Caroling December 7

Join us for Christmas Caroling on Saturday, December 7. We will meet at the church at 12:00 and spread Christmas cheer to our shut-ins. Wear your festive holiday garb!

Oct 2013: Reworked and Reshaped

A few weeks ago, our text for worship was Jeremiah 18: 1-11. It was the prophet’s observing the scene of a potter making a clay utensil. The pot as it was made was marred and it would not work as the potter intended. So, the potter reshaped the clay into a piece that be useful and serve his purpose. The passage goes on to say that the scene in the potter’s house is a metaphor for how God re-works and fashions his people as he wills. The potter has a design for his creation and as the one fashioning the pot, knows that it will not do what it was meant to do. So the potter returns the vessel to a lump of clay and reworks it into something useful that the potter intends.

As we related that story to our situation, I asked that we each look at our own life and see what God wants to re-shape and re-work for us to be useful to him. I also spoke of how this passage speaks to the church. Just as our individual lives need to be re-worked, there are areas in the life of our church which need to be re-worked and re-shaped.

For instance, as we continue a missional emphasis in our church, focusing our ministries outside the four walls of the church, I wonder how else we are being called to serve the community. What else can we do with our bread ministry so that we get that bread in the hands of more people who need it? How else can we partner with Dunn Elementary School to meet their needs? How else can we serve the neighbors around the church? What other ministries does God have in mind for us that might help other people and add others to our congregation?

I am pleased with how we have sensed God’s prompting and moved to be more externally focused in many of our ministries. But when I think about the future, some 5 years from now, I wonder what our congregation will look like. My guess is that we’ll all look and feel a little bit older. I also suspect that we likely won’t have the energy that we have now. If those guesses are mostly true, then I wonder that that means for this church as a whole. What ministries will we be able to sustain? What will we have to forego because of the limitations of time, money, age and those who are available to serve? What will this room look like in 5 years? Who will be here?

All of those are tough questions, but realistic ones. My vision in 5 years is for American Baptist Church to continue to be a vital congregation where multiple generations connect with each other. It is and will continue to be a place where people worship together, grapple with serious theological issues within the confines of love and acceptance – and where people serve and learn alongside each other as God continues to call us to serve Fort Collins and the larger world.

In this vision, I can see children running up and down the aisles before worship, eager to sing the song they’ve been learning in Children’s choir. I see the church in a Capital Funds Campaign to raise money for more building improvements. The parking lot expansion and re-surfacing has been finished and the building is getting a general face-lift. In this vision, I see a church that sponsors and staffs an after school program which helps parents who can’t afford an in-school program. I see a youth group that’s preparing to serve at a Senior Adult Tea all the while making plans for a summer mission trip to California. I see adults, young and old, working on a Habitat for Humanity House that local churches are sponsoring. I see a vision of a church with a bright future – a church of people who love Jesus and whose spirit is contagious as they live out their faith in the community.

While this is an ambitious vision, a part of my goal is to paint a picture of renewed vibrancy – a portrait of active and cooperative ministry enlivened through the Holy Spirit. This month, I invite you to reconsider the re-working that God is attempting in your life and in the life of the church. What needs to happen for God to more fully use us for his divine purposes? As a congregation, how do we need to be re-worked and re-shaped so that we can live out the vision that God has for us? Whatever the answers, may we be open and receptive to God’s working with us, caring for us as he crafts us into the people he wants us to be. With God’s interest and care in shaping us, may new potential and new possibilities abound.

– Pastor Bill

Sept 2013: The Externally Focused Church

As the calendar rolls over into September, I am struck at how fast this year is flying by. I suppose that means that I’m getting older, perhaps a lot older. Moving into September also means that children are back in school and we look forward to a more structured schedule and the wonders of fall – school, football games, chilly weather, pumpkin patches and falling leaves, to name a few. The calendar change also affects us at church as Sunday School starts back up for the year and as we look forward to opportunities to serve the community with CROP Walk, Make a Difference Day and opportunities at Dunn Elementary School.

