Monday, December 29, 2008

Look at Me

In our congregation we are starting a new focus as the new year begins. The focus is on making our relationships fireproof. Fireproof means, capable of preventing or withstanding damage by fire. All of our relationships can be damaged by the fires of life. So many things can happen that ruin relationships that could have been prevented or withstood had the relationship been fireproof. We need to protect and deepen our relationships, especially those relationships closest to us like our spouse and family.
What has hit me the most as I read through "The Love Dare" a book used inthe movie "Fireproof" is the way it does not help me change other people, but it makes me look at myself. I have to look at how I love other people. As I began to do this I noticed the little ways I excuse myself for selfish behaviors. I justify my actions as I get frustrated when others act the exact same way.
I have to come to terms with the fact that my sinful nature of selfishness is still living in me. I had hoped I had killed that years ago, but it is still kicking. There are ways I can work on showing love to other people, especially my wife.
So let's see what happens as I take the love dare. And I invite anyone else to join in looking at yourself and seeing if you can do better at loving other people. Look at 1 Corinthians 13 for the model of love and I dare you to see how you compare.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Other Kitchen Tables

Yesterday for those who braved the cold temperatures I shared about finding Christmas at the kitchen table. I compared the kitchen table to the dining room table. The dining room table is where we eat when we have guests over. It is usually decorated and has a wide spread of food. It is not how we eat everyday. Everyday, my family eats at the kitchen table. That is where real life happens for us.
So I wondered where Christmas happens in real life? I shared a few examples, but one I did not share happened almost two weeks ago. I was in a hospital room at St. Luke's in Cedar Rapids. One of the families from our church was told their mother/grandmother would not live much longer. I went to be with them for a few hours for a prayer and some comfort.
I remember standing around the hospital bed of this woman I had met a few times when I felt the Spirit of Christmas hit home with me. The family was sharing memories of their mother and grandmother. They were talking about how the girls were making mashed potatoes for Thanksgiving dinner, the day they brought their mother to the hospital, and they did not make them correctly. We laughed about other silly things in the midst of the sorrow of losing this loved one. (She died the next morning.)
In that moment as I looked around at this family laughing and crying together that this was a kitchen table, this was a place where life was happening and the Spirit of God was present. I knew God was working in the hearts and lives of this family. I knew their Christmas would not be easy this year, but I also knew they would make it through with God's help.
I pray this Christmas the Spirit of God will meet you where you are and that you will celebrate anew the birth of our Savior.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Blue Christmas

My message yesterday was a reminder to celebrate the joy of Christmas like the shepherds of Luke 2. They were working when an angel showed up and shared with them the message of the birth of the Savior. This begun the very first Christmas office party.
Christmas for many of us is a mainly joyous occasion as we get to spend time with family and give and receive gifts. But for some people Christmas is a reminder of difficulties in life. Some do not have great families or others to connect with during the holidays. For some this may be their first Christmas without a spouse, parent or child. So Christmas becomes a reminder of sorrow instead of joy.
I was just reminded this past week about my grandma whose health is failing. She seems to be having some dementia and is not her normal self. I was reminded of this as we ate a chicken casserole that is very similar to my grandma's turketti, which she made every year after Thanksgiving with leftover turkey. When I was growing up we would eat turketti for weeks until Christmas. This year there was not any turketti and it may seem funny, but it is a sad reminder to me that my grandma will not live forever and the end of her life here may be near.
These kinds of feelings people often hide or try to ignore during the holidays because we are suppose to be cheerful, and yet the pain is real. At some point I would like our church to have something like a blue Christmas service, where you remember loved ones who have died and the other realities of sorrow during the holidays.
I hope Christmas will bring you joy, but I also want to recognize there is pain and sorrow we remember during the holidays as well. I hope and pray you can share these feelings with others or with me because we can find comfort in our sorrow together as we lean on the Lord for strength.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Christmas Traditions

I mentioned yesterday that so many times we, as Christians, come to Christmas and say it will be different. We remember years past when we have been caught up in all of hype of Christmas. We focus on the gift giving and receiving. We are running around from one Christmas activity to another. We are visiting or hosting family. And somewhere in the middle of all of this we are to remember the meaning of Christmas is to celebrate the birth of Jesus. He is Emmanuel, God with us.

So as this Christmas comes I am again thinking of promises to make it different. I want to simplify Christmas and get less caught up in the Christmas activities and get caught up in the Christmas Spirit.

Helen and I have been encouraging our families to give fewer gifts to each other and find some ministry that we can support instead. It is tough for some to change the traditions of the past. We know we remember Christmas for getting great gifts, but we would like our children to remember Christmas for celebrating Jesus' birthday and giving great gifts to those in need in this world. We know it is up to us to change our traditions to be about celebrating God in this world instead of celebrating worldliness.

Do any of you have traditions that celebrate this giving spirit of Christmas? Let me know where you and your family have developed Christmas traditions that may be different than other traditions. And may we prepare for a special Christmas this year.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Prayers of Thanks

It is that time of year when we focus of being thankful. I almost hate to start listing what I am thankful for because I will have to stop somewhere because there would not be enough time to share everything I am thankful for this year.
I am thankful for two beautiful, healthy children. They bring so much joy into my life. They keep me on my toes and they teach me a lot about love. The only person I am more thankful for is my lovely wife. She keeps putting up with me for some reason, and she continues to bless me with care and support.
I am also thankful for good nights of sleep, frappuccinos and the Nintendo Wii.
Most of all I am thankful for a congregation that is thankful. Yesterday many thanksgivings were shared. Many of the thanks were from people who have faced some challenges recently in their lives and their church family has been there to encourage them. Another thanksgiving that stood out in my mind was a thanksgiving in knowing that no matter what they faced they knew their church family would support them. It is a blessing to have a congregation that knows they will be supported no matter the difficulty or challenge.
I thank God every time I think of you. Is anyone else thankful???

Monday, November 17, 2008

Prayer and Hope

Yesterday we were reminded by Jesus to be persistent in our prayers. We are to not give up and continue in our prayers. We are to continue to pray when we feel like God is responding, but also when we are not sure that God is responding. We also took some time to offer our prayers to God.
I have already received a few notes about how important our prayer time was for some of our church family. Several felt God has already answered their persistent prayers from yesterday. I also saw many tears in the congregation which is often a sign of God being at work. It is truly a blessing to have some prayer time with your church family.
I also preached about being taught to pray by Jesus from Luke 11 at two services at Highland Ridge yesterday afternoon. I led one service in the care center and one in the main building with both independent and assisted living spaces.
As I preached persistence in prayer I saw on the faces of these mature Christians smiles of hope. The sense I got from the faces and comments after the service was that these believers have been persistent in their prayers for many years and they were encouraged to not give up. I know many parents and grandparents that need to be reminded of the hope we have as we persistently pray for those close to use who seem to be moving in the wrong direction from time to time. Even when we do not always see a bright future we can continue to hope in our prayers for God to work.
So I do want to encourage everyone to be persistent in prayer and persistent in hope. God is still good and still responds to our requests.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Mystery of Prayer

Have you ever wondered how or why prayer works? I do. I mean there are times I pray for someone to be healed and regain their health and they do. Yet there are other times I pray for someone to be healed and regain their health and they don't. To an outside observer it looks like one prayer was answered and one was not.
(You could also say God seems to answer prayers from Hawkeye fans as we knocked off the former #3 Penn State. While Iowa State's prayers have not been answered with a win lately.)
So then the question becomes, if one prayer is answered and the other is not, then what is the point of praying in the first place? Maybe God already had in mind to heal one person and not the other. Do my prayers really make a difference?
From the outside looking in I think these questions are normal and natural. However, my faith tells me there is more to prayer than just the outside appearance. First, I trust God knows what he is doing. I believe he is guided in all things by his love. Now I do not always agree with what I think he is doing, but I do trust he knows best. He is God and I am not.
Second, prayer is about more than getting answers. The value of prayer should not be found in the resulting answer of "yes," "no," or "wait." The value of prayer is found in the transformation it causes. When we spend time in prayer, God is transforming our hearts and minds. We are speaking to God and he is speaking with us and if we are open this will make us different. As we draw closer to the Lord through prayer he helps us take on more of his heart and mind.
So for me, this reminds me to continue in prayer because I do want to have more of the heart and mind of Christ living and working in me.
What has prayer taught you? Or what struggles do you have with prayer?

Monday, November 3, 2008

What can we do?

