Monday, December 30, 2013

End of Year – Sort of …

In June, we made dramatic changes in where we spent our money at Hilltop.  In addition, the church leadership saw a need for us to speak more frequently about how we are doing from an income basis.  For those in worship on Sunday, December 22, I spoke for a few minutes on where we are from an income level and our financial position.

We have available to us three piles of money.  They are not equal in terms of our ability to reach them to help us handle our obligations.
We have an endowment (shown in green on the chart in figure 1) and it has grown over $20,000 in the last two years.  It is by intentional and appropriate design, the most difficult to access.  This is good.  This account has over $120,000 in it as of the end of November. 

Figure 1:  Resources Potentially Available to Hilltop

Next we have money that has either been designated for specific purposes by the donor or the church (shown in blue on the chart in figure 1).  Donor designated is more restrictive in what we may or may not do with those resources.  Money by a donor for a new sound system is restricted.  Money designated by the church for a new sound system is not.  This is also good.  This account has over $60,000 in it as of the end of November.  Various building accounts, mission resources, and funds generated for both choir robes and youth make up the vast majority of these resources.
Finally, we have those resources that provide us the banking fluidity to conduct monthly business (shown in red on the chart in figure 1).  Frankly it was the $30,000 drop in this account between January, 2012 and May, 2013 that prompted us to set in motion a change in authorized spending and our more active discussion of church finances.  This account has rebounded.  This is also good.  This account has over $47,000 in it as of the end of November and that is +$13,000 over where we were in May.
We have over $220,000 to help us finance the church.  It is not all liquid.  It is not all disposable at a moment’s notice.  But we are in a better place than we were in May.
Our spending for 2014 will be based on our approved budget which decreases proposed budgetary spending by right at $40,000.

Figure 2:  Congregational Giving

Figure 2 represents monthly cash flow by the congregation to support the operations of the church.  Blue was 2012 and red is 2013.  This is not choir robe, building designated or a pass-through heading to Denver, Salt Lake or Nashville. It is what comes in from the congregation to support the operations of the church.  As I write this, we need for a little over $35,000 to come in for December to allow us to exceed last year for December.  December is a five-Sunday month and that usually helps a little. 

Figure 3:  Some Thoughts

Figure 3 is a collection of thoughts.  It does extend a request to those who plan on catching up by December 31st for IRS purposes.  This last Sunday past is basically our probable last collection opportunity for that.  We count and deposit once a week.   The real point newsletter point here is the Capital Campaign for the Sound System.  We want to get this in time to install and work out the newness by Easter.  If you were here for the December 8th Community Event, you heard the board issues in our welcome and initial invocations.  We cannot fix this too soon.  That said, resources for the Sound System must be from extra mile giving and not a diversion of operational resources.
We have in the last few weeks made decisions to resume the payment of our “apportionment” to the Conference.  On another day I will write an article on what that is but I do ask that you trust it is a good investment in the ministries of the United Methodist Church.  Additionally, we shared nearly $6,500 with others beyond our walls.  These include but are not limited to:  Crossroads, United Methodist Committee on Relief, Salt Lake Rescue Mission, the Utah-Western Colorado Committee on Native American Ministries.  Finally, half of our Christmas Eve offering went to Imagine No Malaria.  We are well on the way to making our $10,000 goal here, standing at $9,000+ on December 30, 2013.  In fact, in this area, we are the best UM Church in Utah.
Overall, I am optimistic, cautiously so, but optimistic nonetheless about our finances.  We are managing our spending more consistent with our real income.  I do continue to believe that we are under resourcing the building and long term, we need to be more diligent in designating resources away from operations into infrastructure sustainment.  We will get there.
Selah, Pastor Dennis

Friday, November 01, 2013

November Pastor Musings

Dear ones:

We live in a world of constant sensory bombardment.  Sights and sounds of the world around us, wash over us and, frankly, at times, we are numb to them.  Unsettling news is broadcast on the radio or television or on the home page of our browser and we spin a cocoon around ourselves and sleep insulated from what is going on around us.  At least, that happens to me anyway. 

Then along comes Isaiah.  The status quo is being ripped apart, barbarians are at the gate.  But in the midst of that invasion, God provides words of assurance to the chosen people.  For example in Isaiah 43: 19, the prophet reports that God prophetically proclaims:  “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.  

Starting with November 17th, for five out of six Sundays in November and December, my primary source text will be Isaiah

One of those Sundays I will use the following text from Isaiah 65:17 – 18:  “For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.  But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight” to speak to the new creation going on at Hilltop. 

