We’re so glad you found our website. Whether you’re visiting us from another part of the world, or from right here in the Huntersville, North Carolina area — welcome!
We’re so glad you found our website. Whether you’re visiting us from another part of the world, or from right here in the Huntersville, North Carolina area — welcome!
We’re so glad you found our website. Whether you’re visiting us from another part of the world, or from right here in the Huntersville, North Carolina area — welcome!
Have you noticed an oddity in the calendar this year? Ash Wednesday, the day that begins the season of Lent (preparation for Easter), is on Valentine’s Day. Easter Sunday, the most holy day of the Christian year, is on April 1, April Fool’s Day. A coincidence like that has to be celebrated, and we are planning on it!
Here’s how we are planning to celebrate:
Feb 14 – 5:30-6:30 p.m. Pancake Dinner in the Worship Center. We will have pancakes and fixings available for a donation beginning at 5:30 up until 6:30 p.m. We encourage you and your family to join us as we get rid of the “Fat Tuesday” leaven and begin the season of Lent.
Feb 14 – 6:30-7:15 p.m. Ash Wednesday Service
This service is one of the most moving of the year for me personally. The meaning behind the service is that we are reminded of our mortality “that we are dust and to dust we will return.” We place ashes on each other’s foreheads, making the sign of the cross, and say these words, “From dust you have come, and to dust you shall return. Repent, and believe in the good news.” So, we are reminding each other of our common end, that we will all die, but as people of faith our good news is that we are assured of our life to come. As a culture we are not accustomed to such conversations, but in the Church we welcome the opportunity to proclaim our faith in what God has done for us in Christ Jesus.
For the series of sermons that will begin on Ash Wednesday and run through March 25, we will focus on the seven deadly sins that tend to separate us from experiencing the love of God: Pride, Envy, Gluttony, Lust, Anger, Greed, and Apathy.
Beginning February 21, we will be forming Small Groups to discuss the themes of each Sunday. We will offer a meal, catered from a local restaurant, between 5:30 and 6:30 p.m. Reservations will be necessary so that we can provide adequate provisions. At 6:30, small groups will be formed and a facilitator will coordinate the discussions around questions we will supply. The process is designed so that relationships are formed and deepened, with confidentiality understood within the group. The small groups will run for five weeks, from February 21 until March 21. We hope to reform groups after Easter around another subject.
I am excited about this time of spiritual growth. This season is designed so that we both encounter God’s truth, but also so that we can study this word in community and glean from each other’s experience and understanding. We will grow closer together as we eat, study, and worship together.
I so look forward to seeing you in these days ahead, walking with Jesus in this season of preparation toward a cross and an empty tomb.
One of the challenges of being a Pastor/Preacher is deciding what to preach. It’s a BIG book, the Holy Bible. My experience has been that I tend to gravitate toward the Gospels, particularly the Gospel of Mark, as my favorite material. I tend to grapple with many of the same questions in my preaching. For example, I often find myself wrestling with “what is the meaning of salvation” and how do “works” relate to God’s saving us? Wanting to grow as a Preacher, I am really working on “preaching with a purpose”, and deciding what it is that God’s people are grappling with is an important step for me in that growth.
I wonder if your family, or friends, or neighbors, or co-workers, would be interested in this series? We will post the sermon series in December and hope that maybe you can use this topic to interest someone into coming to hear what God might be saying to us about these questions we have for him.
So, think about the question you have, and send it to me! I’m going to begin work on this right away, so respond quickly! I look forward to the journey!
The series begins on January 7, 2018! Send me your “Questions for God.”
When I was a child, I had a relative who attended a “Pentecostal” church. Because I was close in age and spent a lot of time with my cousin, I ended up going to church with them on some Sunday nights. The church they attended was “Pentecostal” because they believed strongly in the gifts of the Holy Spirit and thought those gifts manifested themselves in things like “speaking in tongues”, or other expressions of worship that might include very loud and visible expressions of praise to God. Many of those things rather scared me as a child as I didn’t understand them and they seemed so foreign to the Baptist church I attended. Later, my relatives quit attending that church, but I have held some of those memories and have processed them through the years enough to recognize both the beauty and the oddity of those experiences.
The Bible is clear. Everyone has spiritual gifts. If you are a believer then you have the presence of the Holy Spirit in you and with that Spirit comes a myriad of gifts. It has nothing to do with being “Pentecostal”, and has everything to do with discovering how God has uniquely wired you for service in the Kingdom of God.
Over the last few months, we have included in the bulletin a pretty good list of various “gifts of the Spirit” and some definitions of those gifts. These have included gifts like:
Administration Apostleship Compassion Discernment
Evangelism Exhortation Faith Giving
Healing Helping Interpretation Knowledge
Leadership Miracles Prophecy Servanthood
Shepherding Teaching Tongues Wisdom
(taken from the UMC.org website)
These gifts are taken from scriptures, specifically Romans 12, Ephesians 4, and I Corinthians 12-13. What is important is to 1) understand that you have gifts; 2) know how to use them; and 3) recognize how God might put those gifts to work for the betterment of His Kingdom.
I discovered a long time ago that one of my primary spiritual gifts is hospitality (not listed above). I have a knack for recognizing and welcoming new people. I am not afraid to go up to a stranger, introduce myself, and try and make that person feel a part of the gathering. I’m not sure why and how I have this gift, but I do have it and I try to use it as best as I can. I think it has made a difference in the life of the church, for the good.
