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.