Wednesday, July 19, 2017

What are our Assumptions?

Assumptions matter.  They matter a great deal.
There was a story I heard years ago about a physicist, a chemist, and an economist who were stranded on a desert island with no tools and a can of food. The physicist and the chemist each devised an ingenious mechanism for getting the can open; the economist merely said, "Assume a can opener"!

David Watson in a recent blog comes to this idea by a different route.  He notes when he was obtaining his PhD part of what he learned in intellectual argumentation included the art of deconstruction:  “The most common and effective route [to deconstruct an argument] is to attack the assumptions upon which an argument rests. Once you destabilize its foundational assumptions, the argument itself tends to fall apart.”

For years, I was taught the way to examine any critical issue was to be sure you knew what the issue was (a clear definition of the problem), what do we know with certainty (the facts) and what do we have to factor into the calculus for which we are less certain (the assumptions).  Almost every broken mathematical model I was exposed to broke down because of the assumptions.  They were generally flawed.
Here is an assumption – my first - I make about #nextmethodism:  it will have elements of the past joined in the present in anticipation of what God is going to do in the future.
Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.  We call it “the mystery of faith” for a reason.  But it is our faithful assumption.  And as we faithfully operate, those assumptions bear up under a rigorous deconstruction, as they have for two thousand years. 

The late Robert Webber addresses this in terms of worship – worship is bringing together into the now, a remembrance of what God has already done in the past, with an anticipation of what God will do in the future.  Scholarly articles may talk about this in terms of anamnesis (remembrance) and prolepsis (anticipation).  We ritually reenact this through Holy Communion – God has acted in the past, remember it, and God isn’t finished, be in a state of anticipation.  We then take the “mystery” and we use past tense, present tense, and future tense verbs to help us see the past and the future in terms of our now.  And Christ IS risen, is the central thematic statement upon which all of the variations in the symphony that is the church are developed.
Doing so faithfully, then calls us to a place where we examine ourselves against the plumb line that is God’s ancient word and are we then being faithful to God’s call, rather than culture’s call.
Allow me to offer a second assumption that I think need to be clearly stated:  we are supposed to be surrounded, and we are surrounded not by an enemy but rather by opportunity.
C. S. Lewis writes in Mere Christianity:  “Enemy-occupied territory---that is what this world is. Christianity is the story of how the rightful king has landed, you might say landed in disguise, and is calling us to take part in a great campaign of sabotage.”  Major Dick Winters in the HBO Mini-Series Band of Brothers understood this clearly when told that he and his unit are about to be surrounded at Bastogne in December, 1944.  “We’re paratroopers lieutenant, we’re supposed to be surrounded.”
My proposed assumption is that we recognize that we are supposed to be surrounded and we are supposed to be offering a counter cultural message.  Yes, both the Lewis and Winters illustration might lead one to believe I see those as outside of the church as “the enemy”.  I do not.  I frankly see them as an opportunity.
But here is the key:  Kent Ingram of Colorado Springs First writes of us often waxing nostalgically for the time church was culturally normative.  What if that maybe that time of heightened numbers and cultural acceptance was really and truthfully Egypt or Babylon.  How is this for a news flash:  Nostalgia is a Golden Calf.  So much of what we have attempted to do over the last decade (at least) has been driven by a flawed assumption that what once was, can be again.  I hear it as we need to get back to Egypt as fast as we can, life is hard out here in this wilderness.  Making bricks without straw wasn’t really that bad, was it?  I say yes, it really was, and if we decide to worship that Golden Calf, we will continue to decline.
If we can agree on that 'surrounded by opportunity' assumption, and it was an operative assumption for 18th Century English Wesleyans, then we can effectively cast aside what the world, however that is defined, thinks of us as a cultural value.
Watson offers another very valid assumption:  People are spiritually hungry, too. The problem is that they just don’t know it ….What they’re hungry for is Jesus.”  At some point, stuff doesn’t fill that ‘hole in our souls.’  It has been my experience in my seventeen years in ministry that Watson is right – people are spiritually hungry.  Wesley understood that.  Jesus understood that.  I pray we understand it in our communitarian futures.
Our past has given us keys for our future – scripture, tradition, reason, and experience.  And let us be crystal clear, scripture is framed in part by tradition or we would be reading The Gospel of Thomas in our lectionary readings. 

I love serving this United Methodist Church.  I do so in tension over the fact what is United may become Untied.  That tension is driven by an assumed can opener.  There seems to be an unstated assumed can opener that many operate from as it relates to looking at #nextmethodism and that is that we can continue to do the things in the world that we are doing.  I hope that assumption is accurate.
Several years ago, I got used to watching news broadcasts from Liberia where the Ebola crisis was in full ravage mode.  Rarely, if ever, did the announcer make the point that the interview was being conducted outside of a hospital with a large cross and flame on it.  I watched with pride:  I knew.  We didn’t put those hospitals there to brag about it, we rather put those hospitals there because that was where the greatest need and our Grace filled hearts had a collision.  We answered that call.  Some assume a #nextmethodism can still do that.  I hope they are right.  Just as I am not sure the economist can opener can open any cans, I am not so sure that once untied, we can continue to provide hospitals in Africa beyond where the road runs out.  Among other things, that isn't my only assumed can opener.  
I heard a quote in the last few years that keeps resonating with me:  “Too often we listen in order to respond rather than to truly understand.”  I want to assume that in #nextmethodism, we will endeavor to truly understand.
Peace ..

Selah, Dennis  

Friday, June 09, 2017


Last night I was blessed to sit with people in pain following the pointless murder of two and the suicide of another. 

The Willow Creek LDS Stake, here in Sandy, Utah, hosted an hour of reflection and counseling following the murder/suicide near Brookwood Elementary School this past Tuesday. 