Our worship experience has a different look and feel.  I see that as part of the new creation described prophetically in Isaiah.
The way we do our budgeting and income assessment is going to change.  I see that as part of the new creation described prophetically in Isaiah.
We have new leaders getting ready to emerge into their new leadership roles for 2014.  I see that as part of the new creation described prophetically in Isaiah.

God’s prophetic words were intended to pull the chosen people out of their own sensory bombardment of conquest and barbarians and see the new that was going on in front of them – and a new perception about a new reality was being invited.  That invitation is just as true today. 

God’s reminder is that in the newness, the New Jerusalem is to be a “joy” and a “delight.”  I confess, that sometimes, change and newness is not universally seen as “joy” or a “delight.”  Perspective matters.  I pray that we can see the new with a joyful, delightful perspective.  The past and future both matter.  It is my view that the historical Bingham Canyon, Midvale and Hilltop epic narrative frames our theological discourse about the future. 

I am proud to be the pastor of a church that has so readily embraced the concept of change grounded in the historical narrative. 

Selah, Pastor Dennis

Sunday, October 20, 2013

January 2014 Sermon Series Thoughts

Adam Hamilton is the lead pastor at Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas. 

Hamilton suggests that we use the December time frame to advertise a January sermon series that specifically is designed to speak to the unchurched who show up at Christmas Eve and intentionally invite them back.  Advertise it all of December, but in particular, on Christmas Eve night. 

The idea is evangelism. 

Here are some ideas …

  • Reading the Bible for all the Wrong Reasons.  Would be based on a book by Russell Pregeant.  Chapter titles map the route: “Neither Fact Book nor Catechism,” “Neither Science nor Anti-Science,” “Neither Crystal Ball Nor Horror Show,” “Neither Rigid Rules Nor Billy Club.”   My guess is I would take four or so of those chapter titles and use them as grist for a sermon for that week.  
  • Good and Bad Ways to Think about Religion and Politics.  Too soon?  Might spend a few weeks getting to it but I expect it would end up roughly here from a review in First Things:  “Benne proposes an alternative to separationism .... critical engagement. He derives from the central claims of Christianity about the nature of God, creation, salvation, and man several politically relevant principles and explains how those principles may be applied given the historical, political, national, and social situations in which an ecclesial [church] community may find itself.”

Hamilton himself has offered the following ideas.  I think they are “good” … would put a Hilltop/Shaw/Utah (as appropriate) slant to them.  Here are some he has “done” and the link is provided if you want to hear a few.  My guess is you can get the idea of where he went from the title.  Again, I would not preach HIS sermon … but … it would be part of the material I would use to prepare.  

  • Love, Sex, & Marriage ( 2012 down at the bottom, I would do only four of them, not all 7, and even then, modify a lot)
  • Conversations with an Atheist ( 2007 down at the bottom … like with LS&M, would look at and pick 4 ideas, modify) 
  • Where Science and Religion Meet ( 2005 down at the bottom … like LS&M, and CWaA …. )
  • When Christians Get it Wrong ( – 2009 down at the bottom … like …)
  • Dave Ramsey also offers some ideas.  Life. Money. Hope ( w/Dave Ramsey is a reference but I am sure it is the Dave Ramsey 101 kind of stuff).  Hamilton also has some $$ oriented thoughts that have a Ramsey flavor to them. 
One I think is also “good” or relevant is a series on Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend. 

Think – ‘if I were curious about what “the church” might have to say about my life and the life of my family, do any of these “excite” you?
Do you have any other ideas that can be unpacked for four weeks (like we did last year with forgiveness)? 

Give me your thoughts please by next Wednesday or so.  I need to start getting some thoughts down so we can plan musically as well as other worship elements.

Posts in comments please your most intriguing/possibly interesting, your 2nd most interesting/intriguing and your 3rd most.  I will “score them 5/3/1.  Here are the eight I mentioned.

1.     Reading the Bible for all the Wrong Reasons. 
2.     Good and Bad Ways to Think about Religion and Politics. 
3.     Love, Sex, & Marriage
4.     Conversations with an Atheist
5.     Where Science and Religion Meet
6.     When Christians Get it Wrong
7.     Life. Money. Hope
8.     Boundaries.

February will be a look at black music and the theology/ideas contained w/in them.

March is transfiguration Sunday and then we start our Lenten journey.  Easter is late this year.  That will mean Pentecost will alsos be later than usual.  

Might come back to this fishing idea post Easter … if you have an idea or three for that, let me know. 

