Today in our society, Thanksgiving has become to mean a lot of things to different people. To some people, it means shopping, traveling, eating, reunion... While to others, it means watching football, shopping on Black Friday and the like. It has become synonymous with turkey and dressing, cranberry and pumpkin pie. What began as a day set aside to thank God for the many blessings has become instead a day of celebration, consumption, over-eating, overspending, regret and stress. Can you imagine the confusion?
What does Thanksgiving mean for Christians? Thanksgiving is a sign of gratitude for God’s goodness, love and grace in our life. Without these three, we would be nothing. Thanksgiving should prompt us to respond to God’s goodness, love and grace in a practical way that would please God. One thing we need to understand is that God did not provide us with the bounty we have so that we might selfishly waste and spend it. God has entrusted the goods and gifts that we have so that we might invest and share them with others that they might also know of God’s goodness, love and grace.
How do we do that? First, give back a small portion of your Thanksgiving spending to the church thanking God for His goodness in your life. That shows your gratitude and appreciation for what God has done for you in your life. Second, invite a lonely or hungry neighbor to share in your meal during Thanksgiving: that is an act of love of others. Jesus tells us to love our neighbors. Victor Hugo in his “Les Misérables”, he says, “You can give without loving, but you can never love without giving.” Third, break old family dysfunctions or grudges by forgiving relatives or someone in your life as we have been forgiven by God. They might not deserve your forgiveness and none of us deserves God’s forgiveness and that is grace. Friends, I urge you this November, let’s break with traditions and truly have a real Thanksgiving.
In His Service,
What is Grace?
“…Jesus straightened up and asked
her, “Woman, where are they? Has no
one condemned you?” 11 “No one,
sir,” she said. “Then neither do I
condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go
now and leave your life of sin” (John
John tells us a story of the woman who was “caught” in the act of
adultery. We are not really sure if she was literally caught. Why?
Because some biblical commentators suggest that it was a staged case
or a plot. Some commentators say, this was an innocent woman who
was standing by the roadside and she was taken against her will by the
religious leaders of the day in order to trap Jesus into saying that the Law
of Moses did not matter (Jn. 8:6). Others argue that she was an actual
prostitute. Again, the religious leaders saw this situation as a “win-win”
opportunity for them. If Jesus did not defend her, then they could stone
the prostitute. And if Jesus defended her, then they could stone Jesus.
Remember, in Jn. 5:1-18, the religious leaders were looking for ways to
discredit and kill Jesus. And they found a way in this woman.
As we read this story, we start to understand that it could be possible: it
was a plot. How so? Here is one red flag: “Where was the man who was
involved in the act with this woman?” Did he escape? Could he be hiding
in the crowd of the accusers? Why was he not also arrested? For
according to the Law of Moses, both the man and the woman were to be
stoned to death. In fact, Deut. 22:22 says, “If a man is found sleeping
with another man’s wife, both the man who slept with her and the woman
must die. You must purge the evil from Israel”. The Bible is completely
silent on the fate of the man (Lev. 20:10).
Let us assume she was literally caught in the act, that means she
deserved to die according to the Law. Now, we understand, before she
was stoned to death, the woman’s accusers brought her before Jesus,
expecting Him to pronounce judgment on her. Surprisingly, Jesus asked
them if there was one among them without sin to throw the first stone.
The story tells us they all left one by one beginning with the eldest person
in that crowd. I like this part because as we grow older, we become
aware of how much we have messed up. No one could do what Jesus
requested them to do. After they had all left, Jesus left with the woman
on a one on one situation. He told her, “Neither do I condemn you. Go
now and leave your life of sin” (Jn. 8:11). In other translation, it simply
says, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more”.
Now, this woman is guilty. She is speechless. She knows, she deserves
to die. She is brought to Jesus and the later says, “Neither do I condemn
you.” That is grace. What is grace? A simple definition of grace is
undeserved favor of God. It is the kindness from God that we do not even
deserve but God bestows it on sinners who deserve wraths. There is
nothing we have done or can ever do to earn this favor. It is a gift from
God given freely to whoever wants it. The woman did not deserve it, she
did not earn it but Jesus gave it to her anyway. It was a gift.
However, Jesus did not end only by not condemning her. He added a
statement that we always seem to forget, “Go now and leave your life of
sin.” Or simply, “Go and sin no more”. What did Jesus mean by that
statement? Jesus was not telling that woman to live a sinless life. Why?
Because it is impossible. 1 Jn. 1:8 says, “If we claim to be without sin, we
deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.” So, Jesus was aware of this
fact. What Jesus was telling this woman was to not return to sinful
lifestyle choices and live a self-centered life. In other words, Jesus was
warning this woman to not continue in the same path of rebelliousness.
