Pastors year end report

This has been a good year for our church. We have some new people in our congregation. Though we have also lost some old friends. Your session has been working very hard at finding the future of our ministry at First Presbyterian. We will be having New Members classes starting in February. Over all I have a great sense of hope for our church.

We have also had to deal with some long standing problems. For several years we have had trouble maintaining 5 people on Session, so this year we reduced the number to 4. We did this so the nominating committee would not be burdened with the constant search for a 5th person. This year we also are making some needed budget cuts. These cuts do not reflect a lack of giving or a change in giving, but a rearranging of priorities in our church.

First some facts about our church. Since 2000 our church has been on a steady downward slide from 170 members in 2000 to 76 members in 2016, which works out to about 6 members a year. Over this same time our expenses have risen from $95,000 to $117,000. These two things together mean that the cost of running the church has risen from $600 per member in 2000, to $1400 per member in 2018. At the same time that our church has gone from 170 members down to 76 members our staff, pastor, secretary, custodian, and pianist have stayed the same. Very few churches of 70 -80 members have this level of staffing.

Our income is a testament to the giving people in our church. Our giving has been about 114,000 a year since 2007.

The difference between our income of $114,000 and our budget of $117,000 has been handled by not spending money in the budget designated for Mora Mission and Outreach, along with other areas. The result is that we do not spend money in areas that would bring our church growth. We want to change this so that we can make these items in the budget a priority. To do this we will need to cut our budget to equal our income.

At this point we have chosen not to change our staffing at the church. We have made the choice to cut salaries by 10% instead, with the hope that through our missions and outreach we will grow our church to a membership that can support our staff.

These cuts will be a sacrifice on the part of all of our staff.

How should you respond to our budget cuts? First don’t feel like we are failing, this is just a realignment to fit income to goals. Second maintain or increase your giving, so we can carry out mission and outreach. Third, find ways you can reach out to people in our community. Invite people to come to church, talk with them about your faith. Earnestly pray for the growth of our church and for people in our community to come to faith in Jesus.

I believe in our church, I believe it can and will grow! I believe in you the members of our church. Kathy and I believe in the future of this church so much that we not only give our tithe of 10% of what we earn to the church, but now we are giving another 10% through this pay cut, back to the church.

Believe in Jesus and Believe in your church! Working together we can and will Grow!

“The Wedding Cloths” Matthew 22:1-14

This parable of the Kingdom might strike you as strange, but is has something important to say to us about what to wear.

What should you wear to meet the president of the United States? One mother was horrified when there on TV her daughter was one of the Northwestern University women’s lacrosse players who wore flip-flops to meet the president.

First we will break down this parable. The invited guest are the Jews who have not accepted Jesus. The people brought in from the road are the gentiles. God, the King is delighted to have everyone there except one person who is not wearing wedding clothes.

We may think the King unjust, how was this man supposed to have wedding cloths when he was out traveling? The only explanation is that wedding garments were provided.

The understanding is clear. God has called us to the wedding banquet and He has provided us with cloths to wear and expects us to wear them.  Lets look at some of the garments God has given us to wear.

Isa 61:3 grant to those who mourn in Zion to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.

A headdress and garments of praise, instead of ashes and mourning. It is interesting how we manage to make being a Christian more like being at a funeral than a party. Yet Gods picture of people coming to Him is filled with rejoicing and celebration. Isa 61 continues with.

Isa 61:10  I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself like a priest with a beautiful headdress, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

Are we putting on His robe righteousness and garments of salvation or are still clothed in the filthy rags of our past.  

Phil 3:7-11 7  But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.   8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ   9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith

Jesus has given us new cloths to wear, Cloths of His righteousness, Cloths of Joy, to replace our guilt and shame.

Psalm  30:11 & 12 You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness, that my glory may sing your praise and not be silent. O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever!

While the rest of the world has no choice about what cloths they will wear, you and I have been given the cloths of a king. We dare not put them on. The King expects us to wear the righteousness, salvation, joy and praise He purchased for us on the cross. We need to put away our somber faces and seriousness, it’s time to put on the Kings wedding garments and rejoice in the party for we have a seat at the table of the King.

Mathew 20:1-16 “What Will You Earn”

Mathew 20:1-16 “What Will You Earn”

The final group of parables that Jesus shares are the parables of the end times. The parable of the vineyard workers is the one we look at today.