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Abundance of the Heart, 2013

Hello Friends of Family Promise,

You are personally invited to the “Abundance of the Heart, 2013" a benefit for homeless families, October 25th, 2013, Friday, 8a-9a, at the Little America Hotel (details below and attached). The event is free to attend and all are welcome. To rsvp, please contact Tony Milner at 801-961-8622,,

This event is a time for us to celebrate the positive and life-altering successes of Family Promise, but more importantly, it is a time to spread awareness and highlight the crisis of family homelessness right here in Salt Lake.

This year, we are honored to have as our Keynote Speaker, Stacey Bess, local author of "Nobody Don't Love Nobody, Lessons on Love from a School with No Name," a teacher's account of educating homeless students; adapted into the 2011 Hallmark Hall of Fame movie, "Beyond the Blackboard.”

(A special thank you to our Event Sponsors: The American Express Center for Community Development, Wells Fargo, and Thrivent Financial for Lutherans, Salt Lake Chapter.)

Your attendance and support will truly make a positive difference in the life of a homeless child. We hope to see you there.
Also, at the event we will be celebrating “Family Promise Week!” Family Promise - Salt Lake, an Affiliate of Family Promise National, is proud to be part of a nationwide effort to help homeless families regain their stability in housing - and in life. 2013 marks Family Promise National's 25th Anniversary of serving homeless families across the country, and the week of October 20th - 27th, 2013, has been designated "Family Promise Week." Since 1988, Family Promise National has brought together over 6,000 congregations and 160,000 volunteers to assist more than 500,000 homeless men, women and children with shelter, case management, housing and other supportive services.

Posted by Pastor Dennis on behalf of
Tony Milner, Executive Director
Family Promise - Salt Lake
wk 801-961-8622

Getting Smart

We sometimes think of planning and visioning as a secular enterprise.  If we do indeed “sometimes think” this, we could be be missing a key theme of scripture.  For example, scripture gives us:

  • Proverbs 29: 18a (King James Version) “Where there is no vision, the people perish.…”
  • Proverbs 21:5 (English Standard Version) “The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to poverty.”
  • Habakkuk 2:2-3 (English Standard Version) “And the Lord answered me: ‘Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it. For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.’”

That is a lot of wisdom from our ancient words.  They tell us that we need to plan but at the same time; we need to exercise patience and self-control in this planning. 
We are asking the leadership of your church to generate planning goals by November.  We are asking for these goals to be SMART.  SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timely.
I pray we are casting a compelling vision for the church in our growth within the framework of worship, discipleship, ministry to children, youth and their families, and our missional activity to the world around us. 
I pray the compelling vision we are casting will produce abundance, the type of abundance Jesus is speaking of in John 10:10 when he reminds the disciples he has come to give them life in abundance.  Abundance – abundance of fruitfulness for God’s kingdom; abundance of Holy Spirit qualities; abundance of discipleship.
I pray the abundant, compelling vision will be plain and allow us to run towards God’s transformative vision for His creation. 
I pray we can be patient, and certainly prayerful, in our development of that vision for Hilltop. 
I am proud to be the Pastor of this church:  A church that has a SMART vision of making an impact on the lives of God’s people. 
Selah, Pastor Dennis

This blog is my October newsletter article for Hilltop.  

Smart Creating

In my theme article of the newsletter I write:  “I am proud to be the Pastor of this church: A church that has a SMART vision of making an impact on the lives of God’s people.”  I want this blog to focus on how we might go about creating SMART Goals. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Timely.

Specific: A specific goal is much more likely to be accomplished than a general goal. Some questions to ask while evaluating a goal are: What should be accomplished? Why should it be accomplished? When and how will it be accomplished?

Specific goals show exactly what, when, and how much is expected. This means spelling out the details of the goal from start to finish. Keep in mind that simple goals are better. The easier it is to understand, the easier it will be to achieve.

MeasurableMeasurable goals are quantifiable. Establish a certain set of criteria for measuring progress toward accomplishing each goal that is set. Questions like the following can help identify if a goal is measurable: How much? How many? How will I know the result has been achieved?

Is there something observable that can be measured? When progress is measured, it is easier to stay on track, reach target dates, and achieve success.

Achievable:  For a goal to be achievable key people must possess the skills and have access to the resources necessary to accomplish the goal. Achievable goals should include flexible objectives and tasks to allow for changes in the church. Good questions to ask to establish whether a goal is achievable are: Is the desired result of the goal attainable by the team or the church? Do we need training individually or as a team early in the year to help achieve this goal? How challenging is this goal? How much direct control does the team or individual have over the goal? 