You have a spiritual gift, too, and it would be great if you could recognize your gift and intentionally live into that gift for the blessing of God’s Kingdom here on earth. We are going to be preaching on spiritual gifts, offering ways to discover what your gift is, and challenging you to put that gift to use. I am absolutely convinced that as the church of Jesus Christ recovers our sense of being his servants, then we have what it takes to shape the world for Christ’s sake. The sermon series begins on October 22 and will run for 3 weeks. I look forward to helping you discover your spiritual gift and helping you find ways to live fully into those gifts. And you don’t even have to be Pentecostal to do it!
She is 90 something years old. She comes virtually every Sunday, in spite of her health. She loves this place, loves these people. Her heart is in this place. As long as she possibly can, she will be here. Then, there’s Cody, and Adam and Donna, and Gwen and Kristin and Joey, all residents of our McCleskey UMAR home. Where would they be without us, this church? This is their home, a place where each of them belongs, where they come alive, where they live independently and yet in community, where they THRIVE. This church makes that ministry possible.
Back in the spring, family after family left the preschool graduation ceremony saying, through tears, how much this church’s preschool meant to them. Their children were prepared and ready for the next step in their journey, for they had been shaped by love this church displayed, for they had learned about Jesus, and numbers and letters and colors. They were ready to THRIVE!
Dawn Deese Young recently wrote on our FB page:
“I was referred here by Novant Oncology to the food bank. My family is going through a very difficult time and a true test of Faith but when I came here....it was the best feeling!! Margaret helped me both times and she is so sweet and caring. All of the ladies are a blessing!! Thank you for feeding our family during this time.”
Huntersville United Methodist Church is an “authentic Christian community.” For over a hundred years, we have been woven into the fabric of this community, a steady witness to the love of God in Jesus Christ, calling sinners to find blessing and forgiveness, and life lived more fully today and forever. We continue forming relationships that change lives, and with Christ Jesus as our model and guide, we help each other in the journey. Kathryn Dailey put it like this,
“We are a community of people that want to see and be seen. We don't want to be "one of the masses" at the mega churches. We want to know one another and share life with one another. We value knowing each other by name and sharing our successes and our struggles. We see value in being a community that has singles, families and seniors because we know we can teach and learn from one another. Because we know the different stages of life we need each other to create a rounded life experience.”
This church exists to change lives. Sometimes the change happens on the streets of Charlotte, through a meal and a message at “Not Here Ministries,” or in a game of basketball and an offer of salvation through “MAD (Make a Difference) HOOPS,” or in a meeting room of folks struggling with addiction. On Sunday mornings through song and sermon, and Room in the Inn (a ministry to the homeless), and throughout the week, hundreds of lives are impacted and transformed by the work of God in this place and through these people. The change is sometimes slow and deliberate in coming, and sometimes instantaneous, but changed nonetheless, to THRIVE! We believe our faith is formed and strengthened when we offer ourselves in service to God and his people. This is the distinctive quality of HUMC!
“And we want to keep the tradition of The Church in our lives and in our community. We believe in a way of life and a structure that God has given us for living. We don't want to be a people that subscribe to this notion that you just take care of yourself and not your neighbor. We are all in this together and we want to live that. We are a mission church that sees value in cultivating and growing missions in all avenues even if they don't apply to our station in life.”
This community of believers is the result of dreams and visions, of prayers and sacrifices, of love and community. For a congregation that has experienced challenges before and overcome them, this time is no different. When the times bring challenges, this congregation rallies each time. We are ready!
This week begins our “Thrive Project!” I hope to see you Sunday as we begin to dream God’s dream and share with each other, moving from just surviving to THRIVING! This is an exciting time in our church’s history and I look forward to sharing more with you then!
We invite you to also attend one of our Visioning events, Wednesday, September 27 at 7:00-8:30 p.m., or Friday September 29 from 6:30-8:00 p.m. Pray for our church as we sense where God might be leading us.
Our theme song for this project says, “We know we were made for so much more than ordinary lives. We were made to THRIVE!” And now is our time!
See you soon!
Paul B. Thompson
John Wesley led the people called Methodists to a definition of worship that was basic to the pattern of Christian practice and thought: the appropriate honoring of God for what God had accomplished through Jesus Christ, God’s Son. What was clear is that Wesley held in tension how that worship should be shaped. On the one hand, worship should be inward, a service of the heart, a singular heart connecting to God in intimacy, deeply personal. On the other hand, worship is a means of grace, an “ordinary” way in which God’s grace and presence is conveyed to all people. Therefore, Wesley recognized worship took different forms. Prescribed forms lead Christians through a range of prayer types (confession, intercession and thanksgiving), whereas extemporaneity allows personal prayer from the heart. Some worship is quiet and reflective, other vibrant and bold. Worship could be singular, in the solidarity of one soul seeking God, but also in the corporate nature in which many gathered to be led as one body. (The Wesley Study Bible: Worship; Nashville, Abingdon Press: pg. 509).
In more modern times, Methodists have adapted our styles of worship to fit the context of the community of faith. We have United Methodist Churches that are VERY traditional in tone, containing elements of worship established for centuries. But, we also have churches that offer modern takes on worship, using contemporary styles of music and instrumentation, technology, and style. Some United Methodist churches are “charismatic”, very expressive in their mode of worship, celebrating boldly the presence of the Holy Spirit. Many churches find they can offer differing styles within their worship offering, holding that tension even in each worshipping body.
At the beginning of this year, we made a decision to offer two distinctive expressions of worship. We announced and executed a strategy to take our 8:30 service and make it more “traditional.” We decided to sing hymns led by piano and organ sound, to include responsive readings and creeds and other more traditional elements of worship. I agreed to wear the clergy robe and we put the traditional worship furnishings out every Sunday. That decision has been met very favorably based on the feedback I have received. At the same time, we decided to intentionally move the 10:30 service a few steps toward “modern.” We secured the leadership of Cameron Floyd and other participants in a “praise band” to lead us in the singing of more modern “praise” songs. We took a couple of other intentional, modest steps toward this modern style service, and again, the feedback I have received has been positive.
