Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Important Preparations

Advent isn’t about being warm, or having the house well stocked, or even about feeling festive on Christmas morning.
As we enter December, we are also entering the season of Advent.  Advent, much like the season of Lent before Easter, is meant to be a season of preparation.
But what does that mean?
Honestly, an easy way to think about it is the same way we think about preparing for many other things during this time of the year.  We know that winter is coming, and with it our usual mix of snow, ice, and cold weather.  And so, in preparation, many of us have spent time digging our winter coats, hats, mittens, scarves, and other things from the backs of closets.  We’ve stocked up on salt for the driveway and made sure that our snow shovels and snow blowers are ready to go.  Similarly, we have begun preparing our homes for Christmas by pulling our decorations out of the garage, attic, basement, crawlspace, or wherever else we’ve stored them since last year.  And we’re making plans to bake cookies, make candy, bake pies, and whatever else needs done to make us feel “ready” for the arrival of Christmas day.
Some of us, and I am one of them, need this time.  It is sometimes hard for me to feel festive at Christmas.  I drift more easily toward “humbug” than to “Ho ho ho.”  And so to prepare, I deliberately try to listen to Christmas music, and watch “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and other classic Christmas specials that we grew up with, along with various Hallmark Christmas movies on television.
But Advent isn’t about being warm, or having the house well stocked, or even about feeling festive on Christmas morning.
Advent is about our heart condition.
Advent asks us to think about whether or not our hearts are ready to receive the Christ child at Christmas.  Advent asks us if we are ready to accept the greatest gift that God has ever offered to us.  And so, for four weeks, we are offered this season of preparation.  This is a time for us to consider the condition of our hearts.  To read, and to listen to the stories of scripture, to fellowship and sing with others and, just as we are preparing our homes, to prepare our hearts so that we will be truly “ready” for Christmas and the arrival of God’s greatest gift to humanity.
So consider this an invitation to the season of Advent.  Come with us on a journey together.  Let us spend time worshipping together, singing together, and studying together.  I invite you to be a part of something bigger than yourself.  Perhaps to pick up an Advent devotional and have a few moments of daily quiet time alone with God.
You wouldn’t dream of being snowed in this winter without coats and hats, shovels and salt, and a pantry full of food (with a few cookies and fudge).
You want to be prepared.
The Savior of the world is coming.  God’s greatest gift.
Please take the time to prepare your heart as well.
Blessings,
Pastor John

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Thursday, November 30, 2017

What “Mission” Looks Like

I know that Charge Conference seasons is upon us, and I know that the Nominating Committee has started to meet and will begin, by the time you read this, to think about and ask people to consider their role at Trinity Church for next year.  But before we get too far down that road, I want to take some time to talk about our trip to The Joy Center.  I’ve written before about why we go on these trips and we’ve made lists of what we did, but I want to have a slightly different conversation this time.  While I will talk about what we did, I want to talk more about people than about projects.

Our team was made up of representatives from two churches, Trinity and Sugarcreek United Methodist Church.   Because of the generosity of our people, and the people of Sugarcreek, we were able to accomplish a great deal.  Many of us worked on one large project, a bridge, which was even larger than The Joy Center originally estimated.  Originally, we expected to build a 23 foot footbridge, but when we arrived at the worksite and started measuring, we discovered that to stay above the water all the way across the creek, we would need a much longer bridge and the finished product, including the ramps at the end, was 43 feet long.  We also worked on a kitchen remodeling project, as well as many small projects around The Joy Center such as weeding, cleaning, reorganizing, and of course, delivering another trailer full of donated goods.

