Monday Meditation – Touch

Touch

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners, (Isaiah 61:1  NIV)

Jesus healed the sick by touching them and restoring them to their communities. The priests only wanted money for sacrifices to be made in order for one to be allowed to rejoin one’s family and community.  They wanted to be paid in order to make one ritually “pure” again.

Miracles

Big miracles like the virgin birth and the resurrection just don’t happen in my life with too much frequency.  But many miracles Jesus performed every day, like touching someone in need, often those who no one would touch.  I’ve seen such love, I know it can happen.  I just don’t see it enough.  Touch is an incredible miracle.  Because without it none of the others would matter.  Even one’s weak faith did not disqualify you from receiving Jesus’ touch.

A touch.  The compassion of one man willing to break all the rules to touch you at your lowest.  It doesn’t have to be physical, it can be spiritually.  But both together are so powerful.

Dear Lord, Your Son came to touch and heal us.  Let us follow His lead and reach out to those nobody wants to touch.  Grant us courage to do so.  Amen.

Monday Meditation – Melting Pot?

Melting Pot

The phrase “melting pot” came into general usage after the presentation of the 1908 play of the same name came out.  It was used as a metaphor to describe the United States.  The US was seen as a fusion of nationalities, cultures and ethnicities, a homogeneous society in spite of its diverse immigration patterns.

But those who know cooking understand that when you put items such as spices, meats, broth etc. into a pot, the food does not “melt” together but mixes with the rest to strike up combinations that are hopefully very tasty!

The oil, ghee, cumin seeds, ginger root, garam masala and tumeric I mix and heat up in a pan, don’t become less than what each began, but instead are enhanced by the other flavors and retains its own to help the other ingredients taste even more delicious.

This is what America has become – a stew pot of all kinds of ingredients. Added together, they season the entire meal with so many different, interesting and tasty flavors.

This is what the church must become.  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said the most segregated hour in the US is Sunday morning at church time.  Unfortunately, for most churches this remain true.  Some have managed to overcome segregation environment, but many remain homogenous communities usually within very heterogeneous neighborhoods.

But like the Apostle Paul wrote, the church is made up of all different kinds of parts. (1 Corinthians 12)  If one is missing it stresses the whole body.  The organism can survive and live, perhaps even thrive but at what cost?

Dear God, you created each of us in your own image.  Help us to live as one body with Christ as our head.  Let us see diversity as you do, as a strength and not as a burden.  Help us to cook with all your children in the kitchen, knowing that for once too many cooks can’t spoil the pot!  Amen.

Monday Meditation – A Historical Connection for Building the Kingdom of God

Connectional Giving Blog

In second Corinthians 8:1-5 (NIV), Paul tells us of the extreme generosity of the Macedonian church.  It wasn’t out of abundance and peace that they gave but during strife and poverty they found ways to give financially to the church.

In verses 13-15, we have an understanding of the connection that was built between the Macedonian, Corinthian and Jerusalem churches.

“At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality” (NIV)

When one had plenty they were asked to give to those who needed.  Just as it would be returned to them when the other had plenty.

Now Paul set up some parameters to this giving.

  1. There is a genuine holy need. The Jerusalem church shouldn’t be hoarding the money either but using it toward ministry.  The Jerusalem church, being in a city, had many widows, the elderly, visitors and orphans in need of assistance and who needed care.
  2. Giving is interdependent. The financial support is given by everyone no matter how small a donation it may be.  The Macedonian and Corinthian churches shared in the support of the Jerusalem church.
  3. Giving is reciprocal. Even if the Corinth church was never without funds, the Jerusalem church could give to it once it was able to, in support of the Corinthian ministries.
  4. The gift is given for the furthering of the Kingdom of God.

“We want to avoid any criticism of the way we administer this liberal gift.  For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of man.” (verses 20-21)

Being in connection is relevant to us now as well.

Methodists have a connection.  Each church is connected to another so that when a need arises, all can help lift those who are struggling with the challenges life brings.

