Two Events, Two Moments for Hope

I’ve been looking forward to February for some time. It will truly be here before you know it. The month will be filled with opportunities for ministry, discipleship, and more than 13,000 miles on the road and air.

The two big events for February, as far as we are concerned, are our Holy Land trip and the called General Conference. In this week’s pastor’s note, I want to share with you about both of these important moments.

Holy Land Trip

We are excited to take approximately 20 people to the Holy Land from February 4-13. We will visit Tel Aviv, Nazareth, Bethlehem, Jericho, and, of course, Jerusalem. As well, we will visit the place where Jesus was born, where he was crucified and rose from the grave, and other important sites of our faith and spiritual heritage.

One of the holiest stops on the trip is praying at the Wailing Wall. This site is the most holy place in Jerusalem for Jews, as it is close to where the Holy of Holies – the symbolic place of God’s holy presence in the Temple – was located and is a place of deep prayer. Throughout the day, people will gather to this spot to pray and reflect.

Part of the custom at the Wailing Wall is to leave your written prayers in the cracks. Doing so is an act of giving your prayer. Twice a year, these prayers are collected and the papers are buried in the Mount of Olives.

We encourage you to send your personal prayers with us to place at the Wailing Wall. There is a basket outside of the sanctuary where you can leave your prayer. These will be prayed over at the wall and placed in the cracks. You have until January 27 to place your prayer cards in the basket.

During the trip, however, there will be several ways you can follow along with the pilgrims in Israel. We will provide a daily video wrap-up on our Facebook page and will post photos along the way. As well, our sermon on February 10 will come to us from Israel. You will not want to miss worship that day! We will provide time for those who went on the trip to share about their experiences as later date.

Please be in prayer for everyone who is going on the trip. One of the blessings of this experience is how this has become an ecumenical trip filled with people from various communities and churches in our area.

General Conference

February also brings with it the special called General Conference in St. Louis (February 23-26). As some of you know, I will be at General Conference assisting the work of the Kentucky Annual Conference’s Communications staff. You can learn more about General Conference, its importance as the only body that can speak officially on behalf of the United Methodist Church, and what will be discussed by visiting the Kentucky Annual Conference’s General Conference resource page.

My honest hope is we will continue to be a witness of Jesus Christ that is making disciples of Jesus Christ by how we honor both the Great Commandment and Great Commission. I have a great hope for the church and believe the church has a great future ahead of it, as I have shared with you previously.

As we prepare for General Conference, I invite you to attend the Concert of Prayer, sponsored by the Pennyrile District, on February 3 at 3 p.m., at Frist United Methodist Church in Hopkinsville. This event will focus on specific times of prayer for our entire church and provide opportunities for us to remember our connection with one another. The focus of our February 17 worship service will be on praying for the entire church as we enter this season.

Do Not Be Afraid

Both of these moments can lead to fear. Will everyone be safe in Israel? What will happen to the mission of the church? Please do not be fearful of anything. Jesus encourages us to be people who do not live in fear, but to live with a sense of hope. May that be who we are in these weeks to come.

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Our Values: Foundational Principles for Ogden Memorial

Today is the first day of school in Caldwell County. This has been a day, personally, I’ve been looking forward to for some time since it is Noah’s first day in kindergarten.

The fact schools are back in session reminds me of my educational experiences in Raleigh County Schools in West Virginia. Each of my teachers invested in my life. They sought to teach me how to write, read, and understand the world we live in. I am who I am because of the teachers who invested in me.

Most importantly, though, my teachers tried to instill within me values that would define who I am. Values like treating my classmates with respect, living with kindness, and being patient. Those values are still important to me some 30 years later.

When we think of values our minds go to the core foundational principles that define who we live and interact with others. They are what inspire our words and actions even when we are not aware of them.

Christ calls us to claim values in our journey together. Values that serve as an outflow of our relationship with the Lord and define how we live out our love of God. We see our values being expressed through the Beatitudes, Jesus’ prayers, ministries, and common life with his believers. Jesus often called us to go and do likewise. We follow in the footsteps of Christ by taking on the same values and core principles we see reflected in Jesus as an aspect of who we are in Christ’s love.

Throughout 2018, our vision team has been working with me in prayerful conversations about the values that define our common life at Ogden Memorial. I am appreciative of Sara Brown, Jae Englebright, Elaine Overhults, Mary Rohrer, and Emory Spradlin for their dedication and work. They have blessed me with their prayers, laughter, and desire to see the church come alive.

We began our work with a focus on our values, first, because we wanted to set our mind on common principles that define who we are at Ogden. Values that are unchanging. We recognize that leaders may change, ministries may change, pastors may change, but the values of a community are constant. They define our work and how we live out our purpose of loving God and making disciples.

Together we discerned five core values that will define our work moving forward at Ogden Memorial. They are: love, discipleship, prayer, worship, and community. We believe these are values best described how God is leading us forward at Ogden Memorial. Each of the values have statements that were written by members of the team in collaboration with one another.

