to serve our neighbor. Amen.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Sunday, September 13, 2015

English Ministry News and Notes 2015-9-13

  • And We're Off! Today kicks off a new Sunday School season for the whole church. From now through the end of November, youth and adults will be exploring the New Testament together using "The Bible from Scratch: New Testament for Beginners." Find a copy online or through the class. You are urged to be a part of the learning and growing each week at 9:30 a.m.
  • Small Group Ministries (SGM) Will Begin Anew - SGM begins again the week of Sept. 20th. Besides the Castro Valley and Union City Groups, we will be starting up 2 other groups: a women's and a men's small group. These will be lead by Pastor Emily and Pastor Moon respectively and meet monthly. Connect with any of our SG leaders: Burt, Jane, and Brenda (CV), Becky (UC), or Pastor Emily and Pastor Moon to learn more.
  • World Communion Picnic Sunday, Oct. 4th - We're taking advantage of the wonderfully warm weather to head outdoors for World Communion Sunday. In addition to joint worship, we'll celebrate with a picnic lunch and fellowship activities. You're invited to sign up today! $10 covers bento lunch. All are welcome and no one will be turned away for lack of funds. More info to come!
  • Please Note: Pastor Emily is participating in a baptism today at Wesley UMC in San Jose.
  • 6th Annual Kumi Benefit Dinner is on Friday, October 16th at Peony Restaurant! Reserve your ticket now!

Disciplining the Tongue

This is week 3 in our 5 week series studying the letter of James. You are invited to read the whole letter through (it’s short!) as well as study each week’s focus passage. May our faith expand, grow, and be put into action through the series!

This week's reading from James includes a number of images: a horse with a bit, a large ship piloted by a small rudder, and the tongue setting a forest ablaze, staining the whole body, set on fire by hell itself.

The first verse rejects the notion that just anyone can teach. Those who teach, James reminds, will be under greater scrutiny (verse 1), not just about what they say, but about how they actually live. Teaching in the church is not so much about how to think about God or Jesus as how to follow him, concretely.

Verse 2 may seem puzzling. The NRSV translation makes it appear that people who are eloquent may be considered “perfect” because of their eloquence since they have learned how to discipline their speech so well. The Greek conveys a slightly different sense: “If someone in speaking does not stumble [i.e., sin], that one is mature, a man capable of keeping the whole body under check.” What James underlines here is not eloquence, but integrity.

And integrity is difficult to maintain because the tongue is, as James concludes, “set ablaze by hell” (verse 6). Christians are called and empowered to overcome the power of hell and consistently to speak and act in ways that reflect the Spirit’s presence and power among us.

So, what does it take to subdue or tame the tongue, as one would tame a wild horse (which is the general use of this term in Greek, and in verse 3, here)? Diligence, patience, attention, and a community to guide you through the process and support you thereafter, since James says, ultimately, the tongue is not tamable (verse 8), only restrainable.

And we thought problems with intemperate speech were unique to our social media era?

Unique, no, but probably more ubiquitous and challenging.

Witness just the UMC branded Facebook groups, for example. Those that are open and not much (if at all) moderated have tended to move toward outright hateful invective quickly. Those that are closed, that vet who may be part of them, and that are more carefully moderated—with off-topic or ad hominem posts, and sometimes their posters, removed on a regular basis— tend to be more fruitful, creative, and productive. Even they get their share of off-topic posts, showing that the work of moderating really is the work of restraining, not absolute taming.

Good moderation by someone other than oneself (sometimes even the moderator needs to be moderated!) helps create an environment where more good than brackish water can flow, where more blessing than curse may come from our mouths (or keyboards).

We all need others watching over us in love, attending to our patterns of conversation personally and collectively, and especially those of us who would teach.

Early Methodists had groups for this purpose, called class meetings. These groups provided hands-on accountability and support for people to live out the General Rules (and so the baptismal covenant) fully. The first of these General Rules (“avoiding harm of every kind”) also included these specific examples related to speech:

“The taking of the name of God in vain.
Fighting, quarrelling, brawling… returning evil for evil, railing for railing; the using many words in buying or selling….
Uncharitable or unprofitable conversation; particularly speaking evil of magistrates or ministers.”