But again, that’s all about projects.  “Mission” is much more than that because a bridge, a kitchen, and these other things aren’t important by themselves.  The reason that these things are important is because of the people who need them and use them.  On our previous trips to Kentucky we met Paula who has been blind since birth.  Somewhere along the line, someone taught her to knit and Paula decided that this was the way that God had given her to be useful.  She knits constantly.  She knits prayer shawls and afghans, and over the years has knitted hundreds of prayer shawls which have been anointed, blessed, and given away as a tangible expression of God’s love to the people of their community, and to people around the world.  Last spring, the foot bridge that allowed Paula and Dennis to cross the creek and get their mail was washed away in a flood following some torrential rains.  While Paula is blind, her husband Dennis gets out of breath walking across his yard or around their tiny house.  Without a bridge, Dennis had two choices; climb down into the creek, cross the creek on a plank that he rescued from the ruins of his old bridge, climb back up the other side, get his mail, and then do it all over again to get home, or follow the driveway past his house and past two neighbors’ houses, to the next bridge, then walk up the road that same distance, and then go back the same way.  Our bridge means that not only can Dennis get his mail, but now Paula can use it to meet her ride to the Wednesday women’s Bible Study.  Holding tightly to Dennis on her first trip across the creek, ever, she was so excited and kept saying, “It’s so long!” 

We also spent a day putting up a ceiling and walls in a kitchen and dining room but again, it was the people that made that project important.  Sue has always been the caretaker of her family.  She takes in kids without parents, takes care of her siblings, in laws, and anyone else who needs help.  When her sister needed a place to stay, Sue invited her sister and her family to move in and Sue’s husband started dividing their house in two.  He built walls and started building a new kitchen, bathroom, and laundry room, but just as he got started, he suddenly died.  That left Sue with half a house and about twenty unfinished projects that she didn’t have the skills to finish.  While we didn’t have the skills or the time to finish all of them, we made a dent and made her house just a little more livable.

Something else we don’t often talk about is what we do when we aren’t working.  While a team is working, someone is often taking a break.  Depending on age, or ability, or the availability of tools and materials, someone is often resting, or waiting.  At one point while two of us ran into town (between the driving and the shopping we were gone for two or three hours) most of the team had nothing to do.  But during those times, we sit with the people, and their families, neighbors, friends, or whoever stops by, and we talk.  We talk about our lives, about their lives, we tell stories, we tell jokes, and sometimes, when it’s appropriate, we talk about church and about Jesus.

So you see, while our trips are built around projects, they aren’t really about projects… they’re about people.  Since many of the people we talked to (and even more who watched from a distance) don’t go to church, our projects were just a door that allowed us to have a conversation.  Our projects, even at The Joy Center, were a way for us to show the people of Big Creek and Clay County, Kentucky that they aren’t forgotten, that people care about them and love them, and most importantly, that Jesus loves them and has not forgotten them.

At the Joy Center, all those smaller projects reminded the staff, the volunteers, and everyone at the Big Creek Church that they aren't forgotten and Jesus and his church still love them.  Thanks to the generosity of Goldie Bolitho and our Trinity quilters, the crafters at Big Creek Church will have enough supplies to keep them busy for months to come and they’ve hidden away enough yarn to supply Paula’s knitting for most of the next year.

Although we often talk about money or about projects, in the end, mission is always about people.
Won’t you consider being a part of what we are doing here at Trinity Church?


No matter who you are, you can make a difference.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Still Awesome - Annual Quilt Raffle

Every year the Trinity United Methodist Women raffle off a a quilt to raise money for the many mission project that they support.  All this work is never for them.  I've never seen them buy anything for themselves except the occasional coffee or doughnut, and I'm pretty sure that those are all donated too.

But saying "Annual Quilt Raffle" sound ordinary.

And it rarely is.

This year is no exception.  Our friend, and longtime Trinity member, Goldie Bolitho recently stopped quilting, sewing, knitting, crocheting, and all the other "fiber arts" things that she loves for decades because her eyesight has made it impossible to continue.  But Goldie wanted her work to be a blessing to someone else and so she donated  her supplies (literally more than two truckloads of stuff) to Trinity's crafters and to our sewing and crafting friends at The Joy Center in Big Creek, Kentucky.  Among those things was almost an entire quilt, all of the quilt squares that were needed for one, and thus most of the hard, tedious, and incredibly artistic detail work.

And they were truly beautiful works of art.

They were so impressive, that Marilyn Ball put them all together into a finished quilt top, and all of our quilters (who meet here every Thursday morning - and you're invited to join them, hint, hint) pitched in to make a bottom, add the soft batting in the middle, and actually do the quilting that puts everything together.

