Mission First!

December 30 Call to Prayer

by Teresa Dulyea-Parker

Jeremiah 29:11-14

11For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. 12Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. 13When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart,14I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.

Jesus understood the deep connection, the underlying unity of all that is. The wholeness of God’s purpose evolving and being revealed on a daily basis.

It was this focus that carried Jesus through the hostility, mean-spirited testing, attempts to dis-credit his calling, distractions from his mission and purpose. He knew the reconciling love of God for the sake of the world. Jesus knew it was worth everything.

As scripture says, when you get tired, go over the story again. When you lack faith, focus on Jesus. When you are fearful, look to the One who said, “if you had but a mustard seed of faith” you would know that this momentary upset is nothing “compared to the glory about to be revealed to us.” Focused on God’s unfailing goodness and partnership, we can do anything. We can even overcome what has happened to us and find a new vision – putting Mission First.

Jesus knew. Nothing can break this unbreakable connection. It’s a given. A grace. He knew. So, do we.

Our Guatemala partners say to us when we visit them. “If you came here because you want to save us, you can go home right now. However, if you came here because you know that your salvation is tied up with ours, you are welcome.” We are connected in God’s great reconciling mission/work in this world. What happens to me, happens to you; What happens to you, happens to me.

  • Take a look around you this week. Notice who is walking with you, driving alongside you, serving you lunch, caring for you at the checkout. Take the time to see them. In your mind’s eye say to yourself, “I see you.” Hold them in prayer.

We are most in danger, when we fail to see each other; refuse to honor the dignity of each other; disparage the value of each other; dis-engage from the stories of each other; are indifferent to what each other is living through. The plain Vision we need for our day is simple – we are our brother’s and sister’s keepers.

Jeremiah the prophet spoke to a people who were badly broken and eventually scattered to the wind by overwhelming powers. A people who had forgotten their Mission First; connection to each other and thus, to God. The results were predictable.

And, yet, even in the midst of a nightmare. Even after the worst had happened, Jeremiah could speak dare to speak a hopeful word from God, For surely I know the plans I have for you .

You will rise again.

Prayer: O God, You alone are our salvation. Help us to be open to Your word, soften our hearts and heads to listen for Your wisdom. For it is Your way that brings blessing. Amen.

December 23 Call to Prayer

by Eugene W. James, Jr.

Inspiration

The glow of inspiration warms us; this holy rapture springs from the seeds of the Divine mind sown in man. — Ovid

When Dr. Sharon Watkins introduced the concept of Mission First! to the College of Regional Ministers, I was pleasantly surprised. I’ve never mentioned this, but it was similar to an idea that has floated in my mind for years, but I wasn’t quite sure how to articulate it and didn’t have any idea how to go about making it happen. I believe when people have input in creating something, they are inclined to put effort into it being successful. I would think that this is an expected outcome of all the work coming out of the Mission Gatherings and the Mission Council. And, quite frankly, it just makes sense to involve as many people as possible in the discernment of where God is leading the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) United States and Canada.

It’s my hope that along with the critical information that is being obtained from all the discussions and deliberations, that inspiration will continuously percolate to the surface and permeate every phase of this initiative. “…seeds of the Divine mind…”; the anointing of the Holy Spirit.

Prayer

Gracious and loving Jehovah, holy and righteous is your name; you are worthy of all praise, glory, and honor. We are grateful for the diligent efforts of so many Disciples in so many places as we strive to understand your will for us as we seek to truly be a movement for wholeness in a world, a country that has become even more fragmented. Though the task may seem daunting, help us to put our hope and trust in you. Help us to remember that which seems immensely difficult can be accomplished by the strength you make available to those who trust in you.

Thank you for the dedicated and committed persons at every level of our structure who have given of their time, gifts, and resources to Mission First! Anoint them in a very special way; may their hearts be fertile soil as your seeds of inspiration are sown. We thank you even now for a bountiful harvest.

In Jesus name, Amen

 

 

December 16 Call to Prayer

by Lori Tapia

Gracious and Merciful God:

Oh loving Lord, you know all, see all and examine all, receive the gratitude of our hearts knowing that we come before you humbled by your grace and mercy, and pausing to intercede for the Mission First process. While a gathering of the Mission Council has moved the process into the next stage, only your Holy Spirit knows the direction of your will, your plan and purpose.

