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