The speakers were diverse, and represented many points of view.  Mayor Tom Dolan and Police Chief Kevin Thacker spoke from the leadership of Sandy City.  Other speakers included voices from Canyons School District, the neighborhood itself, a social worker, and faith leaders.  The faith leaders were LDS, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian and non-denominational. 

There were some common themes. 
  • Grief is highly personal; it is not alike for any two people.  Not said, but I read an article yesterday that compared grief to snowflakes and fingerprints.  No two snowflakes or fingerprints are alike.  No grief situation is just like someone else’s.  Grief is highly personal. 
  • Be careful of bromides.  Trying to explain the unexplainable is risky.  Yes, we believe that there is a resurrection, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t emptiness in this world, at this time, due to this loss. 
The late Mr. Rogers, a Presbyterian pastor, was quoted.  He related that his mother responded to scary news by telling him, 'Look for the helpers.'  There were truly many helpers there on Tuesday afternoon, and they are still there.

Paul speaks in Romans about how through God, all things can work for good.  It doesn’t even start to mean that God made this event happen, but how do we draw from this senseless act, good?  That was the question of Father John from Saint Thomas More Roman Catholic Church, ‘what do we expect the outcome of this to be?’

Let me offer a few: 
  • Celebrate what we have, when we have it.  I have offered several times that the sudden passing of my brother prompted me to suggest to many the need to tell those you love, that you do indeed love them. 
  • Those in law enforcement and fire protection take these kinds of things very seriously.  They ask ‘what could we have done better?’  Here, I think nothing.  Three are dead, and it is possible that without very prompt action by those first responders, two more might have died.  When you see people in law enforcement, tell them, in your own words, you appreciate their sacrifice and service. 
  • Communities are important to how we are buoyed up in hard times.  The Anglican priest Jon Donne said that ‘no man is an island’ but how many of us try and turn ourselves into islands?
  • Get to forgiveness.  If we are not careful, lack of forgiveness can diminish our very souls.  It can draw energy from us in our anger.  But, encourage others to safely, for the angry and the innocent, get to forgiveness along their path in their timetable.  Just as grief can be like a snowflake or a fingerprint, getting to forgiveness is not a cookie cutter we can pull out and magically produce healing.  The more senseless, the longer and harder it will be.    
God did not cause these murders and suicide.  But God can help us in our grief and emptiness.  

Selah, Pastor Dennis

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Moving On

“I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”  Philippians 3:14 (ESV)

On May 28th, during my sermon on Galatians 3, I posited “Paul is operating in the tension between already and not yet, remembrance and anticipation, [or] apathetic and aspiration."
Already and not yet suggests that God has already done a lot and that God is “not yet” finished.
Weekly, Roberta and I use this idea of “remembrance and anticipation” to help us create for you meaningful, thought provoking, challenging worship.  The idea plays off that already, not yet idea found in Paul. God has done a lot already: remember that. There is more that God is going to do: be in a state of eager anticipation.
Finally, we are presented with apathetic and aspiration. You might have on May 28th when I spoke to that, wondered where I was going to go with that idea.  The answer is I didn’t develop it. I said it to introduce the idea for use later. Now is a good time to develop that idea.
I mentioned during the service that national historic words were at times aspirational, meaning that we should hear them and strive to make them be. I see a “not yet” or an “anticipation” element to the idea of aspiration. But when I plug into the computer looking for the opposite of aspiration, I get apathetic as an option.   Other words appeared, but I chose apathetic, or perhaps, it chose me.
Apathetic is shown to be an adjective, a word that modifies a noun. It means showing no interest, enthusiasm, or concern. Synonyms are: uninterested, indifferent, unconcerned, unmoved, uninvolved, or disinterested.
In the theme article for this newsletter (now on page 1), Leigh Anne Duff wrote:  “Are we challenging ourselves to graduate to a more mature spiritual level? This might be a good time to look back at what you’ve learned and then look forward to the next step in your Christian walk.” Those words are inspirational, invitational, and aspirational. They invite a reflection to invite interest, difference making, concern, movement, involvement, and interest.

I have loved my five years here at Hilltop.  Loved it. I have truly felt that my gifts, and the church’s needs were well linked, well suited. My assignment was stabilization and I have tried to honor that. At the same time, I regularly try and co-create with God in the community called Hilltop, restlessness.

I am urging restlessness, but I am not hoping or praying for restlessness rooted in nostalgia. Nostalgia is too often its own Golden Calf. I frankly think one of the things wrong in our secular and religious worlds is treating the past in such hallowed terms.
God has already done a lot through Midvale and Hilltop church.  More is yet to be done.

Looking at the past fondly with joyful remembrance is good. Our memory, for example, of the selfless service of the late Bill Tetrick is an important element of our past. At the same time, we need to be looking forward in anticipation to what God is yet to do with Hilltop. I never met Bill, but there is a positive restlessness with his widow Marilynn. I can’t imagine Bill would want us get “stuck” in nostalgia.
We aspire to be a place where all can belong, believe and become, but at times, aspiration is diminished by apathy.
Leigh Anne is ‘spot on’ in her article:  this might be a good time to ‘move on’ from the things that keep us locked into the already and remembrance and we thus forget to see the not yet with anticipation.
Apathy (understood to be synonymous with uninterested, indifferent, unconcerned, unmoved, uninvolved, or disinterested) needs to be replaced with aspiration:  both individually and in community.
I invite all at Hilltop to read, pray, study, and reflect on God’s call on your heart this summer.  I know for sure I am.
Selah, Pastor Dennis

