Jul 22, 2010

“Sorry about that, God”

I have a pastor friend, who for effect, once stood before his congregation at Sunday morning worship and said, “Friends, I want to apologize to you this morning. I have no sermon. I hope you will forgive me, but as all of you are aware this week has just had too many emergencies in it for me to sit down and work on my sermon. We have had two funerals and two emergencies surgeries. On top of these breaks in my normal week’s work, we also had Vacation Bible School. I was called into several urgent counseling situations. I hope you will understand my failure to prepare. I’ll try to do better next week.” The pastor then took a seat. The organist and the rest of the congregation sat frozen. No one had ever seen anything like this. No one moved—they did not know what to do.

Then my pastor friend, after about sixty extremely painful seconds, got back up and said, “This is what God must feel like when we tell God we are just too busy to attend to the world God has created.” My friend went on to preach a superb sermon on how God may not need us, but how God wants us to be covenant partners with God in working out our salvation with fear and trembling. This preacher said we witness to our faith by the way we live, love, and work in God’s world. The sermon turned out to be very powerful indeed. "Just sayin'."

Jul 17, 2010

“Avoiding the Summer Slump”

My friend, pastoral comedian Michael Duduit, wrote an article outlining the way that pastors can boost summer church attendance. Among his suggestions were door prizes for Sunday morning worship, free pizza to the first 250 congregants, and a sermon series based on popular movies—“Despicable Me,” or “Toy Story 3.” Perhaps it is sad that his comedy has such an element of truth in it. Many churches do run at far less than 100% during the summer. I suppose that is to be expected. People all attend family reunions, go on vacation, or have weekend family outings during the months of June, July, and August. We all do need to get away from time to time.

I want to offer a word of praise for those in the congregation, however, who help us continue the church’s work through the hot and long dog days of summer. Many people do attend worship and Sunday school. Many people do help keep the church’s finances afloat even while vacationing in New Mexico, Colorado, or Iowa. Many people do continue to teach and shepherd—even when we often operate with a skeleton crew of leaders during the summer months. For this I thank you—the faithful congregation of FUMC, Arlington.

Accordingly, although the church may look dormant in these hot summer day, there is work being done so that the gospel can continue to be proclaimed through the ministries of our congregation. Thanks be to God.

Jul 9, 2010

The Dream Ball Project

On something of a “mission roll” this summer, my son gave me a copy of Sports Illustrated for Kids (May 2010) and I saw an amazing idea. The idea was what a Korean company is calling the “The Dream Ball Project.” It is a simple concept and “kills two birds with one stone” or as Sunny in Concord, CA puts the killer phrase in a gentler, kinder way: “Love two people with one heart.” Here is the idea.

Children in what we call the third world, i.e., Tanzania, Liberia, Rwanda, Burundi, Somalia, Sierra Leone, Congo, etc, often cannot play soccer/football freely because of poverty, war, or natural disasters. In their life of scarcity even having a football means a lot and can be a way of dreaming and a hope for temporary escape. Children in poverty-stricken areas have no choice but to play with an improvised homemade soccer ball made of plastic bags or coconut palm leaves. These homemade balls often fall apart, but when made of sturdier stuff often damage and hurt the children’s bare feet.

We all know (especially in this crazed World Cup Soccer Month) that kids from Cambodia to Kenya to Columbia love soccer. Thus, the Korea-based design studio, Unplug Design, wanted to address this difficulty and bring the game of soccer to kids all over the world with an innovative plan that turns aid boxes into soccer balls and more. The Dream Ball Project’s boxes use durable heavyweight cardboard and come with illustrated instructions on how to create a range of different sized balls. This is inspiring ingenuity at its finest.

The Dream Ball Project is an amazing demonstration of how packaging can impact humankind in a positive way—increasing quality of life, ensuring a second life to a box, and forming a bond between people and nations.

These children play soccer in these countries with bare feet. So, Unplug Designs uses paper that can be recycled. The paper’s thickness changes the intensity and elasticity of each Dream Ball. They even come in a variety of sizes for use by children of many ages.

Consequently the bottom line is that innovative people can use shipping material in cardboard boxes so that when the box’s primary use is fulfilled the boxes can then be fashioned into soccer balls and used again for children in third world countries. Creativity meets need in a spectacular way.

Can we be this creative as we go the Second Mile in Mission?

Jul 2, 2010

Book People 3

The past two weeks in the e-mail blast and also in the pastor’s blog for FUMC, Arlington, we shared a story about the “Book People” (Adult Library Committee). As a “Go the Second Mile” mission project they called their venture: The Book Carnival.

When the “Book People” arrived at the Center Street Activities Building early—early on 29 May 2010, several stacks of books greeted them. Those books brought the count up to 2234 at the moment of opening of the Book Carnival—an impressive number considering that only a few weeks before the group had only slender hope for this kind of response—What a wonderful congregation!!!!!!!

This is part of the description of the event itself . . . Books are stacked on tables for children’s selection. Colorful signs cover the walls of the room. Smiling docents are ready to greet children and families. Balloons and signs announce the Book Carnival. The Boys and Girls Clubs, the Arlington Library, and FUMC’s Summer Camp have brochures and greeters ready with information. A special table with books written in Spanish is part of the fiesta atmosphere. Supper kits are stacked on shelves ready for visiting families. Snack bags and beverages await children. A question hangs in the air: Will anyone come?

“A thing long expected takes the form of the unexpected when at last it comes.” This quotation by Mark Twain describes the feelings of the volunteers as families walked into the room. They kept coming. Each child was given a colorful fabric bag with games, crayons, and coloring books. Each child found four or five books and placed these in the bag along with snacks and beverages. Families asked questions about summer events and the library. We borrowed from FUMC’s Food Pantry to provide enough Supper Kits. Volunteers were stunned . . . and grateful. Children and families arrived just before 10:00 a.m. and until 2:00 p.m. when The Book Carnival closed with only a few books remaining. These remainder books The Book Carnival sent to the Arlington Night Shelter, the Salvation Army, and the Women’s Shelter.

Children and families were so gracious—thanking volunteers for the books and gifts. We were grateful for their courteous presence. During one moment when the room was exceptionally crowded, one little girl about three or four years old sat on the floor amidst all of the feet and legs, opened her book, and then began to read. Wonderful! Several children stopped just outside and sat on the steps, examined the contents of their bags, opened their books, and enjoyed snacks.

After The Book Carnival, the “Book People” (Adult Library Committee) sent thank you notes to all of the stakeholders. Their contributions in money, books, tasks, and time made this event a genuinely Arlington FUMC “Go the Second Mile” mission.

As for the leftover books, the “Book People” delivered four or five book boxes each to the Night Shelter, the Salvation Army, and the Women’s Shelter. These ministries, of course, were thrilled. As a result, even more children received gift books. Summertime reading is a now reality for many children in our immediate neighborhood and we as a church are connected in new ways to our closest neighbors.

What is most gratifying is that the “Book People” have received calls regarding additional contributions. The “Book People” now face decisions regarding future events and for storage—Blessings all around. I think the “Book People” are up to the task and great thanks go to them—that is the “Book People.”

Paul suggested what in all things that we be thankful. Thankfulness does not describe this blessed experience. We as a church had a wonderful opportunity to provide fellowship and books for gentle neighbors. We are thankful. May God continue to bless the work.

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