Monday, December 21, 2009

Simple Gifts

Every year when I read the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke verse 19 always catches my attention. That verse says, "But Mary treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart." It looks like Mary is treasuring the visit from the shepherds who shared with her the message the angel gave them that her baby boy would bring joy to all people. I believe that message helped carry Mary through many tough times. I believe it changed her life having heard this message of God at work in her life from the shepherds.
My life too was changed when someone shared how they saw God working in me. I had a guy I looked up to sit me down one time when I was in high school and he said he thought God wanted me to be a pastor. I was caught off guard because I had never really thought much about God using me in that way. But from then on I also began to hear God calling me to become a pastor. I wonder if I would have missed that calling if this man had not given me a simple gift of encouragement towards pastoral ministry.
So this week I would love to hear stories of those who have given you a simple gift of encouragement in what God has done or will do in your life. Even more, I would love to hear of people around you that God may be calling you to encourage with some words like the shepherds. There is someone around you this Christmas who needs that simple gift. Take a moment to encourage someone you see God using for His work this Christmas.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Simple Voices

Yesterday our children offered their annual Christmas program. They did an outstanding job! The characters were played with excitement and joy. The songs were sung stupendously with some marvelous soloists. The whole thing was touching and inspiring. I do also want to thank all of the adult leaders who gave of their time and energy to make the program possible.
It is amazing to me the power of little voices. When our children say things to us something different happens than when an adult says the same things. When I say a blessing over our food at the dinner table no one tells me how wonderful it was. However when Hayden, who is now 4, folds her hands and closes her eyes tight and says with a faint voice, "Thank you God for food...mama...dada. Amen." Helen and I cannot stop talking about it. It is the most precious thing I have ever seen. To be honest I am more focused on watching her than blessing my food.
So it is a joy to hear our children remind us once again of the story of Christmas. The many different characters, the directions given by angels, and in the end the precious moment of the Son of God born in the flesh for us.
As adults we need to continue to share this story and especially with our children that they will know the story is true and that they too will take to heart the words of the Christmas story.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Simple Surroundings

My favorite part of Christmas growing up was on Christmas morning we would wake up and go downstairs and open presents. This was at my mom's house, which was always the calmest part of our day. It was just Mom, Kate, Mike and me. There were not usually a lot of presents under the tree, the major "load" of presents came from grandparents. But there was something peaceful about just our little family having those few moments together.
Now my favorite part of Christmas is that same time with Helen, Jamison and Hayden. Most Christmas mornings we have been alone at our house. The kids get three gifts and Helen and I may have one or two. The kids also have to find a gift that is the baby Jesus from their nativity scene.
After these nice quiet moments we have to get everyone ready and we hit the road to begin the Christmas travels to different homes for food, fun and gifts. It is a good time, but I prefer the simple quiet time with my family as we remember and celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ. In those time I recognize the true blessings I have in my family.
What simple blessings are you reminded of at Christmas? What blessings can you recognize God has given you this year that could be missed in the busyness of the season?

Monday, November 30, 2009

Simply Human

I love the fact that all throughout Scripture there is story after story of God using imperfect, flawed people just like me. This is especially true in the Christmas story. Each person who played a role in the Christmas story, other than Jesus, of course, was simply human.
Specifically we looked at Zecharias, the father of John the Baptist. Although Luke 1 says he was blameless before God he still lacked faith when an angel said he would have a son. So if a priest who was blameless can be flawed and still used by God then we have a chance to be used as well. We may put them on a pedestal as highly important people since God chose to use them in His story, and they are important people, but we are important people also.
We all fall into that same category of imperfect, flawed people that God will use for miraculous things. Now miraculous things will not all look alike. Not all of us could be the mother or father of John the Baptist who prepared the way for the Messiah. However, our work is just as important in doing the will of God.
So whether you can offer resources, time, talents or all of the above for God's work in this world, your part is significant. God cannot do His work in this world without you. Be open this Christmas simply as a person who can be used by God and see what miraculous things God will call you to do to change someone's life.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Give or Receive?

Is it better to give than receive? I think this is a tough question if you really think about it.
Who does not enjoy receiving a gift? I look forward to my birthday when I get to be surprised by what my family will give me. My kids often bring "gifts" home for me and no matter what it is I at least offer some enthusiasm as I receive the gift. I am happy they thought about me and wanted to bring me a gift, no matter what it is.
Sometimes our ego can get in the way of receiving a gift. We are too proud to accept a gift even when it is needed. This might be a time we would rather give than receive. Yet, I believe this is a time we need to simply be grateful for the offer and receive the gift.
It is this way when it comes to eternal life. Nothing we can do will ever achieve eternal life, other than accepting the free gift of God's grace, which we do not deserve, but God offers it anyway.
Giving on the other hand, is also a blessing. I find it a joy to give a gift to someone. Especially when a lot of thought and work has gone into the gift. I do not have the talent to make a gift for someone, so it is most often something I have bought, but I usually spend a good amount of time thinking about the perfect gift for that person that will really meet a need in their life. So I feel joy knowing they feel joy because of something I have done. Being generous can fill our lives with joy as we are free to offer blessings to others.
God invites us to be generous in our lives because He has been generous with all He has as well. This includes God's willingness to give His son Jesus to forgive us of our sins. God has been generous with much and invites us to do the same.
So, is it better to give than receive or better to receive than give? What do you think?

Monday, November 16, 2009

Joy in Simplicity

Yesterday we talked about how God can bring joy in our finances by simplifying our often complicated life. Two areas I mentioned was looking for ways to simplify regular expenses and how to simplify our activities and entertainment.
Regular expenses are the places we spend money routinely. This could be monthly expenses or a hobby. In our house we have simplified by getting rid of our satellite dish and by not having the internet at home. Cutting out these two payments save us close to $100 a month. That is $1,200 a year extra for us to save, spend on something more important or give away.
I also encouraged people to focus on doing instead of spending when it comes to activities and entertainment. We could spend a lot of money going to the movies or going to an amusement park. We could have just as much fun and can build more memories by doing things for free. Have a family game night where you rotate having someone choose the board game to play. Go outside or to the park and play some outdoor games. Head to the library and let each person find a book to read. We need to show our children that we can have fun without spending money.
If you can, take some time, think about what is complicating your life. How can you simplify your life? Feel free to respond with ways you have simplified your life or heard of others simplify their lives so that we can learn from each other. Through simplicity God will bring more joy into our lives.

Monday, November 9, 2009


Yesterday we began a series of messages called "Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity." Yesterday I mainly wanted to get across the idea that God wants you to have joy when you consider your financial situation. God does not desire for you to have worry, anxiety or fear when it comes to finances. God has enough and God has a plan for you to have enough as well.
I shared about chasing God's dream and not the American Dream because the American Dream can quickly turn into a nightmare.
One person sent me an email wrestling with the idea of the American Dream. He was saying the dream used to be to give a better life to the next generation. However, I have felt the dream has turned into everyone wanting bigger and better. Sure we might say it is for the next generation, but we also get plenty of bigger and better stuff for ourselves. (I may wrestle more with this idea and share some thoughts in my next message.)
So I challenged the congregation to dream about God's dream for their lives. One of my dreams is to help people know God's love and to know God's plan for their finances specifically. I have the dream to help others with finances because I have seen too many families struggle with finances. I have not just seen poor families struggle, but middle class and upper class people as well. We all can struggle if our finances do not bring joy into our lives.
In my life I have found joy in finances as Helen and I cover our bills and have enough to give where we want. It is a joy to be free to give generously when we see a need. I want to spread this joy to anyone and everyone.
So what are your dreams? Where do you see God calling you to make a difference in this world? What purpose do you feel compelled to fulfill? Feel free to share your thoughts or ask questions about the dreams we chase.