I shared some yesterday about the difference one church is making in the world. Ginghamsburg UMC in Ohio over four years has raised $3 million to help the people in Darfur to become self-sustaining with clean water and food. They are making an impact in the world in Jesus name. And so I am wondering what can we do?
That church has on average 4,000 people in services over a weekend, so we do not need to set our sights on a goal their size just yet. But we still can find a place and make a large impact. I want to talk with UMCOR, our United Methodist Committee on Relief, who is a partner with Ginghamsburg in their efforts and find out what kind of options are out there for us. UMCOR does a great job and we can partner with them to do what they do best with our resources.
We could partner with Ginghamsburg as well and serve those in Darfur. We could find something closer to home like Mexico or even in this country because there are needs here as well. I personally thought we might want to find an orphanage or some place that ministers to children and partner with them.
I would like it to be a place where we can send some of our people from time to time and not just resources. I would also like for us to open it up and try to find other partners in the community to join us in this mission to make a difference.
Right now it open to be guided by God's calling, so I invite everyone to pray with me for God's passion for a mission to be poured on our congregation. Let me know if there is something God lays on your heart.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Can I Change?

This past weekend I went to the "Change the World" Conference at Ginghamsburg UMC in Tipp City, Ohio. Many of the messages of the main speakers was about the need for Christians to start to change this world that has been falling apart. A specific focus was on the idea of pastors to stop asking people to make a decision for Jesus, as in a one time commitment to God, but to rather dedicate themselves to Jesus' mission, which is to continually work to transform this world.
This challenged me to remember everything that is going on in the world like the fact that 9 million children die each year from preventable diseases. Did you notice the word "preventable" in there? And of course there are staggering numbers of those starving, homeless, and in need of basic necessities. And we can make a difference. If we are truly being Christ's church and followers of Jesus we should be making a difference in the world.
So I want to start by changing myself. I need to become more aware of the world that is not our American Christian world. I need to open myself to be changed by God, that I might lead others to change the world as well. I believe 2009 will be a year where our world will change here at St. Paul's UMC and in Williamsburg. Can you change? And can we together change the world?

Monday, October 20, 2008

New Ideas

I have had some suggestions for our church to go green. One was to get hand dryers for the restrooms that blow hot air instead of using paper towels. This does then use some energy, but it cuts down on the use or over-use of paper towels. This suggestion was given by our Facility Manager who also has to clean up all the paper towels that are thrown on the ground, so it would save him some time and energy to not have to clean that mess up.
We continue to try to use email instead of sending letters and even newsletters to save paper and postage. This works well for those who use computers often, but it does not work for everyone.
We also have programmable thermostats for different areas of the building, but one problem we still have is people adjusting them and forgetting to reset them to the programed temperature.
Since our church building is new I know we are as energy efficient as we can be with insulation and all of those kinds of things, but I still would like other ideas of how we can invest in going green.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Going Green

For a month in our church we are going to focus on "going green." I would like for us to be mindful of the ways we can save our resources as we also preserve the earth. As a church we have worked at using real dishes and cleaning them instead of always using paper products. We have decided not to by Styrofoam products because they are not good for the environement. We are working to make recycling easy in the church building.
I hope we will find more ways we can be green and that the congregation will join in finding ways to be friendly to our environment. Sometimes it takes extra work from us to save the earth, but it is worth it. Other times it is not that difficult, but the church needs to be reminded of the little things we can do.
In my opinion, Christians should be the best at "going green" because it is a call God has placed on us. When we work to save the earth we are participating in an effort to be responsible for the creation of our God. If we truly believe God created all of this then we should be taking care of it. We should take seriously the responsibility God has given to us to care for the environment.
I do not think this means we need to go overboard and say we cannot take anything from the earth because God also gave us instruction to use the resources of the earth. God gave those resources to us, so we should use them. However, we need to be responsible in the way we use them.
So join me along this journey of "going green." Share with me any ideas of how the church can be better at this and how Christians can be better as well.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Walk With It

For the last month I have been working through this idea of walking each and every day in a way that reaches out to other people. It is amazing what happens when you focus on a subject for that long. It just kind of leaks into your life. So I have personally been more aware of opportunities each day that I can share God's love and grace with those around me. I think I now walk a little different, especially when outside the church building.
I now walk slower when I am around other people because I want to give myself more time to feel God nudging me towards someone. I take a little more time to talk with people in restaurants, at the grocery store, or anywhere else I am in public. I want to not be in such a hurry when I am out in public. So many times I am on a mission. I am focused on that gallon of milk I have to get that I forget there are people around. But God is teaching me to be present with the people that are around me. And I am learning that the little things like a smile, a hello, and actually listening and talking with people can be meaningful and lead to bigger things.
God can do amazing things with the little changes we can make in our lives. With our little gestures to others God's Spirit can do more than we can imagine. So I encourage all of you to walk with that sense of expectation that God will use each word that comes from your mouth. Expect God to use each moment you pause to help someone. Expect God to transform the lives of people around you (and yourself) as you walk for him.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Discern Next Steps

We are now on the final piece of living in 3-D, which is all about living our lives in a way that reaches out to others. The final piece is discern the next steps. After you have Developed friendships and made connections with people who do not have a relationship with God or a church home and you have Discovered their story and really had time to get to know them, it is time to decide what to do next.
Do you invite them to worship on a Sunday morning? Do you invite them to a small group study during the week? Do you bring them to the 611 on Wednesday night? Or is it not time for those steps yet?
Discerning the next steps is about figuring out where a person will be open to receiving God's love. Some people will be fairly open quickly because they are searching and have a desire to get to know God. Other people will be less open for one reason or another they do not want to get to know God.
Part of discerning next steps will probably be trial and error. Keeping trying new ways to encourage someone to get to know God. If something works then keep on going with it. But don't get frustrated when something doesn't work, just learn from it and try something else. The goal is not necessarily to get the person over the finish line as fast as possible, but to get them to the finish line ready to receive all God has for them.
So what are some good next steps that have worked for you in trying to introduce someone to God or your church home?
I have discovered offering a look at our web page helps people check things out without even having to come to the church. It helps them feel a little more comfortable when they do show up. What other ways can we make people comfortable as they move forward in their faith journey?

Monday, September 22, 2008

Discover Stories

What a powerful worship we had yesterday. We were blessed to have many people from our congregation who were vulnerable enough to share a piece of their life story with the us. It took a lot of courage to come forward and let people know about past mistakes, abuse, and loss. I know sometimes it is easier to share our struggles with strangers, but to share them in front of your church family takes courage. Their openness can encourage us to be open as well with our stories.
First, it can show us that we need to share our stories. I believe we all need to open with those close to us and share our faults and mistakes because most people know we are not perfect, so why try to keep up the charade. Also, as we share our stories we dig deeper into our relationships with others.
Second, this reminds us of the stories of people outside the church. If people who have a church home have such difficult stories, imagine what stories will come from those without a church home. I can't believe the stories some would have to keep inside themselves because they do not have a safe place to be open about their stories. One of our responsibilities as Christians is to let people know God is listening. God hears their story and God cares about their story. And the only way people will know that is if we communicate it to them.
So get to work discovering the real stories of the real people around you.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Develop Friendships

How often do you have conversations about faith or what you believe with your friends?
I was remembering back in the early days of my faith I would have nights where friends would stay overnight and we would discuss what we believed until the early hours of the morning. I am sure we did not come up with brilliant answers. We did not solve the problems of the world, but we did grow in our faith as we thought and challenged each other. We learned more about each other and how we viewed the world. It was back in the good old days.
Today I have similar conversations, but they are not late night conversations dreaming and thinking big. The conversations are more often someone coming to me for answers as an "authority" instead as equal searchers finding our way through. That is not always the case and thankfully so.
Talking about our faith and beliefs is very personal and sometimes difficult to do with friends, but it is also highly rewarding. When we make those deeper connections with others our relationship is strengthened. It opens doors to grow closer together. And really it takes your friendship to another level and builds a stronger bond with that person.
I encourage you this week to pray about those friendships you have that can take the step to the next level and have conversations about your faith.

Monday, September 8, 2008

Why Reach Out?

So I am wondering what people think about reaching out to people around us that do not have a church home? What are our reasons to reach out or not to reach out?
We reach out because we want to share something important to us with others. Because God has given us a message to share with the world and not keep to ourselves. Because we want our friends to enjoy something we enjoy. We reach out because more hands and feet can serve this world better.
We do not reach out because we are shy or hesitant to share faith. Because we want to keep our church the same and growing will make it different. Because we do not want to get into other people's business. Because we are unsure if the other person really wants a relationship with God.
These may be simplistic and they may not be all of the reasons, but they were the ones that came to my mind this morning. Are there points I missed? What other thoughts are there about reaching out?