Beginning September 1st, we will begin a new sermon series in Jeremiah. Jeremiah is called “the weeping prophet” and he certainly had a difficult calling. For 40 years, he was God’s spokesman declaring messages of doom for the people of Judah. By worldly standards, he was a miserable failure. The people didn’t listen to him and they didn’t repent from their sin as he asked them to. When the people didn’t repent, he predicted the destruction of Jerusalem and the events of the exile. Interestingly, Jeremiah’s mind was so consumed with God’s prophecy that Babylon and Nebuchadnezzar are mentioned over two hundred times in chapters 20-52. So, throughout the fall, we will focus on texts from Jeremiah and see how this book of the Bible applies to our lives today.

On September 8th, we will move to our new Sunday schedule. In this, Worship will remain at 9:30 am – the same as in the summer. Fellowship Time will be from 10:30-11:00 am and Sunday School will start at 11:00 am. As was mentioned in worship a few weeks ago, this set-up will keep worship at a consistent hour. As well, hopefully there will be other benefits for Sunday School and Worship. Staff will evaluate the change after the first of the year.

Finally, sometime in September, I plan to start a new group to study the book, The Externally Focused Church, by Rick Rusaw and Eric Swanson. Both are local pastors in Colorado. I learned of this book at a recent Gathering of ABC Rocky Mountain churches where Rusaw spoke about the concept of the church being outwardly focused in service to the community. Among other things, the book defines what an externally focused church is and gives an example of one church’s journey toward being externally focused. It also talks about the importance of building relationships in the community and casting a vision for service orientation in the church.

If you are interested in being a part of this study, please let me know by sending me an e-mail or leaving me a note in the church office. As of now, I am thinking of meeting each Wednesday evening from 6-7 pm, except for weeks that there is a Wednesday Evening meal. If Wednesday evening is a conflict for a significant number who want to attend, we can find a time more suitable to all of us. My hope is that we will have some good discussions which will help our church deepen its efforts to look outside of its walls and serve others in Jesus’ name. This group will be called, “Improving Your Serve”.

As we get back into the routine of a busy fall, my hope is that God will guide us, speak to us, teach us and use us as his people.

– Pastor Bill

August 2013: Niagara Falls

While Priscilla and I were away on vacation last month, an interesting thing happened to us and had me pondering. Several times throughout our 4,800 mile trip, we used our phones to find maps of the area where we were and to get directions to our next destination. On one occasion, we wanted to go see Niagara Falls, so we typed in that destination and up came a map to lead us there. It took us from Syracuse west on I-90, through Buffalo and then up I-190 over the Niagara River a couple of times and closer to the town of Niagara Falls. As we got into the town and closer to the Falls itself, for some reason, the names of the streets didn’t show up on our map. Consequently, we didn’t know exactly where to turn. Also as we got closer to our intended destination, we saw several ‘official’ looking sites for all things Niagara. There was an “Official Welcome Station” and a “Gateway to the Falls” which in reality obscured our view of where we wanted to go. We naively thought that we might quickly drive by the Falls and see them from a distance.

With the malfunction of the map, we knew we were close to the Falls, but we didn’t exactly know how to travel the last 200 yards!! If we had continued on with the flow of traffic, we would have come to a crossing into Canada (which we want to do some day). Not knowing which way to go, we finally pulled into a parking lot which seemed closest to the Falls. Later we learned that the state had a lot for parking at the Niagara Falls State Park. This makes sense, but we didn’t figure it out at the time! That lot and the state park were just behind the lot where we parked. Parking where we did, the Falls were obscured by a 4-5 story building with a “Gateway to the Falls” sign on it. The “Gateway” sign was on the opposite side from the Falls. Clearly the intent of the proprietors was to have visitors come through their building on the way to the Falls and thus be able to sell them food and souvenirs. I would add that to me they were cheap souvenirs.

Once we got past the touristy foods and t-shirts and shuttles, we came to the state park. Soon we were walking down to get a view of the Falls and as we approached the site, we could hear the roar of the water rushing over the edge. At last, we beheld the water and could sense in some slight way the power, majesty and magnitude of the water rushing over the cliff. It was indeed an impressive and dangerous sight to observe 70,000 gallons of water a second going over the edge.

