Monday, December 27, 2010

Shining Light

Yesterday Helen shared with us that we are the light of the world. This means that we are to allow Jesus to shine in us for others to see. She shared about our Christmas lights that we put on our house this year. For the last few years I put Christmas lights on our front bushes and trees. This year Helen wanted lights hanging from our roof. So I borrowed an extension ladder and put lights up there.
One of the differences with lights down on bushes instead of up on the roof is that we can see the lower lights when they are on from the inside of the house. So the lights on the roof were left on for a day or so because we could not see that they were left on. During the day the lights were not bright enough with the sunlight for us to notice them. Once it was getting dark, then we noticed that we had left them on.
This can teach us a lesson when it comes to the light of our faith. When our light shines in the good times, the times full of light it is not the same as shining in the darkness. It is great for our light to shine in the good times because our light should always be shining. When it is shining in the good times it may not be noticed by as many people, but we still must shine.
The time our faith really needs to shine is in the dark times, the difficult times of life. When we are struggling or facing difficulty the darkness surrounds us. This is when our faith has a great opportunity to shine. Others can be shown the light when they witness how our faith shines in the dark times. This is also the time other Christians, other lights, are to gather together to bring light into the darkness.
So, no matter what we are called to let our light shine, in the good times and in the bad. Let your light shine before others so they may see your faith and praise your Father in heaven.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Guiding Light

We have been focusing on the Light of Christmas. An obvious light of Christmas is the star that leads the Magi to Bethlehem. This comes from Matthew 2:1-12. This light in the sky was the guide for the Magi as it led them to Jesus.
So far I have encouraged you to watch for the light and talk about the light. And if that is all we do this Christmas it is not a bad thing, but there is more. God also wants us to follow the light. When we see the Christmas Light shining we should notice it, talk about it, and allow it to guide us to participate in the light.
The Magi saw the star, they probably talked about the star, and then finally they decided to follow the star. If they had not moved they would have just stayed in their home country and never met Jesus.
I have always wondered what motivated the Magi to make this move. They were not from the Jewish faith. The people of Israel were watching and waiting for the Messiah. The people of Israel should have been following the star, at least out of religious duty. But why are these Magi following it? Something about the star has just captured them and drew them to follow.
As we follow the Light of Christmas, there will be times we will need to follow out of religious duty. We will follow just because we know God wants us to. And that is okay. God may call us to do something we would not normally do, but for His glory we will be called to follow.
Other times following the light will be something we are just drawn to, like the Magi. We may not know why, but something will be drawing us to the light.
There will also be times we cannot chase after the light fast enough. With all that we are, we enjoy following the light.
No matter how we are guided by the light, we need to follow. When we follow the Light of Christmas we will be blessed and we will be a blessing. I hope you will make the move and follow the light this Christmas.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Fearless Light

Last week I encourage you to look for the light of Christmas. This week I want to encourage you to fearlessly share about the light you have seen. If you have been looking for the light, I hope that you have seen it. Now when you see it be sure to share it with others.
The shepherds from Luke 2:8-20 are a great example for us on sharing the story of the light. After angels told them about the baby born in a stable, they went and found that baby. Then it says they "returned glorifying and praising God." They told others about what God had been doing around them. Their story probably sounded strange with singing angels appearing in a night sky and finding a baby lying in a manger, but that was the story they shared. They were not concerned with whether people would believe them or not. They just fearlessly shared their story of seeing the light.
I hope that when you see the Light of Christmas you will point it out to others. You do not have to say it is the Light of Christmas, but just point out that God is involved in whatever is going on.
Last week a friend received an envelop that had a Christmas card in it and some gift certificates. They had no idea where it came from and it was quite a blessing. Helen just said, "God is good." Reminding us that this was a Christmas Light moment.
Also this morning I had to comment on a facebook post that shared how a new member of our church pulled over in the freezing cold yesterday on Interstate 80 to help a young lady. Her tire blew and he changed it for her. He was being the Light of Christmas and I wanted to thank him for that.
We probably have seen many instances of the Light of Christ shining around us, but too often we do not call attention to it. If we do not call attention to it, others may not notice that God was with them. So let's work on giving God the glory when the Light of Christmas shines in us, through us and around us.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Watch for the Light

We have quickly jumped into Advent. Advent is the time of preparation for the celebration of Christmas. The Christmas decorations are up at the church (and mostly up at home) and we are singing Christmas songs in Sunday worship. It seems early to me, but I am excited for this Advent Season.
The focus I have chosen for this Advent is the Light of Christmas. In Isaiah 9:1-7 the prophet foretells of a dawn that is coming. He says those walking in darkness will see a great light. And I want to encourage us to watch for the light this Advent season.
The light is Jesus Christ. In John chapter 1 Jesus is called the light of all people. That light is seen as God's love shows up in our lives. The light shines when we offer love and grace to those around us. This light will always shine in darkness.
The darkness is anything that draws our attention away from the light. The darkness comes as we focus on our own wants and desires. The darkness is there when we think Christmas is about gifts, gatherings and getting time off of work.
And isn't it interesting that this Season of Light begins with Black Friday. This year 138,000,000 consumers were out hitting the stores before dawn. And there were a few stories of dark events as people fought and stole to get the items they wanted.
So how do we move from Black Friday to the celebration of the birth of the Light of the World? That is what we want to do this Advent. Let's watch for the light. Let's give God our attention and notice the many places the Light of Christ can be seen during this holiday season. God's Light can show up in some wonderful places and amaze us. We can also be intentional of inviting Christ to be the center of all we do as we celebrate. So watch for the light and if you want to let me know where you have seen the light this year that would be wonderful too.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Mary is Different

I want to encourage you to check out two passages of Scripture that tell us about Mary and Martha. The passages are Luke 10:38-42 and John 12:1-8. Mary and Martha are sisters of Lazarus. You may recognize Lazarus' name as the man who was dead for four days, but then Jesus brought him back to life.
As you read these passages you may notice that both take place around dinner tables. And in both, Martha is serving the meal. In the Luke passage she gets frustrated that Mary is not helping serve the meal, but in the John passage we do not hear Martha complaining. (Maybe she is used to Mary's behavior by now.) In Luke Jesus stands up for Mary not serving. He says it is better for her to sit and listen to Jesus teach. Then again in John's Gospel Jesus stands up for Mary as she offers a generous blessing to Jesus. The disciple Judas was not pleased with Mary pouring a scented oil on Jesus' feet because the oil is worth a year's wages. (Think $45,000 perfume today.) Judas thought it could have been sold and given to the poor. Jesus said what Mary did again was good.
So in both of these passages Mary does what others do not think she should be doing. Mary is different. She does not hesitate to do what she feels God calling her to do, even when others think she is doing the wrong thing.
As I looked at the John passage and thought about the generosity of the gift Mary gave to Jesus I was challenged to be different by being generous. Recent statistics say that 70% of Americans live paycheck to paycheck. I think it would be tough to be generous when your money runs out before your next paycheck. Another statistic says Americans spend $1.22 for every $1 we make. How do we do that? Well, we go into debt as we spend money we do not have. Again, being in debt is not going to help us be generous.
So my suggestion to help us be different and generous like Mary is to plan and prepare ourselves to be generous. Have a written budget, so you can look over your income and expenses. Mary had to plan and save in order to have that expensive perfume to offer to Jesus. We too can plan and save, so that we can be generous when the opportunity arises. If you need help with a budget let me know or sign up for our Financial Peace University class that will begin in January.
Mary may not play a major role in the whole Scripture story, but she stands out to me as a great example of a follower of Christ.