Here is a strange case of pay equality. No gender gap, women and men are all paid the same, a denarius. The rub comes at the end of the day when all the workers received their denarius. Those worked all day felt they should get more. Isn’t it human nature.

The denarius represents eternal life and the riches of heaven. Everyone who comes to Jesus gets the same. The person who follows Jesus from their first word to the person who accepts Jesus on the last day of their life all go to the same heaven. None of the workers were in the field long enough to earn what they got paid.

I was at the  Vasaloppet race last year. It was getting toward the end of the day, the winners having crossed the finish line many hours ago. But as people came off the lake and up the hill by the Library, they received the same bells clanging and shouts of joy for they had made it.

As followers of Jesus we need to remember God’s goal finishing the race of life not who got there first.

But there are differences between those who come first to the field and those who come last.

The longer they worked in the field the more they enjoyed the presence of Jesus in their life

The more God helped them through life

There is the confidence and assurance they have eternal life ahead.

The late commers suffered before they came to the field,

They also did not enjoy the love of Jesus each day like those who came early

Instead of being upset because they get the same eternal life we do we should be glad they made it.

A friend Clive and I were climbing Mt. Whitney. Clive wanted to take a break and told me to go on ahead. I went on to the top and had been sitting there for 20 or 30 minutes when Clive finally showed up. We signed the log book together. Sat on a rock and enjoyed the view. We both enjoyed the same view and thrill of being at the top. I just got to enjoy it sooner and longer than Clive.

As we see people come to Jesus we can rejoice that they have finally made it. Celebrate they have finished the race. And we can celebrate all years that we have enjoyed the presence of God in our lives and the blessing of God in our lives. We have not worked in the fields alone nor have we worked in vain. Every year in the presence of God is a blessing worth all the work for God we could ever do.

So break out the bells and ring them loud for everyone who finishes the race.

 

Matthew 2:1-13 “What to Give Him”

Read Psalm 72

We call them kings, they may have been astrologers or magicians, or Wise Men. We don’t know how many, only that it’s wise men not wise man, and there are three gifts mentioned. When they come looking for a new born King of the Jews, everyone is upset, king Herod would not to kill every child in Israel to protect His throne. In fact he shows restraint in that he only kills the children of Bethlehem.

The wise men brought Jesus gifts of God, Frankincense, and myrrh. The shepherds brought wonder, amazement and worship. So what gift will I bring?

For many Jesus is something they take, we even talk about accepting Jesus. Jesus is a garnish on the plate of their life like parsley on your dinner plate. Jesus is not someone you accept, Jesus is someone you surrender to. To take the blessings of God is not hard at all, but to surrender your life to God is nearly impossible.

We no more give God a part of our life, our pride, our wealth, sexuality, leisure time or whatever, and like little thieves we are taking it back. Our sinful hearts are like a yo-yo that goes away from God and then is drawn back to His hand. God does not tire of this game we play with Him, for He forgives and is rejoicing each time we return.

This week the church helped a couple of families with Christmas. One person said the greatest thing is that you thought of me, you cared about me. I think God feels the same way. In Harry Potter the selfish bully, Dudley, counted up his birthday presents then got upset because there weren’t as many as last year. God is not impressed by how much, how many or how big, our gifts to Him are. What matters to God is that we care about Him, thought of Him above all else.

In Rev 4:10 the 24 elders cast their crowns down to the feet of Jesus. They surrender all their glory at the feet of Jesus.

What can I cast to the feet of Jesus. What glory, riches, sinful thought or activity I hold dear to my heart can I surrender to Jesus? Will I lay it at His feet like the Wise Men did? Will you surrender your life, hopes, dreams, goals, desires and lay them at the feet of Jesus?

As your giving and receiving gifts this Christmas, take some time to pray and think about what you could give to Jesus, what you need to give to Jesus.

One Of Their Own

This Sunday of advent we remember the shepherds. An angel choir sent to give the news about the birth of Jesus. Why not kings or those in the temple? But the choir of angels biggest concert is given to a handful of shepherds half asleep on a hillside.

Israel was looking a warrior to defeat the enemy. They looked for a bull. But most of the prophecy about the coming Messiah talks about shepherds. Zachariah talks about the worthless and evil leaders as worthless shepherds who destroy the flock.

Zech 10:2&3 “Therefore the people wander like sheep; they are afflicted for lack of a shepherd.  “My anger is hot against the shepherds, and I will punish the leaders; for the Lord of hosts cares for his flock, the house of Judah,

Zech 11:1-17 Worthless shepherds who do not care for the flock but are even devouring the best of them. Worthless shepherds.