Monday, November 2, 2009

All Saints Day

All Saints Day is the first of November. It is a day to remember those who have gone on to heaven from the past year. It is also a time to reflect back on the heavenly saints who have impacted our lives.
I am blessed to be able to be present with families with the loss of a loved one. This past year I have only officiated three funerals and have one coming up this month. Robert Uhlmann and Ruth Papritz are the saints connected to our church directly who will be missed. I also was with the Vaile family in the death of Kristi's mother last December and I officiated Marty Schlesselman's dad's services as well. I know these families continue to mourn these losses and I pray specifically for them in this time.
The heavenly saint that I continue to remember was a friend of mine that was killed in a car accident in college. Her name was Jenny and she was in school to become a teacher for deaf children. She felt God had called to that work. When I got the phone call telling of her death I was confused that God would allow this to happen to someone who only wanted to serve Him. However, I do continue to celebrate the life she did have and the many people she touched.
Who are the heavenly saints you remember today? Feel free to write a comment to remind us all of what others who have gone on before us have taught us.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Prayer Takes You There

In our final look at prayer I wonder where prayer takes you? What image or experience do you have when you pray?
For me, prayer most often leads me to two places. While I am praying with some frustration or worry, God leads me to a place of peace. If my heart is troubled, whether I recognize it or not, prayer brings a sense of peace to my soul. After some time in prayer I feel God the Father wrap me in His arms and hold me close. God reminds me that in the midst of trouble His hand is strong. When I finish praying I have an assurance that God is still in control.
The second place God takes me in prayer is to a place of joy. This is where God takes me as he reminds me of all the blessings I have in this life. He brings to my mind the joy my wife and kids bring to me. He helps me remember how blessed I am to have my occupation match my calling to serve God and His children. When I finish a prayer time like that a smile is on my face and I am ready to receive all that life has to offer.
So where does prayer take you? It may not take you to the same place every time and it will not be the same places I go in prayer, but I want to hear from you. Share your prayer experiences with us.

Monday, October 19, 2009

When to pray?

Yesterday we looked at the prayer life of Daniel, the famous survivor of the lions' den. Daniel had a routine of praying three times a day. So I encourage you to follow his example and set at least 5 minutes aside three times each day to pray to God.
I think it is important to have a routine daily prayer life, but there are also other times to pray. I think we have discussed this on my blog before that praying when a concern is brought forward is powerful. A common phrase said by many well meaning Christians is, "I will be praying for you." That is a nice offer to someone in need, but how often do we actually follow through with that offer? Too often we probably forget when we do get around to pray or worse yet, we just offered those words as comfort with no real intent behind them.
Instead let's be a people who pray, not people who offer to pray. I know some of my blog followers have shared powerful stories of not waiting to pray, but offering a prayer right then and there. It does take some courage depending on how public of a place you are in, but even in those places there is power in prayer.
A few weeks ago at our Wednesday night activities I was talking with a woman who started to share how tough a week she had. Other people gathered around as she shared and tears filled her eyes. After she shared a while and we asked if there was anything we could do, we made a circle with our arms around each other and prayed for her. There were five of us in the circle.
Helen said that she walked into the sanctuary while we were praying. She said it was a great sight to see. Other people were walking around as classes were ending and choir was about to begin. No one was acting like anything strange was going on as a group was circled in prayer and yet there was a sacred moment of prayer happening in the midst of the busyness in that room.
We will be blessed by daily praying to God three times a day, but we will also be blessed when we take the time to pray whenever a joy or concern is brought to our attention.

Monday, October 12, 2009

How You Pray?

What have you found to be helpful in prayer?
I said yesterday that I do not think there is a "right" way to pray. You do not need to say the right words or be in the right position to pray. Although words and position can be important, they will not be the same for everyone. Prayer is an art form. What may work for me may not work for you.
Never the less, I will share what works for me. 90% of the time I pray I do so with my head bowed. I have always felt that is a way to show reverence for God. There are a few times I will turn my head up towards the heavens in prayer, but not too often.
I also prefer to kneel when possible. I will kneel at the altar or beside my bed. Again it is a sign of reverence to God and a reminder to myself that I am a servant of the Lord Jesus.
As for the words I use in prayer, they are often just regular talk for me. I do not regularly use fancy words, but just my every day conversation words. I will pray for scripture passages when they speak to a given situation. Like thanking God that the Scriptures say, "when two or more are gathered, God is there." This reminds me of His promised presence.
Another way I pray is in short one sentence prayers. If some blessing happens or a revelation of some kind comes to my mind I will just say, "Thank you Jesus." Or in the midst of a struggle I will just pray, "What are you doing to me?" because I know God is present in my struggle.
So, again, maybe this can help you in your prayer life, and maybe not. Please share what is meaningful to you when you pray. What is special to you in your prayer life?

Monday, October 5, 2009

Why Pray?

My hope during the month of October is that this blog might be a place for others to share some thoughts about prayer. Prayer is very personal and therefore each of our prayer lives will be unique. What is valuable in my prayer life, may not work for you. At the same time, something in your prayer life might really improve my prayer life. So I would love it if each person who read this would give some input from their experience.
First topic is why you pray? What leads you to pray?
For me, as I said yesterday, my prayer life has been up and down. There have been times prayer has been important and other times it was something I purposefully did not do. I felt I was wasting my time and maybe God's time with my prayers. God already knew everything I was telling Him and He would do what He wanted anyway. Looking back, maybe I just told myself that so I would not feel guilty for not praying.
Now I am drawn into prayer by two things. First, is my desire to build my relationship with God. I want to get closer to God. I want to learn to understand and love God as best I can and one way to build that love relationship with God is through prayer. Second, I am draw to prayer because of my need for God's wisdom and strength. I realize more each day how my strength and wisdom is not enough for all of God's work. Only by connecting to God will I be able to follow the call He has in my life. Without prayer I know I will not be able to do what God has called me to do.
So, why do you pray? What makes prayer important to you?

Monday, September 28, 2009

Winning in the Game of Life

The final Simple Truth About Life is that in order to win you have to lose. Jesus said in Mark 8:35 that if you try to save your life you will lose it, but if you will lose your life for Jesus and the gospel your life will be saved. We often think about winning at the game of life as having the most power or possessions. However Jesus challenges us to live differently. He says that we win when we give our lives to God.
A question that came to me following my message yesterday was, "how do I know that I have given my life to God?" I think this is an important question. Many people have an experience as a young person of giving their life to God, but then as an adult we live differently and wonder if that gift was really given.
One solution I have is to keep giving your life to God. I do not think giving your life to God is a one time decision. The first time may be a significant change in someone's life, but we do not become perfect Christians after that one moment. Daily (if not more often) we need to consciously decide to give ourselves to God again. I do this through prayer each morning because too many days I want to do my own thing.
The other piece of this question is a theological point of the Wesleyan tradition. John Wesley believed in assurance. Assurance says that we can know that we have given our lives to God and will be with God for eternity. Wesley says that through scripture God will speak with a still small voice to let us know we are His children. God's voice will assure us that our love relationship with God is true. This happens as we read our Bible and study God's Word.
So be assured, that if you have given your life to God a long time ago or today you are a child of God. Continue to give your life to Him and you will be a winner in the game of life.