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Grace Stories

I preached on God's grace Sunday from Matthew 20:1-16. This parable of the landowner is an excellent picture of God's grace and an example of how gracious God is compared to us. We read this story and it does not sit right with us, but Jesus was content to tell this story as an example of the kingdom of heaven.
Well, we had a awesome weekend at Chrysalis. The 14 guys and 30 girls of the flight were blessed by God's gracious love. Much of the weekend is focused on God's grace and how it shows up through the love we receive from others. It is amazing to see young people receive gift after gift of God's love from people they may not know or have just met. Like my lawn mysteriously being mowed while I was gone last month. Grace is receiving what we do not deserve.
We often think we want everyone to get what they deserve, but I really think the world would not be a good place if we all got what we deserve. We receive so many things we do not deserve. Do I really deserve two beautiful children? I do I deserve my wonderful wife? Did I deserve to serve this congregation? I see those gifts in my life and I am not sure I deserve them, but I am thankful for them.
So, what are you thankful for that you may not have deserved? Do you have a grace story? How have you see the undeserved love of God in your life?

Monday, August 25, 2008

Chrysalis Flight

Wanted this week to ask for your prayers for Helen, three of our youth and myself for this weekend. We will be participating in Flight #31 in the Cedar Rapids Chrysalis Community.
Chrysalis is a weekend retreat for young people to learn and grow in their faith. I actually went on Flight #1 in Cedar Rapids in 1994. It is to be a weekend of hearing and seeing God's love. Helen and I will be the Spiritual Directors of this weekend, which means as pastors we are in charge of praying and giving guidance when asked. It is a group of lay people, young and young at heart, who lead in the hands on ministry of mentoring the young people on the flight.
It is called a flight because they use the metaphor of a caterpillar moving through the chrysalis stage into becoming a butterfly (a really manly image for the guys). It is a good metaphor though because we are often crawling around in our faith until God transforms us into a butterfly that can fly and really go places. God has plans for us and those plans are to fly and not crawl. This weekend is geared to help these young people take flight in their own faith.
So please pray for those having this experience because prayers really work and this can be a life changing weekend for our youth and other youth from Eastern Iowa.
Also I hope you are taking flight in your own faith and flying high with Christ as your guide.

Monday, August 18, 2008

How do we learn about Jesus?

The main goal for Christians in my mind is to reflect the image of Jesus Christ. I wish I could find the perfect way to help others do this, but I am becoming more and more convinced that there is not just one way.
If all we had to do was read the Bible and then we would reflect Jesus that would be great. I could focus all of my attention and energy towards getting people to read the Bible. But just reading the Bible will not do it.
If it just took coming to worship on Sunday mornings to reflect Jesus then again I could focus my energy there. However, I think it takes both of those and then some. It takes Christian community to practice and be held accountable in our words and deeds. It takes prayer time of communicating with God. It takes action and learning as we try to act as the hands and feet of Christ.
So how do we learn who Jesus really is? How do we then help others make it a priority to reflect his character in this world? How can we get better at this?

Monday, August 11, 2008

What is it?

Yesterday I talked about "it". It came from a book called "How Churches and Leaders Can Get it and Keep it" by Craig Groeschel. I have not read his book yet, but heard him speak at a leadership conference on Friday.
It is not really something you can define, but you can describe it. It is that special something that some people have and you know it when they have it. There is just something different about them, and in most cases if we do not have it we want it.
I also mentioned how some churches have it. You can step in some churches and you can sense something special about that church. Now it is not the Holy Spirit because to say one church has the Spirit and one does not is wrong and not true. So it is more than just having the Holy Spirit.
I have been trying to get more comments on my blog to assure me people are reading, but I was told I do not always leave them open ended enough. So let's see if I can be open ended. What in the world do you think "it" is? I would like to hear your thoughts about people who have it (not that you have to name them, but describe them). Also what does a church that has "it" look like?

Monday, August 4, 2008


After preaching on "we do not live on bread alone" I had a father tell me that during my message his daughter who is going into second grade, I think, told him I was making her hungry. I shared with the folks at that service that it is good for us to be hungry, hungry for more of the Lord. So I began to think about that hunger. What am I hungry for?
Personally I am hungry from some alone time with God. It has been a very productive, but busy summer for the Parks family. All summer long I have been going from one project to the next. All great projects and important work in building the kingdom of God, but I have had little time for personal time with God for an extended period of time. Selfishly I want more time to not be working for the Lord and just being with the Lord. The work of our church has been the main focus. That work is rewarding, but I am hungry for time to work on my spiritual growth.
I guess I am in one of those desert times I keep talking about. And maybe my sermon series right now is mostly for me. I do know God will use this summer as a marking stone of his future work in me.
So where is your hungry? What are you hungry for that only the Lord can give?

Monday, July 28, 2008

Be Prepared

For the next three weeks we will continue a series of messages about moving from the deserts in our spiritual lives to the oasis. We will be looking at Luke 4:1-13 for keys to not only surviving in the desert, but thriving in them.
I shared yesterday a story about a time I had my wrists duct taped around a tree when playing a water gun battle game with some older kids. The guy thought he took away any tools I might use to escape, but he missed my secret pocketknife in my sock. I mentioned how I had that pocketknife placed in my sock for just such an occasion and how I always wanted to be prepared for any situation.
Last I was remember how many times I put that pocketknife into my sock and did not need to use it. Actually that is the only time I remember needing to use that pocketknife, but if I had given up early on putting that pocketknife in my sock then it would not have been there this one time I needed it.
Have you ever felt in your spiritual life that you are learning lessons or continuing disciplines that you are sure you will ever use? I remember thinking that way in school. When in "real life" am I actually going to need to know how to solve a quadratic equation? (I don't know I have directly used that outside of school, but I do use principles I learned with that math in my life.) And you might have asked me when would I ever really need a pocketknife in my sock? Now I can say, when you are duct taped to a tree.
It is the same in our spiritual lives. There are lessons to learn and disciplines to practice because God uses them to develop our faith and there may be a specific time in the future those lessons and disciplines will carry us through. That is why we need to be in small groups, we need to be reading our Bibles and we need to have daily time of prayer and devotion. Maybe you do not see the results you want right now, but God will use those preparations to work in your life.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Hold Together

I can't believe it has been two weeks since I last blogged. Since then I have been to Tennessee and Summer Games University at Grinnell College. Since I have been gone much has been in moving our offices from the Church Center into our new church building. The church building is coming along great and it is exciting to finally be all in one place.

However, since I was not here for all of the moving I am still looking for everything and trying to settle into my office. I have realized a couple of things. First, I have a lot of stuff. I am trying to clean out my draws and files because I tend to be a pack rat and think I might need something in the future. As I was looking at the stuff that was brought to my new office I was looking through my old 3.5 inch floppy disks with all of my college and seminary homework on them. Now seminary could be useful (although I doubt I would go back to it) but my college homework was mostly in business classes and I doubt I will ever look back over that stuff. Of course I still kept it for now, but shortly our computers will not even have a disk drive for them anymore. Then I might be able to part with it.

The second thing I learned is that I like everything in its place. I had found a spot for everything in my old office and now I will need to find a new spot for all my stuff. I will have to relearn my office and figure out where everything belongs.

In the midst of all of this upheaval and I reminded of God's consistency. God is still holding all things together. I have been sharing about laminin to everyone lately and this will be my last time in case you missed it. Laminin is a protein found in our bodies that holds our body together and gives it some structure. It is often called the glue of our bodies. Here is a diagram of what laminin would look like.
Laminin, in the shape of the cross holds our bodies together, just as God will hold us together as we feel pulled apart. I have been running raged these past few weeks, but the Lord has brought me through in one piece. I pray for some quieter time to gather myself and remember Christ is holding me together to continue his work.
You to can know the laminin in your body is a reminder of God's sacrificial love always being with you. No matter what you are facing God is there.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Flood Recovery

I thought Dave and Rhonda Heck had some great thoughts to share yesterday in the service about their experience with losing their home to the flood. Dave talked about putting faith in other places besides God and how important it is in the midst of loss to have faith God is there. Rhonda mentioned the difference between offering a helping hand and receiving a helping hand. How humbling it is to receive help from others.
My question still for our congregation is what will our continued response be to the floods? We have taken two offerings specifically for flood relief and given generously with almost $4,000, but is that all we are going to do? Are we just going to offer money?
I had a pastor friend from seminary call from New Jersey last night asking how he can organize a group to come to Iowa and help. I heard from Brother Dave that the church we served in Mississippi following Hurricane Katrina is planning a trip up here in August. If these groups are coming 1,000 miles to help can't we go 30 or 40 miles?
These questions are somewhat rhetorical because I know we will go and help, but we first need someone or a group of people to lead us in this work. We have been busy with our new building and there is still work to be done there, but we have more able bodies. I personally can not try to organize anything more than I am right because I have too much as it is.
So what will be our next steps? Who can we ask to organize us for action?

