An Inviting and Abiding Relationship

by Juan Sarmiento

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”   Matthew 11:28-10

With sixty-two Brazilian congregations serving an estimated population of eighty thousand people that trace their origin to that country, the Orlando area was the location for a mentoring retreat for Portuguese speaking pastors from May 14 to 17.

The purpose of the gathering was to seek spiritual renewal and to acquire skills for preventing and dealing with the reality of burnout in ministry. Within an environment of grace, trust and mutual support, we shared about, among other things, the challenges associated with ministering interculturally and among highly mobile immigrant communities, dealing with family conflict, physical exhaustion, and depression. Participants came from five different U.S. states as well as Brazil.

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We Have Come Together - Tumekutana 2018

by Caryl Weinberg

Tumekutana is a Swahili word meaning “We Have Come Together.” Founded 11 years ago, the Tumekutana conference began as a gathering of Presbyterian and Reformed Women’s leaders from 16 countries in Africa and 26 denominations. This year’s conference, the fourth Tumekutana gathering, will include women from 23 countries and 33 denominations.

Each conference focuses on a theme identified by the African women, relevant to the setting of the gathering. During the conference women receive training, are challenged and encouraged, and establish friendships and networks that go far beyond each meeting. Whether leading women in a denomination of five million people or “only” 250,000, these women leaders have important roles with the potential for significant impact on the women and families in their churches and countries.

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What the Birds Teach Us: A Reflection for Earth Day

by Jeff Ritchie

My father loved to watch birds, and he passed on that love to his four children. Dad always had his eye out for red-tailed hawks and owls as we drove down the highway or walked through the woods. One day we were out in the country on a quiet, two-lane road when he pointed out a bird I had never seen: “There’s an indigo bunting!” Now that was a bird to behold. Such exquisite blue in a bird I had never seen. I became a bunting fan for life. (Many thanks to my college classmate, Brian Smith, and to Mr. Jack Zievis, a fellow resident of Atlantic Beach, for permission to use their photos).

My wife, Megan, and I enjoyed indigo bunting sightings when we lived in Tennessee. Now in Florida, we have discovered another bunting, the painted bunting. When one frequented our bird feeder over several days last week, we shared the joy with our grandsons, Alex and Matthew. Now they are bird fans.

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Turning the World Upside Down

by Camille Josey

In one generation God used the small house churches of the early Christian movement to turn the world upside down. By the 4th century, Christianity had spread across the width and breadth of the Roman Empire. No master plan, no vision statement (aside from “Jesus is Lord.”), no CNN. Why, then, do so many small churches in the West today feel so insignificant, as though they do not have the resources to continue the spread of the Gospel?

It’s all a matter of perspective. If your measurements are the traditional budgets, buildings and butts in the pew, a small rural church of 70 members is bound to feel inferior to a 7,000-member church. But take a look from another angle. The first map, labeled >1000 members reflects a total membership of approximately 309,000. What do you notice here? Do you see all of the geographical territory of the U.S.A. that is not reached by these congregations?

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The Day the Revolution Began

by Jeff Ritchie

My wife and I spent a week in Washington, DC recently. We saw many museums and monuments during our stay. The theme of “revolution” was very prominent in the Museum of American History. A different kind of revolution, the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, was exhibited in the relatively new National Museum of African American History and Culture. A third revolution, the revolution of travel through air and into space, was showcased by the National Air and Space Museum. Megan and I were profoundly moved by what we saw in the museums and monuments of Washington. 

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"Take and eat; this is my body": An invitation to new life

On the third Sunday of March 1557, in the bay of what nine years later would become known as the city of Rio de Janeiro, Dr. Pierre Richier officiated over the first Reformed service of communion on our continent. Richier was one of the two pastors sent by John Calvin to serve a group of 500 French colonists and to share the Christian faith with the Tupi people who inhabited the area.

The events that we meditate upon during Holy Week remind us that through Christ’s life, death and resurrection we are received into communion with God and God’s beloved people. 

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Connections, Relationships, Discernment and Dedication

Eight countries of origin, 63 missionaries, nine species, 300 churches, 1979 and 13,447,000 people…. what do these numbers mean? They represent connections, relationships, discernment and dedication in proclaiming the Good News of Jesus! Outreach’s Executive Director Rob Weingartner shares some fascinating facts about mission, witness and The Outreach Foundation. Enjoy!