We thank you for your faithfulness, knowing this is uncompromised. Help us to understand that every step of the process is a step into worship, a piece of the bigger puzzle of your Kingdom. We recognize that as your children, we are called to be a beacon of your light, to be a witness of courage and humility, a people who pray and seek your glory.

We pray that you continue to be with every member of the Mission Council during this time of discernment, filling their cups to the overflow with wisdom. We thank you for the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) who has stepped out in bold action to hear your voice, to seek your guidance and your Spirit. It is the desire of our hearts to be led by you, in step with your Spirit, trusting that your Word is with us as a light to our feet, and a lamp to our path.

We are a people called to mission, a people called to step up and act boldly in a fragmented world, a world that strives on friction, division and contention. Strengthen us beyond comfort to a place of courage and action as we collaborate, partner and strive to walk in joy, love and mercy, witnessing to the world around us the power of your Holy Spirit in your Church.

Remind us every day as your followers that mission is not an occasional event, but an everyday call on our lives as followers of Jesus Christ. Break down the walls of division and help us to build bridges of understanding and communication that enables us to go deeper into relationship with one another, with ourselves and with you.Teach us to be your Church, a church of mercy, grace, and love, a church that extends a helping hand to the one in need, clothes the naked, feeds the hungry and stands against the injustice that perpetuates oppression in a world you have set free.

Oh gracious God, in the next steps of this Mission First process, we seek to hear from you, and wait for your move. Open the eyes of our hearts, do your will in us and through us as and may we bring honor and glory to your name in the process. We pray in the matchless name of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Amen.

December 9 Call to Prayer

by Christal Williams

The word of the day is sufficiency.

The quote of the day: The fear of inadequacy must never keep us from approaching God.

Prayer thought: Please join me in prayer today as we focus on the Sufficiency of God. I believe that God is able to do more than we can ask or think. (Ephesians 3) May we all join in an attitude of Abundance and Love. (more…)

A note from the General Minister and President

Romans 15:4-7 and 13 (lectionary text for Dec. 4, 2016)

4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, so that by steadfastness and by the encouragement of the scriptures we might have hope. 5 May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, 6 so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 7 Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God… 13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.

sharon-watkins2015Advent is the beginning of the church year, a season which begins focused on hope. This past weekend the Mission Council of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) listened together to the Spirit to discern a shared mission for Disciples. The Council heard God’s call to continue welcoming all God’s children to the Lord’s Table as Christ has welcomed us, going out into the world to care for Jesus in the person of the most vulnerable, working to address the causes of vulnerability in our culture.  We explored how these priorities might be expressed by ministering among children, youth and young adults in our communities.

We rejoiced in the Spirit’s presence in the music of our hearts and the words of our sisters and brothers, particularly those of Dr. Moiseraele Prince Dibeela, PhD, former general secretary of the United Congregational Churches of Southern Africa and now head of Tswang Learning Communities in Botswana. Dibeela’s words of challenge and comfort accompanied us throughout the weekend as we wrestled with the call, focusing on what we heard from the Mission Gatherings and the leading of the Spirit among us.

As we test and share refinements of these priorities with the various boards and ministries of the Church, we are confident God will show us the way to make connections toward wholeness and hope. – Sharon

An example from a global partner

Mission Council Conference

Dallas, Texas

3rd December 2016 Rev Dr Prince Dibeela

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1.    Introduction

In the UCCSA we used a framework of Mission which I wish to share with you here. It is a framework sometimes referred to as the five marks of mission. It was important for us because it is simple and could be understood by people even with very basic theological understanding. Using this framework, we created a missional manual for the local church called ‘Tell me the old, old story.’ It will be important for you to develop carefully selected resources that could be used by the different expressions of the church.

2.    Telling the Story

Over generations we have pre-occupied ourselves with evangelism as the heart of our missional journey. Many have used the great commission  text as a theological under-pinning of the evangelical approaches they have adopted. We need to re-read this text, especially that previously it was read and often used to buttress imperial interests. We have to understand again what Jesus meant when he sent his disciples out in the world with the words of the great commission.