Monday, June 30, 2008

Strong Nets

It has been a busy couple of weeks which has kept me away from my blog. It is hard to believe what has happened in these past two weeks and it will probably not all sink in until I get some time away to reflect and relax. I can't remember my last day off because we had so much to do to get our new church building ready for our first service, which was indescribable. When God's Spirit brings everything together like he did, there are not words to describe the experience. Then that afternoon I left for a mission trip and as soon as I was back from that I had to prepare to give my first message in our new building.
That message was about casting out our nets one more time as Jesus called his disciples to do in John 21. The story is about Jesus telling his disciples to cast out their nets one more time after an unsuccessful night of fishing. When they pull in the nets they are full to overflowing. The nets are so full they have to tow the nets to the shore. Verse 11 said something I found interesting. It said the net was full of 153 fish, which I have no idea what that number means, but then it said "even with so many the net was not torn."
Now a person like me would not really have thought much of the fishing nets tearing because I have no idea how many fish they are suppose to catch. I do not know if the nets torn often or just on the occasion of a large gathering of fish. But it was important for the writer to let us know this net probably should have been torn, but it was not. If it had torn the disciples would have lost some of the blessing they were receiving from this large haul of fish.
So my question for us is; do we have confidence in the strength of the nets God has given us? I see our new church building as a new net. It is a chance to gather in some people who could not come to our building because of accessibility issues. It is also an opportunity to catch those who may have been hesitant to worship in a funeral home.
But an even stronger net we have is our fellowship within our congregation. The nets of our people are truly where God's love and grace are shared in our congregation. And with these two nets together, both strong enough to gather in a large blessing, we need to cast them out one more time by inviting those who do not have a place to meet God. God will strengthen our nets as we gather in his people.

MISSION: Invite at least one person personally to our Open House July 27th.

Monday, June 16, 2008

God's Work

It is a powerful experience when God works. In yesterday's service as we lifted up in prayer our brothers and sisters in Christ who are facing the flood waters, A Loud Voice shared a song that really hit me and many others during the offering. It is Nicole Mullen's Call on Jesus. I put the first two verses and chorus below.

Verse 1:I'm so very ordinary, nothing special on my own.
Oh, I have never walked on water,
And I have never calmed a storm.
Sometimes I'm hiding away from the madness around me
Like a child who's afraid of the dark

Chorus:But when I call on Jesus,
All things are possible
I can mount on wings like eagles' and soar
When I call on Jesus,
Mountains are gonna fall
'Cause He'll move heaven and earth to come rescue me when I call

Verse 2:Weary brother, broken daughter,
widowed, widowed lover, you're not alone
If you're tired and scared of the madness around you
If you can't find the strength to carry on

How many people around us fit the description of verse 2? I know there are tired and scared people who may be ready to give up around us. We are called to serve them and lift them up at this time. Continue to watch for ways we can minister to these people and if you are interested in leading a group in this work please let us know. God will carry us as we come along side these friends around us.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

I'm Rich

The Transformation Journal today from Ginghamsburg UMC is about the love of money and the pursuit of riches. I know some people do aspire to becoming rich, but I also know many of us just aspire to live comfortably. In our celebrity driven society we all feel life would be grand if we lived off of millions of dollars with no worries.
However, I have learned life can be grand when you handle your finances in a way that keeps you in charge. I will continue to "preach" debt free living until everyone buys in. Helen and I find great freedom in living without car payments, credit card bills, and creditors calling. We do not have an extravagant life by most standards, but we live comfortably and we are free to give generously when we feel led.
I pray all of us would learn to not chase money, but chase the dreams God has in store for us. Our finances are a part of our lives and we need to learn how to handle them to live freely in God's plan.
A saying I recently heard said, "No one dies wishing they had saved more, but wishing they had given more."

Monday, June 9, 2008

Final Conference Thoughts

In the midst of the Future with Hope theme a retired pastor shared with me a metaphor he felt described the United Methodist Church. He said, "we are like an empty pitcher trying to overflow." He actually did not go into detail to elaborate what this image was suppose to communicate, but I took it as saying we are a church with little (maybe nothing if we are empty) to offer and yet we do keep trying to give.
I think he was describing the decline of the United Methodist Church in America. We are not bringing more people into our churches and into a relationship with God than we are losing through death or leaving our churches. (Although outside our country United Methodism is growing quickly.) So, I guess the future with hope is that we can begin to fill our pitcher in order to have an overflow. And we talked as a conference this past weekend about ways to fill our pitcher.
As I thought about this image I was also reminded about times in my faith that I have felt like an empty pitcher trying to overflow. There are times I feel like I have nothing to give, but I am expected to offer something. In those times I need to be able to get away and be refilled.
I would guess this is a problem for all of us at times. We have the pitcher, which is our faith, and we do not often lose our faith, but we lose the Spirit who fills the pitcher. We all need to have times and places that the Holy Spirit can refill and rejuvenate us.
As individuals, as a congregation, and as a denomination we always need to offer our pitchers for a free refill of God's Spirit. When God fills us we can be filled to overflowing.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Day 2 - Iowa Annual Conference

The main task of the Annual Conference this year has been looking at an overview of the ministry and budget of our conference. Our conference budget is over $13 million in apportionments. It seems as we move quickly through our legislation that as a whole the plan, vision and budgeting of our conference are firmly supported by the members of the Annual Conference. As we focus on our ministry of making disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world we are unified.
There are still areas of debate, but most have been kept from the conference floor and gives a much more positive feeling to the conference.
Another area of hope brought to our attention was the Bishop's Challenge to raise funds for Nothing But Nets. The Bishop's goal was for our conference to raise $100,000. Well, at the beginning of conference we were near $193,000. A challenge was made to get us over $200,000 by the end of conference. Each district was challenged to raise some funds and at last count our district, the East Central had raised of $2,000 as the top district so far. There was also a pleasant surprise of a check for over $1,000 given through a fund raising project done by the 8th graders of Mid-Prairie Middle School, which is near our home. So at our last count we were at $199,000. We will soon raise enough money to protect 20,000 families from malaria. That is a future with hope and we are a part of that.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Day 1 - Iowa Annual Conference

The theme for this year's annual conference is Future with a Hope. It is an exciting theme for a denomination that continues to decline in America. In Iowa this past year our membership declined by 2,310 total members. Our attendance in the conference is down by 3,000 people. We have over 800 churches and 343 of these churches did not add a single new member this past year. 297 churches did not baptize a single person, adult or child. So, from some general numbers it looks like we are heading in the wrong direction.
But there is hope because of the power of the risen savior that is always ready and willing to redeem. If God is for us, who can be against us? If the Holy Spirit is allowed to work, the Holy Spirit does not fail.
One piece of the hope we were reminded of at our opening service last night was the impact of our support of Africa University. Our denomination and conference supports this school in Africa. Originally there were thoughts this project would not do anything. In 1988 it was hoped it would be able to serve that continent. Our conference began its support that year and in four years the university began. We have been with this ministry that now educates thousands of people in a continent in need of education. In a few days they will have over 300 students walk across the stage and receive their diploma. This education is bringing hope and we are a part of that world wide ministry.
I think during these days we will be reminded of the hope we do have. And I am excited that there is hope and that we as a United Methodist Church can be hopeful of the future God has before us.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008


Today's Upper Room devotion struck me as a very powerful message this morning. The devotion was about the need for us to confess our sins. And the writer of the devotion wrote it from prison. He said he began his relationship with God six days after being arrested. He then knew he had to confess to his crime and he received a life sentence with his confession.
This man knew the outcome of his confession would be life in prison here on this earth, and yet he knew he had to do it. It is amazing to me that we have such a difficult time confessing our sins and mistakes. We want to pretend like we never do anything wrong. We somehow keep alive this illusion that people think we are perfect. Or maybe we fear judgement from others instead of forgiveness when we confess. Whatever the case may be, I know confession and forgiveness are areas most of us can work on in our lives.
In the end, I believe when we face confession we are not facing life in prison. Instead we are faced with freedom from sin when we confess. When we confess our sins God is faithful and just and will forgive us of all unrighteousness. God wants to set us free through confession to one another and to God. I believe from the devotion that this man is truly free even though he continues to serve his time in prison.