Monday, November 15, 2010

$5 Challenge

[I just checked and I have had only one comment on my blog in the last two months. The reason I do a blog is to try to have some extra interaction with people that is not always possible on Sundays. So I am wondering if it is worth my time and effort if I am not hearing back from people. So let me know if there is something I need to do different to get responses. Or maybe blogging is just not my thing.]

Yesterday I encouraged our congregation to step up their generosity. I believe we have been generous as a congregation, but to continue the ministry Christ has called us to we need to continue to grow.
I used the parables from Matthew 13:44-46 to remind us that we have a priceless gift in the kingdom of God. I define the kingdom of God as our experience of God with us. It is about our relationship to the Creator of the Universe. And it is because of this gift that I am generous towards the ministry of the church. I have experienced the kingdom of God and I want every else to experience it as well. I know it will be a priceless gift for them as they experience it.
So I am challenge people first to tithe, which is giving 10% of our income to God's work. And secondly if you need help moving towards the tithe to start by giving at least $5 more per week this next year.
We have 205 families in our congregation that support our ministries. If 200 of them give $5 more a week that will be an additional $52,000 for ministry in 2011. If we all join in and do our part, great things can be done. Now if $5 a week sounds like a lot. It is just $20-$25 more a month or $260 for the year.
What I would like comments back on is how to save $5 a week in order to give that $5 to God's ministry. I would love to hear some creative ideas on how people could find an extra $5 a week. I keep thinking about my $5 mocha at the coffee shop. If you have a home phone, internet and cable at home and you could go without one of those you could probably save over $25 a month. If you drink a lot of pop you could save money by purchasing the generic brands instead of the name brands. Let me know your ideas of what you have done or what you might do to free up $5 a week to continue the God work that is happening around us.

Monday, November 1, 2010

All Saints Day

Today is All Saints Day. It is a day to remember those who have gone to heaven this past year. In our congregation we remember six saints: Esther Evans, Vianna Langley, Donna Lehnst, Elaine Lortz, Fern Orr, and Jerry Riggs.
In this group are some great saints. Esther was a great spouse. She was married to her husband Joe for 73 years before he died two years ago. Donna was a great mother who sacrificed and worked hard for her children. Fern also was a servant of her family. I heard Elaine was a great baker and I will always remember Jerry for some toys he crafted for my children. I did not personally know Vianna, but through letters knew she cared deeply for how God was working through our congregation.
I hope we will always remember these great saints and everything they have meant to their loved ones and how Christ worked in their lives. I hope we also remember to live our lives in a way that will be remembered. Jesus says the way to be great is to be the servant of others.
So aspire to be great by serving others. And post a comment if there is someone you want to remember today.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Celebrating 40 Days of Community

40 days is a sacred time period for Christians. We look back and recognize that Moses spent 40 days on Mt. Sinai when he received the 10 Commandments from God. Jesus took 40 days for prayer and fasting before he began his ministry to the world. Jesus also spent 40 days after his resurrection with his followers. So God seems to do amazing things in 40 days.
I believe God has done it again. As we gave 40 days focusing on what it means to live in community, we learned that we are better together. Not only did we learn that lesson, but we lived it.
Yesterday in worship we had a time for people to share what God did in 40 days. It was a powerful time of hearing testimonies of what God was doing. I want to do the same with my blog this week. I want to invite anyone who reads it to share what God did in your life the last 40 days. So please comment on this blog and just share a sentence or a story praising God for what He did.

I praise God for all of the servants I have seen. Hearing all of the ideas that the 40 Days small groups are coming up with to reach out and serve our community is amazing. And then seeing results from some of those ministries already encourages me that God has plenty more for us to do to show his love to this world.
Our 40 Days of Community focus has ended, but I believe it is just the beginning of the next step for St. Paul's UMC to become the Body of Christ God has called us to be.

Monday, October 18, 2010

40 Days of Community: We Worship

Day 37. The final purpose we have as a community during this 40 day focus is worship. We worship together. We worship as we are reminded of God's love for us and as we give love back to God. I think worship can be a personal experience, but it also is an amazing experience in community.
One of the most powerful worship experiences I have had in my life was going to Promise Keeper's in Minneapolis. Promise Keeper's is a ministry for men. We had 40,000-50,000 men in the Metrodome singing praise to God. Many times I see men sing shyly in church. But in the dome we were belting it out. And to hear that many men singing praises to God was powerful.
Worshiping with a huge group of people is powerful, but not necessary for wonderful worship. I have experienced mighty worship will small groups as well. I remember an Ash Wednesday service held a few years ago when our old parsonage was our Church Center. We had about a foot of snow that day and only 6 or 8 of us gathered. Yet the worship was wonderful. God was gathered there with us in that cozy setting.
Jesus says, "Whenever two or three of you come together in my name, I am there with you" (Matthew 18:20). When we gather together for worship God is present with us, whether it is 3 of us or 3,000. We need to keep meeting together to receive God's love and to give love back to him.
I would love to hear your wonderful worship experiences in community if you would like to share them.

Monday, October 11, 2010

40 Days of Community: Made for Ministry Together

Day 30. You were made for ministry. We were made for ministry together. God has given each of us gifts and talents to use to serve other people. Sometimes we may think that ministry should be left to the "professionals," but Scripture clearly calls everyone into ministry.
In Luke 5:17-26 there is a powerful incident in Jesus' life that shares with us many lessons about being in ministry together. In this passage we hear about four men who carry a paralyzed man onto the roof of a home because they cannot get their friend through the crowd that has gathered around Jesus. They dig a hole in the roof and lower him down in front of Jesus. Because of their faith Jesus forgives this man's sins and heals him. He stands up and walks out of the house.
I think it would be interesting to know how this all started. Who took the initiative to go on this mission to get the paralyzed man to Jesus? It could have been the paralyzed man himself that thought up this plan and invited some friends to help. Or maybe he even convinced some strangers to help. The idea could have possibly come from these four guys. Maybe they decided to serve the paralyzed man, and didn't even tell him what they were doing. They just picked him up and took him to Jesus.
We will probably never know how this all started, but it made me think about how ministry starts in the church today. There are several ways people get involved in ministry. Some people are initiators and will jump right in and participate in ministry. Other people need to be asked or invited to serve in ministry. Personally I prefer the initiators, but I know most people need to be asked.
So I need to be sure we are able to help both groups get into ministry. We need to have a system that will encourage and support the initiators and help them get going in ministry. We also need to find ways to invite people to join in the ministry that is ongoing. We need to be ready to help everyone get connected in ministry because God has ministry for all of us.
Take time to think about how you get connected in ministry. If you are an initiator then keep jumping in and serving others. Sometimes ministries may not move fast enough for you, but keep pressing on. If you are one that waits for the invitation, just recognize that and be ready to respond when the request comes.
If you have ideas to help any of us get into ministry, I would love to hear them. We were made for ministry together.