Friday, March 31, 2017

Children's Ministry

Congregational Pledge 2 at Baptism of Children (from former Methodist Church) found on page 44 of United Methodist Hymnal (UMH):  With God’s help, we will so order our lives after the example of Christ that these children, surrounded by steadfast love, may be established in the faith, and confirmed and strengthened in the way that leads to life eternal.
Communion Confession UMH page 12:  We have failed to be an obedient church … Free us for joyful obedience. 
Sacramental Importance

Baptism and Communion are our two sacraments. Other denominations have more, but United Methodists, just has these two. They are important statements. Both have community implications.
In infant baptism, we pledge to “so order our lives after the example of Christ” to help confirm and strengthen children. During that ritual, I often remind the congregation that we are making a community commitment to this child.
Communion without confession should be rare. Confession isn’t to shame us, but to offer a thought or seven about the example of Christ and an acknowledgement that we are works in progress, inspired by Christ. The ritual includes the idea that through Christ we are forgiven.
Joyful Obedience

I want to write to you freeing some of you to respond in joyful obedience.
We need adult participation in our Children’s Ministry. As a community, we are not being obedient to our baptismal covenant. We are not, as a community, so ordering our lives to establish, confirm and strengthen our children. We are limping along here in our fulfillment of our sacramental responsibility, when this ought to be a core strength.
The current situation is not new. When we look over the minutes of children’s ministry back to 2004, variations on this theme are revealed: we need more, reliable, and not stop gap temporarily patched on volunteers.
I have had more than one volunteer in this area urge us, sometimes quite strongly, that every family who has a child in Children’s Ministry should be told it is an expectation that they help in this ministry.  I frankly have resisted that because I think every situation is different, and I traditionally resist one size fits all, cookie cutter solutions. I know there are powerful volunteers in the areas of church music and scouting for example who have children in our Children’s Ministry program. Do I have to tell them to sacrifice their choice of using their spiritual gifts in music or scouting to devote time on Sunday morning? That is just one clear example; others abound. The covenant we entered into through baptism doesn’t say the parents will do this, it says the church will do this.  We sing:  “I am the church, you are the church, we are the church together.”  The baptismal banners we hang are to remind us of our community commitment, not solely the parents commitment.  

Children's Church

We are declaring, briefly I hope, a pause in Children’s Church at the 10:30 service. This is not an arbitrary decision, but is in fact one reached only after much discussion, prayer, anguish, and many invitations to the congregation. We are mindful that there is potentially an impact on evangelism and worship attendance, but we needed to make the failure here a shared failure and to stop limping along without a coherent or clear strategy for fixing this. I said in my April Newsletter that I am a person of hope, and I am.  But I am also pragmatic: I think we need to fail, in order to build the elements of success.
I have instructed Caitlin Collins, your staff member leading in the area of Children’s Ministries, to receive volunteers into Children’s Ministries within the current structure, and to examine over the summer the very framework of how we provide this service. At this point, I do not wish to entertain good ideas while trying to address a fundamental shortfall in volunteers. I am prepared to believe that a different model might be beneficial in the long term, but no model is going to work without volunteers.

Selah, Pastor Dennis

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Seeing Beyond by Stepping Up

1st Corinthians 13: 11-13.   When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.  For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

The April theme scripture is 1st Corinthians 13: 12 (italicized above) in Paul’s great ode to loving each other like God loves.  What comes before and after our theme verse does matter.
The verse before verse 12 calls us to spiritual maturity.  The verse after reminds us of the three key spirituality words that bind us together:  faith, hope and love.  The dominant word of the trio is love. 

Spiritual Maturity

Your leadership in January and February took a bold, loving, approach in calling us to move to spiritual maturity.  Our spiritual maturity invites a redefined vocabulary in how we define our faithfulness at Hilltop.  We engaged in a short, but intense, campaign to ask the congregation to “Step-Up” for Hilltop to ‘see beyond’ ourselves into a mature, loving future.  We have redefined the vocabulary around how we talk about our church finances.
For too long, we have been reluctant to name an issue many knew was present:  We are under incomed.  We are now, in maturity I believe, willing to name that and speak to that reality.  We discussed and wrote about how we are the lowest per capita (attendance being our per capita unit) Anglo church with a full-time pastor in Utah.  We must do better here, and we got ourselves started.
I wish we could report that we got our $100,000 true objective.  We did not.  We came closer to $35,000 and about 50 families/individuals ‘stepped up’ here in faith, hope and love.  Thank you to those who stepped up.  We will, have to cut expenses, to make the numbers work, but not as much as we would have if we had not had these fifty sets of families and individuals “Step-Up.”  Again, thank you, and we are not finished here.  There is still much to do.
Faith, hope and love

I am a person of faith and thus, as a direct result of that faith, a person of hope.  Faith and hope are two sides of the same coin.  Hebrews 11: 1 phrases it far better than I:  “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”  We still “see” in a “dim mirror” but even in that “dim mirror,” I am a person of faith, and thus hope.  I am confident we are emerging into a place and time where we can see beyond the now, into a faithful, hopeful, and love filled beyond. 

Seeing Beyond

As Jesus journeyed from the Transfiguration Mountaintop to the Calvary hilltop, he was seeing beyond Calvary to Easter and the Empty Tomb.  Part of the message of Easter is getting unstuck from grieving over Good Friday and remembering the Empty Tomb.  We are resurrection people, ‘he is risen, he is risen indeed.’  To see beyond our current state, is to embrace the promise of Easter, and also the uncontrollable explosion of Pentecost. 