We continue to evaluate and reflect upon the ways we offer corporate worship, and feel led to make some more modest “tweaks” to the 10:30 service (leaving the 8:30 service as our traditional worship offering). Beginning on August 16 at the 10:30 service, here are some changes we will implement to see how the worship flow feels:
10:25-the Worship band begins to play instruments
10:30-A word of welcome is extended, a reminder of who we are and a request to sign the attendance registers and prayer request cards
10:31-An opening musical set led by the Worship team
10:40-Offering received, with an added song
10:46-Children’s time tied to worship theme of the day
10:50-Song-Special-tied to the message
10:55-Video-creative element/Guided prayer in keeping with the theme
11:00 Scripture and Sermon
We will be eliminating a “Passing of the Peace”, the Doxology and Announcement time, except for brief highlights of important upcoming events
The Acolytes will be invited to participate in the 8:30 service.
We/I will welcome your feedback and critique as we try these changes to see if they improve our flow of worship. As we seek to engage the people around us in the search for God’s abiding presence, we believe we must be attuned to ever evolving and changing culture, while holding steadfast to the good news of Jesus Christ that transcends time and space. Thank you for being people who understand that our mission is always to reach new people with this good news while growing in those who are already followers of Jesus a desire to grow in Him more.
May the Lord bless us all in this Kingdom work.
The month of June is transition time in theUnited Methodist Church tradition. It is the time when appointments are “fixed” at Annual Conference, then become reality for hundreds of clergy and congregations each year. The times are bittersweet. Pastors who have been loved by congregations are bid farewell, and the excitement of making new friendships is considered as new Pastors are welcomed.
This year, I am feeling a mixture of sadness and excitement. I say farewell to my friend and colleague, and Associate Pastor, Jonathan. Many of you will remember last year when we were in the search for additional leadership, Jonathan came on-board on a “temporary” basis. We knew going in that Jonathan had a long-term goal and plan to plant a church, and were prepared to keep Jonathan until that goal came to fruition. It has come earlier than I had hoped, but what a fun time it has been!
Jonathan is a character! He combines an infectious joy and playfulness with a deep spirituality and desire to serve. We have laughed hysterically and we have had serious conversation. He has opened my eyes to many things I wasn’t seeing, and given me great support and encouragement about the directions we are heading. I wish him nothing but the greatest of blessings in his new venture and feel confident that the good work God has begun in him will be completed.
Jesse Smith will be appointed our new Associate Pastor. Jesse will be a tremendous blessing to us as a church and especially to our Student Ministry. He comes to us in a somewhat “unique” way. Jesse has spent the last two years developing a ministry called “Reactivate” church, which will continue, but will blend with Jesse’s work with Huntersville UMC. He will be given primary leadership responsibility for furthering our Student Ministry to 6 through 12 graders. He will also work to help in the other areas of Pastoral Ministry, including preaching, Pastoral Care and small group development. He and his wife, Camille, have two children who keep them on their toes! We will be sharing more information about Jesse soon.
In the meantime, will you join me in giving thanks to God for Jonathan and the work God is doing through him? Jonathan’s last Sunday with us will be June 18. He will be preaching that day and telling us good-bye. We will host a reception for Jonathan after the service and hope that you will express your gratitude to him that day especially.
Soon after that, we will have a time to welcome Jesse and his family. The days ahead are full of promise and opportunity for us as we welcome this new leadership and embrace God’s guidance.
This coming Sunday is recognized in the United Methodist church as “Heritage Sunday.” It is designated as the Sunday closest to May 24. Why is May 24 so significant? It is the date that John Wesley, the founder of this movement known as Methodism, had his “Aldersgate experience.”
Aldersgate was a street in London, where there was a Moravian Chapel. Wesley attended a Bible Study there, and on May 24, 1738, records in his journal that as Martin Luther’s preface to the book of Romans was being read, “I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that he had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.” ("What is Aldersgate Day?" umc.org. The United Methodist Church.) History records this as a turning point in the life of Wesley, and ultimately for a movement that would have significant impact on the world.
Many have said that this was the “conversion” experience of John Wesley. Though he was already a Priest in the Anglican church, though he was dedicated to the faith and had long preached the Word, this was a moment that would re-shape his life. Wesley, maybe for the first time, received that assurance of God’s love and forgiveness and it changed him. It was the start of something that began to shape first the Church of England, and would later become a people derisively called “Methodist.”
This Sunday, I will share a bit about why I am a part of this Wesleyan church, and what makes us a bit “unique” or “special.” Having been raised in a different expression of the faith gives me a good insight, I believe, into the strengths and weaknesses of the United Methodist Church. Not to give away all of my sermon, but being United Methodist combines the best of the “evangelical movement”, those concerned with “social holiness” or social justice issues, and, sacramental. I will flesh out a bit of what those mean for us in the church today.
In addition, at the 10:30 service, we will have a recognition time for our Preschool, children, teachers and families. That is followed by a great BBQ fundraiser for our Youth mission trip. I hope you will plan to join us!
We are nearing the end of our journey as a church preaching through the Gospel of Mark. We started on January 1 with the first verse of Mark’s Gospel, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” (NRSV) It has been an interesting journey. We have grappled with the identity of Jesus amid many passages that asked, “Who is this man?” and “Where does he get this authority?” Then, in Chapter 8, the conversation shifted. The question was no longer about identity, but about meaning. Jesus lays out what it means for him to be the Messiah. He clearly says he is going to Jerusalem and die, and then be raised from the dead. He tells his followers that if they want to be his disciples, they need to follow him, unequivocally. Yes, it may mean death. Yes, it means a cross. And yes, there is self-denial. But, all of this is ultimately GOOD NEWS. GOSPEL!