We give so that others might be able to share the Kingdom of God with this world.  We give so that those sharing the Kingdom of God have the tools and skills necessary to make disciples of all nations.  We give to improve the lives of our fellow human beings because we have been called by our God to do so.

Therefore show these men the proof of your love and the reason for our pride in you, so that the churches can see it. (verse 24)

Almighty God, show us your love for each of us so that we might see everyone as our brothers and sisters in Christ, your beloved. Amen.

Seeking Ways to Be in Service to the Global UM Church – The Philippines

global church

1 Corinthians 12:27 – Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

The reach of The United Methodist Church is wide. We are a global denomination focused on making disciples for Jesus Christ wherever we encounter them.  On a recent trip to the Philippines, two GCFA staff members, two professors and sixteen graduate students from Belmont University Massey College of Business learned first-hand what it means to serve in a global denomination.

There are 12 annual conferences in the Philippines – all of whom are actively making disciples of Jesus Christ.  The members of the churches work every day to reach the poor, connect with persons seeking Christ as their Savior and receiving the Love of Christ in their homes and their places to worship.

Work began in earnest for the team on April 1 when we arrived in Manila. Belmont University and the Travel and Meeting Planning Department of GCFA coordinated the 10-day trip.  The purpose was to talk face-to-face with leaders of the Philippines annual conferences about their need for resources to support their ministries and how GCFA shared services can fill those needs.

Using one-on-one interviews, surveys and hands-on interaction, the graduate students talked with and learned of needs in the area of financial reporting, data collection, meeting planning, and giving methods in the areas they visited.

belmont students

The students worked on four areas of interest: missional giving, travel and meeting planning, effectively using the Ezra database outside the US, and training and leadership resources. Each small group met with church leadership and got responses in each of the work areas.

Dedication

However, an even bigger impact than talking first-hand with church leaders was the observance of the dedication of the people of the church.  When, in one area, the students learned that pastors and bishops sometimes travel by boat and sometimes even by horse to visit and worship with their congregations, the students saw great examples of faithfulness to the people.

The team was able to visit the Kapatiran-Kaunlaran Foundation, Inc. (KKFI) – an organization that works in the community to provide education, meals and skills training for children.  There they observed the impact that people dedicated to serving have in their ministry.

The students, in a report back to GCFA when they returned, shared the impact their experiences had on their lives as they visited people, offices and churches in Manila and Baguio.  The work in this ministry continues as GCFA leadership will review the recommendations of the team and find ways to implement them as we work to serve the global church.

Cheryl Akey, Travel and Meeting Planning Manager, The General Council on Finance and Administration

Many Parts … One Body

Working As One Body

Nowadays it takes a lot of technology to run a church, much as it takes different people to form a congregation to do the ministry of God.  “Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ” (I Corinthians 12:12 NIV). The technology available to churches are a few of the many parts – including its members – to support the vision and ministries of the church.  So incorporating helpful technology systems would benefit a church with efficiency and productivity, freeing up resources for its ministries.

Integrated Technology

Shelby Systems, a vetted corporate sponsor of GCFA, is a software company started in 1976 to support churches with integrated technology solutions. Today Shelby Systems continues its vision to serve faith-based customers with a full range of technology tools for ministry including people tracking, website design, content management, and state-of-the-art financial software.

United Methodist churches have benefited from using Shelby to manage several areas of their church:

“I have worked on different accounting systems in the past and Shelby is one of the most user friendly [systems] I have encountered. It is just very easy to work …”

Tina, First United Methodist Church, Montgomery, AL

“We have been with Shelby Systems for about 7 years now.  Although there is always something new and great to learn with Shelby, I find that when I called the support system they are the best.  When I’m finished with them I will know a lot more than I did before I called.”

Cheryl, St. Luke Community United Methodist Church, Dallas, TX

When your church uses resources that aid the ministry of the local church, it is living into the scripture message that there are many parts…and one body.