Monday, September 21, 2009

You Are Worthy

My beautiful and talented wife and co-pastor, Helen, shared our sixth truth of this series of Seven Simple Truths About Life. The truth is that you are worthy. She talked about how we often believe we are not worthy of God's love and acceptance. We often condemn ourselves because we know all of our faults and sins.
The truth is that we are worthy of God's love and grace, but it is not because of our own goodness or achievements. I see two reasons we are worthy. First, God created us worthy. God is the one who created us and God does not make junk. God gave each of us special talents and abilities. We all have something to offer in this world. If we think we are not worth much we are telling God He made a mistake with us.
Second, God made us worthy through the sacrifice of Jesus. It is through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus that allow us to have a worthy relationship with God. When we think we are unworthy of a relationship with God we are saying that Jesus' sacrifice was not enough. But it was enough for you and for me.
In Bible study on Sunday night we discussed Paul calling the people of the church in Ephesus "saints". Calling them saints did not mean they were extra special Christians or that each of them had performed miracles. Calling them saints was a reminder that they were set apart for a special purpose because of their trust in Christ.
We are saints today as well if we are living for Jesus. We are worthy of that title if we set our lives to live for God. This does not mean we will be perfect, but that we are in a process of growing in Christ-likeness.
Saints, we are worthy of God's love and grace because of all He has done for us. Live with the confidence of knowing God will continue the work He has started in you.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Join the Club

Truth #5 is that contentment in life can only be found within. True peace and satisfaction can only come from God who resides in us. However, we so often look outside ourselves to satisfy this longing to be content.
One place we look for contentment is in relationships thinking that if we have the right relationship we will be content. This relationship might be a love relationship or it might be fitting into the right group like a club or team. Another place we look for contentment is in the stuff we possess. If we can just buy enough stuff we will be content.
When I was in high school and college I had this desire that seemed to find contentment in buying Christian music. I joined one of those music clubs where you ordered CD's and they were mailed to your house. I could not buy enough of these CD's. I have probably over 200 Christian music CD's. Most of them are older now since I do not spend my money on CD's too often now, but back then I know I spent too much on them. I have Christian CD's that are rock, punk, techno, instrumental, classic, and everything else. I even have Jesus Loves Me in a rap version.
Something inside of me kept wanting more and more of these CD's. I was not content if I did not have the latest and greatest Christian music. Thankfully they were a pretty good deal through the club. Normally their CD's were like $18, but I only bought one when you got 4 free CD's with the purchase of one. So, with shipping payments of $2 for each CD it was like 5 CD's for $28, which is not bad.
I do not know where you have tried looking to fill that place of contentment in your life; cars, houses, gadgets, relationships, but I do know that there is never enough. Eventually we have to realize that those things will not satisfy our cravings and only by turning to God will we truly be content. It is okay to still collect things or want stuff, but only if that stuff is not an attempt to find contentment.
I think officially I am still a member of the music club, but I have not order CD's from them lately. I lean more on my membership of the Christian club that finds contentment and peace in Jesus Christ. I hope you are a full member of that club as well.

Monday, September 7, 2009

A Challenge

Yesterday I called us to think about the truth that we should not be careless with what we cannot replace. Specifically I mentioned God's image and God creation. We cannot replace God's image which is in us. We need to care for our bodies by what we put in them and how active our bodies are. We also cannot replace the earth, God's creation. By recycling, reducing our use of energy and our waste and by reusing anything we can we are helping to care for the earth.
So I want to challenge everyone to be more mindful of how we can be the best caregivers of our planet that we can. Continue to strive to be conscience of how you treat this planet. I am not sure if there is an easy way to measure this improvement among us, but we can strive to do better.
I do think we can measure our care for our bodies. Two measurements come to mind. The first is how many minutes a day we schedule for activity. I am not completely concerned with what activity that is, but just be sure to have some time you are moving about. I am making a commitment to at least 30 minutes of activity at least 5 days a week. If you want to join me in this commitment be sure to let me know and we can encourage one another.
The second measurement is in pounds. I am currently around 195 pounds. I do not think I am dangerously overweight, but I do have some extra pounds. The Body Mass Index (BMI) says the top of my normal weight range is around 170, but I think that is a bit low for me. My goal is to lose between 10-15 pounds by Thanksgiving. I have never tried to lose weight before, so this will be interesting. With my activity I committed to above I will attempt to cut back my calorie intake and see what happens. If anyone wants to join me in this challenge let me know as well. It would be wonderful if many people in our church decide to take off a few pounds to get our image of God in better shape.
I am sure this will not be easy, but if we can make this commitment and be determined to see it through I believe God will have great things in store for us. Join me in this challenge.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Church of Sandbaggers

The truth for this week is that we can survive the storms and setbacks of life. We survive them through our faith and through one another. The illustration I used was calling for sandbaggers in your life. There will be times each of us will need to call upon others to come and help us stand through the storms of life. As people in Iowa have been more willing to sandbag for one another after last years flood we need to be ready and willing to sandbag for each other when storms come in life.
One adjustment we are attempting to make in our congregation is for people of the church to remember they are sandbaggers for one another. In the past, when this congregation was smaller the pastor would be the sandbagger. It was the pastor who always showed up in the midst of the storm, not that there is anything wrong with that. However, now our congregation has 200 families connected to it and if the single pastor is supposed to show up for every storm then that pastor will not have much time for anything else besides sandbagging.
So we are trying to encourage each person in the congregation to be a sandbagger. Each of us are qualified and called to show up for others in the midst of the storms. The pastor can and will still be there, but so will several other members of the congregation. When we care for one another as a group the load is lighter and community is developed. So each person needs to remember they are a sandbagger for others in the church.
A second adjustment that is needed is to help the congregation understand that a visit from a member of the congregation is not a "second class" visit. A visit from the pastor is not the only visit that counts. Those visits from members of the church are visits from people who care and represent the church just as much, if not more than, the pastor.
If you have thoughts or suggestions on communicating these ideas please let me know.
In the end the important thing to remember is that each of us are called to be sandbaggers for one another. God invites us to show up for one another in the midst of the storms. God will use you to help others survive the storms of life.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Fat Boy

So yesterday I shared how I have gained weight and my wife teased me because she has been losing weight. She apologized for teasing me and I forgave her. The second truth for life is that saying "I am sorry" and "You are forgiven" are six important words to say.
Reading Ephesians 4:30-5:2 we are reminded to be imitators of God. We remember we can forgive one another because God in Christ forgave us first. I think most of us who are Christian can see the connection to imitating God when it comes to forgiveness.
However, I am challenged to look at God saying, "I am sorry." This means God made a mistake and did something wrong. For a holy and loving God to do that brings in some tension. I searched the Bible and the only time I found God being sorry is before the flood when God says he is sorry for making humans. Ouch.
And yet we can recognize God's regret that evil had become such a part of the lives of humans. I do not think it was so much that He had created us, but that our hearts turned towards sin more easily than turning towards God.
We too can imitate God by regretting the sin that dwells in this world. And we can do what we can to bring more joy and peace by using these six important words more often in our lives to renew our relationships with one another. This will please the Lord.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Golden Rule

The first truth we are looking at in this message series is the Golden Rule found in Matthew 7:12. I think the idea of doing for others what we would want them to do for us is well known. However, as Christians, you can combine that with 1 John 3:16 which says "We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us--and we ought to lay down our lives for one another." This sets the standard of how far we are to go in doing for others. We are to go as far as laying down our life for others.
I shared an idea like this at a wedding this weekend as I challenged a competitive couple to compete at loving each other. They were committing in their marriage to give their lives to each other, but what does that really look like? How do we live out the Golden Rule? I would love to hear any stories people might have about this, either as receiving a blessing or giving a blessing.