I am glad that there are representatives of theological institutions at this retreat. In my experience most theological institutions and seminaries tend to focus their training on areas such as Systematic theology, Biblical studies, Pastoral care and Ecclesiastical History. My challenge to you is that perhaps you need to do an audit of your programmes with the view to identifying how much of our theological content in our seminaries is towards maintenance, and how much is missional. Do we do enough in preparing our ministers to have the skills to be engaged in crossing boundaries or is our training about shepherding those who are already within the church? The discipline of Missiology has to be introduced as a necessity if we are to develop creative and outward looking Christian leaders.

I want to invite you to look at the Lukan perspective on Jesus’  commission which is in Acts 1:8:

8 But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you;  and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

I choose this text because I wish to insist on the need for us to be prepared to tell the gospel as life-giving, and not debilitating, denigrating, life-denying, and condemnatory as we have done in the past.  The need  to tell the good news of Jesus Christ is not optional, however, how do we do it in such a way that it is not alienating to others? It is important that we recognize what Jesus meant when he says ‘you shall receive power,’ which for me means adequately prepared. Our preparedness is both spiritual and theological. Like I said yesterday we need the skill to listen- in, tune into a spiritual frequency as well as be theologically equipped to share the gospel.

Perhaps we should consider developing a module on Mission and Partnership (or missional church) which can be done jointly by those interested who are partners through Common Global Ministries. This  could be done online, weekly webinars, or those who are able to go on mission trips. I think we should be seeking ways that will stretch our imaginations and take us beyond our comfort zones.

3.    Teaching and nurturing

One of the endangered species in the church today is the Sunday school teacher. I am what I am today because of the many Sunday school teachers who patiently helped us to fall in love with the gospel. At a very early age we were taught important concepts such as salvation, justice, fairness, equality and Christian conduct which shaped us as we grew into adulthood. I am convinced that we should invest more into the teaching ministry of the church.

One of the strengths of the Liberation theology communities in South America was what came to be known as the Base Ecclesial Communities. Here they were able to study the Bible together, reflect on their political situations and study the works of people like Paulo Freira, Gustavo Guiterrez and others. There are different expressions of this throughout the world, some call them small groups and others call them cell groups. However, the point is it has been proven beyond doubt that we need a mechanism through which the church can become a learning space.

The theological college that I lead at the moment is called Kgolagano College of Theological education by extension. Over the years its strength has been in offering theological training to both clergy and lay leaders through manual distance education. We have been able to  equip  hundreds of people through simple, inexpensive and accessible theological approaches. The Missional Church ought to invest in its leadership and that of necessity means making theological education accessible to all.

4.    Tender and loving Service

I am convinced that the heart-beat of the gospel today is about enabling humanising relationships. In a world where the empire preaches polarization of people according to race, religion, class, sexual orientation and nationality the church has to offer the gospel as an antidote to such ideology of hatred and exclusion.

Our model of mission should be the incarnation which the Apostle Paul describes in his letter to the Philippians.  He says;

5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! 9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (2: 5-11).

I just think that missional church is about offering a new anthropology which is about embracing the other. It is the Indians who say Namasthe, which means “I see God in you,’ the Zulu say, Sakubona which means ‘I see you’ and in my language we say dumela which means ‘Let’s agree’, as though to say ‘Lets share the space’, let’s go together.’ These are powerful expressions of acknowledging the divinity that is in every human being, irrespective of who they are, what skin colour they are and what religious affiliation they are. It seems to me there is so much we can  learn from indigenous knowledge systems that can inform our theology.

The palliative activities of the church which include soup kitchens and shelters for homeless people are necessary. However, we need to equip ourselves to go beyond that by asking questions that will address structural injustice. We have to challenge the economic configurations  that continue to benefit a small population of the world at the expense of the majority. I believe we cannot continue to preach ‘fullness of life for  all’ or ‘wholeness’ or any of the missional priorities we are setting for ourselves without addressing the issue of economic injustice.  And by  the way the World Communion of Reformed Churches has done some good work, especially through a document called the Accra Confession. The World Council of Churches has had what is called the AGAPE process  which also addresses the dangers of neo-liberal economics and is searching for alternatives. The Council for World Mission initiated a process whereby they are seeking an alternative Economy. You don’t  have to re-invent the wheel because there are lot resources out there.