Power of the Connection – Working with Africa University

AU & GCFA

Last October, a team from GCFA’s Shared Services and IT departments traveled to Africa University (AU) for a week to perform an IT assessment and look for ways to strengthen the Church’s global ministries.  This was all in response to contacts and conversations during the 2016 General Conference.  The power of connection!  AU wanted us to work together on their technology and see how we might be able to collaborate to improve the work done at AU.

Working with AU is an opportunity to bring cost savings and efficiencies to others throughout the connection, regardless of their location.  We are continually looking for  solutions that will serve our church wherever we are or are planning to be. For example, this year, GCFA will employ a Shared Services Manager to focus on the Central Conferences.  The position will be based on the African continent. We are listening to the desires of our church and delegates from the central conferences and are implementing an out-of-the-box approach to seek global solutions.

Competing on a Global Stage

AU is looking to modernize its technology in ways that will help students succeed and show that AU can compete with other schools on the global stage. For GCFA, this is an opportunity to focus on the work within our connection in the central conferences.  We are focusing our efforts in the 2016 quadrennium on ensuring that our work and actions are serving the global church.

During the visit, we met with many wonderful people at the university.  We interacted with the faculty, the students, the Vice Chancellor, and all of his staff.  We spent the most time with Richard Fotsin, the Director of Information Communications Technology and his team.  We learned a lot about how things work in Africa and much about the culture and plans for the future.

AU-GCFA Staff

In addition to the Africa University staff, the GCFA staff included Michael Dunn, Network Engineer, and Stephen Pace, Data Center Engineer, Dale Owens, Application Development Manager, Derek Preston, Director of IT Infrastructure, and Shannon Lavrin, Senior Shared Services Manager.

The thing we love most about Africa, and Zimbabwe and AU specifically, are the people. John Calipari, University of Kentucky’s basketball coach, was recently stated that all of his success comes down to one thing – relationships.  For him, he said, nothing is more important.  We believe that the relationships we have and will continue to build through this partnership, speak to the power of the UMC’s connection.

Monday Meditation – Monkeys In the Wild

Monkeys

We have all had road to Emmaus moments.  Those times when what God was doing is right in front of us but we don’t recognize God’s presence in our living.

It’s easy to not see the Holy Spirit moving among us.  It is by its very nature difficult to detect.

Like monkeys in the wild.

How do you catch sight of a wild monkey?  By their movements in the trees.

First you see branches and leaves moving and then as you stare at a certain point, monkeys come into your view, generally as a flash of fur and faces.  Sometimes you are blessed to have one or two stand still for you.  But like the Spirit, they are always on the move.

Even knowing it is there does not make the Spirit’s movement easier to see. Whether flitting to and fro or vibrating as it hovers over the deep, the Holy Spirit is elusive but not unknowable.

It is generally after the fact that we see how God moved in a situation in order to save us, to bring us to enlightenment.  It may entail tough and hard circumstances but even in these moments, God is with us.

“Surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”  Matthew 28:20b (NIV)

Dear God, help us to see Your Holy Spirit moving in this world.  Let us know its movements so that we might follow with it to do Your good on the planet.  Thank You, Lord, for sending us this Spirit to comfort and join us in this unending work with freedom and joy.  Amen.

When We All Get TOGETHER …

Together We Can

First Quarter Giving

The title of this blog is a paraphrase of the familiar song we sing, but the idea is the same. I was reminded of that song title as I looked through our giving trends for the first quarter of 2017.

This is the first year for the Central Conferences to contribute to apportionments in a formal way.  Work of the leadership in the Central Conferences, the Economic Advisory Committee, the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters and others helped us get to this point. Their work developed a formula that is being used this quadrennium to fully engage Central Conferences in general Church apportioned giving.  Developing this formula honors the tradition of many conferences outside the US that informally participated prior to this year.

We have started the year with great participation. Through March, the collections are 13.1% of the full year’s apportionment.  This rate is comparable to that in the U.S. and is a great beginning to this new process.  Globally, Special Sunday collections are 6.8% higher than last year thanks to the generous giving of our members on World Communion Sunday.