I was thinking back to when our family was coming back from Kansas City after visiting my dad. Just outside of Altoona about an hour from home we got a flat tire. Thankfully it was not too cold although it was winter. This young man pulled over right behind us and helped me change the tire. And when I say helped, he actually did most of the work. I then tried to bless him by offering some money, but he refused to take it. I still wish I could have forced him to take my gift, but he simply wanted to do for me what he would want others to do for him. He is still a blessing in my life.
What are your stories?

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Zion is...Alive

So far we have noticed that Zion is sacred space, it is for singing and it is for being instructed on how to live. Finally I want us to remember that Zion is alive. 1 Peter 4-12 reminds us that Zion is the people of God being built into a spiritual house. Zion is true Christian community.
What this means to me is that those of us who call ourselves Christian need to be sure we are living the life of true followers of Jesus. I am reading a book called "unchristian" by Kinnaman and Lyons. This book is from the Barna Research Group and shares a lot of information gathered from interviews with Christians and non-Christians. The view many non-Christians, especially younger non-Christians, have of Christians is not good. The most common descriptive words used for Christians are negative; judgmental, uncaring, anti-homosexual, only out for converts, and so on. These are not the same words used to describe Jesus, so we must have gone wrong somewhere.
My challenge to all of us to rethink how we are representing Jesus. If we are building Zion, then we need to do better at representing Jesus as a loving merciful savior. I think eventually I will do a message series on the issues raised in this book, but until then we can work at how to better communicate the message of Jesus to people who have turned away from Christians in the past. We will not be perfect in building Zion, but we can do better. Zion lives in us and we can show the world that Christian community is alive in our world.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Zion is...for instruction

Micah describes Zion as a place where the law of God will come from (Micah 4:2). Zion can be a place to go for instructions on the path God has laid out for you and for me. God does want to give each of us a direction. He wants to show us the plan and purpose He has for our life. This will come as we draw near to God.

We can also find our direction as other people point us in the right direction as well. Two weeks ago at a summer camp with 350 students, Pastor Helen gave an invitation for any of those student who felt called to full time ministry to come forward. 27 students from 7th grade through college came forward and several pastors gave them a little encouragement to truly pursue that calling. Helen and I have been working on making more of an effort to encourage people to go into ministry positions.

God can use each of us to instruct others. If we are willing to listen to God's instructions He may also call us to point others in the right direction as well. I encourage you to join me in encouraging those you see in ministry and service. Thank them for the work they are doing. Also, look for those who may not be serving where they have gifts and encourage them to get in there and serve.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Zion is...for singing

We are exploring the meaning of Zion. Today I want us to remember that Zion is a place for singing. Isaiah 12:6 calls the people of Zion to sing for joy. I believe we do have reason to sing. in our lives we have many blessings that draw us to singing.
It was my birthday last week and I was at Summer Games University camp for the week. During that day I had "Happy Birthday" sung to me at least four times if not more. Several times by other pastors and adults at the camp. One time was by over 350 campers and staff, which is the largest crowd I have ever gathered for my birthday. (Actually Helen was giving the message in worship that morning at camp, so she had the mike and got our youth group together to lead the singing.) Birthdays are a wonderful time of singing.
However, we have more to sing about that just another year of life. I can look back over this past year and sing great songs about what God has done. God has been working in my family and church. I have seen God transform lives and renew relationships. I know I can sing for joy because of what God has done.
Isaiah reminds us that we do have reasons to sing because of the glorious things God has done. He also calls us to sing because of the strength, comfort and salvation God has given us.
What are your reasons to sing today?

Monday, July 20, 2009

Zion is...Sacred Space

As we approach the kick-off of EZ Worship at 9:30am August 16th, we are going to learn more about what Zion might represent. EZ stands for Experience Zion and so we need to know what we are looking forward to experiencing.
The first thing Zion represents is sacred space. Zion was and is a place where the presence of God lives. We all know God lives everywhere, but there are certain places God's presence is felt in a special way. I believe the difference is not in God or even the place, but when we enter a sacred place something inside us opens up to experience God more easily.
The church I grew up in, Marion FUMC, is a sacred place for me. No matter how long it has been since I have been in that building, once I am there it feels special. It feels like no other place.
The church I serve now, St. Paul's UMC, is also a sacred space. Not because of the quantity of time I have spent there, but the time there has been packed with experiences that are all new to me as a pastor.
What are your sacred places? Where do you sense the presence of God is near?

Monday, July 6, 2009

Lean on the Spirit

Yesterday for our service on the square with First Presbyterian Church we had a jazz group lead our music. They did a wonderful job and I have heard many positive comments about the music.
So in the jazz tradition of improvisation I decided to draw a scripture out of a basket of suggested scriptures from the congregation that had gathered. I was given one song to then get my thoughts together and deliver a message.
My plan was to work up a core message to then build that message around the scripture that was drawn. However, I felt that was not true to the scripture. I would be placing the message I wanted onto the scripture, so I was not able to do that.
My second plan then was to come up with a list of stories I could share depending on the scripture that was chosen. I had a healing story, temptation or sin stories, and stories about trust or faith. Somehow I missed stories about love, which the scripture chosen was Matthew 5:44 “But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
I had no time to really write down any notes, so I just asked the Holy Spirit to speak and I believe the Spirit was present.
I share all of that to say it really is tough to fully rely on God. I normally put in hours of preparation for each message I deliver and I do believe the Holy Spirit is at work in those hours of preparation. So to not have that preparation was difficult for me. I get some nerves each Sunday before preaching, but yesterday was a very nervous morning for me.
This reminds me not to be too quick to tell someone just to have faith. Sometimes there is not much more I am able to do, but I tell someone just to hang in there and God will do something. Being unprepared to deliver a message is a little different than telling someone to have faith the rent will show up. The consequences are not the same. There are more nerves and uneasiness if your life and the lives of your family will be effected.
Is there a better way to respond in those times of not knowing what will come? How can we look to the future knowing God will always be with us?

Monday, June 29, 2009

Yo Estoy Seguro

Yesterday at our Christmas in June I introduced for the Mission Team a Christmas Mission Project. We will be supporting a ministry in Puerto Rico called Yo Estoy Seguro, which translates to I Am Sure. This ministry serves children between the ages of 5-12 who have faced disaster in their lives. Some face natural disasters and need food, water and shelter. Others face social disasters like domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse, and lack of education. "I am sure" is the goal phrase as these children are offered self-confidence and hope in the midst of their situation.
Puerto Rico is a territory of the United States, but there is still plenty of people in need in this country. Of the 3.8 million people, around 1.8 million live below the poverty level. Many of these are children and families.
My challenge to the congregation is that each family give an equal gift to Jesus as they give to their family. If you spend $500 on gifts for your family, then a gift of $500 to the Christmas mission would be a wonderful gift to Jesus.
I hope this challenge will encourage everyone to give a good gift to Jesus because we have more than most people in the world. Second, I hope it will encourage us to plan ahead and simplify our Christmas. We can decide to make Christmas less about the gifts we receive and more about changing the world.
I am sure that God has big plans for this Christmas. I am sure that the world will be different at December 25, 2009 because of the generosity of people around Williamsburg, Iowa.
Are you with me? Do you have questions?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Happy Anniversary!!!