Keep in mind goals that are too high or too low are meaningless. Goals should be realistic and attainable; they should be challenging, but not so difficult that they result in discouragement. Goals should also not be so easy that they become routine and boring. To stretch is good, to break is not. Setting goals together within the team or the church will help ensure that the goals are achievable.

Relevant: Goals should be relevant to the church’s vision and mission, the committees’ specific function in the organization, and daily tasks. Think about this question when determining a goal’s relevance: How will the goal impact committee performance as well as the performance of the church?

Goals should also be relevant personally; a goal should represent something the team member is both willing and able to work toward.

Timely:  Setting a realistic time frame to accomplish a goal will result in continued progress towards achieving the goal. I want us to focus on goals for 2014 this time around with the understanding that those goals should support our Hilltop 2020 Vision. Goals without time frames will often be pushed aside by the day-to-day time wasters that are a part of most organizations. It is easy to forget about a goal when there is no deadline for completion. Meeting a deadline helps keep goals properly prioritized. It also creates a sense of urgency that will help motivate one to complete the tasks necessary to reach the goal. For goals with many steps or action plans, it is helpful to break down the goal into manageable stages. Work out a time frame for the accomplishment of each stage and add in time for unexpected delays. The deadline will be the date by which all stages are complete.

Here are a few examples of some SMART goals I am thinking are good for me. See how these might work for you within your leadership responsibility.

  • In order to improve the annual average worship attendance at Hilltop I will ensure all families who do not attend three weeks in a row, six weeks in a row and nine weeks in a row are contacted by me through email/phone call, at three weeks handwritten note at six weeks, and finally a personal visit at nine weeks so as to contribute to the raising of our average by at least 10 percent by the end of 2014.
  • In order to raise congregational giving at Hilltop I will monthly review congregational giving and report on our achievement as a direct result of that review so as to contribute to the raising of our congregational giving by an average of $5,000 a month for 2014.
  • In order to celebrate the impact of time and talent given to Hilltop I will recognize parishioners for their service by at least ten handwritten notes and a leadership coin per month so as to recognize volunteerism with the desired impact of raising overall volunteerism at the church by at least 10 percent for 2014.

These are examples, and I will work with key leaders in our church to determine if they are SMART goals for me. How might setting a SMART goal or two for yourself, independent of your participation in a committee improve our life at Hilltop?

Selah, Pastor Dennis

I harvested and edited material from the internet to create most of this article.  

Monday, October 07, 2013

Hilltop Stewardship

I spoke to the congregation in June about our finances. Here is where we are now in comparison with where we were, by month, in 2012.  

Hilltop Monthly Congregational Giving
2012 and 2013 to dat
The key point about the above chart is that for May through September for 2013 we are ahead of all the same months in 2012.

When I mentioned this on October 6th during worship Roberta said "Praise God!"

I agree with Roberta and I also compliment the congregation for stepping forward and up and addressing this element of our Stewardship.

There is a lot to celebrate in this chart.

Our plans for 2014 are still in development but over 75% of our income comes to us from members of the church.  About 25% comes to us through Hilltop Christian School, the two Cell Towers, the Best Property and our Mother's Morning Out.  Please note that Mother's Morning Out posts a positive balance to our ledgers.

This next chart tells the story of congregational giving with a look at the last twelve months at each column on the chart.  For example, when it shows January, 2012 it shows the giving for the last eleven months of 2011 and the first month of 2012.  That logic is repeated for each month of 2012 and 2013.  The month in question plus the last eleven months before that.  It has a way of showing us cumulatively how we have done for the last year.

Congregational Giving Since December, 2011
Shown as a Moving Total of the last 12 Months
I show December in 2011 and 2012 in red only to cause it to be clear.  Those two months represent the end of year position for congregation giving for 2011 and 2012 respectively.  We lost about $30,000 in giving in 2012.  I think the low of January, 2013 was a function in part of the departure of several key financial stewards of the church for various reasons.

I see the gradual upward trend since January as a return to more stable finances.

As I mentioned during worship on Sunday, I pray that when people submit their pledges for 2014, they also consider that adding an element of their time and talent to their treasure invested in Hilltop.  While there are many opportunities to serve, I specifically addressed three:

  • Financial Secretaries (more than one more), 
  • Assistance with the Management of Worship and 
  • Children's Ministry.  

That said, there are many chances to serve.  I invite your careful exploration of your pledge opportunity that you received in the September meetings or will receive through the mail or in your mail box in the Fellowship Hall.

We hope to place our commitments to the church on the altar during worship on October 27th.

Pastor Dennis


Saturday, September 07, 2013

Kickoff Sunday!