And so what we end up with is yet another one-of-a-kind art project that will also do a great job of keeping you warm at night.  Hundreds of hours and untold amounts of love and passion poured into one beautiful quilt that you can use to keep warm in your bed or while you watch television on the sofa this winter.

And you can have a chance to make this beauty your own for only $1 per ticket or 6 for $5.


Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Who’s “Side” Are You On?

I read an article that included a statement that struck me as wrong, but which, the more I thought about it, bothered me even more.  The article was yet another story about the current clash of political ideas and in the story, one group (the name of the group is unimportant) claimed that they would win because, “God is on our side.”  It would be easy to point out how some of the group’s actions have been hurtful in ways that clearly do not reflect anything like godliness, but the more I thought about it, this is true of every single political and religious group on the planet.

We can never claim that God is on our side.

Why?

Because God doesn’t take sides.

We are either on God’s side, or we are not.

God is the creator, ruler, and final judge of all that is.  There is nothing we can do to persuade God to join our cause regardless of its goodness.  God does not stand with or against Republicans or Democrats. God does not join forces with churches, or synagogues, or mosques.  God does not play favorites with social movements. 

God is so much bigger than humanity, or anything that humanity perceives, that God’s very existence defines good and evil.  When we stand with God we join the forces of good and when our positions oppose God’s will we have, by definition, become agents of evil.

There are only two sides.

As followers of God and followers of Jesus Christ, we are called to abandon the idea that God will take our “side” or join our cause, and realize instead that we must join God’s side.  The positions of the Republican party sometimes align with God’s will and sometimes their positions stand against God’s will.  The same is true of the Democrat party, and the Libertarian party, and the Socialist party. The same is true of the United Methodist Church, and the Presbyterian Church, and the Catholic Church, a well as the Mormons, those of the Jewish faith, Muslims, and even ISIS.  The same is true of those advocating for, and against, LBGT rights, environmentalists, and every other group that encourage us to join their cause by claiming that God is on their side.

He isn’t.

God isn’t a “joiner.”  God doesn’t join our “sides.”

We either stand for good or we stand for evil.

We are either on God’s side, or we are not.

Our affiliation with a political party, or a social movement, or even a particular denomination or religion does not define us as godly.  We are only godly, we are only good, when we do the will of God.  Political parties, and social movements, and even churches and religions are only on God’s side when they do the will of God.  If we truly want to be on God’s side, we can stand with those groups when they are godly.

But we must stand against them when they are not.

Long ago, as the people of Israel entered the Promised Land, they had to make a choice.  They had to choose whether they were going to follow God or the gods of Egypt that they had left behind.  Joshua pressed them for an answer saying, “choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living.  But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15)

In our modern world far removed from the children of Israel, and in a time when our political, social, and religious worlds are so polarized, perhaps it would be worthwhile to consider what Joshua might ask us today.  Would his words to us sound like this?

Choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods of the political parties, or the gods of the social movements, or the gods disguised as religion.  But as for me and my house we will serve the Lord.

There are only two sides.

We either stand for good or we stand for evil.

We are either on God’s side, or we are not.


Whose side are you on?



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Monday, June 19, 2017

Will YOU Join Our Mission?

The Trinity Church missions team has finalized the dates for our upcoming mission trip to The Joy Center in Big Creek, Kentucky. The Joy Center is an outreach center of the Red Bird Missionary Conference and is about 20 miles from the Red Bird Mission. At that location, the site of the Big Creek United Methodist Church, they provide early childhood education, a food pantry, playground, discount store, and many other things. 

We will be departing on Sunday August 27th and will return on Friday or Saturday September 1st or 2nd. 

 We are still discussing options and potential work projects with The Joy Center but typically these can range from helping to serve meals, to laying new floors, installing a new bathroom for a neighbor in need. We will spend one day on a “field trip” so that everyone can see and experience what goes on at the Red Bird Conference office and the Red Bird mission area. 

Volunteers from other churches are welcome to join us. No particular skills are required (our host promises that there is something that almost everyone can do) but being familiar with tools and basic construction might be helpful. Some of our “regular” volunteers are in their eighties, and many are younger, so we’re sure that there is a place for everyone that wants to come along. 