P.S. Helen and I head to Annual Conference tomorrow morning in Ames. This is the annual gathering of pastors and laity from the Iowa Conference to discuss the finances, structure and policies of the Iowa United Methodists. I am hoping to blog each day something from the conference to let you know about what is going on. If you have specific questions about conference please comment them to me or email me and I will try to answer them.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Made to Worship

Yesterday we looked at Exodus 32 where the Israelites make a golden calf to worship as an idol. I cannot wrap my mind around this very well. I just think it sounds so strange. God has delivered them from slavery. They have seen him lead them in a real way as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. He has provided food and water for them. Then they decide to worship a golden calf. Just does not seem to make sense to me.
However, as I studied this Scripture I was reminded about how God created us. When God designed the human soul, he made us in a way that needs to worship. Within us is this desire to worship something. And maybe worship is not the way you would define it, but we were created with a desire to have something important or significant in our lives. A common illustration is that there is a hole within our souls that needs to be filled by something. Of course, it was designed to be filled by God, but we often try to fill it with other things; money, power, sex, addictions, etc... which would be considered idols.
The Israelites were trying to fill that hole with something they had experience in Egypt. The Egyptians worshiped a bull god, which would have been similar to the golden calf the Israelites created. They were trying to feel fulfilled and made whole.
What this means to us is that we need to be aware of what we worship. We need to watch the things we try to use to feel satisfied and fulfilled. We will only truly be fulfilled when it is God who completes us. Only when God is the top priority in our life will all the other pieces fit. This is how we were made. We can fight it as long as we want, but only when we finally accept God's love are we made whole. I believe this because I have seen this in many people's lives, and I have lived it myself. You and I were made to worship God.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

A Clingy God

On Sunday I talked about how we are a treasured possession of God's. He cares for us and watches over us. After the service someone shared with me a story from their experience. I am probably going to get the details wrong from the story, but the main idea is there.
They knew someone who was getting things ready for a garage sale. They were getting rid of a lot of kids toys and other items that the kids had outgrown. One item was a toy that belonged to their now 10 year old son. After a little while the mother saw the son with the toy from his younger years and she said she thought they were getting rid of it. To which the son replied, "Mom, I will never get rid of this toy. Too many memories."
From that story I was reminded of how tightly God does cling to us. We may wander off or even try to run away, but God will pursue us. God does not easily let go of his children, his treasured possessions. He will not let go of us without a fight. God will always be there for us.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Lost Treasure

In my time with the Lord this morning my heart was breaking for someone I do not know personally, but who has touched my life many times. Steven Curtis Chapman, one of the greats of Christian music, and his family are facing something no one ever wants to face. After the joy of his oldest of six children getting engaged this past weekend, his 5 year old daughter, the youngest, was killed when she was hit by a SUV driven by her teenage brother. I cannot imagine the pain and hurt their family is facing, especially this brother. Please lift this family up in your prayers.
The Upper Room devotion today touched on the things we treasure on earth. I would imagine for many of us we treasure our family and loved ones above and beyond any gold or material possession. So how do we respond to the loss of the treasures of our loved ones?
In the world we live in tragedy happens. We can also remember those in Asia again where close to 200,000 have died from disasters, leaving loved ones with this loss. And how we respond to this loss depends a lot on our faith. As a chaplain of a retirement home for 2 years, where we averaged about 3 deaths a week I saw many families deal with this grief (although these were not as tragic since many had lived long lives). And as I also talked with other chaplains and doctors, every one would say you can always tell the difference between a family with faith and a family without faith. There are different responses from those two kinds of families. Usually there are tears, sorrow and sadness from both, but a family with faith usually has a little more laughter, a few tears of joy, and always some hope.
We know we cannot take material treasures with us to heaven, but God will take the treasure of our loved ones to heaven if they have a relationship with Jesus. So I am reminded not to wait, but to be sure to share God with those closest to me. These are often the most difficult people to share something like our personal faith with, but it also brings the greatest reward. All other treasures will be lost, but the treasure of those we love can go with us.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Will We Respond?

Yesterday I challenged our congregation to at least tithe their economic stimulus refund to the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR). That means I challenged everyone to give 10% of whatever they receive from the government to relief efforts in Myanmar and China. There are several million people displaced by those two natural disasters. Of course, we can't care for them all, but we can at least do our part.
This got me thinking about money, which is unusual for me and yet becoming more common. I say it is unusual because I normally have a financial plan in place, so I do my thinking about money ahead of time. Then when a cost comes I put it into the proper category where funds are available and I move on to the next subject. So I do not fret over money questions too often because I have been disciplined in planning ahead.
If you have money concerns then I would ask if you have a financial plan? Do you have a budget, and more importantly do you follow your budget? If you would like to worry less about money then work on creating a financial plan to meet your needs. Watch where every dollar is going and make sure it is going where you need it to go. Be sure to put in your plan your giving to God's work because I have found as you find ways to give back to God you receive as well. Also be sure to put in your plans for saving. It is recommended to save 10% of your income. Goals for saving can be to always have $1,000 emergency money, then work towards having 6 months of expenses in savings in case you were to be caught without income.
I also said thinking about money has become more common and that is mostly in my church life with our new church building. Of course a $1.2 million project will get you thinking about money, but then there is all of the extra costs with it. In the big picture the questions seem small, but they are important. Like can we spend $2,500 on tables and chairs for the fellowship hall? Is there a difference in buying these in June verse August (now vs later)? There are many questions and thoughts we are wrestling with as we try to be wise and good stewards of God's money.
Then in the end I remember these people in Asia. Many have lost everything, including loved ones. Millions of people in need of clean water to drink and warm food to eat. And I am reminded how blessed I am to have to put up with these money questions. But I also think how selfish I am to not forget my problems for a moment and live without something to offer life to someone else. I can do without some of the luxuries I enjoy, so others can have the necesities of life. I hope we all can grow in our desire to live simply, so others can simply live.

MISSION: Pray about tithing from your stimulus payment or what you can afford to give to relief efforts. Then give it.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Heavenly Parent

The Transformation Journal devotion for today is about baptism. It reflects on the idea that in our baptism we are adopted as God's children. And the first thing I began to wonder was, how does our relationship with God change when we see God as a parent? This change in perception of God often comes from seeing God as a distant being who is usually out to punish us for our bad behavior, at least that was my perception.
Then God became my father. He became that person I would look up to, the person I went to for advice, and that person who was always there for me. It was amazing how this spiritual person, although invisible to the eye, became more present then the other people in my life. I had felt disappointed and even abandoned by other people, but God was different. God was there through the good and the bad.
I do see God as other persons, like savior of the world, savior of me, healer, forgiver, friend... but most of all God is my parent. That is the image of God that is closest to my heart and where I find myself getting closest to God.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Good Question

The Upper Room scripture reading for today is a story I have read often in Luke 18:18-30. It is the story of the rich, young ruler who asks Jesus, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" An excellent question. One I know many of us have asked at one time or another. I also am glad this guy went to Jesus with the question. I can't think of anyone better to ask this question.
If I were asked this question (and it has happened before) my response would be like many other Christians I know today. I would say, "the way to eternal life is to believe in Jesus as your savior." And I still think that is a partial right answer, but I am becoming more and more convinced that this is not the complete answer. It is an easier answer then the full answer and maybe that is why we often stop there.
What was Jesus' response? He did not mention anything about believing. First he mentions portions of the Ten Commandments. The man says he has followed those. So Jesus gives him one more thing to do, actually Jesus gives him two more commands. First, he must give all he has to the poor, then he must follow Jesus.
After this the man goes away sad, which is always frustrating to me. He came to Jesus with a great question. He gets the answer, which I would be glad to have, but he is sad because apparently it was not the answer he wanted.
See, I think the answer many of us want for our "ticket" to eternal life is just believing in Jesus. Believing is not always easy, but it is easier than giving all we have to the poor and following Jesus. Believing, we can do any time, any where. But giving to the poor would require us to be with the poor, to be sacrificing our desires for their needs. It requires a lot of work and action. I am not saying believing in Jesus is not a good thing, it is, but I am being challenged by God to live more than just believe. I am being challenged, and called to challenge others, to really live their eternal life now. To change our actions so that they are representative of Jesus and his life. We must act differently if we proclaim we believe in Jesus.
What does that look like? Well, for this rich man it was to give all he had to the poor. I don't know that this is every one's call. It may have been specific to this man because he was gifted at making money. Your call would probably be something around the gifts you have. What that call will look like for each of us will be different, but it will all be about following Jesus. That is our call. To believe in him and because we believe we then start to follow him. That is how we inherit eternal life.

Monday, May 12, 2008


In Exodus 14 we have a wonderful picture of the Israelites being frustrated with Moses for leading them out of slavery. That's right, they were upset about being led out of slavery. They are about to go on a long journey of wandering through the desert until they reach their destination of the Promised Land. I am still amazed at how this group of people had God as their leader in very real ways and yet they still seem to question God and rebel.
In this chapter they have God leading them as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. Not something you see everyday and yet the Israelites still complain about God's guidance. When we keep reading this story (which we will do over the next few Sundays) we see many tangible ways God is present with these people and yet they still wander.
In our office this past week we have been wandering through the world of technology. We have a new computer for our administrative assistant because her old one was slow and just would not work some days. The new one is equipped with Windows Vista and all the current software that we are learning to understand. Meanwhile, my monitor literally burned out. We have had some troubles networking the computers together along with the copy machine, so it has been a fun time. Thankfully Jason has been helping us get this done and everything seems to be up are running now. But we were laughing about wandering through this stuff as we figured out where everything needs to go.
When it comes to life I am glad to know I am not the only one who misses God's guiding light. If the Israelites can wander with God right there then I don't feel as bad about asking God questions and wondering where exactly he is leading me. If the Israelites were perfect in their following God then I would be much more frustrated with myself. Thankfully the Bible shows us pictures of real people as they lived in the real world where struggles and wandering happens.
But we also can see what God can do when we are willing to follow his guidance as best we can. We see the blessings of people like Moses who have faith God will lead them even through the Red Sea. So we strive for that kind of faith as we wander.

