It is 2016, and it is the year of General Conference!
According to our denomination’s UMC.org website, “General Conference is the top policy-making body of the UM Church, which meets once every four years. The conference can revise church law, as well as adopt resolutions on current moral, social, public policy and economic issues. It also approves plans and budgets for church-wide programs.”
This legislative body will meet at the Oregon Convention Center, the largest convention center in the Pacific Northwest, on May 10-20, 2016. There will be a total of 864 delegates from annual conferences across four regions of the world.
The regional breakdown is as follows: North Central U.S. (92), Northeastern U.S. (86), South Central U.S. (108), Southeastern U.S. (188), Western U.S. (30), Africa Central (42), Congo (138), West Africa (80), Central and Southern Europe (14), Germany ((6), Northern Europe and Eurasia (20), Philippines 95), and Concordat (10). Forty two percent of the voting delegates will come from outside of the United States.
I ask that we pray each day for General Conference, and pray all day as an annual conference on Wednesday, January 16. Many important issues will be decided.
Let us pray: God, be moving in our midst to keep the unity of the church; and may we be witnesses to your love by the way we love one another in this important meeting. Amen.
Bishop Peggy Johnson
As I ponder the events of 2015 and look forward to 2016 I give thanks to God for each one of you. Thank you for your faithful service to the Lord Jesus and the many ways you sacrificially give of yourselves so that people might experience the love of God. Thank you also for the many Advent, birthday and Christmas greetings I have received and for your prayers and support.
As we anticipate another year of life and service to God I call you to consider making 2016 the “Year of Epaphroditis.” During December I have been studying the letter of Paul to the Philippians, and no matter how many times I have read it there is always something new and fresh in the Word that informs our present time.
Epaphroditis was sent by the Christians in Philippi to visit Paul, who was in prison for preaching the Gospel. In those days a person in prison was not afforded daily rations of food. The only sustenance came if someone from the outside brought in food and money.
Epaphroditis was the agent sent to do just that. More than food and monetary support, he brought the prayers and greetings of the Philippian people. Epaphroditis was a flesh-and-blood person to sit with Paul, talk with him and support him during this difficult time of incarceration.
Paul called him “my brother, co-worker and fellow soldier” (Philippians 2:25), and indeed this described him well. Both he and Paul shared the same loving Parent, the same ministry of proclaiming the Gospel, and like soldiers, both were in a place of suffering.
Paul was suffering as a detainee in prison, and Epaphroditis became ill–apparently gravely ill–during his visit. Paul mentioned that he almost died while on this mission. It is unclear what kind of illness he was suffering but it was such that Paul was greatly relieved when Epaphroditis recovered. This incident of the healing of Epaphroditis brought joy to Paul; but more than that, it was a shining example of one who is willing to be a risk-taker for the Gospel.
So in 2016, a new year full of mysteries yet to be revealed, I ask that you consider following in the footsteps of Epaphroditis. Offer not only a verbal messenger of love to people who are on the margins of life, but bear that message in a vital, visual ministry of presence that shows God’s love and care for them.
Give practical gifts for the body and spiritual words of encouragement. Be willing to take risks and even suffer for the cause of Christ, but not necessarily through physical calamity. There is the also suffering or risk of rejection and persecution, as you “speak the truth in love.”
There is the suffering of having fewer resources for yourself so that others can have more. May we also be willing to offer our disappointments and thwarted plans up to the Lord, who will transform them ultimately for a better purpose.
But when we receive God’s gifts in whatever form, then we must know that we are blessed to be a blessing. And when we give ourselves away to benefit others–like Epaphroditis and indeed, like Jesus Christ–we can, in Ghandi’s words, “become the change we want to see in the world.”
By Bishop Peggy A. Johnson
Philadelphia Episcopal Area
“It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas,” the song tells us. At least that’s true on store shelves heavily stocked with Christmas gifts and decorations for sale. And beyond the look, there’s the dubious sound of Christmas for some: “Cha-ching, cha-ching.”
A continuous string of commercials over the next month will ring with the same message: “Buy, buy now, and buy more!” The onslaught of ads that started long before Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber-Monday will continue long after, with hefty credit card bills arriving close behind.