Pentecost is the birthday of the church.  On that day, fifty days after Easter, the nascent church was able to fully grasp the call to go out into ‘all’ the world and transform it.  The result was an explosion of growth.  How did those early and first Christians do it?  They did it in faith and hope, and they were propelled by the engine of God’s love fueled through the resurrection.  Yes, we are Easter people, but we are also Pentecost people, filled with God’s Holy Spirit and powerfully blown out into our world.  Following the Holy Spirit, we are propelled, almost involuntarily, through seeing beyond ourselves to serve God in our world.  We do it by recognizing maturity in God’s call and seizing the opportunity to make a difference, now.
We are called to make a difference now, through, our faith, sustained by our hope, and demonstrating and reflecting God’s love.  We must continue to “Step-Up” in order to accomplish this mature and exciting chance to “See beyond” ourselves to God’s hope-filled future.

Selah, Pastor Dennis

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

True to Jesus

I was glad when they said unto me, Let us go into the house of the Lord.
Psalm 122, Verse 1, King James Version
Roy Goodart in his congregational moment speaking about our “Step-Up” campaign on February 19th reflected on a young adult who told him that the high point of his week was Sunday morning worship at Hilltop.  A contemporary statement of the psalmist: “I was glad when they said unto me, let us go into the house of the Lord.”  We try to make that Psalm opening true for everyone. 
Worship is a critical element to the beautiful transformation we pray and hope happens every week at Hilltop. 
There is a lot of thought that goes into each service.  We spend time discussing the theme, and how best to frame it in poetry, readings, prayer and proclamation.  Our goal is of course transfiguration or as I introduced last week, beautiful transformation. 
But the beautiful transformation isn’t entirely in the hands of your worship leadership.  Each of us has a role in this transfiguration.  Making ourselves vulnerable to the word(s) of God mean we have to let our guards down.  Some of us have to let them down a lot. 
All of us – all – of – us -- have to check our egos at the door.  At the symphony there is a coat/hat/umbrella check, a closet where we can leave those things so they don’t interfere with our enjoyment of the music.  There is sadly no ego check at the doors of the church.  Do you think maybe we should consider a capital campaign to properly deal with that need?  I think not.  That is an expense we don’t need to pursue, but we do all need to perhaps to lower the personality guards we all carry around with us.  We hear it:  “I’m just being true to myself.”  We of course aren’t called to be true to ourselves, we are called to be true to Jesus. 
Lent is a perfect time to intentionally pause from the world’s values and plug ourselves into exploring what it might actually mean to be beautifully transformed by the truth of Jesus.  Part of how we might accomplish beautiful transformation is to make ourselves vulnerable to the word of God in poetry, readings, prayer and proclamation.  I know that vulnerability will require each of us to check in something we are holding onto so that the beautiful transformation message washes over us.  What we hold onto might be anger, forgiveness offered but not received, forgiveness hoped for but not offered, frustration, a feeling of being under appreciated.  I could go on.  I am sure the list can be built quickly and easily if we just get ourselves started.  For worship to possibly “take” and make us “glad” we need to be prepared to be vulnerable. 
I return to Roy Goodart’s story.  That young man was prepared to open his heart to the worship experience and allow it to roll over him and carry him to a new, transfigured place.  That could not have happened without vulnerability. 
Selah, Pastor Dennis

Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Step-Up Conclusion


Last week I focused on the threefold fullness of health:  grandparent, parent, and child.  I want to conclude our weekly conversation with some comparative analysis, but Before I do that, I want to re-re-refocus briefly on our why
This last Sunday was Transfiguration Sunday.  Jesus emerged from that experience with a clear focus.  I suggested that transfiguration is a positive, beautiful transformation.  The express purpose of the church is transformation.  I have written recently:  “Transformation is an intense process and it requires us to stretch. But, a critical element of that transformation, that stretching, has already occurred here:  Hilltop is reaching, stretching, beyond itself.  That is transformation.  Let’s continue that change.  Change like that requires rare people.” 

No Guilt!

I want to share with you a comparative analysis of Anglo United Methodist Churches in Utah that have at least one full-time pastor.  As you look at this, I ask that we read and study in order to understand, rather than to formulate a reply.  I also do not want any guilt to emerge from this conversation.  Ready? 
The next chart shows where Hilltop is ranked if we use per attendee income for 2016 from the congregation as our ranking metric (tool).  We are in last place
Congregational Giving per Attendee:  2016

Your church leadership is 100% mindful that Park City is in a different economic base than us.  I suspect SLC Christ is demographically older; see the sixteen deaths, than Hilltop.  I confess, I am surprised at the disparity between Hilltop and the two Ogden churches.  This disparity was true in 2015 as well. 
If our congregational giving on a per attendee basis was at the level of Ogden Community our income would increase by over $220,000.  If we were at the level of Ogden First, it would increase by nearly $80,000.  I find that stunning. 
Again, no guilt, right?  No guilt, please. 
The first question that comes here is “can you explain why?” 
No, I cannot satisfactorily explain why.  I think the answer is composed of many variables all working at the same time.  History, demographics within the congregation to where we have many with youth in college, some proportion of fixed incomes, and a general unwillingness to talk about money because of the dominant culture and its high expectation on financial support of the church.  There are a lot of variables.  But on a compare of like to like, if we add in Mountain Vista in West Jordan to us and the two Ogdens, I suspect our demographics are more alike than we are different, and again, the compare is stunning. 

Three Closing Thoughts

Here are three thoughts that have been mentioned earlier:
  • “We are under-incomed, not over-expensed.”  I offer we are not under-led.  Your lay leadership at Hilltop is bold, because our vision is bold. 
  • Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of the Bible, The Message offers this glimpse at Luke 12:48b: "Great gifts mean great responsibilities; greater gifts, greater responsibilities!"  We need to respond in a responsible way to the gifts we have been given. 
  • We quoted an unnamed black preacher in the February Newsletter:  “God is not a monument, but a movement.”  Methodism was called a movement in our early days.  We can recapture that by focusing on our transformation purpose.  