MISSION: Where are you wandering? Focus your prayer life this week on a specific area of your life that you feel you are wandering through. Ask God for clear guidance.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Inside Out

The reading today from the Transformation Journal through Ginghamsburg UMC was on a topic that has been on my heart and mind lately. It is the topic of my devotional for our committees this month. The topic is matching our inside with our outside.
Sometimes we go through the motions of being religious on the outside. We can say the right things or we can do the right actions and we think that shows our faith. Yet at the same time our heart is not connected to these words or actions. We are just going through the motions. And no one really can know this is happening expect for you and God.
But God wants to work on making sure our heart is filled with his love and grace, which then leads us to action. I do know that sometimes we need to act like we love God until we do love God, but I also know it is important for us to work on our hearts. We work on our hearts through prayer and daily time with God. Quiet reflective time with God will grow our hearts closer to him.
This idea of matching our inside with our outside also came to my mind as I thought about the new outside our church family will be moving into soon. When we have this new church building will our insides change? I know there are parts of our congregational heart that I hope will only grow, like our love for one another and other people. But I also hope our heart will not want to just do "church" like we did in the old building. Our new exterior will open up new opportunities to do God's work. I believe the change in the outside will grow our heart inside.
I encourage you all as you daily work to gain that balance between your heart and your action.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Be a Blessing

I had meetings all day yesterday afternoon with other pastors and laity from our district in Anamosa. Two presentations stood out to me as I thought about leaning back and kicking forward.
The first presentation was by a leader from the Matthew 25 Ministries in Cedar Rapids that we have begun to work with. He shared about the ministries accomplished this past year through this group. Their main target was a school that tests in the one percentile (meaning 99% of schools in Iowa score higher then the kids of this school) and their free or reduced lunch rate is now over 90% of the students. So these are children in need of some encouragement and support. And this ministry has partnered with the school to do whatever it can to let these kids know they are a gift from God. And the results have been so well received that the CR school district has asked them to see what they can do with other schools in the district. How amazing is that!
The second presentation that spoke to me was given by a man from Nigeria. Our Iowa Conference of the United Methodist Church has a partnership with the United Methodist Church in Nigeria. So he was telling us about what the Lord is doing in his country through the United Methodist Church. I believe in 10 years they have grown from about 20,000 members to 160,000 members, so the church is exploding there. He offered that if any pastors wanted to come and visit they are welcome to come for a year or so to help minister to all of these people because they are having a hard time keeping up with everyone. He also mentioned a gift of $75 will cover one semester of a pastor's education over there. It is hard to believe such a small gift could give great results.
I could go on, but the point I wanted to share with you is that there are endless possibilities of what God can use us for to be a blessing to this world from here in Williamsburg. We hope to be a blessing to the people of our community, young, old and in between. We can bless our surrounding communities and people across our state and country. We can even be a blessing half way around the world if we feel God calling us to that ministry. We have connections through the body of Christ all over this world and we can make a difference, if we decide to be a blessing.

MISSION: Pray about finding a ministry you can be a blessing to. Whether this is a ministry within our congregation like Kids' Club or choir, or a ministry around the world like Nigeria or Matthew 25. Then learn what you can do to be a blessing there and let others know about the gift of blessing this ministry.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

God Speaks Daily

I want to do some blogging about the daily devotions. I hope that others will join me. The three that I use are the Upper Room, the Transformation Journal, and a Max Lucado book "Grace for the Moment". I would encourage you to pick one and the only reason I am doing three at this time is because I hope that you will choose one that you like to do with me. Normally I do not use three.
Well, today two of the three spoke specifically about personal time with the Lord each day, so I had to praise God for his miraculous timing. I plan to share the Lucado devotion at Men's Breakfast, so I won't spoil that fun for those men here, but the Upper Room today was an encouragement.
The devotion was basically about regaining our zeal for the Lord, which happen to be my sermon on Sunday. The thought in the devotion was to remember when you first turned your life to the Lord. So that took me back to the summer of 1992. I went to a Summer Games camp, as a counselor even though I did not have a relationship with God at the time. The first night there I realized how much God loved me and I gave my life to him.
Especially that first summer I had no idea what exactly I was doing, but boy was I excited to do it. I just listened and learned from the other counselors and repeated whatever they said. Then that fall I "helped" teach confirmation in my home church. Actually I was sitting in on three confirmation classes absorbing all that I could.
I do still try to absorb as much of the Lord as I can through reading the Scriptures, other Christian books, and prayer, but I still would not mind more time for that.
Well, I hope you are finding a place to receive some nourishment from the Lord and are excited about the possibilities of the future the Lord has planned for you.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Grow up

Our minimum factor according to the Natural Church Development survey is passionate spirituality. I would love to hear any comments about your reaction to this minimum factor. To me at first it was kind of a slap in the face. Who is this survey to say I am not passionate about my spirituality or that the church I serve is not passionate because I see passion there. But after I prayed about it I began to come to terms with the idea that if we do put some effort into that area of our church life we will see some good results.
Today I thought about my personal growth with prayer. My top spiritual gift is faith. It is a blessing and curse. I completely have blind faith in the Lord. No matter what I am facing I believe God is in control and he will bring about his purpose. This is a blessing because I don't let things of this world hold me down. No matter how many times I hear something is not possible I know that with God all things are possible. It is a curse because not everyone sees the world with this faith. Most people without the gift of faith are more cautious and tend to keep their minds closed to the extravagant possibilities of God. So it can be frustrating to always be trying to share this blind faith. It is not something you just give to someone.
Well, that faith was also the enemy of my prayer time when I was new to the Christian life. I felt prayer was about asking God for things and in my faith I knew God already knew what I needed, so why waste my time asking. It was not until I grew in my understanding of prayer and that it is not about asking God for things, but sharing my life with God. I do share with God the wants and desires of my heart, but I also listen to him as he shares with me. I realized prayer is part of building my relationship with God. It is like any relationship, if you do not communicate with another person your relationship will not grow. Your relationship will just stay where it is. It will not get deeper. Prayer helps us grow up in our relationship with the Lord.
I hope everyone will grow in their faith and find a way to build that relationship with God.

MISSION: Discover the best way for you to have 5-10 minutes a day with the Lord and share it with someone else. Also let me know what draws you closer to God in your daily life. Ideas: reading Christian books, Devotionals (,, Bible reading, Christian music, etc...

Monday, April 21, 2008

Everyday Worship

Pastor Helen led us in a wonderful worship experience yesterday. As I went forward to dip my fingers in the water at the altar, I was taken to the well where Jesus ministered to the Samaritan women in John chapter 4. I thought about the refreshing received from cool water on a hot day in a place like Israel. Hopefully we have some hot days coming soon and we too will be desperate for the coolness of water to flow over us.
And I thought about the refreshing offered in worship. Now worship is about focusing on God and it is about praising God, and yet I often am refreshed through worship because I stop trying to play God. I know as a pastor I can get caught up trying play God for other people. I feel like I need to solve their problems, answer all of their questions, and never fail them. When I finally realize I can't do that I often turn my head towards the sky and worship God because he can. He is the one that never leaves us. He is the one that speaks to our hearts. He is the one who will catch us when we fall. IF we allow him to and IF we recognize him at work in our lives.
Worship for me is not just a Sunday morning thing. It is an everyday thing. Everyday I need time to worship. I need reminders of God's worth. I take advantage of those opportunities more and more, and I encourage you to do the same.

MISSION: When God makes himself known to you this week, whether through prayers, through conversations, through actions, honor him with your worship. It doesn't have to be out loud or obnoxious, just let him know you appreciate who he is. Try to have at least one moment of worship each day this week.

Monday, April 14, 2008


The Natural Church Development survey has told us that our top two strengths are Effective Structures and Empowering Leadership. I am curious about what people think about these strengths compared to some of the other characteristics? (If you need a refresher the 8 are listed in my previous blog.) These were not the two strengths I wanted at first glance, but I think they are encouraging.
I believe with good leadership God can change the world. The world will not be changed by followers in the sense that followers are not leaders. If a follower decides to take a different path, they are no longer following, but leading. There are many paths this world leads us down: king of the hill mentality, get all that you can ideas, it does not really matter mindsets. It takes a leader to stop going down those paths and decide to make a difference. It takes a leader to say I want to help someone else. It takes a leader to say no one deserves to be treated that way. It takes a leader to say my life does matter and so do the decisions I make. God calls us to lead the way on loving God and loving others.
So I am excited that we have a strength in our leadership. And as they are empowered by the Holy Spirit we lead for growth in our other areas to have a quality environment where God will grow us in health.