Yesterday was the one year anniversary of our first service in our new church building. We do need to celebrate all that God has done in just one year in this new church home. I believe God has touched many individuals, but He has also strengthened our St. Paul's UMC Family. I know God has more to come! (Picture of Brinkman family with me because as chair of the building committee Mark and his family were very dedicated to seeing the building become a reality.)
Feel free to leave comments about any favorite memories in the new church from this past year.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Mission Trip '09

We got back Saturday from a wonderful mission trip to Crossville, Tennessee. We had 21 of us total and we spent three days doing work with different ministries. There were many memorable times both good and bad. I will not forget getting lost in St. Louis on the way down for 2 hours because of road closures. I will also remember Jamison locking me in the trailer and two of our vehicles being broken into and stuff stolen including 4 Bibles. Not ll of the trip was bad, there were good times as well. The devotions and talks with my small groups were wonderful. Seeing the youth reading their Bibles in free time was something I did not expect. Also supporting the ministries of different groups was a blessing.Specifically we helped House of Hope, which is a home that assists children involved in drug abuse. Not that they use drugs, but their parents use drugs and therefore mistreat or neglect their children. The stories we heard of how children were treated and seeing pictures of homes they were taken from would break any one's heart.We also served Bread of Life ministries which supports adults recovering from alcohol and drug addiction. It is also a homeless shelter for Crossville.Overall, I was excited about the ministries this community had to serve those in need. To be honest it can be difficult for someone to easily get assistance in Williamsburg. There are some resources, but they are not always easy to find. My hope is that as a community we can become aware of the needs of people in Williamsburg and Iowa County and bring together our efforts to serve those people. Crossville has done a good job of churches working together to create ministries to serve those in need. I hope we can do the same to care for those among us who need God's grace and love to show up in their lives.

Monday, June 8, 2009

My New Bible

In my video message yesterday I talked about the armor of God that we are called to use to continue to grow spiritually during the summer. One piece of that armor is the sword which is the Word of God, the Bible. The Bible is a center-piece of our spiritual lives and necessary for growth.
While at Annual Conference in Ames this weekend I bought a new Bible and got to use it this morning for my devotion time. It is the new Wesley Study Bible. It is a New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) of the Bible with the commentary coming from a Wesleyan perspective. It also has sidebar sections which focus on key terms used by John and Charles Wesley to understand the workings of God. Also, one of the editors was one of my professors at seminary.
I am excited to use this new Bible. I am sure as I read it I will grow in my knowledge of God and in the ways John Wesley was moved by the Spirit in God's Word. I will also recommend this to other Wesleyans as we continue to stay true first to God's Word and second to our Wesleyan heritage.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Is it Eternal?

In worship this morning Helen invited us to ask the question, is it eternal? I began to think about how this question could invite discussion about the work and ministry of our church. Are there places our work is not meeting the "eternal" standard?
The first place that came to my mind was our building and the current landscaping project. Bricks and mortar are an interesting piece of the church. We know the bricks and mortar are not eternal. They will deteriorate and need to be repaired and at times they will need to be demolished or abandoned.
But what about the eternal work that goes on inside the brick and mortar? Is a $1.2 million building worth it to bring just one person into a relationship with God? If that is what it takes then I would be satisfied with that. If our trees and bushes that will be planted soon would just lead people to Jesus then I would not need to worry so much about their cost.
Maybe I am putting more thought into this then necessary because it would probably be difficult to have a church without a building. However maybe the "eternal" question does apply when we fall into making decisions to protect or preserve the build over using it for ministry. Not that we have done that, but something to always keep in mind.
I do appreciate the work of our Trustees to be flexible and willing to do whatever it takes to make our property and facility beautiful, inviting, and a major tool for making an eternal difference in this world.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Remembering Memorial Day

Last week as I was looking for a prayer to use in our worship service this Memorial Day Weekend I found some discussion on whether or not Memorial Day should be observed in a church worship service. It is not a part of the Christian Calendar meaning it is not a religious holiday. It is more of a civic holiday.
So there are some who feel it has no place in a Christian worship service. It should be left to celebrate on Monday in a community setting. Others might go to the opposite side and create their whole Sunday service based on Memorial Day. I also saw suggestions to go in the middle and include Memorial Day remembrances in a time of prayer.
I went more in the middle and we had a nice little time to remember those who have served our country. I also used an illustration from military life in my sermon because it connected to the Scripture and to tie in this special weekend.
What are the thoughts of others out there about the role Memorial Day should play in a Christian worship service? Share why you lean one way or the other? If you choose the middle ground then tell me why you would make that decision?
P.S. I also went to the Memorial Day Service in our town square and thought the speaker did a wonderful job of calling out my younger generation to know our past and respect those who came before us.

Monday, May 18, 2009


I thought we had a wonderful service yesterday to honor our graduating seniors. There was a wonderful slide show of our graduates that was very well done. It was an emotional time as I realized this graduation group is part of our first confirmation class here in Williamsburg. So we have been close to these kids ever since we got here. We have watched them grow in their faith and it is hard to believe they are moving on to that next stage in life.
It can be tough to let them go off to college because they will be out on their own making their own decisions. (As if they were not already doing that.) You worry about the decisions they will make. At least I do because I made some bad decisions, but I also saw the bad decisions of others.
At the same time I believe God has some big plans for this group. I see great success in their future because this group is bright and they have been well connected to our church family. So they really should never be out on their own. We are still called by God to be praying for them and supporting them however we can. I hope that as a congregation we can continue our care of our college students to remind them of God's presence.
Join me in remembering these students during their college years, especially during finals, but each and every day. Let's pray God's love and grace is evident in their lives.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Fan the Flame

I talked on Mother's Day about the way mothers fan into flame the sparks that are inside people. They nurture and help their children grow. We are called as the church to fan into flame the faith that is in others. I also want to remind us to fan into flame a specific spark, and that is a call to full time ministry.
I was thinking back to my call to ministry. It first came from a former Sunday school teacher who said I would make a good pastor. Of course, I had bigger and better plans for myself, but that little spark was fanned by others. Eventually by the time I was 17 I knew God was calling me to enter full time ministry and become a pastor. I did have other options like becoming that great accountant I always dreamed about being, but my family and church family fanned my flame and encouraged me into ministry.
The Church, and especially the United Methodist Church needs more gifted and called pastors. We need to keep our eyes open for people with gifts that can be used to lead God's Church today. My hope is that as our church grows we will have people who are called into full time ministry and we can encourage them in that direction. We can give them practical experience in ministry and help them get the training they need.
We can be a congregation that sparks an interest in full time ministry in people and that we can fan that spark into a flame that will burn bright for Jesus Christ.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Everyday Confirmation

Yesterday we confirmed 16 youth into our congregation. They were confirming the vows made at their baptism. Some of the youth made their original baptism vows themselves, but a majority of them had their vows made on their behalf by their parents.
I also happen to go back to my home church in the afternoon for a handbell concert and on the wall they have pictures of past confirmation classes and I went back to the class of 1991 and there I was. I was standing next to one of the pastors. That day does not stand out in my mind at all. In fact, it wasn't until a few years later that I truly personally accepted Christ as my Savior.
I shared yesterday from John 21 where Jesus asks Peter three times if he loved him. Three times Peter had to say, "You know that I love you." This made me wonder how often Jesus has to ask me if I love him? Another way to look at it is how often do I have to confirm my love for God? Most of the time it is every day.
Last week a couple had their car break down in Williamsburg. They called looking for some money for food. I was in a meeting and when I came out I had a message from this couple, but also one from the Presbyterian Church. I called the other church first and the pastor and I discussed the request of this couple and where to get the assistance they needed. The pastor said he was planning to help them get some food, but this was the most difficult part of his job.
I agree that it is tough to have someone come asking for help and our human minds begin to wonder if we are being taken advantage of. Many of the stories I hear are hard to believe because it seems like every bad thing possible has happened to this person in one day in order to bring them to this point of needing assistance. I know I have been taken advantage of, probably on more than one occasion.
However, I have decided I will not just allow myself to be taken advantage of, but I will more often error on the side of compassion. I doubt when I meet Jesus face to face that he will scold me for being too compassionate. But when I withhold compassion he will ask me, "James, son of John, do you love me? Take care of my sheep."
Each and every day I need to confirm my love for Christ. It is the reason I do what I do. On some of those tough days it is even more often that I need to remember my love for God and God's love for me.
Don't forget to confirm your love for Christ and care for all of his people every day.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Going Home

