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 – The Ascension

Ascension

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. Acts 1:8-9 (NIV)

Ezekiel ascended leaving Elisha.

Mohammad ascended and then returned.

Jesus ascended leaving the disciples.

But Jesus went one more step.  After his ascension he sent the Holy Spirit.  He prepared a Comforter, the Holy Spirit, to be with us always, through the decades.  God would still be present in the lives of God’s followers even unto this present day and age.

God is still with us even as God’s son has returned to God.  The trinity allows for the spirit of God to remain with us then and now.  Indeed Christ’s leaving opens up a place for the Holy Spirit of God to be present in this world.

Yet Christ and God remain with us as well as part of the Trinity through the presence of the Holy Spirit.  It provides a doorway to the two other but same entities that co-exist within God’s self.

Consider ice, water and steam.  All exist within each other, yet are separate. The Holy Spirit, God and Jesus exist within each other but are at the same time separate from one another.

Let us partake of this presence in order to shore up our faith and guide our lives.

Dear Holy Spirit, come.  Come and enlighten us.  Come and free us.  Come to comfort us.  Come to guide us.  We ask this in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

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

Praying For Our Coptic Brothers and Sisters In Christ

Egypt

In human history, conquering generals would process into a city high atop a large stead or chariot.

Our God chose a lowly donkey to enter triumphantly into the city.

Why?

For sure it was to fulfill prophecy but could there be additional reasons?

The Romans chose tall stallions to exalt themselves above the crowds.  Jesus chose a young donkey to put Him in the midst of the crowds.  It made Him vulnerable and accessible.

Like our Savior, we as Christians, make ourselves vulnerable and accessible in a world that can be, at times, terrifying.

Two Coptic Christian churches in Egypt learned first hand the terror of being open to the world.  A bomb planted under a pew is a violation of the sacred and brings death and destruction into a place where only love and grace should exist.   People came this past Palm Sunday to meet their Jesus on a humble donkey.  Instead, forty-seven were killed and met their maker too soon.

Much like the church bombings during the 60’s in the South, these barbaric acts unsettle our faith.  People were being killed at the end of a bible study in church simply because they were part of a racial group.  It is at these times that we wonder where was God.

Then we remember the simple donkey and we realize that God was there in the midst of that chaos and bloodshed as well.  We choose to worship a God with us and not over us.  We worship not a conquering general atop a noble steed, but instead we worship a God that is vulnerable and accessible to us especially during horrific times.

We pray God’s continued presence for our Coptic brothers and sisters in Egypt.  Indeed, we pray for all our fellow Christians under persecution in our world today.  These killings are not the last chapter in our lives as believers in Christ.

For every death there is a Resurrection!

Monday Meditation – Fear in the Garden of Gethsemane

Fear in the garden

Vincent Taylor, author of the Gospel of Mark (1963), surveys several interpreters for the verses in Mark 14 that states in the NIV, “He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,’ he said to them. ‘Stay here and keep watch.’ ”

Here are the various interpretations Taylor found.

“The Greek words depict the utmost degree of unbounded horror and suffering” in this biblical passage

“Suggestive of shuddering awe”

“His [Jesus] first feeling was one of terrified surprise … the distress that follows a great shock”

Jesus is “appalled … agitated”

“It [the biblical passage] describes the confused, restless, half-distracted state which is produced by physical derangement, or by mental distress, a grief, shame, disappointment, etc.”

Jesus faces his destiny with abject terror, like any human being in His place would do.

Much like we do, when in fear, we go to those closest to us to comfort us, to help us get through the fear.  Seeing that “Abba” (Father) was not going to take away this cup from Him, Jesus goes to his inner circle of disciples leaders and finds them asleep!  Even they couldn’t stay awake long enough to pray for and with Jesus.  Three times Jesus finds them asleep.

Peter who boasted of never denying Jesus, John and James who wanted to be on the right and left of Jesus on the throne, none of them could last one night without sleep.

Yet Jesus, even in fear for his life, returns again and again to God.  He handles His terror with prayer, in the very presence of God.

Let us remember to do as much when we feel scared or lack courage.  Prayer helps us not be unafraid but to have courage in the face of fear.  Much like it did for Jesus.

Dear God, even in our fear, help us to see Your protection and love around us at all times.  Despite what we may be feeling, help us know that You have called us to a purpose to be fulfilled and You are with us every step of the way.  Amen.

Monday Meditation – Righteously Livid

House of Prayer

When dealing with the emotional life of Jesus, one must turn to the cleansing of the Temple as a direct action campaign by our God in the political economy of the Temple state.

After examining the Temple the evening before, (Mark 11:11) Jesus returns to the outer court where businessmen have set up shop to exchange money and sell live sacrifices. Others were transporting goods to and from the Temple.

He takes three actions:

  1. Drives out those buying and selling
  2. Overturns the tables of the moneychangers and those selling doves
  3. Prevented people from carrying anything through the temple.

The Temple was not solely a religious institution but also an economic hub of activity.  The mixing of the sacred and the profane did not surprise Jesus.  So what was He righteously livid about?