We entered Jerusalem with Jesus and his followers. It was in Chapter 11 that we began to focus on the last week of Jesus’s life when we celebrated the “triumphant entry.” Out of 16 Chapters, 11 through 16 deal with the last week of Jesus’s life. No wonder many scholars have called Mark’s Gospel an account of the events of Holy Week with an extended introduction.
We continue to walk with Jesus as we remember the events of Thursday and Friday of that week. We do so with two services of worship, Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. In my experience, these are two of the most moving and powerful events on the church calendar. I implore you to come if at all possible. But, I guess I would ask myself, and you, “what difference does it make? Will it really matter to the way that I live my life?”
It’s a legitimate question. Some of us go to church a lot. Sunday after Sunday, often during the week, too. Will one or two more services make any difference in the way that I live my life? My answer? Maybe, just maybe it will.
Maundy Thursday commemorates the events of the last night of Jesus’s earthly life as he shares a meal with, and prepares his disciples for, his death. There is so much to be discovered about what it means to live in Jesus that comes out during that meal. In the symbols of the bread and the wine, in the conversations Jesus has with the disciples, the path of discipleship is fleshed out in powerful ways. If we did nothing else other than share in the communal meal that Jesus initiated that night, we would find such depth of meaning for our journey with him. If we can take seriously the things Jesus tells us during this meal, our lives would be changed considerably. It would make a difference.
Good Friday remembers the death of Jesus on the cross. We touched on it last Sunday at church, but on Good Friday we are confronted once again with the story that both convicts and saves us. We find that we are more like the Apostle Peter than we care to think. We will deny him with words and actions, and ultimately we desert Jesus in this most critical time. But, we find that the stark picture of Jesus hanging there dying for us is God’s ultimate statement of love and offer of reconciliation. The death of Jesus, somehow, points to a love that knew no bounds, a love that would go to any lengths necessary to bring us back from the despair and hopelessness of having to find our own way, to living in the moment in God’s grace and mercy.
Does it make a difference? It has, and can, and will make a difference. Once you have truly experienced that sense of forgiveness and blessing that comes in this story, you are changed. It doesn’t mean it is not still a struggle. It does mean that you can change from what you have been to what God is calling you to be.
The services each night are at 7:00 p.m. There is music and there is liturgy. There is the familiar and the unexpected. Most of all, there is an opportunity to be shaped and changed by a message that is still quite capable of changing our priorities, shifting our focus, offering a new way of being. My hope is that you will come. It does have the makings of a “Holy Week.”
This is no joke! The First Baptist, Huntersville Presbyterian, and HUMC congregations will join together to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ at 7:00 a.m. on Easter Sunday! We will gather on the campus of First Baptist Church on their front lawn. Huntersville Presbyterian will provide the music leadership. Each church will have representatives to offer Holy Communion. Paul B. Thompson will provide the sermon. After the service, the good folks of First Baptist Church will offer breakfast, served in their fellowship hall.
What does it mean for us to gather in this way? I think God would be pleased! Easter is a celebration that deserves all of the fanfare we can afford. Breaching the divides of denomination is a small step that signals our awareness of the magnitude of the message of Jesus’s being raised from the dead. This day is a reminder that in spite of whatever differences of opinion we may have on some things, our unity is in the hope that arises out of this life-changing message. Showing the community of Huntersville that we are excited to be together on this day is an important display of ecumenism. Our shared faith in Jesus in the end is all that matters.
I hope you will plan to get up early and join us! Invite others to join you. May this day of resurrection be a signal to the world that in Jesus we are all made one!
We will also offer celebrations of the resurrection at 8:30 and 10:30 a.m. We have special ways in mind to join in worship at each service. As a reminder, at the conclusion of the 10:30 service we will close our time with the singing of Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus” from the Messiah. We encourage you to come early that day as we are typically full for the 10:30 service.
I look forward to sharing in these celebrations with you. I encourage you to reach out to friends and neighbors who might not be regular attenders of church to join us on this most special day. This is a wonderful time to witness to the grace of God in Jesus Christ!
“But what good works are those, the practice of which you affirm to be necessary to sanctification? First, all works of piety; such as public prayer, family prayer, and praying in our closet; receiving the supper of the Lord; searching the Scriptures, by hearing, reading, meditating; and using such a measure of fasting or abstinence as our bodily health allows.” --John Wesley, Sermon 43, The Scripture Way of Salvation, Vol. 6, pg. 51
John Wesley was a man of prayer. We know this from Wesley’s journals, as he methodically recorded his daily activities. Prayer was for Wesley a vital connection with God. He stated that prayer was first in his list of the “means of grace”, ordinary ways by which God communicated his loving presence. Mr. Wesley often implored his listeners to model the prayer life of Jesus, withdrawing to lonely places to pray, stepping away from the busyness of life to commune with God.
I’m certain that prayer is vital, yet confess that I’m not always sure how to pray. As a child, my prayer life consisted of praying for those that I loved: my Mom, Dad, brother, grandparents, cousins, Aunts and Uncles, family friends, and our dog. I am sure that God heard those prayers and received them as a child-like act of faith. As I have grown older, and supposedly more informed and wise, I wonder if that qualifies as a sufficient prayer life? Simply reciting a laundry list of requests probably isn’t the sustaining prayer life Wesley had in mind.
Instead, prayer for me now has evolved. Instead of making lists, I’m paring down. I am sure that God loves those that I love more than me. I am confident that I don’t have to bring those to God’s attention in fear that he won’t remember them. Instead, spending time in prayer to probe the mysterious presence of God and what God might be saying to me is becoming the focus of my prayer.