Yesterday I was able to preach at my home church, Marion First United Methodist. It was my first time back preaching since seminary. I think it was in the year 2000. Nine years does not seem like a long time, but a lot has changed in my life and ministry in that time. And I believe my preaching has changed as well since then. It was great to see many familiar faces and hear names I had not heard in a while. I was graciously received by those I knew and the new faces and families to my home church.

Preaching to this congregation was different than preaching to the congregation I pastor. I first had to fight the desire to preach everything I knew in one sermon. I had to remind myself I did not have to reach every person in this one spot. In my congregation I know I will have several chances to share something that will reach someone, but in Marion I had one chance. However, I could not reach everyone and I just had to give the message God laid on my heart.

It was also an experience preaching at four services in one morning. There were services at 7:45, 8:30, 9:45 and 11:00am. I pretty much moved from one service to the next. The only time I had to reset was during the other parts of the worship service. I did survive okay, but 7:45am was pretty early for my voice.

Through it all I was reminded of the grander scale of the Body of Christ. At times it is easy to feel like St. Paul's UMC in Williamsburg is where our ministry occurs. However, I would not be a part of this congregation if it were not for the work Marion First UMC did to raise me in the faith and encourage me in my call to ministry. I can only imagine the ministry that will be done through the people who are touched here in Williamsburg and sent out into ministry, whether that is as a pastor or lay person. God does some amazing things through the lives of his people and the Body of Christ.

Monday, April 20, 2009


I need followers. I shared yesterday about out calling to be disciples and make disciples. One way I want to grow in my making disciples is through this blog. I hope my blog can be a place to get a hold of me and ask questions. I know phone calls, personal conversations, and emails all work as well, but through this blog other people can be discipled along the way. Maybe you will have a question someone else has, but they are not sure how to ask it. Through this blogging community we can learn from one another.
What I would like to see is my new "follower" box fill up. If you read my blog please join the follower group. I am not sure what benefits really come with this gadget yet, but at least we would see that others are listening in on our conversations. So join my followers.
Then I also encourage everyone to ask questions and dig deeper with me. When we are willing to ask questions God works in us and through us. I know I will always have room to grow as a disciple of the Master Jesus, but I continue to follow. He will continue his work of transformation in us until it is complete.
So is/has discipled you? And who are you discipling?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Simple Truth

We have finished looking at John 3:16 for the season of Lent. That is six weeks of focusing on one scripture verse. Of course Max Lucado wrote 12 chapters on the verse. It is amazing how deep this verse can take you if you really wanted to dig into it. And yet it can also be very simple and a verse that can communicate to someone who has not heard the Gospel of Christ before.
I know I have found renewed hope in this verse and have been reminded to never discard it. Not that I had discarded it, but sometimes my brain tells me to move past the old "children stories of the Bible." I get too caught with being sophisticated and finding new truths in the Bible that I bypass those timeless truths found in the simple stories. These stories speak to our children and they understand the message, but then the mature adults (myself included) forget their messages.
The simple truth of Easter and the resurrection is that Jesus was dead on the cross because of our sins. However, three days later he had defeated death and offered forgiveness for our sins. This is the sign that John 3:16 is true. God's Son was given that we might have eternal life. Never forget the simple truths. Never forget God's love for you is so powerful that it will even overcome death.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

It's Easter

Sorry I missed blogging yesterday. I officiated a funeral in Montezuma.

The children did a wonderful job yesterday with their Easter program. If they could just train their pastor better to remember his lines. (You would think I could remember 5 lines.)

One of the songs the kids sang was called "It's Easter" and they say that phrase about a hundred times in the song. Since I have heard them practicing that song for weeks, plus Sonja playing it in the office on her radio to get to know the music, that phrase has been stuck in my head. It is like one of those jingles that you just cannot get out of your mind.

Usually that is annoying, but it has been a blessing to me to continually remember to celebrate Easter. I know Easter is one specific day a year, but as Christians every day should be celebrated as Easter. Every day we need to celebrate that Jesus rose from the dead to defeat death and forgive us of our sins. Every day is a new opportunity to live in the power of the resurrection.

So I hope you will allow the phrase to stick in your mind as well. It's Easter. Let's celebrate and praise our loving God. It's Easter. The tomb is empty and Jesus is alive forevermore. It's Easter.

Monday, March 30, 2009


We have been focusing on John 3:16 and what this verse means. Mostly we had been focusing on God's role. God loved the world. God gave his one and only Son for whoever. Now the verse moves into our role. Whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life. We believe.
Yesterday I showed a video of Team Hoyt. (At least I showed the video at the second service because the computer acted up at the first service. If you want to see the video I have it on my computer.) Team Hoyt is a father-and-son team who compete in marathons and triathlons. The amazing thing is that the son cannot walk. His father pushes him in a wheelchair during the races. The son says that is when he does not feel handicapped. In a few weeks they will run their 27th Boston Marathon. It is an inspiring story.
I compared this to what it means to believe in Jesus. When believing in Jesus is no longer just an idea in our minds and moves into our hearts we are trusting God to take us where he wants us to go. We become dependent on God. We need God's strength to move in this race of life. To fulfill our purpose in the world we need to believe God will take us where we need to go.
In a sense God becomes the driver of our life. We decide to go for a ride with God. As God drives we will see the beauty and wonder of his plan for our lives. We will begin to realize the world changing purpose he has planned for us. And we will notice the difference we can make in this world by God's strength.
This is not always an easy ride to take. I have fought with God several times about going different directions. He has taken me places I did not want to go. And I have even decided not to go his way from time to time, but in the end of those trips I usually recognize God's path was better than my own. So each day I try to allow him to drive and just go along for the ride.
Believing in Jesus means we place our lives in his hands and then move with his love and grace to transform this world. This is a high calling, but I believe.

