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.