Shared Life & Happenings
December Community Events!
I am really excited about the coming events for sharing life, celebrating the season and doing things with and for our local community in December. I hope you can all participate!
Thursdays of Advent!
This is a new thing for CiB. We are hosting four evening get-togethers for anyone who wants to come at a local restaurant. Each week in Advent, on Thursday eveving, we'll hear from a different perspective on the Advent Season. This week we'll host Frederica Mathewes-Green all the way from Baltimore. She's speaking about Eastern Orthodox traditions during Advent. We will also have some of her books for sale at the restuarant, so you can knock a few people off your Christmas list as well as having a great dinner, hearing some stimulating thought and sharing some cool conversation! Again, we'll meet at Chef Tony's in downtown Bethesda from 7pm to 9pm! Hope to see many of you there!
Free Community Concert!
We all owe big debt of gratitude to our own wonderful lady, Penny Yao. From the moment she offered to help plan and produce a free holiday concert at Church in Bethesda she has worked tirelessly to make it a great evening. She organized an evening with a local Washinton DC a cappella vocal group called Blueline. Then, she added another local group to the lineup, Euphonism, to make a full evening of jazz and Holiday favorites, along with some sing-a-long time!
We have a really cool evening planned for December 11th at our church building. So now it's time to spread the word! Please go to our website's home page and RSVP with the button we provide to let us know how many people to plan for hosting. We will have a "Wine & Cheese" reception with other finger foods from 6pm to 7pm, and the concert is from 7pm to 8pm.
We have a great month ahead of us! Let's make the most out of it for our church family and community!
CiB's 2011 Pledge Drive
Well, I need to put this out again before this coming Sunday. On Sunday December 12th we are taking up the pledge forms for 2011. I feel sort of like NPR talking about pledge forms and budgets... but the new year looms nigh, and we have work to do!
I'm including the text of a short letter we emailed to you a few weeks ago that outlines some general budget info. And I hope you've been blessed to hear from the people the last few Sundays who have shared about their support of CiB and the ways in which they approach the financial offering in their hearts and minds. I need to throw another big thanks out to Shannon, Lindy, Melanie and Gary! Thank you, gang!
So, this weekend we are taking up the pledge forms. If you can't be there, you can mail it in, or even send me an email this week and get the form in later. If you don't have one yet, we'll have more on hand. We need all this from you to help the Servants Group build a balanced budget for next year. Thanks!
As we approach the end of 2010 your Servants Group is working on the budget for next year. To help with that process we’ll be sharing some budgetary information over the next several Sundays as well as by email. We are also launching a pledge drive for 2011 that will start this weekend and finish on Sunday, December 12th.
I have often mentioned how grateful and humbled I am by your financial support of CiB. You’re great, and it is an honor to be your pastor. Still, as we’ve analyzed the budget numbers and actual income and spending trends for this year, we’ve found that we are not at a sustainable level of income versus spending, so we’ll have to make some changes for 2011. What are those changes? We don’t fully know yet. Our congregation is running a significant monthly deficit according to our current average income and average spending and we’re committed to an intentional balancing act for 2011.
So, this Sunday we’ll be sharing some more on numbers and also presenting our pledge form. We’d like to ask you to pray and consider your 2011 pledge for the next few weeks before submitting that form on December 12th. Then we’ll finish building 2011’s budget based on those pledges, a budget that continues to reflect our commitment to the mission of CiB and the best level of stewardship of our resources. We hope that pledges are generous and allow us to anticipate a rise in giving, and we also are evaluating where the most effective cuts in spending and other savings will need to take place.
Thank you again for all that you do in support of CiB, from the finances to the volunteering and service opportunities. You are all greatly appreciated!"
If you have any questions, please just let me know!
Tithing to Support a Faith Community
Today's post is a piece from a guest blogger, Melanie Spring!
Melanie was one of the several people who have talked about our offering and she presented this to our church family on November 28, 2010.
Tithing to Support a Faith Community
When I was born, the first child in my family, my dad had only recently become a born again Christian. He was gung-ho for God and his faith is the reason I am still growing daily as a Christian. He has never let his faith waver in that God will take care of him and his family. Dad made such an impact on my faith. And I want to share more with you on my family's faith journey and also an incredible tithing story from the book "Crazy Love."
Growing up in WNY in one of the poorest counties in the whole state, we didn't have money. 6 people, 1 income, no more than $20,000/year for all of us to survive on and somehow we managed. My parents gave us each an allowance. 50cents a week. 35 to keep, 10 to save and 5 to tithe. I still appreciate my parents for how they taught us to spend, save and tithe.