Monday, March 23, 2009


Yesterday in a time of healing prayer we had many people come forward for themselves or for other people that needed a healing touch. Pastor Helen and I prayed for healing for cancer, autism, ALS, addictions, financial situations, and many other situations. A personal prayer was for my daughter with her delayed development. These were big prayers.
There were many brave people asking for prayers for their personal healing. The situations they face with their health concerns has to be difficult, but they fight on. We had sons stand in for their father and mother. We had friends stand in for one another. We had people from one service stand in for those from the other service.
I believe these prayers will be answered. Jesus said if our faith is as big as a mustard seed, which is pretty small, we can move mountains. I believe we had more than a mustard seed of faith in our prayers yesterday and God has already begun to work through those prayers.
I do not want to be too focused in God's response in thinking he can only respond in one way to these prayers, but to be open to how God chooses to respond. At the same time I am expecting miracles to happen and I believe God will respond in some cases with a response that we can only acknowledge as a miracle of God. Other responses might be quality care by doctors or new procedures, but those too are made possible by God.
I invite each of you to continue to pray for those who need God's healing touch. His Spirit will touch whoever is lifted up in prayer.
I also want to hear the stories of what healings take place from our prayers. So let me know how you see God respond.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Pieces of Peace

Yesterday we looked at Jesus as the one and only. Jesus is the one who can hold our lives together and give us peace.
With the beautiful weather yesterday I finally got out onto my garage roof to install a new digital TV antenna. We had been using rabbit ears on each of our TV sets and I decided it was time to get a good outside antenna. I was proud of myself because it really did not take me too long to get things figured out and working because I am not always a great handy man.
My handy man training has mostly come from my grandpa who would never fix something I needed fixed without my help so that I could learn how to do it.
One practice I did pick up from my grandpa was to save extra pieces. If there are left over screws or bolts I put them into my toolbox in case I need them for another project. Then when I have a project that needs a spare screw or bolt I go digging through my spares. However, more often then not I cannot find the exact piece I need. Either the piece is too long or too short. It is too thick or too thin. Many times I have to go out and buy the piece I need.
I thought about this as I thought about the many different pieces we try to use to hold our lives together and to give us peace in our hearts. We look to wealth, beauty, popularity and everything else when Jesus says he is the one and only who can give us that peace. We can keep trying to use spare parts or we can just go to the one and only Son of God and ask for the peace he offers.
When I need a reminder of this peace in my life I just say the name of Jesus several times. It is a whispered prayer for Jesus to bring me peace. Usually in those few quiet seconds his peace comes. Does anyone else have a little way to remember the peace God offers in times of stress?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Hard World

I was preaching yesterday morning about the hard world we live in. John 3:16 says God so loved the world. I was wondering what in this world God loved. I was sharing some statistics like, 1 of 8 Americans is addicted to drugs or alcohol, 1 of 10 Americans admit to being addicted to on-line pornography, and there are around 16,000 murders in our country a year. As I was talking about this hard world one state over a pastor was being shot and killed in front of his congregation at the beginning of the worship service he was about to lead.
As a pastor this was shocking news. Reports say the pastor held up his Bible as a shield, but of course it was no match for the bullets of the gun. I wonder what hardened this gunman so much that he felt the need to walk into a church service and shoot the pastor?
After some of the shock wore off I also need to confess some hard hearted thoughts. I began to wonder what this pastor had done to cause this to happen. It could have been some random act of violence. But too often when the full story appears their is a reason behind the hardness. Had this pastor failed this gunman in some way? Had he caused him or his family some hardship or pain? I still do not condone the actions of the gunman, there is never a time to take someone's life like that, but is there a reason?
I do confess a hard heart when pastors fail in major ways. I am not saying pastors cannot make small mistakes. I have my own difficulties. I make bad decisions. I say the wrong thing. I hurt someone's feelings. But it pains me to see pastors, who are to be serving this awesome, loving God get caught up in some unloving situations. Pastors who betray the dignity of being a minister of Jesus Christ frustrate me, but at the same time I know they too are sinners in need of God's grace. We cannot be perfect, except by the power of the Holy Spirit.
So, we will see what story appears from this tragedy. I am praying for the families involved that God may surround them with comfort. And I pray that God will use his miraculous power to use this situation to soften the hearts of those who need his touch. Mine included.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Be the Expert of your own faith

Yesterday we looked at the story of Nicodemus from John 3. He came to Jesus at night to find out what Jesus was teaching. Coming at night gives some evidence to Nicodemus' caution of coming to Jesus. He is not sure he wants everyone to know he is talking with Jesus. At the same time, he wanted to come and talk to Jesus face to face instead of just hearing the stories from other people about what Jesus was teaching.
I appreciate Nicodemus making his way to Jesus to learn for himself what Jesus was teaching. I am one who will often find my way to an "expert" to help me in many situations. For instance, if I need something fixed around the house or with our vehicles I will go to an expert. I do know some about home repair and cars. I can change my own oil. I have tried to fix my faucets. But normally I will go straight to a professional instead of making a bigger mess myself.
Unfortunately, I also think in our faith we often rely too much on "experts." We listen to the pastor or other teachers and just accept what they teach about God. Instead of studying the Bible and learning what it teaches for ourselves, we let someone else study it and tell us what they learned.
As a pastor, I am not trying to disqualify our teaching. I hope there is benefit in learning from religious "experts." But along with learning from experts, I am encouraging everyone to also go straight to the source. Get into your Bible and study it, so you can know what it says. Become an expert at your own faith. Take in from God's Word what God wants you to know.
If you find something that is confusing ask me about it or look for information about the passage in a Bible commentary. As we ask questions of God's Word, as we read it and study it, God will draw us close and remind us of who he is. He is the God who gave his Son Jesus so that we will have eternal life. Study and know the truth found in John 3:16.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Hug Time

I shared in my message yesterday that I am not much of a hugger, so I wanted to thank all those who came up after the service and hugged me. It is nice to be missed and I enjoy being picked on because that shows you care.
As I continued to think about embracing Christ and being embraced by him I do not need to look far for a picture of what this looks like. Helen loves to be hugged. She cannot get enough hugs, and so she often has time to just sit with our kids and hold them in her arms. They even have a name for this time, which I will not share because it is their time, but Jamison asks for this special time with his mom.
Although I again am not a big hugger, I can remember the times I have felt the need to crawl into my Heavenly Father's lap and be embraced by him. It as often been in times of pain and hurt. Times of disappointment and depression. I have need his embrace. There were also times of joy and excitement that I had to jump into his arms and celebrate.
Always remember the Lord wants to embrace you in good times and bad. Our Father wants that special time with you daily to hold you close and remind you that he is with you always.

Friday, February 6, 2009


The final book I have been waiting to read during my spiritual renewal time is Bill Hull's "The Complete Book of Discipleship." He starts the book with a thought-stopping quote from Dietrich Bonhoeffer. "Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ." Read that again.
His point is that if we do not have discipleship, learning from and following Christ, then we do not really have a Christian faith. God is still there and we believe in God, but if we are not following Christ, meaning striving to be more like Christ, then we are not really living the Christian life.
I have been trying to figure out a way to be sure our congregation is a disciple making congregation. (Do not get me wrong here, I believe we have many people that are following Christ. I believe as the pastor I have tried to disciple people, mostly through small groups and messages in worship.)
At this time we do not really have a good grasp of being able to show our discipleship is effective? Can we see that people have come to know God and then moved closer to God? Again I think this is happening, but as our congregation grows I think we need to get a coordinated system in order to both mark people's progress, but more important to help show people the direction in discipleship.
I want someone who is new to the faith to know what small groups to attend, what books to read, and what actions of service will help them get started in discipleship. I want someone who has followed Christ for 50 years to know what small groups to attend, what books to read, and what actions of service will help them continue in discipleship.
This book has promised to lead me in personal, small group and congregational discipleship. So I hope when I get back, working with the Education Ministry Team, we can develop a map on how to make disciples of Jesus Christ, so that we can continue to be a church where you can SEE Christ.