Small accountability groups, such as Covenant Discipleship Groups, have been a means to recover this practice of early Methodism. We might consider how accountable discipleship can work in our congregation and work that in to our Small Group Ministries.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Sunday, September 6, 2015

English Ministry News and Notes 2015-9-6

  • Sister Circuit Church Hosts Rev. Ben Hutchinson - Twin Towers UMC is hosting Rev. Hutchinson the weekend of Sept. 19th and holding a special reception along with our Annual Conference Committee on Reconciliation on Sunday, Sept. 20th at 1:30 p.m. All are welcome. For more background on Rev. Hutchinson, please Google him!
  • Mark Your Calendars: Oct. 4th Sunday is World Communion Sunday. We will celebrate with joint worship, a special offering, and fellowship lunch.
  • Seeking a Photographer: We would like to update our photo wall of our church community! Would you be willing to help us? Connect with Pastor Emily.
  • Prayer Invite: Please hold Aeri in God's light as she connects with students at the Reformed Theological College in Kampala.
  • Kicking Off A New Season - We will begin a new season of learning together on Sunday, Sept. 13th. On this day, we will "re-start" our children's and adult Sunday Schools. You are encouraged to take part each Sunday beginning at 9:30 a.m. in the Annex.
  • CCUMC Polo's For Sale - we will be ordering more polo's soon. If you'd like to order one, please connect with Ben Wong ($15 each).

The Royal Law

This is week 2 in our 5 week series studying the letter of James. You are invited to read the whole letter through (it’s short!) as well as study each week’s focus passage. May our faith expand, grow, and be put into action through the series!

James this week reminds us that our care for the poor as followers of Jesus can’t be just about having our consciences pricked or simply about sending money. Nor is it only about building or supporting programs — whether governmental, or faith-based, or led by other non-profits — to help folks get a "hand up." It is not even solely about addressing and reversing the "root causes" that lead to conditions of poverty in the first place.

To be sure, all of these are critical places for the church to be actively engaged. But all of them can also be exercises in missing the point. What matters most of all, James reminds us, is building real relationships of mutuality and respect, in recognition that the poor — like the wealthy and all those in between — have both much to offer and much to receive. Folks who are engaged in hands-on ministries with the poor, whether in your local community or around the world, either quickly learn this truth or find their efforts to bring greater hope and help greatly frustrated until they do.

James calls individual Christians and congregations to account for the ways they actively dishonor the poor. Anytime we dishonor the poor, we fail to fulfill what he calls the “royal law”—to love every neighbor as we love ourselves.

Notice the conclusion of this week’s reading. It is the famous, “Faith without works is dead.” James does not posit this as a general principle, but as a conclusion to his whole point about dishonoring the poor, and the ways we may confuse good intention for actual love consistent with the call to discipleship. Put even more bluntly than James does, “If you’re not actively opposing and undoing the segregation between rich and poor in your fellowship and community, and not actively helping those in actual need, whatever faith you think you have is dead.”

As I write this, Harper Lee’s second novel, Go Set a Watchman has just been released. In it, an adult Jean (known as Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird) returns to her hometown of Maycomb to discover just how little progress has been made by professed Christians in dismantling the racism that had divided their town all her life. And in the midst of this discovery, she also discovers her father, her hero, was right in the middle of the efforts and making the arguments to keep things as they had been. Jean is thoroughly disillusioned by what she sees. She wanted to believe her father was better than this, that he had a real, living faith. She discovers his faith, like that of many of her Christian townspeople, is truly dead, not only not empowering them to act on behalf of their neighbors, but actually seemingly underwriting their efforts not to do so.

James in this week’s reading especially is a like a watchman who views how we treat others and tells the truth about what he sees—a truth grounded in what a life of discipleship to Jesus must call us to be and do.

Coach James had hard words for us this week. He puts us through a serious workout. Will we learn from him, repent, and begin to dismantle the systems that divide rich from poor, weaker from more powerful, among us?

Or will we be content to have the watchman tell us in no uncertain terms our faith is dead.

From www.umcdiscipleship.org