Why? Because it leads us away from God. That is holiness. Should
Jesus refrain from saying “God and sin no more”, His grace would be
incomplete. And so, He had to tell her the truth. His words both extended
grace and demanded holiness.
It is sad to say, but many denominations in the world have become so
complacent as they embrace sinful lifestyle choices in the name of grace.
Grace without holiness is not grace at all. This type of grace is dangerous
because it leads people astray. It is like telling a bank robber that you are
doing fine, there is grace for you; in fact, you can go and rob tomorrow
again. Grace and holiness go hand in hand. They are both sides of the
same coin. Grace is more than unmerited favor but the power of God He
gives us to move toward holiness, to overcome sin and to live lives
acceptable to God. In other words, as God extends grace to us, He also
expects us to live lives worthy of living according to His teachings. He
expects us to change from the inside out and move toward perfection
even if perfection is something that we will never attain in our lifetime. As
we read the story of this woman, we understand, she left Jesus a
changed person and she abandoned her old lifestyle. That is the power
of grace. Are we not a denomination of grace and holiness?
In His Service,
LGBTQ Persons in Ministry
For the past four decades, our denomination has struggled with the issue of human sexuality more particularly how and whether we are going to include LGBTQ persons in ministry and the life of the church. Since then, this topic has divided clergy and laity alike. In 2016, during the last General Conference in Portland, Oregon, this was a hot topic that dominated the conversation such that the General Conference requested the bishops to form the commission now called “Commission On A Way Forward”. This commission is composed of 32 clergy and lay members from all around the world. The primary goal of this commission was to study this issue of human sexuality and find new forms and structures that would allow unity in a church that is deeply divided. The commission was also charged with completing an examination and possible revision of every paragraph in the Book of Discipline regarding human sexuality. And then, the commission was asked to bring a recommendation back to a special session of the General Conference to be held on February 23-26, 2019, in St. Louis, Missouri to determine the future of our denomination.
Since the last General Conference, the Commission on a Way Forward has been meeting. It recently completed its work and in May 2018, the Council of Bishops and the Commission on a Way Forward met in Chicago; and the following are the three plans that are suggested:
2. The Connectional Conference Plan: This plan is grounded in a unified core that includes shared doctrine and services and one Council of Bishops. The five U.S. jurisdictions would be replaced by three connectional conferences, each covering the whole country, based on theology and perspective on LGBTQ ministry; that is, progressive, contextual and traditional branches. Annual conferences would decide which connectional conference to affiliate with. All local churches that would choose a branch other than the one chosen by their annual conference would vote to join another conference.
3. The One Church Plan: This plan removes the restrictive language of the Book of Discipline and adds an inclusive language to assure pastors and Conferences who due to their theological convictions cannot perform same-sex weddings or ordain self-avowed practicing homosexuals. The One Church Plan allows for contextualization of language about human sexuality in support of the mission. It provides conferences, churches and pastors the flexibility to uniquely reach their missional context in relation to human sexuality while retaining the connectional nature of The United Methodist Church. This plan also allows central conferences to retain their disciplinary authority to adapt the Book of Discipline and continue to include traditional language and values while fulfilling the vision of a global and multicultural church.
After a prayerful process and discernment, the Council of Bishops drafted their recommendations to be submitted to the Special Session of the General Conference. However, the majority of the Council recommends the One Church Plan as the best way forward for The United Methodist Church.
Now, this issue is very complex and emotional. As your pastor who love you so much, I acknowledge our denomination is facing uncertain times. This can be a trying and challenging moment for many. But I am also aware that the church of Jesus Christ has tended to flourish during challenging times in history. So, as the time draws closer for the special General Conference in February 2019, I urge the whole congregation of Stoddard United Methodist Church to (1) not be alarmed and lose hope for our future; but stay calm and united; (2) pray for our denomination for God’s will to be done; (3) look to God, and not people. God has been with the people called Methodists for years and I trust He has got a good plan for all of us. Finally, I am inviting you to think clearly about who we are, who we want to be and what the outcome from the special General Conference might mean for Stoddard UMC.
In His Service,
Together We Can Do More
Happy New Year! We are closing out the concluding chapter of 2017 and preparing to start a brand-new journey of faith entitled 2018. Will this new year be filled with as much intrigue and surprise, challenges and trials as the year past or will it be completely a different new year with new possibilities? That much I do not know, but I am encouraged by what I learnt in the Christmas story where God repeatedly said, “Do not be afraid”. I think these words should be engraved deep down in our hearts as we embark the year 2018. When I am reminded of these words, I am filled with hope and confidence knowing that God will be with us at each juncture of our journey.
As we start the year 2018, I want to thank all our leaders who served this congregation in 2017. I also want to thank all who will be continuing in leadership and those who are newly entering in their new positions in 2018. We are all called to serve the Lord with gladness. I appeal to all of you to work together. When we are working together and building each up, we honor Jesus and reflect the true Light of Life and build His Kingdom. I encourage all of you to actively engage in our church ministries by using your God given skills and talents for the growing of His Kingdom and the changing of lives in our communities.