PS - If you would like me to personally disciple you please let me know and we can come up with a plan.
PPS - I will be away from the Internet for the next week, a little time away from technology will not hurt, so this will be my last blog until then.
God Bless.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


Over the weekend I read “Church Leadership” by Lovett H. Weems, Jr.. He admits that leadership is a difficult subject to nail down. Some people think leaders are born, but others say leadership can be learned. Some think leaders are only a certain personality style, while others think a leader can be any style of personality. We also often focus on leadership as an individual, but to be a true leader a team is needed. Personally I stand in the middle of most of these where it takes a little from both sides.
As Weems talked about leadership he started by defining two words associated with leadership which are administration and management. He said, “Administration is doing things right.” “Management is doing the right thing.” He said these can be a part of leadership, but also just because you are a good administrator or manager that does not mean you are a leader. He then gave a nice three line definition of leadership, which I summarize as leadership is casting a picture of the right vision and helping others to follow that vision.
I was reminded as Weems spent one-third of his book focusing on vision that vision is a vital piece of leadership. He spends the other two-thirds of the book talking about team, culture and integrity. As our congregation is focusing on our vision this month I am praying God would help us to clarify our vision and come up with more specific steps to follow our vision. The vision actually will then become our leader instead of a person. (Although our vision is to help people SEE the person of Jesus Christ.)
So I want to find a question or questions that you will hear often when we are making decisions at St. Paul’s UMC. These questions will remind us to hold up everything we do to our vision to be sure they are in line with each other. I am not sure what that question will be yet, but it might be, “Will this help others to SEE Christ?” If the answer is “no” then we will not move forward with that idea, ministry or action. If the answer is “yes”, then we will continue to move forward. My hope as I repeatedly ask that question is that soon others will be asking it as well.
Leadership is a team effort of creating a culture where we follow God’s vision for us with integrity. I think Lovett Weems would be proud of that definition.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

All Things

This morning during my devotional time I was reading the end of the 9th chapter of 1 Corinthians. I was struck by Paul talking about becoming all things to all people. To reach a Jewish person he would speak like a Jew. To reach a Greek person he would speak like the Greek. He would find whatever connection he could in order to spread the gospel message.
I think if this idea is taken too far it can be more harmful than helpful. I thought back to a recent conversation with one of the members of my congregation. This person had discussed with some others why I no longer wore my clerical robe while leading services on Sunday mornings. (I was very pleased this person would bring the concern straight to me instead of just complaining about it.)
As I talked with this person I shared how I wore my robe every Sunday at first because I thought it gave me some authority in the eyes of the congregation. I also thought a 26 year-old could use some help at looking "pastoral." However, I have never felt I was a robe-wearing pastor. A robe, to me, is too formal. I am more relaxed. So I felt the robe was not who I was and I wanted to be genuine with the people of the congregation. I did learn that day the importance of wearing my robe for those who appreciate it on communion Sundays, which I will be more mindful to do in the future.
However, I do not want to appear like all things to all people in the sense that I put on a false exterior to try to get on the inside with someone. I know I must be genuine and sincere when I try to connect with people, so I look for other connections. I often use my fondness of sports to connect with people where I can often talk about any one's favorite team and what is happening with their team. I also use locations to connect with people and share stories of when I have been to places they connect with or at least my knowledge of that location.
Most of all, I think I try to relate to people that I make mistakes just like they do. Although I am a pastor I am in no way perfect or the judge of their imperfection. I am who God made me to be and the more I can connect with that reality the more God will use me in all things. He will do the same with you.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

What is God up to?

Helen and I began our spiritual renewal leave with a conference event in Shueyville where the United Methodist Church there was teaching some pastors what they have done in ministry and how God has led them in ministry. It was there we received the blessing of knowing in April our congregation will be the teaching church to share what God has done in Williamsburg.
Then we got the surprise that my step-mom was sick, so going to Kansas City as planned on Friday afternoon was not going to work. She did not want to gives us an illness to battle while on spiritual renewal time. So, instead of our plans to spend the first four days of our time in Kansas City, we moved that to the back end of our trip. We then began to drive to Tennessee. We were not sure how far we would go because instead of a 5 hour drive we had a 12 hour drive and left Williamsburg around noon. We thought we might get a hotel somewhere, but in the end we drove all the way to Crossville arriving at 12:30 am.
God has already changed our well thought out plans, so I am wondering what he is up to? Then I began my personal reading today with a classic "Life Together" by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. This man's life is just amazing as he lived in Nazi Germany and decided instead of running away from the evils in his home country, he would stand for God's truth. This led to his death in a concentration camp where he was executed. As I was reading about our need for personal time of meditation he gave a specific word to pastors. He said when pastors have their quiet time they should not be thinking about how to communicate God's Word to others or how they will teach or preach the text. He said pastors should be asking what the passage they are focused on has to speak to them.
Now I knew some of my spiritual renewal time would be for me, but mostly I was planning to be preparing how I can teach or preach better. Now I hope to really see what God wants me to learn so that I may grow closer to him and rely more on his Holy Spirit. I do pray that as God teaches me I can pass on that learning as well, but only as an added bonus of God's work.
So in my time away as God teaches me, my prayer will also be that everyone back in Williamsburg will be learning their personal lessons from God as well and we will have much to share with each other when we are back together.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Renew Your Covenant

As we finish this focus on relationships I invite you to renew the covenant you have made with your spouse through marriage, but also the covenant you have with your family. Many people view their relationships as a contract and not a covenant, but these two relational agreements are different.
A contract is usually a written agreement based on distrust. It is written to make sure the other person fulfills their conditions and the consequences if broken. It comes with limited liability and establishes a time frame for certain requirements to be met and accomplished. A contract can be broken with mutual consent.
However, a covenant is a verbal commitment based on trust, assuring someone that your promise is unconditional and good for life. It is spoken before God out of love for another. It is for the benefit of others and comes with unlimited responsibility and has no expiration date. It is intended to be unbreakable.
With a contract we can find reasons and excuses to break the contract, but a covenant is a commitment to continue on no matter what. We can renew our covenant relationships with those we love and recommit ourselves to loving others with the unconditional love of God. Our families and relationships will only be fireproof as long as we are striving for God's love to live in us. So let's not settle for what we have, but strive forward in God's love.

SIDE NOTE: As I begin my spiritual renewal time Thursday I will be away for four weeks, but I hope to blog twice a week if I have the Internet available, but I am not sure I will always have Internet. (Although Al Gore, "inventor of the Internet", is from Tennessee, they are still not fully into the 21st Century in all places.) I just want to have a place to share whatever God is teaching me in my renewal time. I will be praying for you, so I hope you will pray for me as well.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Love and Marriage

Who knew marriage would be hard work? (Probably everyone who has been married) Before becoming married there seemed to be this ideal, prefect little picture of marriage in my mind. I thought if you had love, you had enough and everything would be fine. I am not totally sure where that picture came from since my parents were divorced, and I have no memories of them together as a couple. Yet, that picture was there.
Six and a half years later, I know marriage does not just happen. It is not all fun and games. But I also know I am blessed to be in love with and loved by a wonderful woman. One of the things that I continue to see in Helen is her huge heart. As she works with children I can see her love and care for each child. When she is working with youth or adults I can see her passion for them to know and understand God's love. I do tease her often because she cries a lot at movies, TV shows, and even music when it speaks to her. The tears come when she is reminded of someone's hurt and pain. She wishes everyone could be protected by God's love from all harm and it hurts her when others are in pain.
The Love Dare reminds us on Day 34 that "Love Celebrates Godliness." We need to celebrate the godliness we see in other people and especially in our spouses. We will celebrate and cheer for success at work or at play, but we need to put so much more energy into celebrating those we love who draw near to God and represent God to others. So celebrate other's growth in Christian character. Celebrate their persevering in faith, their seeking purity, and their growing in giving and service. Encourage them as God continues to bring out his best in them.
When we put in some hard work in the right areas God will bless our marriages and relationships, so that they may become fireproof.