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.