Together, we can do more!
“I answered them by saying, “The God of heaven will give us success. We his servants will startrebuilding...” Nehemiah 2:20a
It not long ago we held a groundbreaking ceremony for our new church facility and six months later, the construction work is nearly complete. If you have not yet visited or have not got a chance to enter inside the new building, I invite you to stop by and do so. It is just amazing. What a blessing this facility will be to our church, community and God’s Kingdom! We are now looking forward to the grand opening and dedication ceremony whose date will be set soon. This is going to be a day of celebration and I want you to be a part of it. I continue to be grateful to the whole congregation of Stoddard UMC for your faithful giving to Nehemiah Appeal Project. It is through your faithfulness and commitment that this project has been a success. However, our work is not done yet. What we have done up to this date is only one of the three phases we have, to see this project through. We need to finish what we have started and I believe with God’s help, we will complete this project.
Having completed the first phase successfully; which was the construction of the new facility, we are now entering the second phase which is to furnish the new building. As your pastor, (1) I appeal to the whole congregation to support all the efforts done by Trustees so that we may accomplish the goal of furnishing the new building by April 2017. God is doing some new things in the life of our congregation. God is giving us a second chance. It is time for us to turn the page, take this new opportunity and start strong with new things, programs, approaches, furniture and the like. Encouraged by your love of God and commitment, God’s Spirit is telling me that this is something that we will do together and I am sure God will be glorified. (2) I also encourage the whole congregation to support our general funds and also to fulfil the pledges that we have made as of April 2016, for Nehemiah Appeal Project, so that we may be able to continue our ministries here at Stoddard UMC and continue paying our mortgage. This will help the congregation to minimize our debt and maximize our ministry. Again, thank you all for your continued prayers and support. Please continue to pray for the success of our second phase of the building project.
As we prepare to make our next move to the new facility, I am aware that some of you have been so attached to our current building having served for many years up until to this date. I invite you to start preparing yourself mentally and spiritually knowing that in God’s Kingdom there is continuity. We are closing one door only to open another one. For this reason, we are preparing for a great service of sharing and celebrating the hundred years of ministry that has taken place in our current location. The date will be announced soon. But we are also preparing for a change. I understand change may not be easy; but the more prepared we are, the more we can embrace change and the greater impact the change will have.
In His Service,
This year I was privileged to attend the General Conference of the United Methodist
Church in Portland, Oregon. On a personal level, it was a great blessing to me
because I was able to meet with friends and colleagues I graduated with at Africa
University, Zimbabwe. More importantly, I was blessed to see part of my family I
have not seen since we separated in 2009. What a joy to meet my sister! When we
met, we both failed to say a word, only tears poured out from our eyes. It was like
the lost children who have reunited for the first time. And then my father too was
concerned, it is like I was lost. Before the delegates from my country left for the USA,
my father asked many of them to make sure that they met me. It was just like the
story of Jacob with his son Joseph. Jacob could not believe that his son was still alive
and in good position in Egypt. Though I talked to my father every time via Skype, it
appeared to me that he did not believe that I was still living. And that is why he
charged my sister to go home with more pictures and maybe that could make him
believe that I was alive. What a moment!
However, what brought me to Portland, OR was not what I have described above. I
went there as one of the interpreters (Swahili-English) to help delegates from Congo,
Tanzania and Kenya. This was not an easy task. We had to follow every detail of the
discussion going on in various committees. For me I was assigned to the committee
called Church and Society. What did I learn in this committee? I was reminded of
many things I learned at Africa University in Church History. Whoever has got time
may read these two books titled Church History, vol. I and II by Justo Gonzales.
Volume one is about the primitive church and volume two talks about the
Now, here is the thing: the Church is almost 2000 years and the way has never been
easy. The Church has a history of division because of some disagreements. To name
just a few, in 1054 we saw the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox
Church going their separate ways. We each value our little piece of the pie and no
one is going to tell us how to do anything differently. In 1517, as if that was not
enough, the church divided again when Martin Luther broke from Catholicism. And
since then, the Reformation paved the way for more divisions through the years.
As we look at the church throughout the ages we see many similarities to the church today.
Is there a way we can avoid division in the United Methodist Church? What would John
Wesley say if he were still alive? It is unfortunate, the United Methodist Church is now more
concerned about the institutional survival than justice. Until when, will we escape the truth?
There is a need for all of us to go back to the soil. By going back to the soil, I mean, we need
to revisit the four sources given by Wesley, namely the Bible, Reason, Tradition and
Experience; and between all these, the Bible is above all. If this is true, it is the Bible that can
do justice in all matters that have the ability to divide us. Not only that but also the Bible can
determine the culture for Christians. Remember Jesus came to show us the way of life and it
is that way we are to follow.