I vividly remember Sundays when the offering plate was passed. No matter how much we didn't have, my dad always had a wad of bills to drop in that plate. I noticed that other families didn't put anything in the plate and wondered why my dad was different. When I was in my teens, I asked him why he gave so much to the church. He told me that God had asked him to and that because he was faithful, God would take care of us.
No one in my family had health insurance growing up until NY State passed a law that low income kids under 19 could have free health insurance. That happened when I was 17. With 4 kids to raise, my parents had complete faith that God would take care of them. Not once did something happen to any of us that caused my parents to worry about money. Oh sure, they worried, but they knew God would be there to listen.
God listened and told our church that we didn't have money for groceries when my mother was too proud to even whisper that truth - grocery bags filled our porch without a note the morning my mother walked out our front door to go apply for welfare. The day the rent was due and we didn't have the money for it, God told someone to put cash in an envelope and leave it in our mailbox. No one knew we didn't have the money but God made sure to take care of us.
When I got older and established myself in a church, I would give halfheartedly and not because I wanted to, only because 'God told me to.' I didn't give because I felt called to or that there was something to give for... I wasn't even sure if the church would spend 'my money' the way I thought was best. I heard a song on the Christian station the other day that reminded me of myself back then. The lyrics say: I try to stay awake during Sunday morning church, I throw a twenty in the plate, but I never give ’til it hurts.
As most of you know, last April I lost my job and decided to restart my business instead of finding another job. Shortly after that happened, a friend gave me the book "Crazy Love" by Francis Chan. It's a book about God's crazy, relentless, all powerful love for us. There was a part of that book that talked about tithing and told a story of a man who lost his job and although he really wanted to keep giving the church what he had been, he didn't know if he could since he didn't have that income. He did a lot of praying and decided that instead of giving what he had been giving, he would give double and put his faith fully in God.
Obviously that struck home with me. I had just lost my job, knew that I wasn't going to be able to pay myself any sort of salary from May to December due to taxes and the fact that growing a business doesn't happen overnight - I had no idea what I was going to do. I loved my church, this church... and knew I needed to keep giving, not just of my time but of all the resources God gave me. I decided to take a huge leap of faith and be like the man in Crazy Love... and like my dad. I started tithing double what I had been tithing before I lost my income.
Yes, it might seem crazy to you for anyone to do that… and you're right, but I had to eat, keep a roof over my head and forge ahead with this new business while still paying all the bills. It takes full faith to do something like that and I wanted to know what that faith felt like.
When I did an assessment of last year's finances, I found that I had given 60% of my overall income to the church or other charities throughout the year... without anything more than my business just paying my living expenses from May to December. I never once went hungry, I didn't lose my apartment, my dog didn't die because I couldn't feed him, I had everything I could have needed and more. How? God took care of me. Little miracles. Teresa even had a chance to observe God’s gifts as they emerged.
Teresa saw the IRS put unexpected money into my checking account JUST when I wasn't able to buy groceries and gas. She saw my friends taking care of me. She saw the forgotten $3,000 from my retirement fund come through and pay employees when they needed it. She saw people remove themselves from my life and my business without the burden of unemployment.
God takes care of us... if we let Him. I am living proof. If you want that faith, the faith that you know God will take care of you, you have to trust Him and know that whatever you do ends up giving to His work and will go to exactly what is needed most. So I invite us to take a few minutes now and envision all that we are thankful for… and all our needs that have been met. With these gifts in clear view, how can we ‘throw a $20 in the plate but never give til it hurts?’
I love this church, you love this church; we’ve made it our home. Tithing isn’t about obligation, it’s about supporting the community we’ve built here. Don’t give because you feel like you have to, give because you know God is faithful to you and the rest of us.
Originally given as a talk at Church in Bethesda to the faith community during worship service. Huge thanks to Jill Foster for reviewing & providing me with incredible feedback.
Merry Christmas! Glad to be here!
Well, it’s time for a Christmas Day blog! But it will be a short one, I promise.
The vocational calling of a pastor is many splendid, horrifying and crazy thing. It is an acceptance of a certain responsibility, a sacrifice of a certain freedom and it is a position of extreme blessedness. By all that I mean that my words are often sifted and judged and my actions scrutinized (forcing me to grow in wisdom and patience), but my life is also rich with expressions of love and gratefulness.
I don’t like comparisons of vocational callings, at least in the sense of saying, “This vocation is more important, harder, easier, funner, better…” or whatever than any other. Our paths in life are what they are. Our vocations are what they are. Our vocations flow from our temperaments, decisions, gifts, dreams and often even our mistakes.
But here at the end of 2010 I want to say how glad I am to be the pastor of Church in Bethesda, and how grateful I am for the temperament, decisions, gifts and even the mistakes that may have brought me here. (insert author’s chuckles) Here is where I am, and here is where I want to be.