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When Jesus Passes By: Thoughts on Worship and War Psalm 29

Some people say that Jesus passes by…. while the dough is rising for the “awamet.” It was Baptism of the Lord Sunday in Tripoli, Lebanon (a city of sweets) where the syrupy “awamet" (meaning, “to rise out of the water”) pastries were being passed around. As the platter was quickly emptying we were told that this traditional sweet is served in celebration of baptism. The dough, which is made the night before, is left to rise and later formed into small balls which are fried in hot oil. Watching them sizzle and skip in ‘baptismal’ oil, they float to the top, rising to new life, and a drizzle of syrupy sweetness.

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The Lord's Prayer and God's Mission

Some years ago, I began to look at the Lord’s Prayer and how it relates to our missionary calling as disciples of Jesus. This Lenten Season the church where Megan and I worship is studying and reflecting on the Lord’s Prayer, and it has become an opportunity for me to think again how Jesus’ prayer can form us, his disciples for our worship and work. 

The prayer starts off “Our Father.” The God to whom we pray, who is the Father of our Lord Jesus, is “our Father.” He is my God and the God of people from every tribe, tongue, and culture who have turned to the living God through faith in Jesus. 

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We Are Not So Small When We Are Together

My relationship with the small church has been an on again, off again relationship. I grew up in a small congregation where my faith was formed, I was confirmed, served as a junior elder and as a youth leader. In my young adult years, however, I became disillusioned when the congregation refused to have anything to do with the Vietnamese refugees settling in the neighborhoods around the church.

That’s when I moved my membership to a mega church that had a robust community ministry. I spent the next 25 years in that worshiping community working on local mission projects, serving as chair of the newly formed global missions committee, teaching Sunday School and serving on the session. It was in the life of this congregation that I heard the call to ministry and where I was sponsored as a seminarian.

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Remarkable

by Marilyn Borst

I am not much of a sports fan, but I am easily caught up in the excitement of the Olympics. Much to my husband’s surprise, I am glued to the television and cheer for countries not my own: the Dutch in speed skating, the Russians in curling, the Norwegians in cross-country skiing. Having spent so much time “on the road” and out of this country, I guess that I am easily “at home” in other cultures. Some of that “ease” comes from discovering that people are more alike than they are different, as these photos may suggest: kids love to play in model trains, women out for an afternoon outing enjoy an ice cream cone, a family in their “Sunday best” take a photo in front of a lovely flower display, a choir robes up and leads in worship.

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Only Intangible Benefits

by Rob Weingartner

Earlier this week my wife Terry and I received a statement from our church listing our financial contributions for 2017 for use in preparation of our income tax return. I smiled as I read the IRS-conforming language at the bottom of the statement: “Only intangible religious benefits are provided in exchange for contributions.”

Intangible. That describes something that is unable to be touched or grasped, something not having a physical presence. I understand the reasons for the caveat on the giving statement; we put something similar on the statements that Outreach sends to our donors. But the language required by the IRS runs so counter to the incarnational character of our faith and discipleship. 

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Diaspora Mission – An Old-New Phenomenon

by Jeff Ritchie

Almost 2,000 years ago the Apostle Peter wrote a letter to people whom he called “the exiles of the Dispersion” living in what is now Turkey. Who were these “exiles of the Dispersion?” They were Jews living outside their homeland dispersed among the non-Jewish majority population, and so were called by a short-hand word, “the Diaspora.” These Jews had come to believe in Jesus as their Messiah, and they in turn shared their new faith with Gentiles. The churches to whom Peter wrote were born out of mission among the Jewish Diaspora.

Today the phenomenon of Diaspora Mission is once again a major part of God’s mission to build up his kingdom. 

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Sharing Faith and Participating with God's Mission with People of Other Faiths

by Jeff Ritchie

My friendship with Jeff Horen goes back to our days in junior high in Louisville, Kentucky. Our birthdays are two days apart. We were inseparable in high school where we specialized in “creative play” to the consternation of our teachers. During class we surreptitiously played “dots.” In breaks between classes we played paper-wad basketball (the “goal” was the trash can in our classroom). Outside of class we had an on-going rivalry in ping-pong and backyard basketball. We had a special connection which we have kept through the years since high school.