What is our “bottom-line?”  We need to have our resourcing match our mission and purpose.  We need this in order to transform the world:  Our world

Selah, Pastor Dennis

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Threefold Fullness of Health


Last week I wrote:  “Next week I will address the threefold fullness of health:  grandparent, parent, and child.”
Before I do that, I want to re-refocus briefly on our why
This Sunday is Transfiguration Sunday.  It is in part a remembrance of Jesus taking on his purpose with a clear focus.  Transfiguration is a positive, beautiful transformation.  Our own church purpose is transformation.  Our vision to be co-creators of new church life is bold, and it is about transformation.  As I indicated last week:  “Transformation is an intense process and it requires us to stretch. But, a critical element of that transformation, that stretching, has already occurred here:  Hilltop is reaching, stretching, beyond itself.  That is transformation.  Let’s continue that change.  Change like that requires rare people.” 
Health at every level matters
We are not alone in this adventure.  The “conference” is with us.  The conference is no longer a disembodied entity in Denver, if it ever was.  Too often, churches view the conference as where the Bishop is located and the place where we send money.  It is too often viewed as a one way street with everything going to Denver, and nothing coming back.  That is not accurate.  
I am personally here because Bishop Elaine listened to Hilltop.  The same can be said of Pastor Emily:  the conference listened.  But in ways other than pastoral leadership, the conference is sharing in this adventure.  All but $20,000 of the annual costs of this adventure are being paid by the conference.  The ability to do this is made possible by the 250+ churches of the conference, located in Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado.  In effect, a sliver of that $65,000+ to be sent to us in 2017 by the Rocky Mountain Conference is from Arvada (Colorado) UMC, LaJunta (Colorado) UMC, Laramie (Wyoming) First UMC, and Park City (Utah) Community Church just to name four.  Cantaloupe farmers from Rocky Ford, Colorado are invested in Hilltop and our bold ministry vision. 
Last year about half of all the churches in the conference met their financial obligation to the conference.  We were not one of them.  Our proposed budget for 2017 gets us incrementally closer to that goal, but still falls short.  The conference is in the resourcing business.  That is what it does:  equips people, both laity and clergy, as well as local churches for their transformation missions.  It can only do this if the local churches support the conference in its own financial health. 
Great gifts, great responsibilities; greater gifts, greater responsibilities
Health of the parent – Hilltop – and our intentionally planned child matter.  In fact, only $21,200 of our 2017 planned spending is about the child, creating her in good health.  That is a little under 6% of expenses supported by current congregational giving. 
Threefold Fullness of Health
Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of the Bible, The Message offers this glimpse at Luke 12:48b: "Great gifts mean great responsibilities; greater gifts, greater responsibilities!"  We need to respond in a responsible way to the gifts we have been given. 
To repeat a mantra we have been offering since January:  “We are under-incomed, not over-expensed.”  I offer we are not under-led.  Your lay leadership at Hilltop is bold, leading to a vision that is bold. 
Roberta quoted an unnamed black preacher in the February Newsletter:  “God is not a monument, but a movement.”  Methodism was called a movement in our early days.
We can recapture the movement spirit by focusing on our transformation purpose.  Health beyond Hilltop, at Hilltop and the new life springing from Hilltop must all be factors.  Not simply the health of Hilltop as parent. You are at the center of this threefold fullness of health.  

Selah, Pastor Dennis

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Pack Fast, Travel Light


Last week I wrote:  “Next Wednesday, this blog will focus on how we can all participate in realizing Hilltop’s vision. We will lay out a plan to make up our budget deficit.”
Before I do that, I want to re-refocus briefly on our why
Our very purpose is transformation.  Over the past two years the Hilltop self-identity has been radically restored.  That self-identity restoration of the vision to be a church parent is a transformation.  Our vision is bold, and it is about transformation:  to be co-creators with God of new faith communities in Utah.  We understand:  transformation is an intense process and it requires us to stretch. But, a critical element of that transformation, that stretching, has already occurred here:  Hilltop is reaching, stretching, beyond itself.  That is transformation.  Let’s continue that change.  Change like that requires rare people. 
It is a rare person that is moved by numbers but Hilltop is filled with rare – and transformed -- people. 

Nuts and Bolts

About 185 households worship at Hilltop once a month.  While we want to reach every household with our invitation, if 165 respond with an increase of $6.98 a week (every week, not just the weeks people are here), we could get to the lower range of that “need” of $60,000.  We would exceed it if all 185 households are inspired to join us on this journey.  It is important that we understand we are being invited to respond every week (back to January 1, 2017).  If that average goes up by $2.35 (to $9.33/weekly) per household, then we are at $80,000 which allows us to pay our own tithe to the United Methodist Church, and another $2.32 (to $11.65/weekly) per household gets us to $100,000 more and we can bring planned building and program expenses back up to where they need to be.  We have suggested that is one Domino’s Cheese Pizza or a Quesadilla meal at the Red Iguana, and some have said ‘those examples don’t work for me.’  I smile and then say pick something that is in one of those ranges and works for you! 
I confess when I say $100,000 it seems gigantic.  When I say everyone signs on for $11.65 a week (or $6.98 or $9.33 but back to January 1, 2017), it seems doable.  We have already had some impressive responses here. 
Our vision is bold. 

We are under-incomed, not over-expensed

We need to fight that first thought to pare down expenses.  Your leaders offer:  “We are under-incomed, not over-expensed.”
Our vision is bold. 
Roberta quoted an unnamed black preacher in the February Newsletter:  “God is not a monument, but a movement. And if you want to walk with God you’ve got to pack fast and travel light.”
Next week I will address the threefold fullness of health:  grandparent, parent, and child. 
Until then, keep in mind that we are inviting you to pack fast, and travel light on this bold adventure we are on. 