God is not what you imagine or what you think you understand. If you understand you have failed. —St. Augustine
Gathering glimpses of the divine might be prayer in its purest form.
Prayer is not formula or pattern, but relationship.
A number of years ago, at Annual Conference, Barbara Brokhoff told the story of how her Mother prayed and what an impact it had on her. There was a wayward son who was imprisoned, and a Mother whose heart was broken. Every day Barbara came home, her Mother was found praying at the kitchen table, obviously deeply saddened and broken over her son. This went on for months, maybe years.
Then one day, Barbara said, she came home and her Mother was up and moving around, and it was obvious that something had changed. Barbara asked her Mom what had changed, had something happened? “No, child, nothing’s changed, I’ve just prayed through on it.” Through prayer, she had found in the mystery of God the strength to let go of the burden and to trust in the divine Spirit that loved the child even more than she did. Prayer had given her a new outlook and released a deep pain she no longer needed to carry.
As we travel this journey of faith together, can we learn some new patterns and ways of praying together? During this season of Lent, a time of preparation for a new reality called Easter, may the mystery of God’s grace provide the means for a new life of prayer in us all.
Job, Reuben P. A Wesleyan Spiritual Reader. (Abingdon Press: Nashville, TN) 1998.
Mathison, John Ed. Treasures of the Transformed Life. (Abingdon Press: Nashville, TN) 2006.
“He was praying in a certain place, and after he had finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray.” Luke 11:1 (NRSV)
Having grown up in a different denominational background, Lent was a new concept for me when I started attending the United Methodist Church in my mid-20’s. It seemed odd at first. Why focus on holiness for the forty (40) days of Lent instead of all year long? Why shouldn’t we work on developing the spiritual disciplines all the time? Well, the answers are in reality we are to practice the faith all year long, but as there are seasons in nature, so there are seasons of our spiritual life, too. Lent is a vital season of spiritual growth.
Lent is something the church does to prepare for Easter, to be reminded once again, (though we live with it always), that life follows death. Beginning with Ash Wednesday and the reminder that we are dust and to dust we return, we march on confidently that while death is a certainty, resurrection is a sure and certain hope to everlasting life.
Over the next days, I am planning to share observations and experiences that I hope will speak to you, to share parts of my Lenten journey with you in hopes that it aids you in your journey.
The first of the reflections begins in the conversation around the spiritual discipline of prayer. Prayer is essential to the life of faith. Prayer is the necessary ingredient to a more intimate experience of God. I know this, and yet will confess that my prayer life is not as disciplined as I wish it was. It’s not that I don’t pray. I do. I just don’t have the practice of praying at the same time in the same place every day. I know people who seem to have that practice established and I admire them so. I am working on it.
This morning, I went out for a walk (part of trying to develop an exercise routine as well). If prayer can be understood as an on-going conversation with God, then I really prayed this morning on my walk! I was conversing with God over the usual items: family dynamics, church stuff, and the feeling of just being a bit weary in body, mind and spirit. As I looked down at my “Apple Watch” to see how much longer I had to walk to reach my goal, the screen said “Breathe.” How appropriate. I had long ago read how simply being aware of your breathing is a tool for prayer and meditation. Focusing on the simple act of breathing is a marvelous way to stop the mind from running off in all directions and, simply, pray. Trying to do so while walking and being present with God in the beauty of His creation was a blessing this morning in an on-going effort to stay whole in body, mind and spirit. The reminder to breathe was an especially helpful reminder that prayer takes many forms.
Maybe you would be open to practicing prayer through a breathing exercise? As I understand it, you just think about the body breathing in and breathing out, focusing on that one activity while trying to shut out the rest of the thoughts vying for your attention. Then, the presence of the Divine can be felt, as we confess before God, share concerns with others, offer prayers of thanksgiving, or just seek the refreshing of God’s Spirit.
I’d love to hear stories of your Lenten observances. In this holy season of Lent, may breathing, praying, and walking all be a part of how God blesses you.
Mark 1 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The Proclamation of John the Baptist
2 As it is written in the prophet Isaiah,[c]
“See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you,[d]
who will prepare your way;
3 the voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight,’”
4 John the baptizer appeared[e] in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. 5 And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 6 Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. 7 He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. 8 I have baptized you with[f] water; but he will baptize you with[g] the Holy Spirit.”
The Baptism of Jesus
9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. 11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved;[h] with you I am well pleased.”
The Temptation of Jesus
12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. 13 He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
The Beginning of the Galilean Ministry
14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news[i] of God,[j]15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near;[k] repent, and believe in the good news.”[l]
Jesus Calls the First Disciples
16 As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.
The old adage, “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry” apply as to how I wanted to start the new year with you in the study of God’s Word. I wanted to start off strong on New Year’s Day in our study of the Gospel of Mark, looking at the first 11 verses. I wanted to continue today and cover verses 12-20. Alas, these plans have not worked out well so far, so let’s try Plan B!
My invitation for you is to join with me in studying Mark’s Gospel as we begin this year, and continue that study through Easter. Every Sunday between now and then, I wanted us to focus our conversation and study around this ancient book that is still so very relevant for our lives today. My invitation is for us to use N.T. Wright’s Mark for Everyone as our resource. We have a number of hard copies available at the church. You may purchase one of these for $10 any time at the church office or next Sunday. Or, you may download the book on Amazon Kindle for about the same price. I think this book is going to help in our study greatly.