In His Service,
For the last few weeks we dealt with the story of Nehemiah and heard how he was commissioned to build the walls of Jerusalem. Upon hearing about the condition of Jerusalem, Nehemiah left his life of comfort from Susa and went to Jerusalem to mobilize the Jews who had returned to Jerusalem. He offered much needed leadership and finally Jews were ready for the work of the Lord. Sure enough, Jews embraced the vision to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, restore to her some security, some national pride and the like. In spite of much opposition, Nehemiah was able to accomplish the task (Nehemiah 6).
I want to thank Stoddard United Methodist Family and friends of Stoddard UMC for your enthusiasm and determination to see this project complete. We declared this year to be a year of rebuilding: rebuilding the life of our church, rebuilding lives in the community, rebuilding survivors, rebuilding and rebuilding… I think you have already started to see certain things happening. The life of the church is starting to have a new look. February and March were months of fundraising for this project and I am very touched by your overwhelming responses and commitments you have made. Each one of you has claimed a portion to complete in this project. If you have time, please read again Nehemiah 3, you will understand what I mean. I cannot thank you enough for what you have done so far. As the church is raising the funds to see this project through, the building committee is working tirelessly with the architect to finalize the plans and pave the way for the groundbreaking in June. For your information, the architect has completed the building plans and he is currently working on the electrical, heating and plumbing plans which he hopes to complete in four to five weeks. The next step from there will be to send the completed plans to the State of Wisconsin for approval. I am sharing this with you to let you know that the wheels are turning.
All these are taking place because of our determination to rebuild. We are all in the work field. Now, can you dream with me? Our life together and the life of the church will be so much better once what we have started today will be completed or accomplished. Let us continue to pray for our projects. Let us continue to be obedient to what God calls us to today. We will be blessed beyond measure in the days ahead.
In His Service,
BUILDING PLANS APPROVED BY THE DISTRICT BOARD OF CHURCH LOCATIONS AND BUILDINGS
As you may know, the Building Committee has been working tirelessly to accomplish the long held dream to build the house of the Lord right here in the village of Stoddard. Their effort is starting to produce some fruits. As it was reported earlier, on January 16th, the Building Committee met with the District Board of Church Locations and Buildings to further discuss our building plans. After a week of deliberation, we have received good news indeed. The District Board of Church Locations and Buildings has approved Stoddard United Methodist Church to move forward with the building plans. Isn’t that good news?
This is the response we have been waiting and praying for. With this one step completed, here comes another thing we need to do as a church. The Charge Conference will be called (date to be announced) in the near future to approve the final project including the building and funding plans. I am proud of all of you. Remember, together we can do more, but alone we can fail.
Common Ground Campus Ministry is organizing a service/cross-cultural trip to Pine Ridge Reservation in western South Dakota during UW-L’s spring break. The goal of the trip is to build relationships between the college students and people on the reservation with the hope to make this trip an annual event every spring break. We will be following the scheduling and priorities of our hosts, so the schedule will not be well-defined as is usually the case with VIM and other types of mission trips. Sleeping will be on the floor of fellowship hall of the church on the reservation. We will cook for our group using church kitchen facilities
This trip will be March 12 – 18. There will be three days of learning about Lakota culture & history (Sunday – Tuesday). There will be also one day of “tourist” activities in the Black Hills with students (Wednesday). Some service projects will be decided on-site. We need a few people with construction/carpentry skills & tools to lead projects. Anyone interested in supporting the students by helping lead projects, please contact Anna-Lisa Hunter by February 10 at 608-799-4547 or email at email@example.com.
MARRIAGE RENEWAL ON VALENTINE’S DAY Giving Thanks for the Marriage Covenant and Celebrating Love
After years of marriage, many times couples tend to forget the once cherished wedding vows. Are you looking for a way to renew your vows? Are you looking for a meaningful way to celebrate Valentine's Day? This year Valentine’s Day falls right on a Sunday. We are planning to lead a Renewal of Vows Ceremony for Married Couples on February 14th at Stoddard United Methodist Church. During a short ceremony, couples that will sign up will be invited to join in a rite of marriage renewal. There will be a slideshow of wedding photos on the screens.
If you are interested in participating, for the sake of preparation, arrangement and planning, please give Pastor Kyabuntu a call at 608-457-2706 (O) or 608-304-3192 (C) or email at firstname.lastname@example.org. To be included in the slide show (optional), again e-mail a copy of your wedding photo to Pastor Kyabuntu. Or you can bring to him the hard copies. We will scan them and return them to you afterward.
The vow renewal service is a great opportunity to invite others to Stoddard United Methodist Church. If you know someone who might want to renew their vows, tell them about it. After the ceremony, we will celebrate with a cake. Do not forget to invite your family.