MISSION: Reflect on where your power for leadership comes from. Is it from other people encouraging you? Is it from the experiences you have had in leadership? Does God just place it in your heart? Where are you using that leadership right now?
Please share with me your thoughts on the strengths of our church.

Monday, April 7, 2008


After church yesterday I was talking with someone who shared what came to their mind as I talked about Natural Church Development. He said that talking about creating an environment for growth reminded him of the medical profession. So many times we give doctors credit for healing our bodies, and I don't want to take away from what they do because doctors are important and well trained.
However they really do not heal our bodies, they create an environment for our bodies to heal themselves. And most doctors will tell you this themselves. God has given us amazing bodies that heal themselves. What a doctor does is help create the right environment for the healing to occur. They keep the injury clean. They realign bones and put on a cast. They do the best they can to help the body heal properly, but they do not cause the healing.
If we are to have a fully healthy church we are to do the same kinds of things. We are to create an environment where God can heal us, strengthens us, and grow us. This is our job in the Natural Church Development Process.
I want to give you the areas we will be looking at as the 8 characteristics that help create the right environment in the church: Empowering Leadership, Gift-Based Ministry, Passionate Spirituality, Effective Structures, Inspiring Worship Services, Holistic Small Groups, Need-Oriented Evangelism, Loving Relationships. Think about which you think we do well at St. Paul's UMC and what you think we need to work on. Over the next three weeks I will share what a survey tells us about ourselves.

MISSION: Think about the environment that blesses you in our church and share this with someone else.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Perfect Expectations

I was talking with one of our members, who is a carpenter, last week about building our church. He was talking about when he could come in and lead some teams doing some finishing work in the church. And he said he will try to calm his standards when working with other people in our church. I had heard that he is very accurate and precise in his work as a carpenter. He wants it to look perfect.
My understanding is that with some carpentry you don’t have to be exact because it will be covered by drywall and paint. But the finished carpentry is visible and to look its best it needs to be cut and fit together just right. I encouraged him to not take it easy and expect the best from our people because we want the church to look great and be done well.
Jesus was also a great carpenter. He knew precisely what he had to do to offer us forgiveness for our sins. And then he sent the Holy Spirit to be our guide in living our lives. Because we have the Holy Spirit to power our living Jesus also does not lower his standards on his expectations for our lives. Jesus even says in Matthew 5:48 "You must be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect." Now that is high expectations.
Before you get scared away I want to say I don't think being perfect means we need to never make mistakes or sin. It is a calling to not purposefully sin. But mostly it is a calling to try to live with a perfect love that only wants God's best for everyone. If we allow God's perfect love to guide us through the power of the Holy Spirit we can strive to live as Jesus lived.
I think this is also a goal set for us because if the goal is set lower that is all we would strive for. I know personally if I lower my expectations then I usually only achieve that lower expectation. If my goal is the perfect expectation, I may not achieve perfection, but I will strive for more and give my best effort. God wants us to have goals in our lives that are above our ability so that we will need to rely on the Holy Spirit's power to achieve our goals.
So in my life I continue to strive for God to spread his perfect love as best he can in someone like me.

MISSION: What area of your life do you need the Holy Spirit's power to achieve more? Share this with someone who will encourage you to strive for more.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Is it I?

As I reflected on the Last Supper Drama presented by men from the Harlan United Methodist Church yesterday there was a question that kept getting my attention. I think it was intended that way because each disciple ended with this question as they pondered who would betray Jesus; is it I? Each disciple wondering if it was possible that they would be the one to betray Jesus.
We would think they should know whether or not they had it in them to betray Jesus, but Peter is a good example of someone who said he would not even deny Jesus and then of course he did.
Judas had some interesting thoughts. He knew that he would betray Jesus, but it was an attempt to force Jesus' hand. He wanted to make Jesus conquer the Romans, which is what was expected of the Messiah. He thought Jesus would do that before he would be killed. However, he did not understand who Jesus really was as the Messiah.
Judas also said something in his own defense. Basically he said he was not as bad as people said he was. He was just trying to help God's kingdom along in his own way. Then he said we are not as white or pure as we think we are. This also got me thinking.
Sometimes we do fall into the trap of thinking we are not as bad as some other people, so therefore we are alright. We also think we did not betray Jesus, that was Judas. But the Scriptures say "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." We have sins in our lives and the reason Jesus died was not that he was betrayed. It was because of our sins. He could have called to God for protection and help and he could have been saved (this is what Judas may have wanted to happen). But instead Jesus knew he had to die for our sins as a pure sacrifice.
So to ask is it I? Am I the reason Jesus died? The answer is yes. Yes, Jesus died because of you. But this is not a yes of guilt. By knowing Jesus died because of you is not to bring guilt or shame to your life, but rather it is to bring awe. Jesus died because of his great love for you and he was willing to make the sacrifice for you. I love the saying that Christ would rather die then live without you. It killed Jesus to see you separated from God, and then from his death you were brought back to God. This Holy Week remember the suffering Jesus accepted for you, but also keep looking towards Easter.

MISSION: Each day of Holy Week reflect on the path Jesus took to the cross for you. Imagine being in the story with him.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

John 11

This chapter of John shows another illustration of what Jesus offers us. He has been using different metaphors for what it means for him to be the savior of the world like the Good Shepherd, healer of the blind, Bread of Life and Living Water. This chapter he literally gives new life to a friend, Lazarus.
I recently heard someone get corrected for saying Lazarus was resurrected. Although he was dead, he came back to life on this earth. This is resuscitation not resurrection. Resurrection is being raised to new life in heaven, not back here.
When Jesus resuscitates Lazarus it is an extreme example of the authority and power given to Jesus and this causes the Sanhedrin to begin to plan to kill Jesus. The Sanhedrin was the governing body of the Jewish people. It was a group of 71 chief priests, elders and teachers of the law. They were given their authority by the Roman government, but they were not allowed to impose capital punishment.
So the Sanhedrin begins to plot to kill Jesus and in verse 48 they tell why they want to get rid of him. They want to get rid of Jesus because they will lose their position of authority given by the Roman government and they worry the Romans will think Jesus is causing a revolution against their government and come in and kill many of the Jewish people.
This is what historically caused the crucifixion of Jesus. This is the reason the Jewish authorities wanted Jesus to be killed. They thought it was better for Jesus to die then many Jews to die when the Roman government would stop their revolt. However we know there was more going on than this. Jesus' death came because he was a needed sacrifice to cover our sins. His sacrifice was needed for our relationship with God to be renewed and restored. As we move towards Holy Week continue to remember as Jesus moves towards the cross he is going there for you and your relationship with God.

Monday, March 10, 2008

The Invitation

I wonder how much we could learn from one another about making an invitation to someone to join us at church? As the pastor I do invite people to join us at our church, but I also feel an invitation is better coming from someone other than the pastor. Some may look at it as my "job" to invite people and get more people into our church. If it is my job then the invitation may not feel heart-felt like I am doing this because I am paid. (Which of course is not true because I want every to experience Christ in the church as I have.) If the invitation comes from someone else it can really be felt as an act of love and kindness.
So I want to know what the best ways are to invite someone to church. What kind of invitations have been effective or what kind of invitation worked for you? I would love to get comments back on this.
I would think you would have more success after having built a relationship with a person. Once you have gotten to know them your invitation will be received as a friend. Sometimes people need more than leaving the ball in their court. Make specific plans to be there on a set day and time and make plans to go to brunch following the service. Also sometimes connecting in something other than a worship service is best. Invite a friend to a small group so they can get to know a few people before deciding to join the larger group. We would love guests at any of our church activities.
Well, please let me know your thoughts on invitations and how we can encourage one another to invite people to SEE Christ.

MISSION: Invite someone who does not have a church home to our Easter service, March 23 at 10:00 am at the high school auditorium.