Kickoff Sunday!  We circulated a handout for our Christian Education Offerings a few weeks ago.  This is a reprise of that theme.  I am showing below the adult offerings.  The children and youth will also kick-off in their usual locations. 

The Sunday classes all start at 9:00 AM, Sunday, September 8th.  The others are available Monday through Thursday.  Notice the “Invitation to the Old Testament” Class on Thursday night concurrent with Choir, a wonderful opportunity for spouses of choir members.  Child Care provided at that class. 

Sunday Morning

Christian Builders in FH 305    Led by John Davison & Bryan Hendrickson

The early Christian Church in Jerusalem by 40 AD had grown to several thousand members (almost all Jews). Sixty years later Christianity had hundreds of thousands of converts, and 999 out of every thousand were Gentiles. We will discover how this happened in our study of Paul's three missionary journeys.    

Transitions to Christianity in North Room                 Led by Bill Strickland

Transition To Christianity is designed for those whose spiritual background (formal or non-existent) is not mainline Christianity, and who wish to step into the world of Jesus Christ as we understand it today.  We study such things as Faith, Grace, Salvation and many others.  Our current text is “The Gospel According to the Apostles”, which is exactly as Jesus taught it.  We apply our learning's to daily life and endeavor to avoid heavy duty scholastic theology. 

Introduction to the Bible in Upper Room    Led by Pastor Dennis Shaw

The human emotions expressed in Psalms rise to peaks of joy and descend into valleys of despair. In the Psalms, the promise of the reign of God meets the historical experience of God's people. Faith in God's faithfulness collides with human experiences of pain and suffering, enslavement, oppression, and exile. God's people struggle to make sense of who God is and who they are, and in so doing they have composed a collection of moving testimonies of grace, glory, sorrow, and beauty unmatched in sacred literature. For students of the Psalms today, this study offers greater understanding of how these ancient texts of praise, lament, worship, and prayer can still speak to us and for us. Cost of materials will be $20 per attendee.*

Wesley Class in the Wesley Room    Led by Barry Welliver

Surprise! The Wesley class will begin a study on John Wesley. We'll review Christian history before and after the Reformation and discuss various social, political and religious influences on the formation of Methodism. The class will also explore the influence of the Wesley heritage as well as the other contemporary movements. Finally, we'll study the four foundations taught by John Wesley - Scripture, Tradition, Experience, and Reason. If you'd like to understand or revisit some of the roots of Methodism, this is the class for you! 

*Scholarships are available. 

Weekday Classes

Introduction to the Bible

The human emotions expressed in Psalms rise to peaks of joy and descend into valleys of despair. In the Psalms, the promise of the reign of God meets the historical experience of God's people. Faith in God's faithfulness collides with human experiences of pain and suffering, enslavement, oppression, and exile. God's people struggle to make sense of who God is and who they are, and in so doing they have composed a collection of moving testimonies of grace, glory, sorrow, and beauty unmatched in sacred literature. For students of the Psalms today, this study offers greater understanding of how these ancient texts of praise, lament, worship, and prayer can still speak to us and for us. Cost of materials will be $20 per attendee.*

Mondays at 7:00 pm in the Upper Room

Led by Pastor Dennis

Women’s Bible Study

New Women’s Bible Study begins Tuesday, Sept 10 at 1:30. It will be a 7 week DVD study  titled  Jonah: Navigating a Life Interrupted. What do we do when God interrupts our lives? Many times, like Jonah, we run! This study redefines interruption and shows how it can be God's invitation to do something beyond our wildest dreams. The workbook is $12.* To order a book, contact Connee Schoon at 801-942-7675.

Tuesdays 1:30 to 3:30 pm in the Wesley Room

Led by Connee Schoon


Diggin’ the Bible

We watch educational DVDs from the Biblical Archaeology Society, PBS, Nova, etc. presented by Biblical Scholars and Archaeologists from Colleges and Universities around the world. We have covered topics ranging from the Dead Sea Scrolls, Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus, Honor and Shame, The Evil Eye, Text Detectives, Who Really Wrote the Bible, How Archaeology Illuminates the Bible, just to name a few. There are no books to purchase or studying to do, this is a way to learn and discuss the topic presented that day.

Wednesdays at 1:00 pm in the Wesley Room

Led by Claudia Bilbao

Invitation To the Old Testament

Explore the Old Testament’s story of God and God's calling of the people of Israel through the many “voices” of the Biblical text. Hear the magnificence of a creation hymn, discover the law and wisdom teachings, listen to the warning of the prophets and explore the poetry of the Song of Solomon. Study book is $15.*  Child care provided. 

Thursdays  7:30-9:30 pm in FH 305

Led by Marilyn White-Shaw and Jason Wilden



*Scholarships are available. 