Monday, October 4, 2010

40 Days of Community: Designed For Discipleship

Day 23. You were designed for discipleship. God put us together in such a way that we need to grow in our faith as disciples in a group. Being a part of a discipling group is essential to growing in our faith. It is essential to have other people with us on our faith journey. And not just people that will cheer us on (although we need that), but people who will ask us hard questions and hold us accountable in our faith.
The two most popular excuses I hear for not being in a discipling small group are fear of not knowing the Bible well enough and because the other people might hurt them.
To the first excuse I try to remind people that the point of the group is to get to know the Bible better. Everyone else in the group is there to learn also. Some may know a little more, but chances are someone will know less. I don't know it all and I need help from others to understand the Scriptures. That is okay. The point of the group is not to show off your biblical knowledge, it is to grow in your faith and grow in your knowledge of the love of God. (You may have someone who "knows it all" but they need your presence as well.)
I know the other concern about being hurt by other people is a real concern. When we are open and honest with other people we become vulnerable to being hurt by them. And if we are honest we have hurt people as well. This is part of being in relationship with imperfect people. The best way to handle this is to be open about it. Share those concerns with the people in your group. Let them know how important it is to you that confidences are kept. Also remember you do not have to bare your soul at the first meeting. Take your time. Get to know the people in the group and when you are ready you can share.
My best advice is to try a small group and if that one does not work try another. And keep trying until you find the right group. If a child gave up trying to walk because they fell once or twice, we would all be crawling around ruining our pants. So keep looking for the right people and the right group for you to be growing in discipleship with others around you. You will truly be blessed by those relationships and God will fill your life with amazing blessings.

Monday, September 27, 2010

40 Days of Community: You Belong

Day 16. For some reason I was reminded this morning of a horrible youth overnight Helen and I had down in Tennessee. We took the youth to a rock concert and then we were going to camp out at a state park. We had set up three tents and had a great evening, but in the middle of the night a thunderstorm rolled in. It started pouring.
I was in a tent with 5 of the boys and our tent started to leak. We made a barricade with our dirty clothes to keep the water from our sleeping bags. But the levee broke and we were sleeping in water.
Eventually we realized another tent was in water and we all made a run for the church 15 passenger bus. Looking at our tent we saw it was in 3 to 4 inches of standing water and we had put the tents up in the lowest part of the campground. We affectionately called it "Lake Stupid."
We ended up having at least 12 of us sleep in the church bus. We put two of the smaller kids into the overhead luggage racks to sleep and I slept on the cold, metal floor.
I thought about this because that was a terrible night's sleep and really just a miserable evening. However, it was a blast! It was a night that would be remembered for years in the youth group. Why? Because it was a storm we weathered together. It was a wonderful night of fellowship. Our youth group bonded and grew closer together through the night.
This is what fellowship is all about. We were created to go through life together. We are to be with one another in the good times and the bad. We need to be there for one another because we belong to each other. When you think about Christian fellowship just remember it is all about living life together.
You belong to the Body of Christ. You were formed for fellowship.

Monday, September 20, 2010

40 Days of Community: Better Get-Together

Day 9. We have five purposes as a community: Fellowship, Discipleship, Ministry, Worship and Evangelism. This week we are to focus on evangelism. Evangelism is sharing your faith with other people. This is a calling for all of us as individuals, but also as a community. So my question for you is how can you work with a community to share Christ with others?
There are many ways we can work together to reach people with God's love. First, we need to be praying for other people. Second, we need to love them. This is a great way to reach out with a group. Get a group together to go and show God's love to others. Each of our 40 Days small groups has been challenged to do this. (Personally I think my group will have the best ideas and reach the most people, but we will see.)
Along with those two things I want to encourage you to have better get-togethers. Have times of fun and fellowship with your Christian friends, but also be intentional to invite some people who do not have a church home or a relationship with Christ. You can be very creative with this, but just decide to do something you love and use it to reach out. We have a guy in our church that offers free guitar lessons. As people learn guitar they also experience some of God's love. I read about several couples who have season tickets to a professional football team. The couples then purchased two extra tickets to invite non-Christians to join them for the fun. Then if the non-Christians show interest they invite them to their weekly small group.
What do you love to do with other people? Think of how you could purposefully plan to do that with others in order to help someone experience God. Who would have thought going to a football game or learning the guitar could eternally change someone's life? But it can, if we get together and share God's love with them. God will do amazing things if we get together with others and allow God to work.
I would love to hear from you either what can happen through a community reaching out or what ideas you might have to reach out. If we share these ideas they may spark some wonderful things in one another. We are better together.

Monday, September 13, 2010

40 Days of Community - Created for Community

Day 2
I am excited about what God is going to do as we focus on community for 40 days. I truly believe that if we are willing to live in real Christian community that the struggles of life will not defeat us. We can overcome any obstacle when we live life together. Ecclesiastes 3:12 says, "A cord of three strands is not easily broken." This reminds us that when we stand alone we are not as strong as when we are woven together with others.
This idea of being better together can be a new mindset for most of us. For most of our life we have been encouraged to be independent. It is time to get out on my own, to take care of myself, and to stand on my own two feet. Our country was founded on the Declaration of Independence. We are told it is weak to depend on other people.
This is different than God's teaching. The Bible does not teach us to be independent, but rather interdependent. We are taught in the Scriptures and through the life of Jesus to depend on God and depend on one another. We were created for community, not created for independence.
This means we need to open ourselves up to those around us. We need to be willing to share our struggles and let people know when we need help. We also need to be willing to help when others are in need.
Right now what I see happening is that people are struggling with loneliness, depression, financial situations, broken relationships (especially marriages), and many other situations. They are struggling and because they want to be independent they will not share their need for a community to lift them up. At the same time, we do not have a close enough relationship with that person to know the struggles in their lives.
We need to work on creating a community where we know each other. Where we are open with each other and trust each other. This will weave us together into a strong cord that will not be broken. Then we all will be a community that will hold each other up when facing struggles.
This will not happen overnight, but I believe it is a great goal to pursue. It starts with you, and it can start today. Will you join me in declaring our interdependence?

P.S.
If you actually read the Declaration of Independence you will find in the last line a declaration of dependence on God and each other. "And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor."

Monday, August 30, 2010

facebook: Keep Me Logged In

I love the little box under the space you enter your email when logging into facebook. When you check that little box you no longer need to reenter your email and password every time you want to get into your facebook account. When you check that box your computer remembers your information and takes you right into your facebook page. That little box says, "Keep me logged in."
This reminded me of our need to keep logged into our faith. We need to remain connected to God always. We do feel disconnected from time to time. I am sure you have felt that before because I have. You feel God is not present or distant, but of course, God is always there. So, we need to find ways to remain logged in with God.
I think there are many ways to remain logged in and it will depend on your personal way of getting connected to God. Reading your Bible on a regular basis may be your way. If you read the Bible regularly and miss a day, you may notice the disconnect. Reading the Bible helps you to connect with God through His Word. The Scriptures should challenge you, convict you and encourage you. You may remain connected through small groups. Meeting with other Christians to share about your faith can help you be accountable and recognize God’s presence. You also may remain connected through worship, whether that is private worship or communal worship. You need to find your way of staying logged in to God's Spirit.
What has recently helped me stay logged in is a 7 word mantra I learned from Leonard Sweet. These seven words are the condensed version of Philippians 4:6-7. He says these 7 words throughout the day and I have found myself doing the same thing. They remind me of how God calls me to live in this world as Christ lives in me. Here they are...
Anxious…nothing
Prayerful…everything
Thankful…anything
Peace
As we remain logged into God we are to be anxious in nothing. Our life should not be overwhelmed by anxiety, worry or fear. This does not mean those feelings will disappear, but they should not rule our lives. Our worrying about tomorrow will not solve any problems. We need to work at remembering God will provide and God will care for us.
Next we need to be prayerful in everything. We need to take everything to God in prayer. Prayer is a uniquely human quality. No other living creature prays. And I believe all humans pray. Even those who don't believe in God have probably cried out "why?" when something bad has happened and I believe that is a prayer. We have a desire built into us to pray, and yet sometimes we forget. All things, big and small, are worthy to be brought before God in prayer. We need to take everything to God in prayer.
Finally, we are to be thankful in anything. No matter the situation we find ourselves in we need to be thankful and joyful. This does not mean we have to like it necessarily, but we have to be thankful. Paul wrote these verses while in prison. Tough times will come to all of us, but God wants us to look for what we can be thankful for. Our faith always delivers blessings in the midst of bad times. God takes even death and turns it to new life, so God can take any of our troubles and bring thanksgiving.
When we follow these 7 words from Philippians 4:6-7 we get logged into God's presence and God gives us peace. Peace that calms our fears. Peace that leads us to our knees in prayer. Peace that finds the joy in the midst of sorrow. Peace that reminds us that Jesus lives in us.
Use this mantra if you think it might help you know this peace. It has helped me in my busy times. I always want to be logged in to what God is doing and I hope you do too.