Friday, March 7, 2008

John 8

The first section of the eighth chapter of the Gospel of John is a story that often reminds me how to represent Christ to others. Here a woman is brought who was caught in the act of adultery. Their law required her to be stoned to death, but Jesus takes a different approach. He does two things seen in what he finally says to the woman. He says he does not condemn her, but he also calls her to leave her life of sin. We are to follow his example.
In our lives there will be people doing things that are not right. And honestly we have all done things that were not right. We all have sin in our lives. Jesus does not call us to run around pointing out other people's sins. We are not called to judge or condemn people for their behavior.
At the same time we are not called to ignore sin, but strive to live a life free from sin. There is a difference between not condemning someone and ignoring their sin. Ignoring sin allows that sin to continue to control a person's life. Until the sin is acknowledged it will continue to have a hold on that person. Once it is brought to light the next step is to move away from it.
Jesus here calls this woman to leave her life of sin and we are to give that same invitation to others. What we can also offer to do is walk with that person as they work to be freed from that sin. Being freed from sin in our lives can be as easy as accepting the freedom God offers and making a decision to never do it again. However, being freed from sin also can be a long journey for sins that have deeply held us away from God. Either way God invites us to journey with other sinners to more fully understand and live out the freed Christ offers us from sin.
All of us have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, but together we can overcome sin by the power of Christ's forgiving grace.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

John 6

A few Sundays ago as we were reading through the Gospel of Mark someone asked me where the salvation message was in Mark. Each Gospel tells the story from a different perspective. Mark tells a lot about the events that happened and not so much the teachings or sayings of Jesus.
Now that we are reading the Gospel of John I hope you can see that John focuses more on the teachings and sayings of Jesus. You can notice that we are six chapters in and already Jesus teaches about being born again (chapter 3), the living water (chapter 5) and the bread of life (chapter 6) as ways to understand salvation. Each teaching is a little different way to look at relying on Christ. John makes clear the message is salvation comes through Jesus Christ.
The reaction in chapter 6 to Jesus talking about being the bread of life and "eating his flesh" causes an interesting reaction. We may miss it because our minds are taught to think of communion here, but imagine not knowing about communion and being told you have to eat someone's flesh. I am not fond of cannibalism, so that would turn me away.
It says in verse 60 that some followers of Jesus said, "This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?" And that response is a fear of many pastors. My goal is to help people grow in their faith and become better disciples of Jesus, followers of Christ. However, Jesus has some hard teachings that people may say if that is what is required I am not willing to do that. People often want an easy faith. People want the basics we need to get by.
But faith in Jesus is not about getting by. Many times Jesus talks in an all or nothing mentality. God will not be satisfied until all of our life belongs to him. Does that mean he doesn't love us if we still hold back some of our life? No, he still loves you, but he also wants to call you to more.
Jesus does give some "hard teachings," but they are also life-giving teachings. When you hear a hard teaching of Jesus I encourage you not to disregard it, but try to dig into it to understand what Jesus is really calling you to and see what life it might bring in your life.

Monday, March 3, 2008


I was reflecting on what to write today and I was drawn back to the skit the youth used to open the 10:30 service yesterday (they did it at the 8:30 service two weeks ago). The skit was titled "Useless Tools" and the main point was many times as Christians we do not take the time to teach people about the tools we have as Christians. Basically we say once you are a member or attend church regularly you are finished with your faith. We stop there instead of realizing God has called all of us to be disciples, Christ followers. This is a life long process of following where Christ leads us.
As a church we do need to become more aware of this calling to be disciples. We need to offer more opportunities for people to learn and grow in their faith, to be discipled. We also need people who are willing to disciple others. Yes, this is the pastor's calling, but it is the calling of all Christ followers as well. We each really should have a person we can follow and learn from and then have someone we are teaching as well. Of course Christ is the ultimate person we follow, but he also uses the faithful to disciple others.

MISSION: Think about who has discipled you and if that is not a specific part of your relationship talk with that person to see if they would be willing to pass on their lessons of the faith to you. Also think about who you might help grow in the faith at this time.

Friday, February 29, 2008

John 2

In this chapter we have what is thought to be Jesus' first miracle and it is his mother who asks him to do it. I guess we might say this is Jesus' first public miracle because it seems that Mary knows Jesus can help in this situation. She knows there is something special about Jesus. So I assume sometime she has experienced what Jesus can do. She tells the servants to do whatever he says.
Since I have experienced Christ in my life I can't tell you how many times I have encouraged people to do whatever he tells you. Although many will get into difficult situations they will not follow Jesus' way to live a full life. We keep trying our own way and if we would just listen to Jesus we could move in the right direction.
I know what Jesus tells us to do does not always sound like the solution, but it is. He says to gain our lives we must give them to others. He says to be first we must be last. It doesn't make sense, but it works. When we offer ourselves to others because of our love for them God touches both them and us in a miraculous way. Try it!
(Side note: I think it is interesting that Jesus' first miracle here is making more wine for people who have already had enough to drink. I personally don't drink because I don't like losing the ability to make good decisions and that is what happens when you drink too much. I also feel that as a role model for youth I need to be free from alcohol to be able to encourage youth to do the same thing.)

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Mark 16

Well, we have finished reading the Gospel of Mark. The end is may favorite part. I get goosebumps when I read verse 6 where an angel says, "You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here."
Because Jesus was not there in the tomb we know he is here with us today in the Holy Spirit. Because he was not there we know he conquered death and promises us new life as well. Although this event happened 2,000 years ago it changes my life even today as I remember the love that brought him to that point and then the power of God to raise him from the dead. This is what we are preparing to celebrate at Easter. (Although we should really celebrate it each day.)
Please comment to me any thought or questions from the Gospel of Mark now that we have read through it. And join me as we begin the Gospel of John tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Mark 14

I know Mark 14 was yesterday's reading, but I wanted to comment on the first section of that chapter. It is the story of the woman who broke her alabaster jar to anoint Jesus. The disciples are mad that such an expensive perfume was "wasted" by pouring it on Jesus' head.
What came to my mind was the expense of building a new church building. We are building a $1.2 million building for Phase 1 and later with the addition of Phase 2 it will be around a total of $2 million. This congregation has taken on this challenge and is giving with such generosity that this task can be completed sooner then we ever expected. And this is grrrrrreat!
I compare this to the alabaster jar because I know many people in our congregation are giving more generously then they have before. To this woman that jar was probably one of the most expensive possessions she had. Our church family is giving of what they have because they see this need and want to give our church a building from which to minister to this community and world. Some have even stepped into sacrificial giving by giving above 10% of their income to fund our general budget and this project.
My prayer is that once we do have the building paid for (not just built) is that we will recognize that when we give generously God can do miracles. If every member would just give to that tithe (10%) level the ministries we could provide to this community and world would at least double what we are doing now. We could be vital partners with ministries in Iowa County, a orphanage in Romania, a hospital in Nigeria, or a church in India. We could spread God's love and grace to those who are often overlooked because funds are not available. By continuing to grow in our generosity we would be pouring the blessings we have received on to others, who are themselves the image of Christ.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Fear and Faith

Jesus calls us in Matthew 6:25-27 to not worry. God will take care of us. The Bible also says 366 times "Do not be afraid." God does not want us to be afraid because he is with us. So why do we still worry and fear?
Some will say this is because of our lack of faith. If we just had enough faith we would not worry or be afraid. I think that is a logical answer, but when I see several people who I know have extreme faith wrestle with worry and fear I question that answer. However, I believe there is some truth to it. Let me explain.
When we say a person lacks faith we are often pointing to a lack of faith in God. They are saying the person does not trust God enough. What I think may be happening is a lack of faith in something other than God. I think the problem may be a lack of faith in their ability to make decisions, a lack of faith in the information they have, or a lack of faith in other people.
The last one being a powerful one. In our society we learn, whether taught or intuitively, to not trust other people. We often jump to the conclusion that others are out to get us and they are only looking out for their own good. We also have been let down by other people, so our faith in others declines.
I know our faith first needs to be strong in Christ, but I also believe we need a strong faith in other people especially in other Christians like those in our church family. I believe God especially calls us to build our faith in our church family. To live the life God has called us to we are going to have to work together and be able to trust and rely on one another. This means we need to be willing to open ourselves up to our church family and trust they will not hurt us. It is a difficult thing, but it is a step God has called us to as a Christian community. God does not promise you will never be hurt, but he does call to us saying, "Do not be afraid, I will be with you."

MISSION: Find another Christian that you trust and share about what you can do together to work on building trust with others.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Mark 10

Is anyone else hearing a message loud and clear from the Lord through Mark the last two days? This is probably more apparent to me because we had our Radical Renovation Workcrew last night and focused on this subject, but three times in the last two chapters Jesus has said, "The first shall be last and the last shall be first." Jesus is turning upside down our view of being great. He really wants to get across to us that until we make that shift in our hearts, minds, and actions we will not fully know what it means to be great in the kingdom of God.
I was also reminded in this chapter about the way to salvation. Jesus says it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle then for a rich man to be saved. I have been guilty of making that a metaphor instead of being literal because I don't want salvation to be difficult.
However, as I read it this morning I saw in my mind's eye someone trying to push a camel through the eye of a needle and realized how often we do try to push our way into heaven. In our minds we have to work to get to heaven, it takes effort for us to get there. That is a lie. Salvation is a gift given by the grace of God. We can keep pushing at that camel, but it will not go through the eye of a needle by our efforts because that is not the way to heaven. Jesus says all things are possible with God and that is where salvation comes from. It doesn't come from our efforts. It comes when we give up trying to be good enough, smart enough or holy enough, and just accept the gift. Thank God it is a gift because Jesus did something none of us could do in going to the cross to cover our sins. He paid the price to offer the gift and we just need to accept it.

Please comment back to me if you have thoughts or questions I know some have tried but they have not come through. Be sure to type the security code in the wierd looking letters and then pick an identity. Pick anonymous if you don't want to input anything else.