Thursday, July 25, 2013

A Prayerful Look at Stewardship

Let us pray: O provider God, who provides us life abundant, let us be abundant in our fruitfulness and in our stewardship of your world. May we see your abundant Grace in our daily lives and respond accordingly with love and joy. Amen.
I once confessed to a Seminary President that I didn't like to talk about money. He looked me in the eye and said, “You need to get over that.” I am getting over that here at Hilltop. I wrote a letter to you in June, spoke to the issues of finances that same week during worship, and devoted a portion of my July 21st sermon to the idea of where we were as it related to stewardship.  (The congregation appears to have responded quite favorably here with June and July of 2013, both being above where we were in the same months of 2012.)
Stewardship is more than treasure. I invite us to consider our abundance in terms of time, talent and treasure.
We are prayerfully approaching our stewardship campaign for 2014 differently than in the more recent past. Our campaign will be focused in small gatherings starting in September. Over food we will discuss where our abundance comes from, our vision for the future, and how we see time, talent, and treasure building that bridge to that future. I invite you to pray now for that process and its fruitfulness.
The fundamental question we have to ask ourselves in this exercise is: “Do we focus our stewardship on the church that is, or on the church we prayerfully vision ourselves to be?” I pray the answer to that is obvious. That said:
The expenses built into our 2014 Budget will be matched by a forecasted, historically derived, income.
We will not start 2014 with a “hope hole” in the budget.  We will be at the ready with programs, people expenses, and needed capital requirements if our faithfulness produces fruitfulness beyond the forecasted income.
Our Capital Campaign will be temporarily placed “on hold” until we first meet the operational needs of the church, and then we will reactivate the Capital Campaign as “extra mile giving” to accelerate the retirement of the debt.
We plan on six to seven presentations in September starting with the Church Council. This will be a combination of small groups as well as small gatherings. You will receive a letter inviting you to attend one of these in August. I prayerfully ask you to make your attendance at one of these a priority. You will be asked to come to the event prepared if at all possible to make a pledge of your time, talent and treasure that will be made evident through your prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness to God’s reign.
For now, my daily prayer is for Hilltop to spend the time in what remains of July and all of August, mentally preparing ourselves for an openness to God’s Holy Spirit swinging wide the doors of our hearts, minds and souls and allowing God’s Holy Breath to inspire us to the fruitfulness and abundant life to which God invites us.

Amen, Pastor Dennis

Monday, July 01, 2013


Psalm 19:14 -- May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer (NRSV).

Jesus was a superb communicator. He made clear difficult theological points. He then told stories to illustrate those points. He simplified the complex while still challenging his disciples to strive harder to live out a different understanding of what it means to be in relationship with God and each other. His words were so meaningful that his disciples collected these encounters into a source document in order to remind each other of what he had said. They came to realize that the date of his return might not be as immanent as they had originally surmised. Jesus was a superb communicator but at times, the when of his vision was left unspoken or clearly rejected by him as a critical element of the narrative. While not “red letter” words, his mission statement of making disciples might have included the caveat to ‘Be about your task and don’t worry about when I’ll be back.’ Schwarzenegger said he’d “be back” in Terminator and meant almost immediately, but Jesus was more vague, in fact rebuking attempts to pin him down. 

So when Jesus didn’t get right back, the early church returned to his communications, his words, to understand their tasks. Early in the church’s history, within the lifetime of the apostles, sermons were developed from “the memoirs of the apostles.” These “memoirs” telling “the Good News” of Jesus provided the structural outline as well as the narrative for how Jesus’ vision of a new and different reign of God would come into being. I think it is important that many of the memories in those memoirs were generated from smaller, personal small-group encounters. Yes, we are told where periodically Jesus preached sermons to a large gathering, but are also told about times where he periodically retreated into smaller, more intimate, means of discourse. Examples of the more intimate style might include the closing chapters of John where Jesus experiences the frightened disciples in a room the evening of Easter and later where he restores Peter to leadership of the flock by exhorting Peter three times to take care of Jesus flock.  Those were small gatherings
Jesus was a superb communicator: his words engage and challenge us today.
Mary Kavila spoke to me a few weeks back about how we were using Sunday worship as a means of shaping the future Hilltop narrative. She is spot on. Absolutely, there is vision-casting happening on Sunday. I hope all who lead at Hilltop will take advantage of the podcasts to catch up on what they potentially missed as they, appropriately, sustain their lives with time away from our enclave.  
Jesus communicated in large gatherings.  Jesus also communicated in and to small groups. We regularly reflect on what Jesus said: the importance and what he specifically said. Can we shift the paradigm a little? It is the nature of how Jesus communicated that I place before us for community reflection and potential discernment. His communication to the small group that were his disciples had a profound impact on the world. 
Vision-casting is happening outside of worship. It is going on in one-on-one meetings and group meetings. Here I invite all who are part of this Body of Christ to be part of the telling, and retelling, of the vision story. John Kotter remarks in Leading Change that we should use every opportunity that we gather to tell the corporate story of success and change. One of the oldest books in the New Testament is Paul’s letter to the church in Thessalonica (now Greece).  
1 Thessalonians 5:11Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing (NRSV).