As we observed the Falls from several different angles that comfortable afternoon in early July, it dawned on me that oftentimes our relationship with God is like our trip to see the Falls. We start out on our journey to know God and we have good intentions about getting there. We even have clues about how to get there (prayer, study, reflection) and we have a road map in the Bible. Or we pursue a relationship with God and think we know where we can find God. We use familiar prayers or meditate in similar ways, but sometimes God is not where we think God is. At other times, we are focused on getting where we want. We have a goal in mind. We know where to find God and connect with God, but there are obstacles before us. When we find our way to God, we know that we will discover something wonderful and awe inspiring, but there are plenty of things that block our way. Those obstacles are like the “Official Welcoming Station”, the “Gateway to the Falls”, and the countless parking lots – all of which wave signs and clamor for you to come and park. In essence, each obstacle is marketing itself, selling itself to get your attention – to deter you from your actual goal. They may even think that they are trying to help!

As we continue to pursue a relationship with our Lord and Savior and make every effort to cultivate that relationship, let us not be deterred by all of the glitzy, attention grabbing distractions along life’s way. To borrow a line from the apostle Paul, let us press on toward the goal (Philippians 3:14) of seeking God and striving for a greater understanding of his love and grace poured out on us all.

– Pastor Bill

Worship Time Change

After much consideration, we are planning to keep our worship time at 9:30 am on Sunday when our fall schedule begins. Normally, we have worship at 9:30 only in the summer months. While there are pros and cons to keeping our worship time at 9:30, we feel that this will provide a consistency for worship throughout the year.

As of now, a tentative Sunday morning schedule for the fall will be: 9:30 Worship, 10:30 Fellowship Time, 11:00 Sunday School. This schedule will be offered on a trial basis.

June 2013: Busy Summer

With Memorial Day weekend in late May, our society and the church are officially in summer mode. That means that we all look forward to being more active outside – until it gets too hot. And that means that we look forward to a different pace and different activities in the life of the church. For instance, our Sunday worship time is an hour earlier and the dress code is a little more relaxed. Also with our move to 9:30 worship on June 2nd, we will also have “Discussion Time” as we’ve had in prior years. This will be an opportunity for you to talk back about the sermon for the day. As well, we might also have some discussions about other timely topics as there is need.

In late June, I will be attending our denomination’s Mission Summit and then taking some vacation time. So, you will have an opportunity to hear from some familiar voices from the pulpit. On June 23rd, Ryan Dyer will deliver the sermon and on June 30th, our own Carroll Morony will lead us in worship.

Along with these special opportunities, we will plan to have some fun outside of worship this summer. My hope is that we can get back to planning a significant Fourth of July event that will help us reach out to the community as we have in years past. Of course, this assumes that it doesn’t pour down rain on the fourth and that the city holds the celebration this year. Also, I hope that we will be able to have a Neighborhood Night Out party or other area outreach event sometime in the mid to late summer. This is a great way to meet some of our neighbors and learn more about our neighborhood. At one of these events in prior years, one person commented that we neighbors don’t really get to see each other that much. During the week, the neighbors are coming and going from their homes while the church has less traffic. Our big traffic day is Sunday when the neighbors might be sleeping in or busy doing other things. So, a neighborhood event is a great way to build relationship with those who live and work around our church.

To further our fun this summer, we will plan on attending a couple of Fort Collins Foxes games again this year. You don’t have to be a baseball fan to enjoy a summer evening in the park. The games start at 6:15 pm and there is generally a theme for the evening that makes the game more enjoyable. We will announce dates a few weeks before we plan to go. Finally, our Six-pack groups will continue to meet as we make a concerted effort to get to know each other better. The only limit here will be the creative ideas for interesting things for the groups to do.

While we all look forward to a great, fun-filled summer, your church does need your help! Events like the Fourth of July Celebration and Neighborhood Night Out are important to the life of our church and they reach out to our neighborhood and the greater Fort Collins community. But volunteers are needed for the events to be successful. Initially, these events were inspired and planned by church members. Now there is a committee to help plan the events. If you would consider helping with one of these events, please contact the church office.

I get sort of dizzy as I consider all that could be planned for this summer. But all of the events are good opportunities for our church. May we have a blessed, fun-filled summer at American Baptist Church.

– Pastor Bill

May 2013: Think Outside the Boat

In seminary, my preaching professor compared delivering a sermon to giving birth. In his analogy, each Monday the preacher is pregnant and nurtures that new life within, doing what he or she can to develop it until it is delivered on Sunday. Of course, I know nothing directly of being pregnant, still I liked the metaphor. For that reason, a pastor is somewhat protective of that newborn child. It is the prophetic word offered to the congregation, but it is also open to feedback and even criticism. That said, I do generally appreciate thoughtful feedback on the sermon and enjoy hearing how you receive it and how it applies to your life. That helps me know that the Holy Spirit is at work!