Jeremiah 23:1-6 “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” declares the Lord. Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who care for my people: “You have scattered my flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for your evil deeds, declares the Lord. 

Then I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will set shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing, declares the Lord. “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’

Jeremiah 3:15 “‘And I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.”

The hope God gave to Israel was a picture of a shepherd, not a bull. On that night in Bethlehem God sent shepherds to great the great shepherd. Jesus claims this position in John 10:11 “I am the good shepherd”. Jesus is the shepherd of Jeremiah 2 & 23. But the story does not end there. Notice Jeremiah 3:15 uses a plural, “Shepherds” not shepherd. Jesus passed on the shepherd position to His Disciples and then on to all of us. You and I have been called to be shepherds to the sheep.

The question comes to us. Do we care about the people around us that are being destroyed? Do we seek out and protect the young, heal the broken? Do we provide nourishment for the flock? Or are we about our own nourishment?

God is looking for shepherds not kings. I wonder which am I, a shepherd or a king? Which are you, a shepherd or a king? If we as a church are not shepherds, then God will remove us from our place and raise up new shepherds who will care for the people.

This Christmas as we look at nativities let us remember to be shepherds not kings. Perhaps you could leave the shepherd part of your favorite nativity set out all year long in a noticeable place to remind your self that you are to be a shepherd not a king.

Let us be shepherds to the people around us, caring for those being destroyed every day. Let us protect the young, heal the broken, and nourish the rest. Let us be shepherds not kings.

Micah 5 2 From Ancient Days

Micah 5:1-4 “From Ancient Days”

Today we remember Bethlehem. Joseph and Mary are forced to make journey of 60 miles or so, from Nazareth in northern Israel to Bethlehem in Southern Israel. While Jesus is to come from Nazareth God told Israel their king would come from Bethlehem. To fulfill this prophecy God arranges a census that would send Mary and Joseph on the 60-mile trip through the mountains of Israel to Bethlehem.

I seriously doubt that a 9-month pregnant Mary was saying, “Oh yes I see how this trip to Bethlehem is important, that makes my back feel a lot better.” For them the trip hardship. But they are driven by a census on a trip to fulfill Micah’s prophecy given 750 years before them. So old is the prophecy that the temple leaders have to go look it up.

We often think our lives are just a jumble of haphazard events with no rhyme or reason, certainly no great cosmic plan of God. But there is a plan, there are reasons we cannot see or even understand.

I can picture one ticked off Joseph throwing stuff into sacks and strapping them to a donkey. He may have some ideas of what the roman’s could do with their census. On the trip they go, to a crowded town with no place to stay but a stable full of animals.

You are part of God’s plan, I am part of God’s plan, at least some of our life events are part of God’s plan, even the parts we don’t like. Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” So where ever we are at in life God has a plan for us.

Another thing we can get from Micah 5 is that this plan is a long term one. Micah describes Jesus as one from ancient times. Jesus predates everything on earth. John chapter 1 says Jesus is God the creator. His roll in history all mapped out before the earth began.  Of course, Mary and Joseph could not see or understand this.

Your life events are not made up by God on the spur of the moment. It’s not like you wake up and God says let’s see what I can have Rick do today. No there is a plan, painted in broad strokes at least. This plan is older than the earth.

This great ancient plan takes Jesus from a stable in Bethlehem to a cross in Jerusalem, to a tomb, and to the throne of heaven. Not an easy trip.

Yet whatever the plan and the events of our lives Jeremiah 29:11 tells us that this great plan of God is for our good not our demise. His plan is to give us hope and a future. His plan is not directed at our moment but our eternity.

As we see pictures of Joseph and Mary on their journey to Bethlehem, or Jesus in a manger stall, let us remind ourselves that God is alive and well, guiding our life even in the darkest of days, to carry out a plan for our good, for our eternity.

Ready For Jesus

Matthew 25:1-13

Christmas is a wonderful month-long party. Advent is focusing our hearts and minds on Jesus and not on the party and presents. Each week of advent focus on a part of the Christmas story. This week it the prophets. People sent by God to tell Israel of the coming Messiah who would save them all and set things right. Yet for all the prophesies given them the people were not looking for Jesus, and certainly not ready to meet Him. In Matthew 24 and 25 Jesus gives the prophesies about His return. As we focus on the celebration of Jesus’ first coming it is important to consider His second coming.