Monday, August 23, 2010

facebook: Status Update

On facebook you can share and connect with the people in your life by posting a status from time to time. Some people update their status regularly (some a little too much for me). Others are not as regular, like me. But as people update their status they are letting people know what is going on in their life.
As I thought about updating the status of our congregation I thought about all the change this congregation has seen just in the time facebook has been around. facebook went public in February of 2004. In 2004 our congregation averaged 112 in worship attendance. Today we average around 240. In 2004 we had around 200 people connected to our congregation including children. Today we have around 500. (Not to mention the selling of our old building, worshiping in a funeral home for 18 months, and then getting into our new church home.) What this change has done is transformed us from a pastoral size church to a program size church. So, our updated status says that we are going to be a great program church.
In a pastoral size church the pastor can be in the middle of it all. The pastor can know all of the people of the congregation. The pastor can provide the care needed by the congregation. Also, the pastor can be involved in most of the decisions made in the congregation. A good pastor can lead a pastoral size church.
In a program church the pastor moves into a different role. The pastor can no longer know everyone, care for everyone, or be involved in every decision. This is honestly a good thing because this means the ministry of the church needs to be done by the congregation. The pastor and staff now have the task of training and leading groups of people who will take on the role of being ministers. It will take more people from the congregation for the ministry to be effective.
One of the difficult parts of this status update is that the people of this congregation who have been here for more than 5 years have only known ministry as a pastoral size church. It is tough to make this change. Not only for the congregation, but for me as a pastor as well. I was trained in seminary to be a pastoral size church pastor. Now I am trying to be trained in leading a program size church.
This transition is so difficult for many churches that there are many books written about this transition. The books try to let you know why things are changing and what to expect. These books describe almost exactly what this congregation is going through. So it is good to know we are pretty normal. Also, it is good to know God will lead us through the transition into the church God wants us to be.
So we will continue to update our status as God works on us to be the Body of Christ in our community. God has a plan for this congregation and as we live that plan and follow Jesus, the updates to our status will show God at work.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

facebook: Choices of Security

facebook was created to help you share and connect with the people in your life. One of the concerns people have when being on-line is security. How secure is the information that I am putting out there? I want to share and connect with those in my life, but not share all this information with those not in my life. I was actually talking to someone last Sunday about that. This person’s sister, I think, had her identity stolen, so they were hesitant to put information onto internet places like facebook. It is a very real concern and something to check into.
facebook has at least two places to learn tips about being safe and secure on their website. They have a facebook Security Page and their Safety Center. You can find information there about security issues, but also what to do about on-line bullying or what to do when someone you don't know keeps trying to contact you.
On-line security issues are important. They keep your information safe and they help keep you safe. To stay safe we have to make choices about whether to use on-line places like facebook, but we also have to decide what information we put on-line and who we allow to see it.
In our Christian faith there are choices we have to make when it comes to who we associate with and who we are connected to as well. You could say these are security issues. There are choices you need to make about who you are connected to in your life. The people you connect to are people you will influence and they are people who will influence you.
Paul shares with us in 2 Corinthians 6:14 "not to be yoked to unbelievers." He is saying that we need to be wise in the people we connect with and the influence they will have on us. Being yoked to someone means you are connect to them, like two animals yoked together to plow a field or pull a cart.
Let me be clear, this does not say not to associate with unbelievers, but it says don't be so connected to an unbeliever that will influence the direction of your life. (I personally would say if you are not associated with any unbelievers, then you are living too safe.)
I know this can be a difficult lesson for us to learn. It is hard to be honest with ourselves that a friend that we are close to is someone that might lead us away from God's calling in our lives. We feel we are strong enough to stand against their influence when we may not be that strong in our faith. We also do not want to let go of them for fear of what might happen to them. It is a hard choice to make.
What I want to suggest is that if you have a person that is really close to you and they do not know Jesus, pray about what God wants you to do in that relationship. God may encourage you to take a break from that relationship to gain strength and understanding of your calling. Perhaps God will lead you to have a honest conversation with that person. Letting them know how much you care about them and how God has made a difference in your life and you want that for them as well. Spending time in prayer about that relationship can make a huge difference in both of your lives.
Just as on-line security issues are important, so are the choices you make when it comes to who you connect with in your life. Take seriously the choices of who you allow yourself to be yoked to. Be wise and honest about the relationships you have and pray God will be present in those relationships.

Monday, August 9, 2010

facebook: Forgot your password?

To get into your facebook account you will always need to remember your user name and password. Your user name is easy because it is your email account that you use to connect with facebook. Your password can be whatever you decide, which can make it more random. Thinking about keeping these straight made me realize that we live in a password crazy world and it can get confusing.
I probably could not list from memory all of the places I use a password. My debit card has a PIN number. My social security number is used as a password sometimes. Both my cell phone and home phone accounts have passwords when I call customer service. I have accounts with Amazon.com, Christian Book Distributors, E-bay, Pay Pal, and many other on-line places that require passwords. It can be tough to remember all of those passwords and the proper user name that goes with them.
I thank God that our Christian faith does not have any passwords. There are not secret words or phrases that are needed to experience the love and grace of God. (I do believe there is power in the name of Jesus, but I would not call it a password.)
But the idea of forgetting your password means that you belong on facebook and have an account, but you have forgotten what gets you to your account. This made me think about the passage of Scripture from Revelation 2:1-7. This passage is about a church that was doing good work, but they had forgotten their first love. They had been in love with God and that had led them to endure hardships and work for God's kingdom, but somewhere along the way they forgot. They kept doing what they were doing before, but they forgot the reason they were doing it. In that passage they are called to remember and come back to their first love.
So I want to remind us as Christians that we too need to remember our first love. We need to remember the first time God let us know His presence. Remember the first time you knew God loved you.
For me it was 18 years ago at a camp called Wesley Woods near Indianola, Iowa. As I think back to that time I remember the joy, peace, and passion that filled my life as I realized the God of the universe loved me. As imperfect as I am, God loves me. Remembering that renews my excitement for sharing God's love even today.
Remember the first time you felt God's love. Not to live in the past of the glory days, but to be renewed and to serve and love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength today for His glory. Don't ever forget that God loves you.
If anyone wants to share their first experience with God just comment on this blog. It might help others to remember.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

facebook: Friend Request

The way people connect on facebook is through friend requests. A friend request is a message sent to another person letting them know you want to connect with them through facebook. The other person then gets to decide if they want to confirm or ignore the friend request.
In John 15 Jesus speaks in a way similar to that of a friend request. In this chapter Jesus says that he calls us friends. He also says that we did not choose him, but he chose us. So you could say he sent the first friend request to us. Then it was up to us to confirm it or ignore it.
Once he have confirmed the friend request from Jesus he says we are to love each other. Loving other people can be a large calling and has many possible ways to be lived out. One way to live it out is to reach out in love and make friends.
We were created for community, and yet there are many lonely people in this world. There are people who have friends and yet they do not feel loved by them. There are also people who may say they have no friends. God calls us to love the lonely. One way to do that is to become their friends. Maybe that can happen through facebook or maybe it will happen face to face. The way you become a friend is not important, but the important thing is that you make friends.
Jesus says that we are his friends and his friends love people. So let's continue to love all people, but keep an eye open for the lonely. You could make a difference in their life simply by talking with them and getting to know them.