Selah, Pastor Dennis

Wednesday, February 08, 2017

What is Hilltop About?

Hilltop’s very purpose is to be in the transformation business

We have transformed ourselves in the last few years, and your church leaders believe that Hilltop has been called to provide a way for everyone to find Jesus. We believe that the world needs his presence, grace, and transformative power.

We have heard many stories recently of how Hilltop is transforming lives, specifically the single mother from Family Promise who spoke to us about Hilltop’s participation in changing her family’s life. A new member has shared with me how much Hilltop has been a place of grace and affirmation for her and her children.

We must look out beyond ourselves and be a bold reflection of Grace and love in the world so that the world can be transformed, our very purpose. That vision and our anticipated congregational giving are out of sync. We have a financial shortfall of at least $60,000. To fully fund our programs and meet our conference obligations, we need $100,000.

Hilltop is Under-Incomed, Not Over-Expensed

We need to strongly resist the reflex to pull-back, to think that Hilltop is over-expensed. It is not. We are under-incomed.

Would it surprise you if I told you our per-attendee giving level is the lowest of the predominately Anglo United Methodist Churches in Utah with a full time pastor?  I will come back to that in a different blog in a few weeks. 
Listen and Learn

Over the next four weeks, I encourage you to read, listen, and understand. We will be explaining our bold purpose and vision, which we see as fulfilling God’s call to bring about transformation in the World. As you hear presentations or read thoughts, you are encouraged, in Grace, to ask questions.

Our first thought is “We are under-incomed, not over-expensed.”

Next Wednesday, this blog will focus on how we can all participate in realizing Hilltop’s vision. We will lay out a plan to make up our budget deficit.

Our vision is bold. It will require stretching. Transformation is an intense process. Let’s all work together toward that vision. 

Selah, Pastor Dennis

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Write the vision ... make it plain ... so we may run

And the Lord answered me: “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets,
 so he may run who reads it.”
                                                            Habakkuk 2: 2 (ESV)

Inspiration is a wonderful word.  Inspiration is something that causes someone to do something they might not normally have done. 
          That something is often an idea.  
                    Often, an idea that is greater than us. 

In the last several years Hilltop has been called to an inspiring vision.  
          The fact it is inspiring doesn’t make it less scary.  
                    But it is clearly inspiring. 

Your leadership has developed a vision for Hilltop to be an incubator of new church life.  The imagery of Hilltop giving birth often comes into our discussions.  Our language has led to practices that have been prayerful, scriptural and, we hope and pray, leading all of us here to do something we might not normally have done.  What we are doing in our conscious decision to give birth to a new church is refreshing and bold.  And after we are refreshed from that first birth, we plan to do it again and again.  We hope to be an incubator of new church life in this fastest growing state in the United States. 

What has happened here is nothing short of a call.  God has called our name in the night, and we have responded with “Here we are, send us.”

It is biblical and it is also literary.  In the Lord of the Rings, the Wizard Gandalf says to the hero Frodo, "you have been chosen, and you must therefore use such strength and hearts and wits as you have."  

Hilltop must use all of that – wits and heart to be sure we have the strength. 

Our vision of seeing Hilltop as an incubator of future church life also calls Hilltop to focus on our own health.  The health of the church and the health of the church child must be factors in our vision.  Health here cannot be either/or.  Health must be both/and.  Hilltop Home as mother and our refreshing child must both be healthy, as well as Hilltop’s loving mother, the Rocky Mountain Conference. 

Where we are in 2017 is exactly where Hilltop was called to be. 

Last year, your leadership urged our mother, United Methodist leaders in Denver, to see the urgency of now rather than the tyranny of later.  Mother listened and prayed, and was compelled to act by the inspiring and inspired leadership in Sandy, Utah. 

We have spoken of this call in words that we hoped would compel you to follow your leaders in this call. We have some work to do to bring that call into line with insuring grandmother, mother and child are healthy.  We are going to spend some time in February coming back to you and inspiring you with the call we are on – an incubator of new church life while keeping Hilltop the mother healthy for future births. 

The road we are about to trod is not going to be easy. In fact it will be scary. We must reject the negativity in our history and continue to talk, inspire, and lean in because we are called to do so.  I confess we are now at a place where we could exercise caution when the situation calls for us to be bold and brave, when the situation calls for us to be inspired. We must choose bold, brave and inspired.

Let me ask:  Does the world now need our witness and call less … or more?

It is my fervent belief and hope that we can exercise a theology and practice of passionate biblical Christianity that will continue to push fervently ahead where the rest of the world would issue a call to pull back.

We can do this inspired, compelling church birthing work, and keep Hilltop a healthy parent, while continuing to keep our mother in Wyoming, Utah and Colorado strong.  
          All must be in our focus.  
                    All of those must be in our vision. 

I encourage us to now be worthy daughters and sons of Hilltop, of Methodism,  and of the Lord.

I commented earlier that your leaders urged our mother, that is key United Methodist leaders in Denver, to see the urgency of now rather than be satisfied with the tyranny of waiting for later.

I pray we are inspired – now – by the example of your leaders to go preach love, stand fast against traditional wisdom, and renew the face of the earth.  I invite you in February to listen to your leaders, and answer their call with a faithful, inspired response. 