For those who weren’t able to be with us on January 1, let me briefly re-state what I shared that morning. If you look at the beginning of Mark, you notice something quite interesting. First, there is a statement that functions as a title of sorts for the book, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” This is a statement that identifies Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, at the very beginning of the story. The irony is this: no one really gets what that means for Jesus to be the Christ for the rest of the book. The disciples don’t correctly understand what that means. The Pharisees don’t get it. The Sadducees don’t get it. None of the religious authorities, nor any of the people who were looking for the Christ, get it. The people who follow Jesus around and see what he is able to do don’t get it. Indeed, the demons are the ones who seem to get it right. And Jesus consistently is telling them to keep quiet. The next correct understanding of who Jesus really is doesn’t come until Chapter 15, as Jesus is dying.
The second item of note to share is this: there isn’t a birth narrative in Mark’s Gospel. Scholars have pondered why that is so. Luke’s Gospel, which was probably written years after Mark’s Gospel, and used Mark as a source of material, is the one that gives us the familiar story of shepherds and angels and mangers. Mark either didn’t know the story of Jesus’s birth or chose not to include it. Instead, he begins first with the title statement and then quickly and abruptly moves to the introduction of John the Baptist as the forerunner of Jesus. John is the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah, that one will come to pave the way for the Messiah, to call the people to a response of repentance and a ritual water cleansing called baptism. Repentance means to re-orient one’s self away from the brokenness of life marked by sin and to a new life marked by the cleansing spirit of God found in Jesus. John’s proclamation is that he can only cleanse with water, but in Jesus, God is going to bring the fire of the Holy Spirit and baptism will be understood differently.
Then Mark tells us that Jesus himself came to the river to be baptized by John. Notice how little Mark tells us about the event. Other Gospels tell us so much more. But Mark simply relates that as Jesus comes out of the water, the skies are violently ripped open, and he hears the voice from God that says, “This is my Son, whom I love: with him I am well pleased.” This simple statement is profoundly important to us though. Our understanding is that as we identify with Jesus, God’s favor is with us. In the Baptism we experience in churches today, Baptism is the initiation into the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Whether that Baptism occurs in infancy or adulthood, we believe that identifying our life in Jesus is essential.
One of the questions I asked on the first Sunday in January related to this. Where do we find our identity? Do we find it in our professions, our work? Do we find it in our last names, through our family heritage? Do we find our identity in our abilities or hobbies? I suggested that all of those things, the work, the family, the abilities, are temporary. The only way that we can stay grounded in our identity is to understand that in Baptism we are baptized into Jesus and there we find our true self. In our Baptism, we can always find ways to connect to that voice that spoke to Jesus and then echoes in our ears. Being baptized into Jesus says we too are the beloved of God and he is well pleased with us.
This morning we were going to then pick up at verse 12, with the story of the temptation of Jesus. This is an odd story, isn’t it? As soon as Jesus is baptized and hears the voice of affirmation from God, he is “driven” by the Spirit into the wilderness. I read in Wright’s book that this strong word “driven” is akin to compelled, in very strong terms. Once in the wilderness, he is tempted by Satan and was “with the wild beasts.” Mark doesn’t tell us the nature of the temptations. Matthew and Luke give much more detail. What sense are we to make of this temptation story?
The way I understand this story is from personal experience. There have been a number of times in my life when I have had spiritual experiences. These have come at retreats, on mission trips, and in other intentional places of worship. You know about those as surely you have had your own experiences. You come out of those experiences feeling so close to God, your spirit is rejoicing and you feel like you are on top of the world. However, inevitably, the re-entry into the world is hard. The “real” world means dealing with difficult people, fighting traffic, paying bills, among all of those things that suck the life out of us. Like Jesus, we face the temptations of the Satan, finding that our only source of help and hope is in the God who affirms his love for us, the voice we hear in our Baptism. Staying connected to the One who gives us our identity is the way we fight the temptations of the Satan.
This coming Sunday I am hoping to offer reflections on the next part of the scriptures. Jesus steps onto the stage of human history and announces that he is inaugurating a new Kingdom. As a matter of fact, study of the Gospels reveals that Jesus talks more about the nature of this Kingdom than any other subject. It is quite worthy of our study. I hope you will join us if you are able. If you are not able to join us, maybe you will consider watching via our website.
My hope and prayer is that as we engage in this study together, God will bless us with renewed spirit and stronger faith. May the Christ, the Son of God, be with us all.
Several weeks ago, I went to another in a fairly long line of continuing education opportunities (the weekend it snowed!). We are encouraged by church leadership to attend these, as these are designed to help us grow both personally and professionally, and to keep us fresh and inspired. I usually enjoy going and generally find them helpful in some way. This last one I attended has been especially intriguing and helpful. I wonder if you might find this to be interesting also?
The program is centered around a personality profile test called a “DiSC” profile. I don’t know how long this particular personality profile has been around, but I am sure it has been around for a number of years, and is available on-line for free and with an optional cost for deeper engagement. It works like this: You are asked to respond to a number of questions, and based on your responses you end up being identified as a “D”, “I”, “S”, or “C”. There are various personality characteristics attributed to each letter of the DISC profile. It turns out, based on the responses I gave, that I am in the “S” category.
Now, while all of us function in all four (4) of the categories sometimes, we generally have a default position, one that suits us most of the time and is our comfort zone. Some qualities of the “S” are even-tempered, accommodating, patient, tactful, eager to give support to others, stable, values collaboration, and a bit cautious. “S” people tend to make decisions deliberately, wanting as much information as possible, and tend to value people over the project. Folks in this category want everyone to be on board before moving forward with important decisions. While I probably knew these things about myself, seeing them on a report re-enforced them for me and gave me language I needed to help understand why I react this way. Being an “S” describes me pretty well.