In my family’s almost three and a half years here we have been so blessed by the folks who were here already, who have joined us for the journey and who have walked with us and moved on down new and varied paths. Every one of you has found a place in our hearts.
We’ve seen the church family grow in numbers, and that’s cool. We’ve seen the church tackle institutional and legal questions, as a family and not an institution. We’ve watched you be confronted with needs and challenges, and rise to meet them in faith and joy. It’s been a good ride, my friends.
Today I simply want to say, “Thank you.” I only want you to hear how grateful I am to have my children in this church family. There are some things to accomplish in 2011, but I know that we will all rise to the challenge. I hope your holidays are blessed, joyous and safe!
Wild Goose Festival! Coming June 2011
Almost two years ago I'm at a conference in Albuquerque, NM, and I hear a dream being described for a festival built on the idea of allowing streams of life like art, justice and faith to freely create a nexus point, an intersection of creativity and action. Really, they had me at the word festival.
Festival is a noun that the esteemed Merriam and Webster say means "a time of celebration marked by special observances, a feast, and an often periodic celebration or program of events or entertainment having a specified focus." (Pulled right from www.merriam-webster.com!) My imagination immediately presented me some mental images of a feast of art, an observance of justice and a celebration of what happens when we give free reign to those streams to mingle and dance together creating new things. I wanted to be there to see that, to hear that, to taste and hold it.
I volunteered to keep in touch with the dream and friended the fledgling Facebook profile, and I began to dream myself of the coming feast. Today I'm a part of the planning to make art happen at the festival. We are dreaming of canvases and paints, clay and paper. We will use our creativity to vision changes in ourselves, our communities and our world. We'll bless the land and the people which play host to us in the four-day feast.
Making art is an a tangible expression of the spiritual streams running through our hearts and souls. Making art is presence. Whatever your past experience of art has been, we will help make an exercise of creative expression very accessible for you. This won't be a time for seeing who is an "artist" and who isn't, but it will be a time for each of us to dig deeper into the creative veins which God has implanted in all. (The accompanying painting is a work by He Qi.)
I can't know where your hungers are or what kind of feasting you need. But I know that tables are being prepared for us. We will sit down together and share a rich fare as our faith, our dreams and needs for justice, and our creative hearts all come together for a few days in North Carolina. And if Merriam and Webster are correct, this will be just a beginning of a many more feasts to come and we make a community chasing the Wild Goose and making time together for years to come! I hope to see you there!
Seen the Wild Goose? Check it out...
On the web at Wild Goose Festival!
First Reflections on Lent
Lent has finally started and I’d like to reflect on the first couple of days with you, and then I’d love to hear some of your reflections and thoughts on how the Lenten Season has begun.
First of all, I really enjoyed Ash Wednesday this year. I’m very grateful to Deb for inviting me out to Shady Grove Hospital to lead a reflection time with their chaplains. I met some wonderful people and we shared a lectio divina style collage time with magazines, glue sticks and the whole works. I’m sharing my piece in this post. ------>
We read Psalm 8 and waited for David’s song to resonate in us and move us to find images and themes and words to collage. One chaplain is a Jewish Rabbi and he blessed us with a reading of the psalm in Hebrew. What resonated with me was what I believe to be the answer to the question in verse 4... what are we that God would notice us and show care for us? We are loved.
I personally have a two part fast this year. I am fasting from one item as a simple exercise of self denial. A little self denial’s not a bad thing to practice and something which I seem to rarely do throughout the rest of the year. I’m also fasting from a second item more as a matter of breaking something’s hold on me. Of course, a thing can’t really exert influence on me, I’m talking about retraining myself.
Surprisingly, I can already notice my body responding to the changes in diet. No, I’m not dropping miracle pounds in just hours and have whiter teeth… I am feeling different about food and processing it differently. I think all for the better so far. I’m going to keep watching that process and praying through the experience.
Finally, I was very blessed on Wednesday to lead services online in the virtual world as well as that evening with Church in Bethesda folks. In these services I refrained for the pastoral need to preach at everyone and tried to step side to allow St. Peter to do some informing. We read 1 Peter 1:3-15 and I’ll share it here to close this entry:
"Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls...
"Concerning this salvation, the prophets, who spoke of the grace that was to come to you, searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow. It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves but you, when they spoke of the things that have now been told you by those who have preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven. Even angels long to look into these things...
"Therefore, with minds that are alert and fully sober, set your hope on the grace to be brought to you when Jesus Christ is revealed at his coming. As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: 'Be holy, because I am holy.'"
What a Weekend...
That was quite a weekend we just had. We saw a wedding, beatification and an assassination. That's a pretty heavy news cycle. From the Royal Wedding to a major step toward sainthood for Pope John Paul II to the announced death of Osama bin Laden, we have seen a lot in the last few days.