I see our vision-casting having elements of encouragement and building up the Body of Christ, helping us in our being one with God, Christ, each other and who we are called to be as individuals. At the same time, it is also about “getting the word out.”  All of us should endeavor to share with others the communication we receive. When we gather at church council those thoughts need to be carried back to the small groups and communities represented there. From there, the vision needs to be communicated to those who are part of Hilltop but have no small group in which they actively participate. The twelve disciples, restored to twelve almost immediately before Pentecost (Acts 1), told and re-told “The Good News” having an impact on their world in their time, and beyond.  
Jesus was a superb communicator. I pray that all of us who call ourselves his followers will endeavor to communicate as part of our roles as his followers.
Ephesians 4:25Therefore each of you must … speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body (NRSV).

Proverbs 16:24Pleasant words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones (NRSV).

Pastor Dennis

Thursday, June 06, 2013

June, 2013 Survey -- Background

In March, 2012 Hilltop United Methodist Church made a bold decision to move from three Sunday worship services to a single service.  That decision was implemented on the first Sunday in May, 2012.  It was seen as an integral element fostering unity, where there was disunity:  bring us together.
While worship has been a highly visible element of the strategy, unity does not solely rest on one item.  We have spoken of the unity objective as a three legged stool.  The unity objective has three legs and they are:  Worship, Christian Education and Fellowship. 

One of the stated commitments within the unity decision was to examine where we were in December, 2012.  That commitment was, and is, in the mind of your key leaders.  Regular reporting within your Church Council has dealt with this topic as well as reporting in the newsletter and occasional comments from the pulpit. 

A template for how we might move to a second service was developed and presented to church council which discussed the recommendations and agreed to place before the congregation a survey instrument designed to help Hilltop leaders understand what we know about Hilltop as it relates to worship and education. 

Said another way:  The objective of the June survey will be to help your leaders develop a better appreciation of what we know about two elements of the unity strategy:  worship and education.
While the core purpose will be to help us better know what the congregation is thinking, it does not mean that every opinion or option presented in this survey will be incorporated into a future “New Hilltop”.  Some thoughts, at least in the short term, might be mutually exclusively i.e. cannot do both. 

We invite all at Hilltop to ask how a particular element of ministry leads to an incremental expansion of the Kingdom.  Pastor Dennis has quoted the church leadership consultant Reggie McNeal:  “God’s church doesn’t have a mission; God’s mission has a church.”  We believe that kind of thinking changes the nature of the discussion. 

If you need more background than this article, be alert to a brief podcast from Pastor Dennis that he will develop and circulate via an eNote before the survey is released. 

It is our plan to have the survey ready for use on the internet or manual input by June 8th.  Be alert to the communication vehicles where we let you know how and where to access the instrument.  

(This article appeared in the Hilltop Newsletter for June).  

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Seek, Lose, Keep and Throw Away