5.    Transforming the World

Dr Sharon Watkins and I had the privilege of serving in the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches for seven years. In the WCC we dealt with many ecumenical and missional issues, which I believe ought to be part of our local agenda. Among the issues that we preoccupied ourselves with included the situation in Palestine. We had to deal with the continued denial by Israel and the USA of the people of Palestine the opportunity of statehood, the continued embezzlement of their land by Israel, the continuing attacks in the name of self-defence by Israel on their children and destruction of their infrastructure. We dealt with issues such as HIV and AIDS and how the poor in the South continue to be ravaged by this disease even though Anti-retroviral drugs have been around for close to two decades.

We discussed issues such as the war in the Sudan, the situation of indigenous communities around the world, racism, sexism and lots of other issues. We identified what were the life-denying issues across the world and studied them with the hermeneutical lenses of justice.

These are issues that the Christian Church should not avoid in its  missional self-understanding. In the UCCSA we embarked on a programme through which we trained justice advocates across the denomination. The purpose was to create a critical mass that would be able to educate, problematize, speak to and on behalf of those in the margins as well as challenge the church to be true to its calling to justice and peace. We had developed a carefully structured programme that  dealt with prejudice, patriarchy, internalized oppression and how our faith informs us in dealing with these matters.

6.    Treasurer

The ecumenical movement has made critical contribution in the Conference of the Parties discussions on climate change. This  is  important and as stewards of God’s creation we ought to develop theologies and a voice regarding climate change. Perhaps this is an area where Disciples of Christ could actively create partnerships with partners in the South. Climate change is a matter of global concern and there are opportunities for developing synergy in harvesting of water, making clean water accessible to poor communities, planting trees in the face of deforestation,  promoting  organic  farming  and  other  such     missional projects. It could also be an opportunity to engage in common advocacy against big multi-national corporations such as Monsanto who destroy local agriculture through their massive business models that impose genetically modified seeds.

December 2 – Prayer for the Mission Council

by Nadine Burton

Gracious and Loving God:

We pause today to enter into a time of prayer around the Mission Gathering Initiative. We thank you for the work of your Holy Spirit throughout this process, understanding that it is prayerful and necessary Kingdom work! We recognize that WE are beginning where a great cloud of witness ended, so we approach this work with humility and courage.

This weekend, leaders from around the country are meeting to pray and listen, to discern and discover ways to move forward with mission imperatives. We thank you for every Mission Gathering group that gathered in 2016 to share in this ministry of discernment.  We thank you for every facilitator and team, who took time to navigate and discover meaningful ways to uncover the treasures of creativity, wisdom and dialogue.  We thank you for the Mission Implementation Team, whose wisdom and guidance continue to lead us to a place of discovery.

We pray that you move us beyond complacency, status, bickering, and selfishness.  We are joyful that as we seek to give the best of ourselves, you desire to give us the best of your Spirit. Move us to collaborate for the good of the church!  Encourage us to not waiver to the left or to the right, but to center our hearts and minds on the transformational work.  We desire to walk worthy of the calling that you call us to walk with mission priorities. We are the Church! We are hopeful that who we are becoming will be a spring board into new wineskins of mercy and justice.

As followers of Jesus Christ, remind us that we are called to mission in our everyday, ordinary lives: Inside the church, outside the church, wherever we live, work, and have our being in you.  We dare to touch lives to the fullest, to love our neighbor as ourselves, to structure our lives around grace, to uncover the depths of your love and mercy toward us, as we extend the same grace and mercy to others. We are strengthened by a witness and perseverance that calls us to think more highly of others than we do ourselves.  While we profess our love for the Christian Church (DOC), awaken us to the realities that we face. So that we will seek remedies for injustice, to give hope to those who are marginalized, to provide food for those who are hungry, a lamp for transforming churches, and unity and wholeness for broken communities.

Oh God, in the coming days, help us to see what you see, to hear what you hear, and TO move as you move. Open our hearts to do thy Holy will, to bring a “Good Report” on behalf of the Body of Christ. In Jesus name, this is our prayer. Amen.