The ten young women are outside the reception hall waiting for the celebration to begin. The groom is delayed so those who did not bring enough oil to last the night were worried and while they went to find more oil the groom shows up, the door is shut, and they miss the party. Once the groom arrives the door is shut and there are no second chances, only regrets.

As we focus on advent, we should also ask the question are we ready for Jesus? As I reflected on this, I find that I am not ready. If we think about it, Jesus is going to come for each one of us in the next 30 or 40 years, some sooner and some later, but He will come. Matthew 24:38 – 42 tells us things will be going along as normal and one will be taken and another one left. This is not only a picture of the rapture, but it is a picture of life. If the rapture does not happen in our life time, we will still go to meet Jesus. The question is will we be ready?

What will this meeting be like? Will we be frightened? Will we feel guilty? Will we recognize Jesus as a friend or as a judge?

One of the things we dreaded in school was the pop quiz. You never knew when it was coming. But there was one good thing about the pop quiz. If you kept the quiz questions you had a good idea what would be on the real test. Jesus’ first coming is like the pop quiz and He taught us what will be on the real test.

Jesus told us to focus on loving God above all and to love others. Jesus taught us to repent and be forgiven and then to forgive others. Jesus told us to live carefully with respect and obedience to God. These things are the final exam.

Am I ready to meet Jesus today? I am still working on getting those quiz questions right. I have much more to learn about forgiving and being forgiven. I still have not gotten the obedience thing right and I am to sloppy with my thoughts and actions. No, I still have some work to do.

Are you ready? If today is the day you are taken while we are left, are you ready? Use this advent season to not only celebrate the Baby in Bethlehem, but also to prepare yourself to meet Jesus the coming King.

When the groom arrives, the door is shut, and the party starts.

Matthew 18:21-35 The unforgiving servant

This parable is given in response to Peter’s question about forgiveness. After Jesus tells Peter he must forgive a person seventy times seven, He tells them this parable.

This parable is at the same time both simple and profound. The King is God, the servant is you, your debt are your sins. In the parable the king forgives a debt of 10,000 times 20 years wages. Roughly 6.4 Billion dollars. His fellow servant owes $870.00 and the unforgiving servant throws the man in prison. The King hears of it. And says I forgave you everything and you put your fellow man in prison over $870.00. Now I will hold you accountable for your debt.

Let’s put this into terms of our sins. If you only sinned 3 times in a day that’s over a 1000 sins a year, and 20 years’ worth is 20,000 sins. 10,000 times 20,000 is 200 million sins. And that is only if you sin 3 times a day. Yet however large the sum really is God forgives it.

How many sins has anyone committed toward you? 20 or 30? Have you got anyone getting over a 100 times? Considering all God has forgiven you, should will you still fail to forgive other people?

They spread gossip about you, call you names, undermine you at work or school, or cheated you in business. These are big things yes, but in the light of what God has forgiven you they are nothing. So, the straight forward message is you need to forgive others or God will hold you accountable for your own debt to Him.

Now I want to give this story a twist, to where you are both servants. God has forgiven you your great debt, yet you hold unforgiveness toward yourself. You make a mistake, speak crossly toward your spouse, child, parent, or friend. Now your angry at yourself for what you have done so you punish yourself in some way. We feel bad, are depressed, over eat, or isolate ourselves. We watch a bad movie or read a rotten book, spend to much on things we don’t need, or click on the wrong web page, or get angry because the car broke down. Now we are upset at our lack of holiness. So, we punish ourselves. We tend to be extremely unforgiving toward our selves. We stop praying because we are not worthy of talking to God. We stop going to church because we are not worthy of being with those other holy people. We stop being with friends because we don’t measure up to them. Some people are even physically ill because they fail to forgive themselves.

I was talking to a woman who told me that 20 years ago she stole her friend’s boyfriend and married him. She felt guilty and wanted to give him back. No, she wanted to know what I thought she should do. I told her to forgive herself, because God already has. Jesus died for your sin isn’t that enough?

God has forgiven you an astronomical debt, much of it you are unaware of and could not comprehend. But you will not let yourself off the hook for the ice cream cone you ate.

So, today look at life and ask who do I need to forgive? Could the person you need to forgive, even be you? What ever you have done, whatever someone has done to you, is nothing to what God has already forgiven you. Jesus has already paid for these things on the cross. Isn’t His life enough? Jesus was rejected, humiliated, beaten, nailed to a cross, his blood pouring out on the ground. He looks at us from the cross and ask isn’t this enough payment for you? Let us take up the challenge today of living a life of forgiving and being forgiven.