Monday, July 26, 2010

facebook: It's free and anyone can join

If you go to www.facebook.com and are looking to become a member of facebook you will see that it says there "It's free (and always will be)." It is free to get your own personal facebook page. It does not cost you a thing.
A month or so ago this phrase was different. I assume it was changed because there was a message going around on facebook that it was going to stop being free. If I remember correctly the message said that on July 15, 2010 they were going to start charging a monthly fee for facebook. This got some people riled up and I saw several petitions for a free facebook going around. Either that worked or the message was just a rumor and was never really going to happen.
The phase was changed to "It's free (and always will be)" to calm those worries about having to pay for facebook. The previous phrase was "It's free and anyone can join." I like that one a little better than the new one.
It's free and anyone can join applies to our faith as well. Ephesians 2:8-9 reminds us that "it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast." Basic translation: Our relationship with God is a free gift. We cannot do anything to earn it or deserve it.
Yet we try to earn it or deserve it. We try to be good enough before coming into God's presence, but God loves us as we are. We can simply come to him to have that relationship. Once we are there I believe God works on our hearts, but that is work for God to do in us and not for us to do to ourselves.
So, our faith is free, but don't forget that anyone can join. I hope you have joined and if not God freely offers you an invitation. All you need to do is receive the gift of a relationship with him.
If you have already joined then I want to remind you that anyone else can join. There are people around you that need an invitation from you to join. I believe God calls people, but often he does that through us. We need to go to anyone and invite them into the family of God. Remind them it is free and let them know how a relationship with Christ has impacted your life. Spread the word, faith in Christ is free and anyone can join.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

facebook: What's on Your Wall?

Your wall on facebook is the public viewing area of your facebook page. What is put on your wall is there for anyone to see. If you want to send a private message you can use the instant messaging piece of facebook or send a message like an email to their facebook account. The wall is for the whole world to see, unless you have it set for just your friends to see. But still all the people connected to your life will see what is on your wall.
Your wall has your past status updates. It has your recent pictures posted. It has videos you saw and liked.
By reading someone’s wall you can begin to get an idea of that person’s identity. At least you can begin to see what has their attention, where their focus is. You can also start to learn what is important to that person.
So what’s on your wall? This question could be directed at your facebook wall if you have one. What is the general mood of your status updates? Are they negative, complaining, and making fun of others? Or are they positive, encouraging and sharing about God’s blessings in your life? Are your pictures and videos appropriate?
This question can also apply to your life. If someone looked at your life what would they see gets your attention? What would they see is important to you?
I think about myself when I say my wife and family are my top priority and then I find myself scheduling meetings in place of family time. I may say they are important, but is that really what is seen? I finally decided to schedule family time that cannot be rescheduled because I don’t want to just say my family is important, but I want to live that way.
Look at your wall. Look at your life. Do they show who God has called you to be? If you see changes that need to take place do not put up a false self just to make it look good to the outside, but rather ask God to transform your heart. Once God works on your heart it will move to the exterior. It will be seen in your life and on your wall.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

facebook

facebook is a major part of our world today. Over 400 million people use this social networking website launched just 6 years ago. So I thought we would look at pieces of facebook and see what it might teach us about our faith. For the next several weeks I will use something from facebook to start our thinking about how God wants us to live.
The idea is that facebook can be your virtual face. It could be your on-line personality. You choose what your face or personality looks like depending on what you post as your status, what pictures you put up, and all the other things you do on facebook.
2 Corinthians 3:18 says that we have unveiled faces that reflect the Lord's glory. This means that our faces are to reflect God, and I would say that is our real face and our virtual face. We are called to reflect the love, mercy and grace of God in all we do and even what we might put on facebook.
Most of the time I believe many of us have veiled faces. We veil our faces to cover up what is really going on inside of us. We worry that if people really knew what we were thinking or what was going on in our lives that they would judge us, shame us or not want to be friends with us. So we veil our true selves and put on a false face. I think we all do this from time to time to protect ourselves.
However, I believe God wants us to show our true face. God wants us to be real with each other. God desires for us to just be ourselves. Our gifts and talents are wonderful to share, but our weaknesses and struggles are also a part of who we are. If we all were honest and real with each other, we could know better how to serve and love each other. This would allow us a better opportunity to show Christ to each other.
My question to you then is; does your face reflect the Lord's glory? Are you real? Are you the same person on facebook as you are in person? We were created in the image of God, so when we live as God intended we will reflect the Lord's glory.
This is what we will be working on over the next few weeks. We will use facebook to show us ways to transform our faces to truly reflect the Lord's glory.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Free

Galatians 5:13-14 says, "You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"
This passage is an important reminder after we celebrated our countries independence yesterday. We heard this message in our ecumenical service yesterday morning. The message is that our freedom is not meant only for our personal gain, but is meant to lead us to love others. One way we love others in our freedom is to invite them into the freedom we have in Christ.
I was impressed by my 6 year old son yesterday. We had many people come to our house during the 4th of July parade because the parade route goes right by our house and we are near the beginning where the candy throwers are still generous. I think we had 14 kids running around the house playing together. There were a few times parents needed to intervene, but overall the kids were very good.
I was impressed with Jamison because most of the kids at one time or another played with his Lego's. He really likes his Lego's and can be protective of them from time to time. However, he never was protective yesterday and actually he wanted each kid to build something and take it home. He wanted to give away his Lego's. He thought that each person took joy in the hard work of building their own Lego creation and they should get to take it home to enjoy, but then bring it back some time.
The freedom we have in Christ should lead us to the same kind of expression. Because we have joy in our freedom, we should want to offer it to others. When we see someone struggling or hurting we can share the freedom of Christ with them. We can give to them something that has changed our lives. Let's be about spreading the freedom of Christ all over this world as we express God's love for His people.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

What if...this was your last day on earth?

The average life expectancy in the United States for women is 28,891 days and for men it is 26,371 days. That is a lot of days to live. Of course, they are not all guaranteed, but that is the average.
Now think about how many of those days will be days you will never forget. How many of those days were memorable? Weddings, births, deaths, and other life changing moments make days memorable. I still remember the first day I saw my future wife on the seminary campus. I also remember the night my life was changed as I gave my life to Christ.
Now, how many of your days were average and forgettable? Days that you just went through the motions. The days that were routine and you were on autopilot. I would guess we all have more forgettable days than memorable ones.
However, if we decided to we might be able to change that. That is the idea behind the question; what if this was your last day on earth? Would you want your last day to be memorable or forgettable?
If we decide to live each day to God's fullest, each day would make a difference in this world and therefore be memorable. Living for God's fullest means that we have given up living for ourselves and decided to help people become aware of God's presence. If I live each day for God then it would be easier for me to have that be my last day on earth.
I know this is a rather larger ideal, and living each day fully for God is a big goal, but I still dream. I still challenge you and myself to live each day as if it were our last. Don't miss the opportunities God places before you each day. Make the most of those opportunities. It is through those daily opportunities to live for God that we will share a piece of heaven with those here on earth.