As in everything, there are both advantages and disadvantages to being “me” as an “S.” As a Pastor, being patient, tactful, accommodating and the like is good! Valuing a team is really important in ministry. So, there are some real pluses to being an “S” in ministry. But, here are some potential negatives: slow to make decisions, sometimes paralyzed by wanting to keep everyone happy, not addressing some things that need to be addressed in order not to hurt feelings. Doing the hard work of introspection, I realize this has been my downfall at times.
The great thing about these profiles is that, while they describe us, they help us recognize that we can live into other categories as needed.
I am convinced that it is time to be bolder in my role as Pastor of Huntersville UMC. We have developed relationships over the last 3 and a half years, relationships that I believe lead you to know me, to trust me, to recognize that I want to be a part of this church fulfilling her God-given mission in the world. I hope you understand my love for you individually and as a community of faith. But, now is the time for action. Now is the time to be bold in our words and our actions. Now is the time to stretch, to reach, to break out of the chains of inaction and move out of our comfort zones. Now is the time to move forward in big, audacious ways. Are you ready?
If, like me, you are an “S”, you may be frightened by this talk. As a “C”, you may need more information. As an “I”, you may be saying, “What took you so long?” As a “D”, you may be telling me to catch up with you where you are! Just as individuals have personality profiles, organizations (churches) do, too. I think in general we may be a church of the “S” type. The good news is that we love and value people. We tend to think through our decisions. But, when it is time to act, we can and will! Now is that time. Now is the moment we can choose action over being paralyzed by fear of leaving someone behind.
In the coming months, we are going to offer some bold initiatives. These initiatives have long been in the making. They are well thought out. And, they are imperative.
Will you join me in praying that these bold initiatives are both God’s plan and purpose and that God will be glorified in everything we do? I have set a reminder on my smartphone every day at 8:00 a.m. to pray. Would you join me in the way you can? Will you find a way to remember to be in prayer daily about our future as a church?
Be listening and watching for some of these big, audacious ideas to emerge! As always, your feedback and comments are both welcomed and critical as we move forward. May the God of all grace and truth guide us forward.
In His Peace,
Paul B. Thompson
p.s. If you are interested in taking a free online DiSC assessment visit: https://discpersonalitytesting.com/free-disc-test/
One of my favorite sayings is, “To fail to plan is to plan to fail.” The older I get the more I recognize the validity of this saying and how true it really is. Most of the good things in life don’t just happen. There is a sense that we have to plan the right things into our lives to accomplish our objectives.
This is true especially of our finances and the ways we plan to spend our money. If we aren’t careful, money seems to flow out at a faster pace than it comes in. Useful tools like budgeting and savings are important to stay healthy financially.
This is also the reason we ask that you give to God, through the ministry of Huntersville UMC, and plan that giving accordingly. We recognize that if we just give to God what’s left over after we spend on everything else we likely won’t be able to respond as we would like. The scriptures remind us of the importance of contributing to God’s work in response to what God has provided. The hard part is actually making the giving to God a priority over some other worthwhile things. I am convinced that the value of the work God is doing here is worthy of the support you can offer.
This church is investing in God’s work as never before. We are actively seeking to expand our outreach and bless others. Using the tools and gifts God has given, we are reaching hundreds of people each and every week through Loaves and Fishes, Not Here Ministries, Room in the Inn, Preschool, Nifty Needles, MOPS, Hispanic/Latino worship, Youth groups, Children’s ministries, UMAR, and so many more! Lives are being transformed and blessed, and your support is the reason we are able to do so! We recently received an email, right after the Fall Community Extravaganza. The writer of the email expressed great appreciation to the church for that event, and others like it, in which we were part of God’s good news being shared. The writer noticed that we are making a difference in this community and felt it! I am so encouraged by this and know you are too!
Thank you for your support of Huntersville UMC and the work God is doing here. We ask that you prayerfully consider what that support will be moving forward into 2017. Estimate of Giving cards will be available starting this Sunday. May you find great joy and blessing in hearing and obeying God’s call to be active participants in his saving work in the world!
Grace and Peace,
Paul B. Thompson
I so look forward to Sunday! The last three weeks have been lonely. With Christmas Day, New Year’s Day, and then a snow day, I haven’t seen many of you in a long time. I’m looking forward to seeing you!
I want to make you aware of some changes that you may notice as you come, especially to the 8:30 service. These changes are TRIALS, not etched in stone, and invite your feedback. Please let us know your reactions to the changes! We want to know and respect your opinions!
First, some background about the changes: in the latter part of 2016, Chyrl Cochrane and I had a conversation. Chyrl had been leading the music at the 8:30 service for a number of years. She told me that she felt it was time for a break as the time and energy it takes to prepare and lead music in worship is taxing. In subsequent conversations, we agreed that Chyrl would continue to offer her leadership, along with the rest of the team, but would develop some alternate arrangement on the playing of the hymns. So, we secured through Kayren Terpenning, our Music Director, people who can and will play the hymns we sing at the 8:30 service on the piano. Chyrl and the group will continue to offer their talents in leading the singing of the hymns and singing an anthem as they are accustomed to providing.
There are some other changes to the service you may notice. In keeping with my desire to provide some more differentiation between the 8:30 service and the 10:30 service, we will be using a more traditional format for the 8:30 service. We will be incorporating responsive readings, including creeds, and other more traditional elements in the worship order. I hope that we can keep a more relaxed atmosphere but provide some more structure to the service that is in keeping with United Methodist tradition.
It is my belief that there are those within the life of our church that desire a worship experience that includes more singing of traditional hymns sung by piano and includes these traditional elements. We want to be able to offer this type of service and hope it attracts those who find it most worshipful.