The Lost Sheep Matthew 18:10-14

The jungle was hot and wet with darkness falling, the group of men had been dropped off from a helicopter. Shortly after the firefight started. Will was the newest of the group, in country for two days and 18 years old. In the battle he got separated from them, He could be dead, wounded or captured, but they searched for him anyway. After a couple of hours, they found him, wounded and shook up but alive, they carried him to the LZ where the chopper came and picked them up. Relief and smiles came over everyone as they landed, they all made it back, it was a good day.

This is the story of the lost sheep from Matthew 18:10-14

This parable is given in the context of a discussion about who is the greatest or most important of them. Jesus’ response was to call the little child to Himself and proclaim the child to be the most important, then He gives this parable.

The owner rejoices not because this sheep is more important than the others, he rejoices because now they are all safe. Just as Will’s patrol did not rejoice because Will was more important, the rejoice because they all made it home safe that day.

2 Peter 3:9 “The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.”

The mission, the goal, is to get us all home safe. No one is insignificant. Everyone matters. If any of you are lost, we will all come looking. This is supposed to be the churches mission. Not just the pastor’s mission but everyone’s mission. Yet how many are lost with no one looking for them. How many have left the church without being noticed, and searched for?

Sam was in rough shape when they found her living in a culvert. Cloths dirty and rotting, addicted to drugs, and starving. Many people had seen her but never stopped, some people were frightened of her. Yet this boy on a bike saw her and went and got his parents. Now they were putting her in their car. It was the start of a long road of getting clean and healthy. But this family stuck with her, celebrated her success and when she fell, they carried her. Sam was safe, Sam was found, and one more child of God was going to make it home.

The mission, the goal, is not that we all are perfect or righteous and holy, the mission is that we all make it out alive, that we all return home to God safe. Maybe beaten, maybe bloody and wounded, but we make it back. The rejoicing is not because of a person’s importance, it’s because one more has made it home safe.

This is the parable of the lost sheep. Stop trying to measure your importance and start looking for the wounded and lost, and when you find them carry them home to Jesus.

The mission, the goal, is that we all make it safely home.

The Net Matthew 13:47-52

As we finish this section of parables Jesus tells them about the judgement. His fisherman Disciples would have sat on the shore doing this same sorting of good fish from the bad. Jesus has told His disciples to sow without regard, don’t worry about the evil growing in the world, for like the mustard seed it will grow bigger every day. You do this because the Net is coming.

Jesus wanted the disciples to feel an urgency about the task He has called them to. It has been 2000 years since He told this parable, perhaps that’s why reaching the lost with the Gospel does not seem so urgent to us. But it should be. 55 million people will die this year, 151,600 each day, 6,316 in each hour. Each and every one will face the judgement. How many will be saved? How many could have been saved? How many were good soil where seed would grow if only it had been planted?

How many of these were in our field waiting for Gospel seeds so they could grow? Do we go about sowing seed? How many churches in our area are evangelizing people? Or do we sit around waiting for the field to come to us?

Halloween is such an odd holiday. You buy a ton of candy, then sit by the door waiting for kids to come to the door so you can give them some. But secretly your hopping they don’t come, that way you will have that ton of candy for yourself.

Strange at it is, this is the strategy of the church. We gather and study all the words of good claiming we are preparing to share them, waiting for them to come to us, all the while we secretly hope no one will ask.

We are not prepared, they might reject us, only weird people do this, someone else will get it done, and do a better job.

But the job is not getting done. While 55 million die each day 113 million are born, every day. Our churches should be growing, yet most are not. Very few of us will lead someone in the sinner’s prayer, if we even know what that is.

I am convicted, for I have not sensed the urgency to tell people about Jesus. I have not led that sinner’s prayer very often.

We feel urgency, we must stop those people coming from Mexico, we need to stop the Muslims, we need to get to the Black Friday presale. But do I feel the same level of urgency to share the words of Jesus?

There is no time for us to feel guilty about what we have not done, only time to change what we are doing. People are counting on us. 55 million this year, 151,600 thousand today, 6,300 an hour. Sow the seed with reckless abandon, because for each of us the net is cast, and the sorting will come. There is someone in our field waiting for seed, so they can grow and be part of the harvest.