Monday, June 21, 2010

What if...God was your go-to-guy?


I thought a good illustration of the way we often look at God is as a hail Mary pass. In football a hail Mary pass is a desperation heave down the field. It is an attempt to throw the ball towards the end zone just praying someone from your team will catch it and score. Every once in a while it works, but most times it does not. (The picture is of Warren Holloway catching a hail Mary from Drew Tate in the 2005 Capital One Bowl Iowa Hawkeye victory.)
I see us relating to God this way when we say something like, "well, I have tried everything else, I guess I could pray." I know I have thought or said that before. We also may not say it, but our actions speak it. We try everything in our own power before turning to God.
What I want to encourage us to do is to make God our go-to-guy. Instead of God being a desperation choice, make God the number one option. Go to God first thing. Make God the first place you turn in good and bad times. God is waiting for you.
If you want to read a great passage about God as a go-to-God read 1 Kings 18:22-39. This story is about Elijah and his trust that God would show up when he needed God.
I want to be a Christian who turns first to God, instead of waiting until I feel I have gone as far as I can go and now God can help me keep going. I still tend to do this as I try to fix things myself. I often jump straight into Mr. Fix-it mode. Instead I need to slow down, take a breath, pray and then go where God leads. When I have taken the time to turn to God first the situation seems to go better.
Where have you seen this work in your life? When has God responded as your go-to-God?

Monday, June 14, 2010

Did you know that only 5% of Christians tithe? According to a Barna study that has been true since about 2000. And the average United Methodist gives under 2% of their income to the church. Tithing is giving 10% of your resources to God's work. So if all Christians tithed there would be a big difference in resources available for God's work.
Just within our medium sized church there would be a large increase in resources. The average net income in Williamsburg is around $45,000 a year. We have 200 families in our congregation. So if every family tithed on that average amount, we would have $900,000 a year for God's ministry. Our current general budget is $265,000.
Noticing the extra $600,000 I went to the United Methodist Advance webpage, which lists ministries around the world that need support to continue God's good work. You can check it out if you want at The Advance. You can look by ministry type or by region. We could support hospitals in foreign countries or clinics here in America. We could support orphanages in Haiti, teach farming in underdeveloped countries, and get fresh drinking water to people all over the world. We could work towards ending malaria or other diseases. The possibilities are endless.
However, I also know there is more to tithing than just the numbers. If all Christians tithed that would let me know that all Christians have a better understanding that everything we have actually belongs to God. 100% belongs to God and yet He gives it to us to use. We then make the decision on how God's resources are used. And when we tithe we can change the world. We can direct God's resources to His work. And we do this because we were created in the image of a generous God. God gave his Son for our salvation. God believes through giving the world will be changed and we can make that happen as well when we are generous and give.
Let me know if you have any questions on tithing, and imagine the possibilities. We could change the world if we all decided to tithe.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

What if...we did not have Annual Conference?

For the last four days I have been at our Iowa Annual Conference. This is where all of the pastors and a portion of laity from Iowa get together for our annual meeting. It is basically an annual business meeting. It seems to be one part celebration of ministry and mission, one part business and one part politics.
I was 15 when I first went to Annual Conference as a youth representative. I have not been every year since then, but probably missed 2 or 3 years. Some conferences I have left feeling God had some work for us to do. Other times I have left wondering if God had been there at all. I wrestle with parts of ministry that relate to business and politics. I know it is reality that both aspects are present in the church, but I still dream of the day when it will be different.
I do not think the church is a business. There are some similarities because a business and a church are organizations. There are some structure similarities and of course you need a budget to know where your resources are going.
I also see where political views intersect faith. But I am not sure they need to be a central part of the church. Main issues I heard debated were marriage, environmental justice, and immigration reform.
I wonder what if Annual Conference was no longer a business or political meeting and instead a time of healing and training for effective ministry. We do already have prayer and worship there, but then add in time for healing and care of pastors who as caregivers are often left uncared for. And then we could also be training pastors the most effective ways to be be caregivers and leaders of their churches.
I know I don't have all the answers, but what we have always done seems to be getting less effective to me.
Anyone else have thoughts on the business and political aspects of the church?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

What if...we lived unplugged?

The idea of living unplugged is about getting rid of our distractions, so that we can focus more fully on Christ. If you read Luke 10:38-42 you will see the passage about Jesus' visit to the home of Martha and Mary, two sisters. Martha is working diligently to be a good host for Jesus and the disciples. Her sister Mary is just sitting at Jesus' feet listening to his teaching. Martha wants her to help and asks Jesus to tell her to help, but instead Jesus tells Martha that Mary has chosen something better.
The application is clear to me, being with Jesus and learning from him is more important than any other good thing. Of course this calls for balance because if every just focused on learning from Jesus and not on preparing food we would eventually starve. So this does not say get rid of everything that distracts from God, but it does not hurt to reflect on areas that might be getting too much attention and draw us away from God.
So we can work to clear our distracts. The unplugged idea came because a major distraction can be things we plug in: TV, computer, media, video games... However our distractions are not limited to these electrical things. They many be anything, some good, some bad, but all distractions from what God wants us to be focused on.
I know I have wrestled with distractions. I often get focused on details. I regularly work on details because I believe when the details are right the big picture will be clear. This is not always the case, but I feel if I focus on the details that will remove some distractions, so that others can see the big picture better. I need to get better at unplugging my focus on details in order to pay plenty of attention to the big picture.
At the same time, I do need to plug Christ into my details and make sure they are always done for his glory and not for what I hope to accomplish.
Think about your distractions. What might you need to unplug? Or how might you plug Christ into all the activities of your life? Remember that Jesus always wants you to choose what is better. You may have plenty of good things that take up your time, but where are the great things? Give the great things your attention.

Monday, May 24, 2010

What if...everyone used their spiritual gifts?

If everyone used their spiritual gifts that would tell me that the church was doing a good job with a few things. First, the church was helping people know they had gifts. I am amazed at the number of times I hear someone say they have nothing to offer. Everyone has something to offer. Sometimes it takes some creativity to use the gifts people have for God's glory, but I believe everyone has a good gift that can be used.
I love to hear stories of people using some unique gifts for God's glory. I was talking with a group of people about offering some events for young adults and their families. One of the guys threw out how much he enjoys fishing and he would be willing to help people fish. Now, I am not sure fishing is a spiritual gift (although Jesus also taught some fishing), but we are going to offer a fishing event in June for young adults and their families. I am excited to see the blessings God will bring for this gift being offered.
I also think that if everyone is using their spiritual gifts that "rewards" are being given. I am not sure that is the right way to say it, but I believe when you use your spiritual gifts God returns a blessing for your efforts. It may come in many ways and maybe we might not recognize it at first, but when we use our spiritual gifts God produces some fruit. There are spiritual "rewards" that come with using our gifts.
I also think the church should become gifted at giving thanks. We have a group in our church who is focused on giving thanks. Their work is to try to recognize and appreciate those who have given of themselves to God's work. We still miss saying thank you from time to time, but we can always strive to be thankful for all those who offer what they have to building God's kingdom.
If everyone used the spiritual gifts I believe this world would be transformed. When people use the gifts God has given them people are touched with God's love, both those serving and those being served. Find your gifts and use them for God's glory.