Interested persons should email us at missions@trinityperryheights.org

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Homeless People: Do They Really Need Help?


In one of the hobby forums that I visit, a member recently asked this question: Are homeless people scam artists, or do they really need help?  He went on to say that he was completely against giving handouts to people at freeway ramps because he felt that these people were “either dope addicts or scam artists who actually make a living doing this and put on a facade and play on people's emotions.”  He felt that homeless people were in that situation because of the choices that they made, and because they were too lazy to get off their butts and get a job.

While I am not an expert on homelessness, I have learned a lot in the last few years and have met a few of them as they came to the doors of our church looking for help.  So, what follows is a part of what I posted in reply.
--


For what it's worth, I come into contact with homeless people on a fairly regular basis and I have friends who minister to that population of people pretty much daily. The answer to your question "Are they scam artists or really need help?" is "Yes." There are some, for the most part a pretty small minority who are "gaming the system" but the majority really do need help. Quite a few "move through" homelessness and move on to a more stable life but many are trapped there for a variety of reasons. A frightening percentage is there because of mental illness of one sort or another, and they are very hard to help. Almost all types of residential treatment facilities have been closed so there simply is no "place" where they can receive the kind of care that they really need. Despite their illnesses, most of them are fiercely independent and don't want to move in with their adult children, relatives, or accept long-term charity. While some of us struggle to see the difference between begging and accepting the charity of their own family, for them the differences are important.

It's also important to remember that something like 2 out of 3 households in the United States are only two paychecks from homelessness so it doesn't always take a lot the completely shift someone's life onto an entirely different track. I've met folks who suddenly became homeless because of domestic abuse, house fires, divorce, death of a spouse or significant other, and abandonment. In many of these cases, they found themselves with no belongings, no identification, no money, no transportation, no vital medications, nothing. Some of them are eligible for VA benefits or welfare but in order to collect those benefits you have to have a permanent mailing address, which is the one thing that homeless people obviously *don't* have.

It really is heartbreaking.

This is real.

Many are disabled, but a great many of them work, often as day laborers, some at regular jobs, even in semi-skilled fields like concrete and various construction trades. Many are single, but there are also a whole lot of families with school age children.

I've met several people who were daily making a difficult choice.

Imagine:
It costs $45 per day for a cheap motel because you don't have enough money to pay for a month, or even a week at a time.
You work, but only make minimum wage (at best) so after taxes you get about $60 per day.
You can get some benefits if you can prove your identity, but through one circumstance or another (again, house fire, etc.) you don't have any.
You can go to the courthouse, get a copy of your birth certificate, and use that to get a new driver's license.
But the courthouse wants $65 to make you a copy and the BMV wants another $50.
Add to that the cost of the bus to courthouse, and basically losing a day's wages while you wait in line.

So, do you get your ID, sleep under the stars or under a bridge, skip eating for two days, and risk losing your job, or do you go to work and spend all your money on food and a place to sleep?

These are the choices that many homeless people have to make every day. I've met them, sat with them, and shared stories with them over coffee.

To prevent abuse, and those who are really good at "gaming the system," our church limits how much aid we can give one person and so our guidelines allow me to offer them a meal at a local restaurant, or a tank of gas, or a box of food (enough for a week or two), or one night's lodging. I've had many people tell me to my face, "I'll take the room for the night. I can stand being hungry, but I really need a place to sleep tonight."

I've also met people who needed a place to stay even though they told me that they had family (even parents) who lived in the same neighborhood as the motel where we put them up. I can only imagine what sort of emotional, drug, alcohol, or psychological problems led to them not being welcome in their own parent's home but it happens more often than you think.

So are there scammers? Sure.

Are most of them scammers? No, I don't think so.

Do they really need help? Yes.

But what they really need is for all of us to be more vocal to our elected representatives at all levels to create systems that don't trap people at the bottom, systems that make access to aid programs, many of which the homeless qualify for, easier, and to make access to basic identifying documents (like birth certificates) more affordable and accessible to people who are literally choosing between getting an ID and eating.