But the church has a unique opportunity to show and share with people the true meaning of this season of Advent and Christmas and to model respectful, creative kinds of gift-giving and celebrating. Paul says in the letter to the Romans, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. “ (Romans 12:2)
How will you have a Christ-filled Christmas this year? You don’t have to be conformed to the patterns of this world, but you can instead push back against its “care-less” commercialism. Why not emulate the star that guided wise men, and set a shining example of a more excellent way for the world to follow? Here are a few thoughts:
Advent is the beginning of the church calendar and it begins four weeks before Christmas. During this time the church ponders the coming of Christ: past, present and future. It is also a time to look within. The best way to prepare for Christmas is to lean forward by exercising the spiritual disciplines of prayer, meditation, fasting, study of the Scriptures, tithing, worship attendance, Holy Communion and devotional reading. Ask God to reveal the things that you need to change in your life. Get involved in a Bible Study at church or in your community. Don’t miss a single Sunday of worship. Faithfully give of your means to help the poor.
by Minister Britni Michelle Johnson
God has given you authority to speak to some things in the life of others and in the life of your own. As a servant of God, He has put the power of His words in your mouth. With your mouth you can uproot, tear down, plant and build up. You can say to the mountain move from here to there and it will be moved. For God’s glory, whatever you ask in the name of Jesus, it will be done.
“In the name of Jesus Christ, I command you to come out of her!” This was the order Paul gave the spirit possessing the slave girl who was predicting futures and telling fortunes. Scripture tells us that at that moment, the spirit left her. At that moment! “May you never bear fruit again!” This was the command Christ gave the fig tree He found bearing nothing but its leaves. The bible reveals that immediately the tree withered. Immediately!
The tongue has the power of life and death, which is why we need to be careful with what we say. We need to make sure our words are His words. In the heat of an argument, a young woman cursed her husband when she said, “I hope you get hit by a Mack truck.” Now, it wasn’t immediately, and it wasn’t at that moment; but on that day, while out walking, her husband was struck by a Mack truck. Praise God that his injuries were not fatal.
Every now and then some unwholesome talk comes out our mouth. At times we need to be reminded that only words that are helpful for bettering others needed to be what parts our lips. The prophet Isaiah recognized his dirty mouth, saying “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips…” Every now and then we need some coal put to our lips so that it will purge our sins and iniquities. We need to have God wash our mouth out and then replace our words with His words. So that when we say to trouble “go away”, to pain “be removed”, to heartache “hurt no more”, to no way “be some way”, to walls “come down”; to the enemy “turn away”, to the foe “be a friend”, to what is broken “be now fix”; and to who is sick “be now cured”, we will know that the power of our mouth only came from the all powerful God.
Do not underestimate the authority God has given you to speak to some things in the life of others and in the life of your own. Speak life to your friends. Speak life to your family members. Speak life to yourself. Life is about construction, not destruction. Words of life are words that build up. Remember that for the glory of God, He has given you a mouth of power.
“For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not harm, to give you a future with hope.” – Jeremiah 29:11 NRSV
Thanksgiving is the only holiday on which it is fairly easy for my family to get together. Having a total of four pastors in the family means Christmas and Easter are both hard-working holidays. Therefore, they are out of the question for any type of “normal” family get-togethers.
There are a few traditions my family has around this holiday that are absolute must-haves. The first is that usually on the evening before, whoever can make it to the house goes, and my mother then makes the pies for the next day with her grandchildren. This activity usually involves lots of flour and sugar all over the place, sticky hands and sticky faces at the end.
You have to understand something about this tradition: it isn’t just one pie. No, this is every family member’s favorite pie. It isn’t uncommon for us to have ten or more pies, depending on what everyone wants that year. So this activity with the grandkids is a large production filled with lots of running back and forth and playful teasing and instruction.
The next morning gets started with me putting the turkey on and settling down with everyone to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. I then periodically get up to check on things, or I put items into the oven so that they are all timed to get done together.
In the midst of all this bustle and abundance of thanksgiving, I am always reminded of the precious gifts of our loved ones and our community. Because it’s the only time that my family has to gather together I always find myself being reminded of how fleeting these moments are.
God has given me, not just me but all of us, so much. God has given us those who surround us to love and be loved. That includes families who almost always have at least one argument over the Thanksgiving table, even if that argument is about a word count in scrabble.
To Jeremiah God says “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not harm, to give you a future with hope.”
We would do well to remember the gift of family and the gift of community that we enjoy. We are called to love and hold one another as the precious, beautiful images of God that we are called to be. These moments are not just the present, but the promise of the future.
Remember, in this season of abundance, the true heart of the matter is what lies right in front of you.
— Pastor Jon
By the Rev. Jonathan Wesley Hall
Pastor, First UMC, Frackville, PA, email@example.com
Republished with permission of author from News from the Pews, November 2015