My friend Jeff is an Orthodox Jew, and I am a Christian. We have talked about matters of faith for decades, but the past year the conversation has gone deeper.

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What Child is This?

by Rob Weingartner

The season of Advent invites us to consider afresh the question asked by a familiar carol – “What child is this?” The carol itself offers an answer. “This, this is Christ the King, whom shepherds guard and angels sing! Haste, haste, to bring him laud, the Babe, the Son of Mary!”

What child, indeed! The shepherds guard. The angels sing. We bring him laud (that means our praise). All in response to what God has done. The initiative is with God!

I’ve been thinking about how we mark and celebrate the birth of Jesus. The celebrating and giving and feasting with family and friends, all of that is wonderful. But what is truly radical about the Christmas story, and we can miss it if we stay focused on what we do, is what God has done.

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Reflection on St. Andrew's Day

by Jeff Ritchie

November 30 is the Feast Day of St. Andrew, one of the original twelve disciples of Jesus. Andrew has always been my favorite among Jesus’ first disciples, and this blog is dedicated to St. Andrew.

Andrew was the first evangelist of the Christian faith, for he brought his brother Simon Peter to Jesus (John 1:41). As I have been involved, directly or indirectly, in sharing the Good News of Jesus most of my adult life, Andrew has been a model disciple for me.

Andrew was not one of the three disciples closest to Jesus – Peter, James and John. He played a background role as his more famous brother became the spokesperson of the early church. Nevertheless, a look back at references to Andrew in the Gospel accounts reveals that he made key contributions to the story that became the Good News, the Gospel.

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Love them as I have loved you...

Love them as I have loved you…
Jesus

by Ebralie Mwizerwa

“World Children’s Day” will be celebrated on Monday, November 20. It is a time for the world community, churches and individuals from all walks of life, particularly believers, to express their dedication to and concern for the well-being of children. 

The World Council of Churches is inviting its member churches worldwide to mark World Children's Day by organizing celebrations for children on November 19-20 and letting the voices and thoughts of children be heard. In many communities around the world, I am sure the focus will be on the problems faced by children and the important role of churches in supporting young people worldwide.

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The Gift of Helps

by Jeff Ritchie

Almost two months ago, Jacksonville was hit by hurricane Irma. The cleanup crew contracted by the city of Jacksonville arrived a couple of weeks ago to pick up the debris from the hurricane which had been waiting on the curb for over six weeks. We rejoiced and went out to help the workers clear away the detritus of the storm. As my wife and I talked with the men who were helping the citizens of our city in such a practical way, I thought of other helpers, the unseen and unsung people I see every day who make a difference in this world. The Apostle Paul spoke of the gift of helps in 1 Corinthians 12. Here are some of those helpers I have seen recently:

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Reformation Day Lessons from the Presbyterian Churches of Syria and Lebanon

by Nancy Fox

We know the story of Martin Luther, and this 500th anniversary of the posting of his ninety-five theses in Wittenberg has refreshed our memories.  To some degree, many of us also know the story of John Calvin, the spiritual father of our Reformed/Presbyterian branch of the movement, and of the church he led in Geneva. But what about the Reformed churches in Syria and Lebanon? On this Reformation Day, let me tell you some of their stories and how all of these connect…

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Translation, Reformation and Mission

by Juan Sarmiento

The dynamism of the historical movement within Western Christianity known as the Reformation has had much to do with its emphasis on translation and communication efforts. Thoughtfully appreciating different cultures and diligently working to convey God’s message in ways that relate to a broader audience has been at the core of our Reformed identity since its early days.  

Known as the “Ninety-Five Theses,” Martin Luther used Latin for the publication of his “Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences” in October 1517. As other documents intended to provoke the exchange of opinions among university students, it was reasonable to use the language of the church, academic and administrative elite. With help from the new advances of the printing press, the polemical document was soon printed and distributed in many surrounding towns. It was three months later when, translated into German, it “became viral” throughout Germany. On March 1518, he published another piece entitled “Sermon on Indulgences and Grace.” 

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