Selah, Pastor Dennis

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Prayers of the day January 3, 2017 and earlier

January 3, 2017
Rock solid God, remind us that it is through trials we reach the steadfast outcome. May we experience the full effect of that outcome and, thru Grace, move a little this day towards perfection. Amen.
James 1:2-4

January 2, 2017
Loving, Grace dispensing God, we believe that through Christ we are created anew. Thus our old self has passed and become new. May that new person love others, and ourselves, with a reflection of Your Grace so that Your new reign where all can belong will be made visible. Amen.
1Cor 5:17

January 1, 2017
Loving God who calls us beloved sisters and brothers, remind us as sisters and brothers to be quick to hear, slow to speak, and tardy in our anger. Amen.

December 31, 2016
God of Grace and direction, guide us so we do not run aimlessly nor fool ourselves by beating the air to simulate progress. Encourage us to lives of discipline, control, and focus so that we may be a living and holy example of Your Grace. Amen.

December 30, 2016
Loving God, you invite us to come to you when we labor and are heavy laden. You promise us rest. Remind us - gently - that in taking upon ourselves your yoke, we hope to learn your ways. Remind us you are gentle and soul filling because your yoke is easy, and your burden is light. Amen.

December 29, 2016
O God of Compassion and Grace, you tell us you will wipe away every tear from our eyes, and there will be a time when death is no more. No mourning, no crying, no pain anymore, because what was, no longer will be. Help us to live till then, Amen.

November 11, 2016

Gracious and loving God, remind us that we are encouraged to "let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger." Gently but firmly, caution us when we are slow to hear, quick to speak, and rapid in our anger. Amen.#James1:19

November 2, 2016
God of truth, honor, justice, purity, commendation and excellence, remind us to think on your attributes and endeavor through your Holy Spirit and our practice to make your attributes - ours. Amen.Drawn from Philippians 4:8-9

November 1, 2016
"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God." Amen.2 Corinthians 1:1-4 (ESV)

October 30, 2016
God of truth, way, and life, continue to point us towards abundant life by following the Gospel way to the truth of Grace and Easter. Amen.#gospelofjohn

October 29, 2016
Unseen and seen Divine, challenge us to sharpen our vision of you in faith despite your being unseen but also challenge us to show those we see what love of you looks like. Amen.1John3:18 Hebrews11:1

October 28, 2016Generous God, it is so easy for us to cling to that which we have been given. Remind us in order to reap generously, we must sow generously. Amen.Luke 6:382 Corinthians 9:6

October 27, 2016
O God of both Jeremiah and Paul: one asks 'why' and the other sees opportunity. Remind us 'why' is a worthy question, but in our journeys, also remind us we are not alone. Amen.#whycanbegood #painisrealPhilippians 4: 13Jeremiah 15: 18

October 26, 2016
Loving and ever teaching God, it is a natural element of our human condition to see ourselves as the center of the universe. Gently, but firmly, shake us from this inward stare and move our gaze, our focus, out in loving service to a new horizon that includes others. AmenRomans 12: 3-13

October 25, 2016
O loving and gracious God, sacred scripture says "Everyone should be quick to listen ...." Encourage in us quickness in listening. Remind us that often we listen in order to respond, rather than to learn. O Lord, speak -- your servants are listening. Amen.#James1 #1Samuel1 #DennisThisMeansYou!

October 23, 2016
O God of healing and hope, we pray this morning that your Holy Spirit will indeed aid and guide us to a sacred encounter with your shekinah, your very holy presence. Amen.#Oliveticus #rmcumc #shekinah=presence

October 22, 2016
O God who invites us to harvest self-control, may we joyfully see self-control as fruitfulness growing from a deep relationship with you. Amen.#Galatians5 #fruitsofthespirit #seekfirstthekingdomofgod.

October 21, 2016
God of Grace and Mercy, how often are we like your servant David and ready to see your love for us in terms of some cosmic trade? Chastened, David, and probably many of us, is and are amazed and grateful for your Grace and Mercy and say to you, who am I? But we are confident you know. Amen.#2Samuel7 #Bonhoeffer

October 20, 2016
Quiet Divine, remind us of our need for 'enough silence and solitude' to 'enable our deep inner voice' to be heard. Remind us the crucified and resurrected one sought time to commune with and to hear you. Alone. Amen.#thomasmerton.

October 19, 2016
Creator of heaven and earth, continue to be the Good Shepherd at our side in all our coming ins and all our going outs. Restore our souls in green pastures and beside still waters. In humble gratitude we sing amen.

October 18, 2016
Ancient, current, future God - three and one in this now. Remind us in our rituals of your presence in this now. Speak lovingly - and boldly - to us in this now. Encourage us to break the chains of nostalgia that imprison us in this now. Amen.

October 17, 2016
All wise and all knowing God, we thank you for the knowledge that tomatoes are a fruit and the wisdom to not include them in fruit salad. Jesus constantly dealt with those who would put knowledge over wisdom. Let us be people of knowledge but especially grant us Grace-filled wisdom. Amen.

October 16, 2016
Courageous God, you send messengers to call us away from fear. Sadly, we often respond to this call to courage by clinging to fear as if our faith in fear will make us whole. Remind us fear is a Golden Calf. Remind us of the courage of Jesus. 'Grant us wisdom, grant us courage, for the hour before us.' Continue to call us, invite us, love us, away from messages defined in fear. Amen.

October 15, 2016
Creating and creative God, early in the creation you call light into being, separate it from the darkness, and pronounce light good. Jesus plays with ideas of light and darkness. Call us to reflect creatively into darkness your good, Grace-filled light. Amen.

October 14, 2016
Creating and creative God, early in the creation you saw the need for us to 'not be alone.' Early in his ministry Jesus created a community of growth and nurture. Remind us 'we are not alone' and we live, in community 'in your world.' 'Create in us a pure heart' celebrating those who cheer us, nurture us, and who, in humility, transform our hubris. And all of your children say ...