Visiting with my spiritual friend in Georgetown today, Father Leo Murray, we marked on the need of a follower to find God in all these things, to seek God in all these things. Of course, the death of Osama bin Laden will probably rise to the top of the list of events pushing us into reflection. And it has done just that.
After taking Sunday night, Monday and Monday night to to think, listen and reflect on the death of bin Laden, I threw out some thoughts on my personal blog, afaithfulpath. Deb (unfinishedsymphony) and Greg (defendingobama) have done some reflection on things as well.
I'm not in the business of telling anyone how to think. But it's pretty important that we do think. We need to take time to reflect and pray, seeking God in things. I encourage you to do just that with such a news cycle as we saw this past weekend.
If I have any one recurring response to everything happening in this kind of news cycle, it's to humbly fall before our God and plead for the courage, wisdom and opportunity to help with making this a better world, more filled with light, more given to hope and more inhabited by peace...
"Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love,
Where there is injury, pardon
Where there is doubt, faith,
Where there is despair, hope,
Where there is darkness, light,
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much
seek to be consoled as to console,
not so much to be understood as to understand,
not so much to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
it is in dying that we awake to eternal life."
--- St. Francis of Assisi
Hope to talk to you, soon!
With all peace, Todd
Double Dog Dare!!!
Ok, it's not really a dare, but I do have a challenge for ya!
This coming week we are welcoming our newest family into the house at 5004 Del Ray. If you aren't familiar with our ministry with the Del Ray House, here's the short story... we own, you and I at Church in Bethesda, a house behind our building on Del Ray street. Each year about this time a new family moves in and has 12 months of rent-free, utility-free living. Who are these families? They come from all over the world and are here in Bethesda for one of their children to receive life-saving medical treatment at NIH. When they have to find a place to live it can be crippling for a family on limited finances.
So we have hosted families from Kenya and the Dominican Republic, and now will host a family from Guatemala starting next Tuesday! It's just one facet of our committment to blessing families connected with The Children's Inn at NIH.
And here's the challenge... each year as we bid farewell to one family and welcome a new family, we clean and do some minor things to keep the house in good order. This year we are looking at about $500 worth of cleaning and small appliance replacements. And though we budget each year for providing the house, summers can be a tough time for us financially as we scatter on vacations and weekend jaunts... so, who will match my $50 to help get us to $500?
That's the challenge... Teresa and I are throwing down $50... who will join us? Nine more individuals, couples or families throwing down $50 and we're there! This is out of budegt, on top of Sunday's usual gifts that we all make. Who's in? Let's pony up the dough!
Let the Lenten Season Launch!
Well, I can’t say that Lent snuck up on me. I guess I just wasn’t thinking far enough ahead to be prepared or Ash Wednesday this week. Last night when it really hit me that today was the Lenten kickoff, I wasn’t ready with any clear thoughts on fasting or what I may do this season.
Thankfully, as many can tell you, Lent is not just about fasting. It is a season of fasting, but also of repentance, penance, prayer and reflection. We are asked to take a forty day journey of the soul, much as Jesus wandered in the desert for forty days before a face-to-face time of temptation with the Accuser and the beginning of his public ministry. We are asked to look ahead to Easter’s meaning, to Easter’s beginning, and make ourselves ready. A journey is before us.
So what is Easter’s meaning? What might begin in me this year at Easter? What might begin in you? What might begin in us? These are the kind of questions last Lenten fasting, prayer and reflection will deepen in us.
Will I fast from something this Lent? Yes, I will. I can’t help myself. I love the ritual and the call to exercise self-control and mastery over myself. Will I fast perfectly? Probably not. As much as I might enjoy them, I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with self-control and mastery of self. But I’ll give it all I have, and believe that God will handle the rest. I will say this… if you choose a Lenten fast, make it something you’ll miss. Make it something that will create a void, a space in your life, and fill that space with your prayers and reflections.
That space we’re creating in our lives is really the point of Lent, not the making of the space. Any fast we undertake is a vehicle, not the destination. So as you consider Lent and a possible fast this year, think of where you want be come Easter morning with that internal journey. With a course set, then prayerfully roll on.
Is setting the course a bit of challenge? Take the day today to reflect and pray. Ask a friend. Make a list. Start your fast tonight or tomorrow morning. It’s not about the legalities of the fast, but about making that space for God’s greater movement in you and then through you into the world.
May your Lenten Season, your internal journey, prayers, reflections and even your fasting be richly blessed as God gives you grace and challenge in the next forty days!
With all peace, Todd
Art Supplies Going to Honduras!
Great job CiB on filing up the suitcase of art supplies for kids in Honduras! Our own Reverend Deb was able to deliver the suitcase this past week and blogged some news and photos on her blog site An Unfinished Symphony, check it out!