Recently a group of us from church were having lunch at The Garlic Knot as part of a fundraiser for Elderhaus. During our conversation, we talked about the sermon from the prior Sunday which was from John 21 and the miracle of the large catch of fish. Normally as I prepare a sermon, it is not uncommon for me to read something new in the text and I wonder out loud how that got new verse got into my Bible! Reading the scripture passage for that particular Sunday was one of those times. As I prepared the message, I was impressed that Jesus asks his follower for their contribution of fish. Jesus has just provided a huge haul of fish for his disciples. But as they come to shore and see the fire and fish that Jesus has prepared for them, Jesus asks for some of the fish that he has just provided in their net. To me, that says that even with Jesus’ provision, he expects us to do our part in bringing something to the party, as it were. Our contribution might be our talents. It might be our time or money or energy. It might simply be ourselves. Also, from the reading, I was impressed that Jesus doesn’t express any disappointment with his followers. He doesn’t ask, “Where were you in my hour of need?” But he welcomes his disciples and invites them to enjoy breakfast after a long night of futile fishing. He is the gracious host of a meal with his friends.

As we discussed the scripture passage and the sermon at lunch, one person was impressed with the thought that Jesus asked the disciples to cast their net on the other side of the boat. The group had fished all night off of one side of the boat with no results. They had thrown their net and been unsuccessful. They had waited but with no reward. They were discouraged and disappointed. But when the fishermen cast their net on the other side of the boat as Jesus asks, they bring in a haul of 153 large fish!

As we consider the story of the large catch of fish, it can be a metaphor for our lives and for our church. For the church member, the large catch was an encouragement to “think outside the boat” so to speak. A part of her point was that we humans tend to get stuck in old patterns of doing things. And those ways often don’t produce results or don’t produce the results that we desire. We get caught up in doing things the way that we’ve always done them! For instance, we approach problems in the same way and we think about our needs and wants in the same way. That reminds me of Albert Einstein’s quote which claims that “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Our fellow church member summed up the lesson of this story by saying that “we need to free up our mind and be willing to drop our net on the other side of the boat.” That means that we must be willing to try something new and different. We must be willing to open ourselves to risk something new for the prospect of a tremendous bounty. If we can do that personally and in the life of the church, there is no telling where God might lead us.

– Pastor Bill

April 2013: Adventures in Good Music

Recently while writing my sermon, I was listening to music on my iPhone. For the past few weeks, I have been listening to music as I write. Maybe it helps, maybe not! The music keeps me company, but is not as distracting as watching television or writing in a public place where crowd noise might totally divert my attention. Anyway, I digress!

As I was writing, Piano Sonata #8 in C Minor, Op. 13, “Sonata Pathetique: II. Adagio cantabile by Beethoven came on. I had a feeling that I had heard that piece before. When I placed the piece, I was immediately transported back to my childhood, some 35-40 years ago! I remember that sonata as the theme to a classical radio program called Adventures in Good Music. My mother used to listen to that on 96.5 KXTR, the old classical radio station in Kansas City. I remember that Adventures in Good Music came on the air around noon each day. It was a stopping point during the day and occasionally my mother (and I) would listen as the host taught us about a particular composer or piece of music. As I graduated from college and went out to lunch around the noon hour, often I would listen to the program as well.

By 2013, I assumed that the show was long since buried in some dusty archives somewhere. I knew that the host was a German American with an accent, but I had forgotten his name. I also assumed that he, like his program, was long since gone and forgotten. I was surprised to find many references to the man and his program which aired daily from 1959 to 2002. The host of the show was Karl Haas and he dearly loved what he did as he would actively search for music to entertain and educate his listeners. In part for his work as creator and host of radio’s longest running daily classical music program, in 1997 Haas was inducted into the Radio Hall of Fame.
As I read about Dr. Haas and reminisced about listening to that program, I became more fully aware of the importance of music in life. It might be hearing a few notes of a sonata that transport you back in time. It might be humming a hymn tune that reminds you of your faith. Or it might be whistling a tune that helps brighten your day, which is one way we know Don Lambert is in the building!