Monday, May 17, 2010

What if...you knew God's plan for you?

Many Christians talk about wanting to know God's plan. We want God to tell us what to do with our lives, so that we can know for sure that we are doing what is pleasing to God. This is not a bad thing at all. However, it can make life difficult if we worry ourselves so much that we are scared to move without knowing for sure God wants us to or if we just sit around and wait for God's specific instructions.
Jeremiah 29:11 says, "I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord. This passage has brought me peace and confidence in knowing that God has a plan. However, I just recently noticed it does not say that I get to know the plan. The verse says that God knows it, but in verse 13 of that chapter it says I have to seek God to know the plan.
I compare the way God shares his plan with us to how I read I Spy books with my son. Jamison loves I Spy books, which have a picture of a jumbled mess and instructions on what random objects to find in the mess. I am excellent at spying. And I could go from page to page telling Jamison where all the objects are, but that is not what he wants. To him the point is not just to find the objects, but for us to look as a team. He wants to find some of them, and he wants me to find some of them. Reading those books is about us doing it together.
I believe God's plan for your life works in a similar way. God can and God may share all the specific details of his plan for you. That does happen and it has happened with me from time to time. However, most of the time God reveals the plan as you live life with God. Jesus tells us to love God and love others. As we do that I believe God reveals his plan before us. Sometimes we see it for ourselves and other times God will point the way.
Either way, God goes with us. And this is a true blessing in life. Instead of a God who micromanages us, we have a God who wants to experience life with us. God wants to join you in the journey of discovering all he made you to be.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Moms

I know all of you were probably looking forward to a blog full of stories on how my mom is the greatest mom in the world, but I also want you share about your moms. God has called all of us to honor our mothers, so share a story with me and others about your wonderful mom.
I will go first. My mom is the best because she never gives up. When my parents divorced I was 3, my sister was 1 and my brother was 5. Mom worked at home offering childcare in order to care for us and pay the bills. When we were older, she was told she could no longer have so many kids to care for, which meant her income would not be enough. So she had to get a job outside the home. This whole time she also had a Saturday job and worked as the handbell choir director at our church.
Mom is a hard worker and is willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done. I want to be like her when I grow up.
Why is your mom wonderful?

Monday, May 3, 2010

Work in Progress


The children led our worship services yesterday and their theme was "Kids Under Construction." They focused on the fact that God has a plan for us and that God is working on us. (By the way, they did a wonderful job of sharing God's message with us. I had several people tell me it was the best sermon I ever preached.)
My favorite thought from this construction theme is that as Christians we are works in progress. In those times I fall short, I try to remember that God is not finished with me yet. There is still more work God needs to do in me to grow my patience, my compassion, and my delegating. The list could go on.
There is more work God has to do in you as well. If you ever think you are finished, that God is done working on you, then you better think again. God will continue the work he started in you until you reach perfection. This is a Wesleyan thought. John Wesley believed God will work on us until we reach Christian perfection.
Reaching Christian perfection does not mean we are perfect people who never make mistakes. Rather, it means we act out of perfect Christian love. When we act out of love for others this does not mean everything goes perfect, but it does mean we have attempted to move in love. Even when we move in love we need to be sure it is God's love and not our love that is leading us. Even John Wesley believed very few of us will get to this point in our earthly life, of course in heaven we will be perfected.
With this idea of Christian perfection we need to balance the idea that we are works in progress. So, remember God continues to call you to work and grow towards Christian perfection, that is a great goal to have before us. At the same time, don't get down on yourself because you are not there yet, it does not happen overnight. Just like the kids sang, we are full of possibilities. We can make progress as God's love fills our lives.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Live by Faith

I want to invite you to think about your life and where you live by faith. What I mean by living by faith is where do you believe God is working in your life. Many areas of our life are under our control. We make the decisions of what to do and go where we think we can get ourselves to go. We rely only on ourselves.
When we live by faith, we are going as far as we can go with ourselves and then trusting God will take us the rest of the way. We believe, by faith, that God will do more in our lives then we can do ourselves. And this is not wishful thinking or even hoping God will work, but it is more like expecting or knowing God will work.
What does this look like? Well, United Methodists have a membership pledge they make as they join the church and they renew those vows each time new members join. So I took the five pieces of that pledge and asked what it might look like to live by faith in those areas. The pledge says a United Methodist will be faithful in their prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness.
Prayers - Is your prayer life a place of faith? You know praying is not about you and yet you feel called to be praying specifically for others.
Presence - Maybe just coming to worship is an act of faith for you right now. You are not really sure about this church thing, but you are living by faith that if you show up to church God might work in your life.
Gifts - Do you give faithfully to others? When you look at your checkbook is your faith represented there?
Service - Are you involved in a ministry that you believe God is working in?
Witness - Is your life as a whole an example of living faith? Or are you pretty much in control of everything allowing little room for God to work?
I have felt challenged in my life to be sure that I am giving my all, but also living by faith that God will do more than I ever could. I hope you will look for the ways you are already living by faith and praise God for his work there. Also, look for an area you might need to add some faith to what you are doing.
When we live by faith, God's light shines through us and God will do amazing things.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Skilled Team

In Matthew 5:14-16, Jesus calls us to be the light of the world and compares us to a city on a hill. As I thought about a city on a hill I noticed Jesus did not call us to be a lighthouse on a hill here. A lighthouse gives off light and would not be able to hide on a hill. But a lighthouse is just one light, where a city is filled with many lights.
This reminded me that we are called to be the light of the world as a city, a community, a team. We are not called to shine alone, but with others. And I love being a part of a team because we can do so much more with a team than on our own.
A few weeks ago I went with a team over to Cedar Rapids to do some flood recovery work. There were 9 of us who went and I was the least skilled person there (which included an 8th grader). If the project had been left in my hands not much would have been accomplished. However, there was a role for me to play. I was the "gopher." I would go for this and that.
I ran to Lowe's and made sure everyone had what they needed so they could do their work. My role felt small at times, but I also know it was a needed role in the group. Because of my help the skilled guys could tear out a bad wall and build a new one. Our group worked together to put in new windows and prepare the home for siding. We got some good work done only because we each did our part, and together we did more than we could have alone.
Part of our Christian faith is letting our light shine with others. We cannot live the Christian life alone. We need to work together because each of us has a part to play in the marvelous plan God has for this world. This plan is too large for just one person, it will take all of us working together to be a city on hill that will shine God's light on the world. Don't forget that you are a part of this skilled team.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Easter Experience


I missed blogging last week because I left for vacation, but I still want to focus on Easter. Of course, we celebrate Easter on that one special Sunday each year, but every Sunday is also supposed to be celebrated like "a little Easter." Easter is the celebration of the empty tomb and the risen Messiah, and that should be celebrated every day.
So, what does Easter mean to you? What does Jesus rising from the grave mean to you?
Easter reminds me that God overcomes all things. No matter the hurdle placed before God he can overcome it, even death. This gives me courage when facing obstacles because I know if God wants me to get over it God will make a way for it to happen. This does not mean I sit and wait for God to do everything, but I participate with God in getting over the obstacle.
Easter also reminds me of the great lengths God went through to prove his love for me. It took Jesus giving his life to forgive my sins and his resurrection to show his ability to offer that forgiveness. Sometimes it is hard to believe God would go through all of that for me, but it is true. It is true for you too.
Easter also reminds me that because Jesus is risen and alive he is present with me every day. I can have experiences with God because He is alive and active today. If I will just keep my eyes open God will be present with me in everything I do. I love seeing God work and experiencing his presence.
Without Easter our faith would not be the same. It is because of Jesus' resurrection from the dead that we can know God and his love and grace in our lives. What does Easter mean to you?