 (Pastor's Musings for the June Hilltop Newsletter)
Antiquity speaks to us through Ecclesiastes 3:1-11 with the following words:
For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;  a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;  a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;  a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to throw away;  a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;  a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.
For me, these ancient words are part of my youth, part of my own passage from youth to young adult. When I read these words, my memory starts creating sounds in which I mentally hear the 1960s American answer to the British Invasion, The Byrds, reminding us in the Folk-Rock classic “Turn, Turn, Turn” that within life there is a time for all things. This is a true “golden oldie” drawn from ancient scripture. 
The book of Ecclesiastes is part of the Hebrew wisdom tradition. The title Ecclesiastes echoes from the Greek with sounds like “preacher,” “assembly” or “those who have been called out.” The root word in Greek is the same word that gives us the word “church.” For my purposes here, I want to focus on the translation “those who have been called out.” Within a community, those who have been called out pass along their wisdom from one generation to the next.  
On the first Sunday in June as we recognize our seniors, we will focus on graduation as a passage from one element of life and maturity to another. (I confess, the first time I heard the term “senior recognition” Sunday, I thought it was recognition of our older members and wondered what age qualified a person to be a “senior.” You have permission to chuckle at my lack of wisdom.)
Ecclesiastes reminds us that there is “a time to seek, and a time to lose.” I suppose that many of the seniors are ready “to seek” an adventure, while many of the parents are reluctant to “to lose” their senior.
Ecclesiastes also reminds us that there is “a time to keep, and a time to throw away.”
I offer that part of the passage of life includes knowing what “to keep” and what “to throw away.”  In fact, it is more than what, it is both what and when.  What do we keep and throw away?  When do we keep it and throw it away? 
What we keep and knowing why we keep it is foundational to understanding the future being created before us. Our ability to accurately see the present and vision the future is clouded by parts of our past that should not be kept, but rather discarded. All of us, to varying degrees, keep parts of the past that are better thrown away. This is a natural part of the human condition. Naming what needs to be kept and what needs to be discarded is important in creating our future. It’s what the Byrds tell us is necessary: to “Turn, Turn, Turn” in their paraphrasing of Ecclesiastes.
We should note that in the Hebrew Bible “to turn” includes the idea of repenting. In short, it is about looking at who we are, and turning the very direction of our lives.
Our individual and corporate goals are to understand who we are in order to allow us to connect with our best possible future and then shift our focus so that we can make that future a reality.
That is a passage worthy of the name.
Selah, Pastor Dennis

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Team and Hilltop

And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit.  —2 Corinthians 3.18
Being a member of a “team” has been part of the fabric of my life for a long time. I started my musical life when I was about twelve.  Most of that early time was spent in a band (or “wind ensemble”) driven by my age, grade or ability. Choirs became a part of my life in my early twenties and still are a part of my life. I started military training at eighteen, and before I was twenty-three was in the U.S. Army. We used to say in the Army “there is no I in team, there is no me in Army.” Who I am draws strength from a life as part of teams.

My sermon of April 21st was about recognizing that there is an organic connection that invites everyone to be part of the fruitfulness of the vine. At its core, it was a sermon focused on unity of purpose and teamwork. Our purpose is to be fruitful in our faithfulness. 

The theme article on passages this month is at its core about teamwork. It uses material from Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth (reintroduced at the start of this article) where Paul is laying out for the church an opportunity to live out their ministry in a new covenantal relationship drawn from the gifts of the Spirit.  Paul says to choose life, Spirit, righteousness, and a permanency that is drawn from the Light of Christ.  That might sound like individual tasks, and to be sure, there is an element of individualism in how those are applied but Paul’s pronouns throughout the material surrounding the quoted passage are uniformly plural.

Paul is saying that being in relationship with Jesus leads to profound and deep transformation in community.

We are approaching a number of special and potentially transformational days. (You might wonder what would happen if we treated them as days about passage, as days about transformation, within a framework of team?) Might we look at these days of passage as a framework for transformation as a team? 

Mother’s Day is for many a remembrance of transformation from couple to family. That is transformative. For many, parenting moves them to a different understanding of the importance of community on the idea of nurture.
Pentecost this year will in part be about confirmation, where individuals will move from being an individual to being part of a larger community.  For many, that movement is transformative.  We fully intend to use the diversity of the community as a reminder that while we may be different, we do actually understand each other.
Memorial Day weekend will in part be about remembering where individuals gave up their lives for the larger community. For many, the sacrificial element of that movement is sacred, leading to transformation. For many, the depth of that sacrifice leads to a different understanding of community
Senior Recognition Day will in part be about celebrating a change in a key element of their individual stories. Our music and our proclamation will be about blessing the transition and simultaneously acknowledging that the quest for adventure may take some away from this community. The community supports that adventure, and will proclaim that we are praying for them and will welcome them back when their adventure is complete.  That element of the story may require a different understanding of community.
There will be other passage days this summer, fall and winter.  What might they say to you about transformation?

I am not the same person I was four hundred sermons ago.  I see the world differently.  I see that we are consistently being invited to see that all of us are, hopefully and prayerfully, “being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.”  It is more than a little scary.  It is also more than a little biblical.
To be clear, I am not advocating blind assimilation into an unthinking hive.  There is tremendous power in the varied intellects of Hilltop, intellects created in different places by different experiences that draw strength from diverse traditions.  We are richly blessed with high quality leaders.  I am advocating reflection on the idea of community.

Let this coming time of multiple passages invite you to go deeper into your faith and explore what it means to be part of this community, to be part of the oneness of Christ, to be part of the “true vine” that is Jesus Christ. 
Selah, Pastor Dennis