Beginning September 2, you will hear more about how these values will shape our mission together during worship. Members of the vision team will share about the values and the sermon will reflect on their meaning and purpose for our shared life together. We will celebrate our values on September 30 with a potluck following worship.

Our values. That is what they are. These are the values God has blessed us with to define our relationships with one another and ministry with our community.

I believe, as I have always, that Ogden Memorial is sleeping giant waiting to come alive with fruitful and vibrant ministry. These values and the work of the church coming together to get to this point are a positive step towards that direction.

I’m excited about what is next for Ogden Memorial. I hope you are, as well.

What is a Disciple?

Recently I read an article from the Barna Group that startled me. The Barna Group is a research and polling organization that focuses on Christianity in the United States. Its research has helped to provide new perspectives on Millennials and the changing landscape for the church in our country.

This specific article, though, discussed how 51 percent of people who attend church cannot recognize the Great Commission. It was startling to read and I hope it is for you as well, because our very existence as a United Methodist congregation is centered on the Great Commission.

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:19-20b, NRSV)

That is the Great Commission and it is our mission. You have heard me say time and time again that our calling is to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world here in Princeton, Kentucky.” We are called to make disciples in our local community who then go and change the world.

So, what is a disciple?

I believe this is a question that we all struggle to answer. That is because we don’t discuss much about what we mean we say “disciple.” We assume people know what we are talking about and then wonder why people struggle to understand the life of a disciple and what it means to make a disciple.

When we define a disciple, we mean someone who seeks to dedicate themselves to following Jesus. Matthew uses a word in Matthew 28:19 to define a disciple as a “pupil.” We know a pupil is a student who follows the teaching of their mentor, teacher, or guide. That is what a disciple of Jesus Christ does. They follow in the teaching and life of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

This means a disciple of Jesus Christ has values we must take seriously.

A disciple of Jesus Christ has a value of the Great Commandment. We must hold both the Great Commission (make disciples) and the Great Commandment (love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself). Disciples of Jesus Christ are devoted to God and seek to share the love of God freely with all people. Love is the most important component of discipleship, because it is the commandment Jesus gave that summed up the entire law of God.

A disciple of Jesus Christ has a value of seeking to live in community with other disciples. Jesus calls his followers into community. We cannot be disciples by seeking to be individuals in isolation from other believers. Disciples are called into a community with other believers for prayer, worship, accountability, and encouragement.

A disciple of Jesus Christ has a value of surrendering themselves to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Surrendering is not something we always talk about. To surrender means to let go of our need to be in control. When we surrender ourselves to Jesus’ Lordship, we humble ourselves and let go of our need to have power and control of who we are, where we are going, or even the life of the community of believers. Disciples allow Jesus to direct their lives and how they relate to other people.

A disciple of Jesus Christ values making commitments to God and other believers. Disciples of Jesus Christ make a promise to God and to other believers that we will be committed in our walk with God. Our commitments are to be in prayer for one another, to be faithful in worship attendance, to give ourselves through our gifts and talents, and to serve by witnessing of God’s love through our words, actions, and deeds.

This is what we mean when we use the word disciple. We are called to make disciples as a church and we do so through worship, study, and service.

Discipleship and making disciples must be at the core of who we are as a church and a people. The question we must always be willing to ask ourselves is this: Is what we are doing at Ogden Memorial making disciples?

This is not a question that can be answered immediately, but it is a question that we must be willing to ask. It is the evaluative question that gets to the heart of fruitfulness and moves us beyond from thinking of survival, but towards thriving.

My prayer for us at Ogden Memorial is for us to thrive in our ministries and witness to God. I pray we will be a disciple-making church that is willing to do the things necessary to lead us into long-term fruitfulness of living out the Great Commission’s call to make disciples.

It is That Important

Last year, I had the responsibility of planning daily Holy Week services in Mercer County. It was the second year I had this responsibility, and I enjoyed gathering an ecumenical body together each day for worship and reflection.

What I remember the most about last year’s worship services was an interview I had with a reporter from the local newspaper. We were talking about why Holy Week is important and I used a phrase similar to this:

It is the Super Bowl, Daytona 500, Indy 500, March Madness, and Game 7 all rolled into one week.

That idea was the main point used in the article. It is still the main point today. Holy Week is our Super Bowl. Holy Week is our Daytona 500. Holy Week is our Indy 500. Holy Week is our March Madness. Holy Week is our Game 7.

It is that important.

Holy WeekCross Of Christ Religious Stock Photo begins Sunday on Palm Sunday and runs through sunset on Holy Saturday. It is the most important week of the Christian calendar, as we will celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and reflect upon what it means for us today. We need Holy Week, because we need to hear the story again and again.

It is easy to assume we do not need Holy Week. We’ve heard the story before. We know Jesus. We know what the days means. All of this we will convince ourselves of as we make other things – personal lives, schedules, finances – more important than our faith and relationship with Jesus. We disconnect ourselves from the story as the same time as we allow other ideas and influences claim authority in our lives.

We need Holy Week because it reminds us that Jesus is Lord. On Palm Sunday, we will remember how Jesus entered Jerusalem as the heralded Messiah and King of all. We need that reminder of how Jesus is our Lord and King. Jesus lovingly desires to guide us to live out what it means to be in an intimate relationship and connection with God.