Apportionment Giving

Apportionment collections through March are $1.1 million, or 6.4%, higher than the same period last year.  We recognize that for many members, local churches, and annual conferences connectional giving is a priority even if locally finances are tight.

It is apparent that many recognize the value of “getting together” to support global ministries to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world in all the ways that we do this in The United Methodist Church. The evidence proves that the people of The United Methodist Church are committed to giving to supporting global ministries.

Each of the seven funds shows increased collections compared to last year. The overall collection rate through March is 12.4% compared to 11.9% a year ago. The highest collection rate is Africa University at 15.1% with its collection up 10%!  With over 6,000 alumni, this funding will provide an education for many more people in Africa.  It also demonstrates the importance of this mission to all United Methodists.

Other funds that show increases above 10% are the Black College Fund and the General Administration Fund.

All of these trends demonstrate the generosity and commitment to God’s mission by those in The United Methodist Church. When we all come TOGETHER for the benefit of the global ministries of the denomination, great things happen for those whom we serve.  Thank you for your faithful witness of fruitful giving.

Rick King

Chief Financial Officer

The General Council on Finance and Administration of The United Methodist Church

Monday Meditation – After Easter Fear or Joy?

After Easter

The ending of the gospel of Mark is filled with fear.  So much so that it can baffle us with its lack of a happy ending.  Hence why some have tried to add a happy ending to the gospel which was not there in its earliest renditions.

Mark ends abruptly with Jesus’ death and the two women coming to an empty tomb.  We, like the women, can be afraid to accept the testimony of the young man who gives instructions for what it is to follow Jesus now that the tomb is empty.

Our fear can rob us of the greatest joy – seeing Jesus again.  Not in heaven or Jerusalem, but back in Galilee, where it all began, at the beginning of His ministry.

It is there that we can begin our own ministry based on Jesus’ ministry with His presence in our midst.

That alone should fill us with joy not fear!

He is risen!

He is risen indeed!

Hallelujah!

We Are A Global Church

Global Church

Paragraph 125 of our Book of Discipline tells us that: “United Methodists throughout the world are bound together in a connectional covenant in which we support and hold each other accountable for faithful discipleship and mission.”  We are a global church.

At GCFA we take the global nature of our church seriously.  GCFA has made it a priority to support ministries throughout the connection – both here in the United States and abroad through the many and varied ministries within our Central Conferences.

GCFA’s Board of Directors was in Cambodia recently for a board meeting.  As we reviewed a number of Advance Special projects in that country, we were struck by the tremendous dedication and professionalism of the General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM) missionaries and staff in Cambodia – as we were with the passion of the congregations we visited while in Cambodia.  The Cambodian church is a first generation church, much like the church was in the book of Acts.  The fervor and love of Christ, and the deep desire for information gleaned from Scripture, was evident and soul inspiring.

Soon after the sojourn to Cambodia, I found myself at Africa University in Mutare, Zimbabwe – one of the biggest success stories in our denomination – as it was celebrating its 25 years of higher education ministry.  At GCFA we are proud of our various endeavors with this special part of God’s World – and look forward to sending staff to Mutare in the near future to help the university revamp its IT infrastructure.  One cannot visit Africa University and talk with the students and staff without coming away with a real appreciation of the global nature of our connection – and the good that, by the grace of God, is occurring throughout the world by those within the United Methodist connection.

These two powerful experiences, plus a continuing array of others, bring home the point that we are brothers and sisters in Christ no matter where we live – one church of believers.  We have much to learn from one another.  GCFA hopes that through its ministry of administration it can find ways to serve all who call themselves United Methodist – from the newest churches in Cambodia to institutions of higher learning in Africa …. And everywhere and everyone in between.

Together we can realize the gains of being one body while at the same time embracing our diversity, remembering that “We are the body of Christ.  Each one of us is a part of it.” I Corinthians 12:27 (NIRV).  Thanks be to God for the global nature of our church.

Steve Lambert, General Counsel, GCFA