November 25 Call to Prayer

by Allen V. Harris

Philippians 4:4-9

4 Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. 5 Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. 6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8 Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. 9 Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

Isn’t it so like us human beings that when this or that doesn’t go the way it always has or the way we had hoped it would, that our minds go into a tailspin?  You had your day off planned perfectly (in your mind, at least) from the early morning yoga, to the coffee with a dear friend, to watching a good movie playing at the metroplex at night!  Ahhhhh!  Then something happens and your day changes dramatically: a friend calls from the hospital, your car needs to be transformed into a taxi for a group of teenagers, a distraught friend drops by unannounced, or the tickle in the back of your throat becomes a full-throttle sore throat.  Argh!  And, if you are like me, my mind then becomes my worst enemy, and I become obsessed with how things aren’t going my way – sometimes to the point that I jeopardize the rest of the day due to the depression or frustration in which my mind has chosen to dwell.

I’ve experienced the very same thing with congregations and mission.  Sometimes we get so caught up in how we have done this or that project or endeavor, as worthy as it may be, that we get thrown off course quickly if something doesn’t go quite our way when planning or implementing the mission.  The pancake supper to raise funds for Week Of Compassion seems impossible when the primary pancake-flipper decides to go to a family wedding that weekend.  The women’s shelter that has been the focus of your Christmas Angel Tree for decades closes and all the energy and enthusiasm seems to dissipate into thin air.  The pastor who was beloved and seemed to be taking your congregation into a bright and shiny future gets called to another church in another Region.  Darn it!  And then we worry.  We worry about funding.  We worry about energy.  We worry about numbers.  We worry about growing older.  And our worries get the best of us!  Well?  In the words of a great Indigo Girls song, “You can stand there and agonize, ‘Til your agony’s your heaviest load.”

The Apostle Paul, writing to the church at Philippi, gives us solid words of advice about how to change our mind’s obsessive focus on the negative with a few helpful suggestions: “Rejoice!”  Gratitude is the greatest antidote to negative thinking.  “Let your gentleness be made know.”  Honest vulnerability, especially with those we know and trust and love, can transform hardened hearts. “Let your requests be made known to God.”  Pray.  Pray.  Pray.  “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”   Choosing to focus on the best life has to offer allows us to more fully receive the peace of God, which bypasses all human understanding.

When we as individuals or our congregations begin to fixate on how our perfect plans have been thrown into a tizzy or on how we cannot do what we’ve “always done before,” let us turn to Philippians 4 and remember that a refocusing of our minds might just refocus our hearts, and therefore our mission.  If we allow it, becoming a taxi to a bundle of teenagers might just be a ride overflowing with joy and laughter.  If we are open to God’s Spirit leading us, the loss of one mission focus might allow us to connect with new and more pressing needs in our community.  If we allow it, gratitude, vulnerability, prayer, and pondering that which is good might just change our lives.

  • This week, restart that gratitude journal you began a few years ago.  Share honestly with a friend your frustrations about life.  Pray one more time than you usually do.  Meditate on Philippians 4:8.

Prayer: “O God, when life doesn’t go the way I had hoped and my anxieties and frustrations take over my mind, help me find a way to stop, refocus, and try a new path that I might continue to follow Jesus to where I am most needed in the world.  Amen.”

November 18 Call to Prayer

by LaTaunya Bynum

Ezra 3:12-13

But many of the older priests and Levites and heads of families, who had seen the first house, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this house, although many others shouted for joy. No one could distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, because the people rejoiced loudly.

The exile has ended and God’s people have returned home to Jerusalem and the surrounding area. After they had settled into their newly rebuilt homes, and after being challenged to do so (see the book of Haggai), the people began the work of restoring the Temple. There was great celebration as the foundation for the new Temple was laid. There were shouts of joy for the Temple that would be. There were also shouts of lament and tears for the Temple that had been.

Change is hard. Some of us long for what we have known, even when it no longer exists. Others of us rejoice at what is to come, even when all we see is a bare foundation. As the prophet Haggai tells the story, God promises that the Temple to come will be filled with God’s splendor, and the ones who weep in lament and the ones who shout for joy will worship the living God together.

  • Read both chapters in the book of Haggai, and Ezra, chapter 3. List two times you lamented change, and five times you rejoiced at the new thing God is doing.

Prayer: Eternal and loving God, help us to remember that you remain faithful in every moment of change and transformation, and that you call us to do the same. Amen.