October 13, 2016
Grace-filled, love-filled, God -- gently remind us time alone in deep reflection and listening prayer is a blessing. A blessing where we hear your 'small, still, voice' break through the din and roar of life. Bless us lovingly now. Amen.

October 12, 2016
Let us pray:O creating and recreating God. Your sacred breath transformed the primordial soup of creation from chaos into order. That same breath was the animating force to bring the clay of the river bank to life.Continue to breath on us and into us: creating, recreating.Continue to use that divine breath, your very Holy Spirit, to bring order out of chaos.Continue to animate us in our daily endeavors to our role in your creative and re-creative process.Continue to remind us our task is to make your joy complete.Amen.

October 11, 2016
Gracious and Loving God, anoint us today with tranquility and peace that allows us to see this new day as another opportunity to demonstrate your love to those to whom love is a stranger. Amen.

A Prayer for January 12, 2017

O God of the past, present and future ages, we are mindful of your promises to be with us in this world and the next as you have been in the past.  Still our humanness balks at the untimely and early death of Saints.  Be with us in our pain and remind us that there will come a time when the former things do indeed pass away, but until it does, mourning, crying and pain, are still part of this age.  Amen.

Revelation 21: 4
John 3: 16
John 11:26

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

A Prayer for January 11, 2017

O God of excellence, remind us to be models of good works and in all our teaching, demonstrations of integrity and dignity.  Amen

Titus 2:7

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

A Prayer for January 10, 2017

Loving God, you point us towards a hope-filled future.  You tell us your plans for us are for good. Help us to live good, hope-filled, and yes, self-controlled, lives in the present age.  May the lives we lead be worthy of being called Christ-like.  Amen.  

Jeremiah 29:11
Titus 2:12

Monday, January 09, 2017

A Prayer for January 9, 2017

O God, you say 'where your treasure is, there will be your heart.' Let us treasure Justice, Humility and Mercy. Amen. Lk 12:34 Mic 6:8

Saturday, January 07, 2017

A Prayer for January 7, 2017

O God who calls us to shout out your love, remind us that 'the stones of the wall will cry out, and the beams of the woodwork will echo it' should we not proclaim your love, your mercy.  Amen.   

Habakkuk 2:11
Luke 19:40

Friday, January 06, 2017

A Prayer for January 6, 2017

God of community, your vision to focus on the common good is long standing.  Sadly, we often wrestle with what the common good means or what the common good looks like.  Often we are like Jacob wrestling with the Angel on the lonely side of the Jabbok. 

May we -- your children, here, your children now -- emerge from wrestling with you spiritually changed.  

     May we make your vision clear.  

          May we inscribe it on the tablets of our day so that in reading, all creation's children may focus on your vision of common good.  


Habakkuk 2:2

Thursday, January 05, 2017

Encountering Jesus

As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When shall I come and behold the face of God?
My tears have been my food day and night,while people say to me continually,“Where is your God?”
Psalm 42, Verses 1-3, NRSV

C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity suggests we are created with needs for which the means exist in the creation for those needs to be met. Examples are food, water, rest. He suggests that God is just such a need: a need for which the divine encounter fulfills. He posits that we seek the divine, the transcendent, through time and space. Said another way, seeking the divine has been true across time and across cultures. It is a universal constant. That need is for Lewis, and he has persuaded me, a deep inner need for the spiritual.

David in Psalm 42 addresses that fundamental need for God through the image of longing. 
I have heard it suggested that we have a God-sized hole in our souls, and we are incomplete until we allow that hole to be filled. We long to have that hole filled, and the world is ready to provide suggestions on how fill it for us with work, commodities, and self-worship. That is an abbreviated list. The world is far better financed and replete with marketing savvy than faith communities to persuade us to buy their hole filling element du jour

Our theme for the month is Encountering Jesus. I pray that seeking this encounter is our daily, weekly, monthly, annual, and life theme. In December we did a lot of encountering Jesus at the Rescue Mission and we have more opportunities to encounter Jesus this month through Family Promise. 

We do need to be clear that in this encounter, we are expected to walk away from it different. Jacob wrestles with the angel in Genesis 32, and he walks away physically and spiritually changed. His very name is changed: Israel – one who wrestles with God. We are all at some point, Israel: one who wrestles with God. But at the same time, our “soul longs for you, O God.” 

Lewis does not remotely suggest that the hole in our soul is filled in exactly the same way for each of us. If that were true, then we would all find the same kind of music, preaching, service organization, readings, to be filling. I know you know that is not the case. For many, the hole in their soul is not filled with activities inside of Hilltop, but specifically interactions with those like Family Promise and the Rescue Mission:  many gifts, many elements, all together making up “the body of Christ.” 

I observed earlier about Jacob wrestling with God and then arising from that match with a new name: Israel. Immediately after that cosmic wrestling match, he encountered his brother. He was fearful that in that encounter, his brother’s righteous indignation over the way Jacob left years earlier would continue to be present. Instead, the reunion was a happy one, and the one who had wrestled with God said seeing his brother was like seeing “the face of God.” We see the Face of God when we encounter those around us. 

I have no idea what 2017 holds for us. 

But I believe that turning down the volume of the world message, and turning up the volume of the Jesus message comes about when we encounter the sacred. Are we travelers passing through this world or is this world our permanent address? Our biblical message is that we are traveling through, not staying. 

When we buy into the idea of encountering Jesus, we say that we are prepared to take up the values of Jesus, and tell the values of the world to move back a row or two in our pantheon of values. 

Peace be with you and I wish you way more than luck in 2017, I wish you an encounter with the sacred in the form of Jesus. 

Pastor Dennis