Whether your favorite style is country, big band, blues, rock and roll, reggae or jazz, I am impressed at how all music has an almost unique ability to transform, stir emotion and inspire. Music can simply help us pass the time in entertainment. But it can also minister to us in a time of need. It can spur us on to act on a thought or accomplish what’s before us. It can recall memories and rekindle long buried feelings. And, of course, it can enhance our worship of God. David even encourages us in offering our talents in Psalm 33 where he opens the psalm with “Sing joyfully to the Lord…”

Beautiful music can set the mood for the season as it does for many of us at Christmas time –prompting the Christmas Spirit. And it can inspire us as it did yesterday in our celebration of Easter and the resurrection of our Lord. Fresh off of our worship on Easter Sunday, I am grateful for the trombone quartet that helped lead our worship yesterday. Their playing added much to our worship. I am also especially grateful for the music and leadership of Jeff, Elizabeth and our choir. They work hard each week to provide beautiful music that inspires our worship and can transport us to greater heights.

As we continue on now in the season of Easter, may music find greater meaning in your life.

— Pastor Bill

Mar 2013: Lent and Holy Week

The year has gotten off to a fast start and things are picking up speed as spring approaches. In mid- February, we started the season of Lent with an Ash Wednesday service. There, we handed out strips of cloth to remind us of several things. In many ways, like the thin strip of colored cloth, we have been ripped from the whole – God. And so, separately, our life doesn’t show the complete character of God (the entire pattern of the fabric) as it could if we were still connected to the whole. As strips torn away, our life often seems like it is fragmented and raveled on the edges. Many things tear at us and pull is in different directions. And in a few cases, we feel twisted by the effects of life. I hope that as you continue through these weeks leading up to Maundy Thursday, you will keep you strip of cloth with you and may it remind you of how you are separated from God and long to be connected again. When we meet for our Maundy Thursday service, we’ll reclaim those strips of cloth and make them into something whole and beautiful.

As well, through the next few weeks in our worship time, we will study several stories as Jesus journeys to Jerusalem to face the cross. With each passing week, Jesus is moving closer to completing his mission and to his death on the cross. In our worship, we will follow Luke’s journey theme. As I mentioned on the First Sunday in Lent, our approach can be like the Hiking Hut t-shirt that I saw a few weeks ago. Their slogan is “where the journey is the destination.” Jesus’ weekly travels can be our destination as we walk along with our master and learn from him. So, as we continue our season of Lent, this is the worship schedule:

  • March 3 – 3rd Sunday in Lent: The Gift of Extra Time. Luke 13:1-9
  • March 10 – 4th Sunday in Lent: Taking the Road Back Home. Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32 
  • March 17 – 5th Sunday in Lent: A Scandalous Act. John 12:1-8 
  • March 24 – Palm Sunday: About as Excited as a Stone. Luke 19:28-40 
  • March 28 – Maundy Thursday Service, 7:00 pm. Bring your strip of cloth with you! 
  • March 31 – Easter Sunday. Luke 24: 1-12

While Lent is a busy season at church, we find meaning in our worship and other rituals this time of year. In addition to supporting our annual America for Christ offering, I hope that you are taking part in WorldVision’s 30 Days of Fasting and Prayer. We are using this study to deepen our spiritual journey during this Lent and also for us consider how others in the world live with much less than do we. As you can creatively participate in these fasts, I hope that you will have a more meaningful Lenten season and experience a true fast in a number of ways. In addition to fasting, we are collecting our coins and dollars to help fight hunger. We will receive the offering at our Maundy Thursday service and send it to use in an area of the world where there is the most need. As we go through our 30 days of fasting, let us remember with compassion those who go without our luxuries. And let us give what we can to help our brothers and sisters throughout the world.

I pray that you continue to have a meaningful Lenten season and a joyful Easter!

– Pastor Bill

30 Days of Prayer and Fasting

Please join us for the “30 Days of Prayer and Fasting” Lenten Study. We will
begin on Monday, February 18th, and end on Good Friday, March 29th, 2013
(excluding weekends). Please pick up a booklet in the lobby if you are
interested in the study, and in helping us to raise money for hungry
children around the world. For more information, please see: 30 Days of Fasting and Prayer