By all means, if you are unsure, then don't give money to panhandlers. The people next to the freeway are often, but not always, the people gaming the system. Unless you work with them, it's hard to know who's who. But there is a significant population of people who really need help.

If you want to be a part of the solution, I encourage you to volunteer at a food pantry, or a clothes closet, or any one of many church and civic organizations that work with the needy and the homeless.  If you make it a regular thing (and not just show up once) you will begin to build relationships with them. It takes time. They've been burnt by the government, by charities, and lots of people who want to use them for their own purposes. They've been taken advantage of so many times that they are slow to trust, but if you take the time to really get to know them, and they learn that you are there because you really care about them, they might just share their story with you.

And it'll probably break your heart.





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The Value of an Invitation


We get four or five things in the mail everyday.

Most of our mail is junk.

Almost all of the rest is bills.

Of course, we get letters from my mom who still writes on paper and uses stamps but the rest of our friends and family communicate electronically.

But once in a blue moon we receive an invitation.  Just a handful of envelopes arrive during the course of a year to invite us to baby showers, birthday parties, weddings, etc.  Many of those are migrating to electronic media as well, but even so, the number of invitations that we receive is relatively small.  I say this because in a mailbox, physical or electronic, that is filled with junk every single day, invitations are not only not junk, they are welcome, valuable, and often become the thing that gets opened first.

We like to be invited to things.

Even if we can’t attend, the invitation makes us feel valuable.  Someone thought of us, appreciated us, and took the time, effort, and expense to ask us to share a moment of time with them.  An invitation is a sign that tells the world that we are wanted.

Our church is no different.

Many of the people at Trinity came to church, sometimes decades ago, because someone invited them to come.  So why is it that we seem reluctant to invite others?

We shouldn’t be.

Thom Rainer spent four years researching unchurched people.  One of the things that surprised him as they compiled the results was that ninety six percent of unchurched people in the United States are at least “somewhat likely” to attend church if they are invited.  Think about that.  More than nine out of ten people would be interested in attending church, of only someone would take the time to ask them and make them feel wanted.

[Note: Thom Rainer’s entire article on www.ChurchCentral.com, “Survey finds many unchurched would come to church if invited”  is worth reading.]

What’s more, the people of Trinity Church are proving this to themselves and the results are increasingly obvious.  In the last few weeks, I’ve heard from several people (some of whom have recently become members) that they are here because they were invited.  I have been hearing this more and more often and I want to make sure that others notice. 

Recently, one family said that they came because of an invitation, from me, that I don’t even remember.  Another came a couple winters ago when I gave them one of those little business card invitations and invited them to our Christmas Eve service.  Another family was invited by Ruth and Gary Sturgill, another by Brett and Beth Huntsman, several by Ronnie and Cheryl Wendell, and another after our Easter invitation postcards were delivered to the surrounding neighborhoods were combined with personal invitations to many of our friends from Perry Helping Perry.  Just this week, Chris Jukich greeted someone at the door that she met, and invited, at our community breakfast on Saturday.  There are more examples that I know about, and even more that I am forgetting.

So here’s my point:

People tell me that they want Trinity Church to grow.  It can, and it is.  We are growing because the people at Trinity are reaching out and inviting their neighbors, friends, and family to join us.  Some, like Marla Armstrong and Jan Gash, are inviting people all the time.  In fact, many of you are doing it.  I apologize if I didn’t mention you by name. 

Thank you.

Trinity Church is a special place.  The people here aren’t perfect, but we are generous and friendly and have made this into a place where people can experience community, mercy, grace, and love. 
We have something to offer.  You are probably here because someone invited you and you found something that you liked.  I hope that you have been blessed because you belong here.  I believe that you have, because many of you have told me so.

I encourage you to do the same for someone else.

We are already growing because the people of Trinity Church understand the value and the importance of a simple invitation.

You can make a difference.

Help someone else to feel wanted and valued.

Help others to find a home where they can experience community, mercy, grace, and love. 

Join us in being “invitational.” Tell your neighbors, family, and friends about Trinity Church.

People need a place to belong.

Invite them.


There’s more than a 9 out of 10 chance that they’ll consider it.