On Maundy Thursday we will remember how we often want something else besides Jesus all together. We will remember how we turned our back on Jesus – an act we will do today through our words, actions, and deeds – because Jesus isn’t what we often expect.

On Good Friday we will remember how Jesus loves us unconditionally. That no matter what we’ve done or who we are Jesus desires to be in relationship with us.

On Easter morning we will celebrate that there is hope in the world. Even when it seems like there is nothing to be hopeful about, the message of the empty tomb reminds us that God is in control and Jesus lives and reigns.

I don’t know about you, but I believe those are messages we need today. Those are messages that I need today.

Messages that we need as our lives become over scheduled by agendas that seek to control our time and connections. Messages we need as we seek to make power and politics as our primary concern instead of love and connection with God. Messages we need as we seek to be more focused on ourselves instead of the greater good.

We need Holy Week, because it is that important for our lives.

I hope you will join us throughout Holy Week at Ogden Memorial this year. More importantly, my prayer is that this week will be an opportunity to encounter the presence of God in your life and in our community.

Celebrating God’s Blessings at Ogden Memorial From 2017

Recently, some of our church leaders and I have worked to put together our end of the year reports. The end of the year report is a snapshot of our ministry and work together for the previous year. It is one way we tell the story of the ministry God is enabling us to do in Princeton and throughout our area.

I’m appreciative of Betty Veal and Lisa Shaffer for their tireless work in helping to organize our information. They are both great blessings to our work in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world here in Princeton.

There is much to celebrate as we think back on 2017 and the work God entrusted us with as a church.

One point of celebration comes in increases to our average worship (101 in average worship attendance in 2017) and Sunday School attendance (39 average attendance). This is the first time both our worship and Sunday School numbers had increased in several years. Thank you for your dedication to worship and Sunday School. These are important aspects of how we love God and grow together as a congregation.

As a congregation, we have set a goal to seek further increases in our worship attendance in 2018 by 3 percent. We can reach this goal as we make being in worship a priority for our families, and also as we reach out and invite people we know are not attending worship to join us.

There are other places to celebrate in 2017 as it relates to our outreach into our community. I am thankful for ministries like Marketplace, Build-a-Basket, and others that help share the love of Christ with our community. We interacted with approximately 445 people in 2017 through community outreach events. That number includes Marketplace, Build-a-Basket, Service of Hope, and our Fall Festival.

These ministries help us share the love of Christ in meaningful ways. Our goal is to increase our outreach efforts in 2018 to reach people where they are in our community. One such way will be our Day of Caring on Saturday, April 28, when we will go out into our community to perform community service projects. You will hear more about this great event in the coming weeks.

Finally, I want to celebrate with you how you partner with ministries across Kentucky and around the world to share the love of Christ. As a congregation, we gave more than $26,000 to United Methodist ministries. This includes the Kentucky United Methodist Children’s Home, Camp Loucon, the Western Kentucky Wesley Foundation, Red Bird Mission, and the Thailand Methodist Mission. We also donated approximately $7,000 to help support local ministries, such as at Brightlife Farms and the Hope and Cope Center.

Each of these places is worthy of celebration. I’m looking forward to where God will lead us as a congregation in 2018. I believe Ogden Memorial is ready for a mighty and impactful year in our work of making disciples. It will happen as we build upon the foundation that is here and seek to continue to make disciples and share the love of God together.

Are We Willing to Take a New Direction?

For Christmas vacation, my family and I traveled to West Virginia. Though we have been to the Mountain State hundreds of times to see family and reconnect with my home we decided to take a different route. We took a route that was less familiar, but offered more places to stop (which is an advantage when traveling with a 4-year old).

We didn’t know the route as well as our normal road, but we were confident we knew where we were going. We had family members who had talked about the route and its advantages. We stayed on major highways and interstates. If all that failed us, we had our trusty guide of an in-car navigational system on our phone to keep us going in the right direction.

All of that made taking a different route a simple trip back home to visit family.

What if none of that was available?

Would we still be willing to take a new route to get to the destination? What if we didn’t have family members who had traveled the road before? Would we still take the new road? What if there were no major interstates or highways to make the drive simpler? Would we still take the new road? What if we didn’t have an in-car navigational system?

Would we still take the new road? Continue reading

What is a Service of Hope?

It started as an ordination project.

Two years ago I had to lead a “fruitfulness project” to fulfill one of my ordination requirements. The project is intended to demonstrate a pastor’s effectiveness in leading a ministry that seeks to make disciples. That is the simplest way of defining the project.

I had a couple of ideas for my project – a study on the Book of Revelation, a youth ministry intern, etc. – but my heart settled on this worship service I had heard about. It was called a Blue Christmas or Longest Night Service.

A Blue Christmas Service or Longest Night Service typically takes place on the first day of winter – the longest night of the year – and recognizes how many of us struggle during the Christmas season. The service is intended to offer hope and expressions of peace in the midst of our struggles. Continue reading