At the same time, we may tweak the 10:30 service slightly. One of the challenges the modern church faces is speaking the language of culture that is not familiar with the church’s traditions. While the message of the Gospel never changes, being able to speak that message in language that people can understand and relate to is vitally important. That language includes the language of music. While I grew up with piano and organ music in church played with our hymns, and still love it, current culture is not familiar with this style. Therefore, we must sing songs that lend themselves to the culture while never compromising on the message of the good news of Jesus Christ and His power to change lives.
We have access to demographic information about the neighborhoods that surround our church. This research indicates some very important information to us that we must acknowledge. One, the average age of the person who lives in a 3-mile radius of our church is 35 years old. That’s young! Research also indicates that many of these folks do not have a background or natural proclivity to church. I think it is therefore incumbent upon us to speak to them in language they can relate to and understand. We have to recognize they might not know the words to the “Lord’s Prayer”, nor have any clue what a “Doxology” is. We can still use those in the worship service, but we need to do a better job of explaining what it is we are doing. This is the task before us and in my mind a key moving forward.
This leads us to another change to announce. Beginning this Wednesday, January 18, we will be offering a Wednesday evening worship experience. This service is an invitation to all, but recognizes that many folks work on weekends or have other activities that preclude them from coming on Sunday. We are designing this worship experience so that those who can’t come on Sunday will still get to hear God’s Word, experience Holy Communion, and the joy of worship in community. Jonathan and I will be sharing in the leadership of this service and Cameron Floyd will be helping lead the music. The service will begin at 6:30 and last 45 minutes to an hour.
I hope that you will find these changes enhance our life together. It is important that you understand these are experimental in nature. I feel that they can aid us in our mission to create an authentic Christian community of love and blessing to all.
I hope to see you Sunday!
Paul B. Thompson
By now many of you are receiving reports via the news media about the Keith Lamont Scott shooting that took place in Charlotte last week that explain some things we did not know then. The shooting set off a firestorm of protest, some peaceful, some violent, and we watched on television or experienced it in person, all of it deeply gripping emotionally. As it turns out, there was so much more to the story than was originally reported and known. The reactions of many certainly did not wait on all the facts to emerge.
While there is still much to learn about the situation, it is apparent that Mr. Scott had some history of violent behavior. Whether the police knew his history prior to the confrontation or not, we do not know yet. What has ensued is, once again, a case of folks jumping to conclusions before the facts are known amid a climate and mistrust that permeates our political, economic, and social fabric. This is, indeed, a sad, sad story, one that leaves many of us feeling angry and frustrated and with a deep sense of despair, wondering if anything can change.
My fear is that once again we will retreat to our natural sides, become satisfied with our version of the story that we can perceive, and simply go on with our lives, not really learning anything from this situation. It will be relatively easy to place the blame on others and ignore the deeper issues. I hope and pray that we will do better than that. Is this a moment in which we can summon the courage and the conviction to really deal with these issues we have?
When I was young, I was small for my age. I loved sports and spent so much of my time shooting baskets, playing catch, and throwing and kicking a football. I was passionate about playing any sport and loved competing. There were several instances in playing organized sports that I was looked over because of my size. Coaches and other players would automatically assume that because I was smaller I couldn’t be effective. It was a constant battle for me because I wanted to play so badly, but often felt left out and judged inadequate because of perceptions rather than results. That feeling of being looked at as inferior frustrated me and left me angry. Sometimes those feelings of anger pushed me to try harder to prove myself, but sometimes it also took all the joy out of playing. I have come to learn that anytime someone feels “inferior” or “less than” it is a horrible feeling and leads to broken relationships.
I don’t know how it feels to be black. I can’t imagine what a black person, especially a young, black male must feel when they walk down a street in a “white” neighborhood. But, having a sense that they are judged as “dangerous” or “suspicious” must sting. I recognize that when any person feels looked down on or is judged inferior based on something they have no control over, it must be infuriating. Because of the vestiges of racism that have existed and still exist we continue to struggle and find ourselves in the same turmoil over and over. Now, in the aftermath of the police shooting of Mr. Scott, frustrations boil over, ground is re-staked, and relations regress rather than progress.
What, then, shall we do? Several folks have stated that while they recognize we ought to do “something”, we don’t really have a clear path forward. Answers are hard to find. I would like to offer some possibilities.
Along with some clergy in our area, we are engaging in difficult yet promising dialogue. Ironically enough, we met to discuss race relations the very afternoon of the Scott shooting (prior to the reports coming out). Even before the shooting, some of our black clergy brothers were expressing their deep concerns over the relations between the police and the black community in Charlotte. They spoke passionately about their experiences of feeling left out and left behind, stigmatized by their experience of being black in a world that sees them as suspicious. We have planned another conversation in October that we hope will be both honest about our feelings and yet still maintain our deep connection in the faith.
Some of us here have dreamed for a few years now of a “partnership” that would emerge from the work that Justin Stewart and others have begun. That work that is called “MAD HOOPS” and “Not Here Ministries” offers possibility that we might build on the trusting relationships that have developed over the years, capitalizing and building on them. My hope is that we might bridge the gap that exists, both learning from these young men and women about their experiences and sharing the gifts we can bring. These gifts we might offer include help and direction with finding a path that leads to the fulfillment of their dreams of education and success in a chosen endeavor. Wouldn’t it be great if we could learn from them and they learn from us? Wouldn’t it be great if we could broaden our understandings of our shared humanity and we could all benefit?
And so, what, then, shall we do? The one thing I don’t want us to do is give up. The hope I have is that God will take this tragedy and create something beautiful from it. That tends to be the way that God works. The cross and the resurrection of Jesus give us a model and a template for how these things work. Let’s not stay on Good Friday and remain dead to possibility. Instead, let us move to the hopefulness that new life and resurrection emerge even from the most trying of circumstances. That will do. Yes, that will do.