He drives out the buyers and sellers, but more specifically He “overturns” – another translation could read it as “destroys” – the moneychangers and the sellers of doves or pigeons.  Why these two?  They represent the buyers and sellers who come in and rob those who are trying to regain introduction back into the community.  The poor and the unclean were considered second-class citizens and had to pay for their return to acceptable status within society often only able to afford the smallest sacrifice available to them, doves.

Jesus had done away with the purity laws and practices of the time throughout His ministry.  He does not want the people to be taken advantage of as they sought to regain some sense of humanity after being declared unclean by the very people who can then capitalize from their need to become clean.  He realized that these cultic practices of the day were no longer about God’s will but humanity’s greed.

House of Prayer, Den of Robbers

Isaiah 56:1-8 (ESV) reminds the readers that all are included in God’s “house of prayer.”  However, the Temple has instead become a den of robbers as in Jeremiah 7 (ESV).  It oppresses the foreigners, the fatherless, and the widowed.  Its follower and leaders “steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to other gods” and as such actions imply “rob” God of all due to God.

Just like the place in Shiloh, Jeremiah 7:12 (ESV), if the Temple does not reform its ways, it will be destroyed.

Dear God, help us to see how we may be hindering people from coming into the church.  Help us to see the ways we make people jump through hoops to be a part of our community.  Help us to love everyone who comes to our doors as sisters and brothers.  And let us be righteously livid when they are not.  Amen.

Monday Meditation – Lent : Love

Love

Who do you love?  What do you love?

In Mark 10:17-22 we have the only reference in the gospel to Jesus “loving” someone.

What makes this man so special that we learn Jesus “loved” him?  The assumption is not that Jesus loved no one else but we aren’t told in the other stories so explicitly as we are told in this story that Jesus loved someone.  Why are we told that Jesus “loved” this man?

It is in his commands to the rich man that shows us the reader, that Jesus’ love extends to all he has encountered in his ministry – the healed, the called and the oppressed.

One translation for Mark 10:21 is as follow, “Get up, sell that which you have, give it to the poor and you shall have treasure in heaven.  Come, follow me.”

“Get up” is used in “healing” stories.  This is a “healing” story as well.  It is a healing of the soul from the accumulation of stuff and wealth.

The second “sell that which you have” and last commands “Come, follow me” recalls the disciples and others who were asked to give up all they had and follow Jesus.

These two groups, the healed and the disciples, Jesus alludes to also have his love for they already have done what he asked of the rich man.  Even though ultimately the rich man does not do as commanded, Jesus knowing this, still loves him.

The poor are brought front and center with Jesus commanding the rich man to give all he had to the poor.  Jesus loves them enough to tell this rich man to provide for them.

Unfortunately, the man cannot obey and leaves.  While he has kept the commandments he has not acted in the spirit of the commandments.

Dear Lord, let us not just adhere to the letter of the law but the spirit in which you intended it.  Otherwise we run the risk of turning the law into an idol.  The Sabbath was made for man not man for the Sabbath.  Amen.

Monday Meditation – Lent : Compassion

sheep without a shepherd

In Mark 6:30-44 we have Jesus filled with compassion for his people who are like “sheep without a shepherd.”  In the original Greek, literally the word we translate as compassion means “to have one’s guts torn apart.”  What causes this primal compassion Jesus feels for the crowds?  Their ignorance, their lack of knowledge?

He teaches them well into the late hours of the day. Later in the story he had further compassion on them for their physical hunger.  He tells the disciples to feed the people.  He doesn’t ask them to, he tells them to.

The disciples’ lack of compassion for the people makes Jesus’ all the starker.  The disciples balk at having to spend so much to feed so many when they had suggested that the crowds be told to go and buy their own food.  Having just come from the mission fields, the lesson of hospitality has been wasted on them.  While they were to rely on the compassion of others in the mission fields, we find them without compassion for the people following Jesus in desperate need for His teachings.

Jesus cares not solely for His people’s spiritual lives but also their physical well-being.  And He tells us to do the same.

“But he answered and said to them, ‘You give them something to eat.’”  Mark 6:37 NKJV

Dear God, help us to do what you commanded your disciples to do all those years ago – Give your people something to eat, both physically and spiritually.  Amen.

Monday Meditation – Lent : Rage

rage

Continuing with our Lenten series on the emotional life of Jesus, we turn to Mark 3:1-6.

In this passage the Pharisees provoke Jesus’ anger.  After a discussion about what one can or cannot do on the Sabbath, Jesus makes the talk concrete by inviting forward a man with a withered hand.  Jesus asks the Pharisees, is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil?  To save life, or to kill it?

The Greek description Mark uses for Jesus’ anger at the Pharisees is unprecedented in its use in the gospels anywhere.  Jesus is enraged because of the Pharisees stubbornness of heart, their lack of compassion for someone on the day made for humans to contemplate not just God but God’s relationship to humanity.

Do we do good when it is convenient for ourselves?  Or do we do it at every opportunity that God presents us with?  Does our own selfishness get in the way of our own compassion for people and do we use rules and regulations to keep ourselves out of the discussion?  How enraged would God be with us on the Sabbath?

Dear God, sometimes we have not been a loving church.  We have sometimes been too obedient to the structure and laws of the church than we have been compassionate to others.  Lord help us to see that the Sabbath was made for us and not us for the Sabbath, an idol that can obscure your face from us.  Help us live to do good when and where we can.  Amen.