Monday, March 29, 2010

The Cross


We have been focusing on the last 24 hours of Jesus' life and today we go through his final 6 hours, which were spent on the cross. Mark 15:25-39 tells us part of the story of Jesus' time on the cross.
Crucifixion is one of the most inhumane forms of execution. The person is made to suffer terrible pain. The point of crucifixion was to help the person live as long as they could before they died. The Romans used this as a deterrent for crime. People who had seen a crucifixion would not want it to be them on the cross.
As we look at the cross I want you to think about what it means to you.
This past weekend I went with a small team to Cedar Rapids to do some flood recovery work. I am from that area, but had not been into the neighborhoods since the floods and I was amazed at home much work is left to be done coming on two years after the floods. One of the jobs I worked on was to cover the outer walls of a house with green guard. The siding will then be put up over this guard.
The guard comes in a long 4 foot sheet folded every 2 feet, but the total length is probably 40 feet or so. The math geek in me came out as I start to try to figure out the best way to cover the walls without wasting any of the green guard. You have to figure in doors, windows and all of that.
Near the end of the project I was using the small scrap pieces to cover the last part of our wall because I did not want to waste any. I hate to waste stuff. I try to get all I can out of the things I have or use. But then I was thinking this morning that when I use the small scraps I may not be doing a good job of being efficient because I used more nails for each small piece than if it were a larger piece.
Anyway, when I look at the cross I see a great sacrifice. I see a price that was paid for me. And again, I do not like to waste things, so I do not want to waste that sacrifice. I want to live my life to the fullest in a way that brings glory to God.
I see many other images in the cross because it is a powerful symbol of our faith. What is it that you see in the cross?

Monday, March 22, 2010

He Can Take It


We are continuing our focus on the last 24 hours of Jesus' life. Today we are reflecting on the torture and mocking of Jesus found in Mark 15:15b-20.
First Jesus was flogged, which means he was whipped all over his body. Usually they would flog the person's back and then their front. Flogging was not meant to kill someone, but to torture them. It was designed to cause as much pain as possible without killing the person.
Then the scripture said the whole company came out to mock Jesus. This would have been between 300 and 600 men. They put a purple robe on Jesus and a crown of thorns. This was to pretend he was a king.
It is hard for me to fully see this picture in my mind of my Lord and Savior being beaten and mocked. It is hard to image that he endured this pain and suffering even though he could have stopped it if he had chosen to. Yet we do not want to overlook this part of Jesus' final hours.
As we have been putting ourselves into the story it has often been as a follower of Jesus. In this part of the story there is not much room for that. I think we need to see ourselves as one of the company of soldiers. It was our punishment and pain that Jesus was enduring. It is almost like each one of us were represented in those soldiers. The times I sin and go against God's will for me, it is like I have taken a whip or a rod and caused my Lord pain. It hurts him when I hurt others or myself with my thoughts, words and actions.
Those soldiers also represent the cruelty of humanity and show our brokenness. If I continue to live in that brokenness I will continue to be cruel and hurtful. I need to recognize this brokenness inside myself if I am going to change. So I invite you to remember your brokenness, acknowledge it, and then offer it to God. We all have caused our Lord to suffer. But we can give him our brokenness, and he can take it.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Pilate's Proposal


In Mark 15:1-15 we see Jesus on trial before Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, which is the southern part of Israel. Pilate does not really seem that interested in having Jesus crucified, so he offers a choice to the crowd that has gathered. He offers to free Jesus or Barabbas.
We believe Jesus to be a kind and loving person. He was a man who healed the sick and lame. He challenged people to not just be good, but to be compassionate.
Then on the other side is Barabbas. From what we are told he is part of a rebellion against Rome. To the people of Israel this is not a bad thing because he was fighting for their freedom. He was also a murderer. He had killed at least one person in this pursuit of freeing Israel.
If you watch the Passion of Christ movie by Mel Gibson, you will see his idea of Barabbas is this gross barbarian. One person described him as an animal. I think Mel was emphasizing the fact that it seemed Pilate wanted to put someone next to Jesus that was the opposite. He wanted someone next to Jesus who had never done anything right compared to Jesus who always did the right thing. Pilate was trying to make the choice easy for the crowd.
However, they called for Barabbas to be freed. Again in the movie, as the crowd calls for Barabbas it looks like the whole crowd is calling for him. Everyone except two figures in the middle of the screen. You only see them for a few seconds, but it is the disciple John and Jesus' mother Mary. Both are standing silent.
What would you have done in the midst of that crowd?
I would like to think I could have yelled my vote for Jesus to be released over Barabbas. I would have gone along with Pilate's proposal. He wanted to free Jesus and I would have agreed. But I wonder if my voice would have been heard. Would it have been drowned out by the rest of the crowd? Would I have stopped yelling when it was obvious my voice was not making a difference?
Sometimes in life we will see obvious choices and yet others will not want that choice. Will we continue to cry out or will we be silent?

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Denial of Peter


As we continue through the final 24 hours of Jesus' life we are in the wee hours of Friday morning. Jesus was arrested between 1 and 3 in the morning. He was taken to a cell at the house of the high priest and held there until the council of religious leaders could be assembled. Once they were assembled they tried Jesus for blasphemy and found him guilty and sentenced him to death.
While this was going on inside the house of the high priest, Peter is warming himself by a fire in the courtyard. He is trying to see what is happening to his teacher. However, he is also trying not to draw attention to himself. He wants to blend into the crowd so not to be noticed and connected to Jesus for fear he will be arrested too.
If you know the rest of the story you know that Peter was not able to stay in the background. A servant girl first recognized him and he denied knowing Jesus. Two more times people asked if he was a friend of Jesus and two more times he denied it even calling curses on himself if he was lying. Then a rooster crowed and Peter remember Jesus had told him this would happen, and Peter wept.
I want to invite you to try to put yourself into Peter's shoes. How would you have responded to such questioning? Maybe a better question is, would you have had the courage to even be in the courtyard when he was? No other disciples is to be found at this time. Peter had courage enough to follow Jesus to the high priest's house, but lost his courage when questioned. Where would you be?
I had one person yesterday ask me why Peter did not go for help. I don't know the answer to that, but that was a good thought. What if instead of staying close Peter had gone to gather the other disciples and brought all of them to support Jesus. I usually like to face tough times with other people, so I would hope I would have thought of something like that. Jesus had more followers than just the 12 disciples. At one time he sent out 70 followers to do ministry. Peter could have gathered a large group to support Jesus, but instead he was there alone.
Of course, I want to say I would not have denied Jesus like Peter did, but I also think Peter is bold and brash and if anyone would stand strong in a crowd he would be someone who would. So if he couldn't then the surrounding situation must have been intimidating.
This story in Peter's life does challenge me to do more than just say I would not have denied Jesus, but rather to work at not denying Jesus in my life. Each day we have chances to deny Jesus by things we say or do that are not pleasing to God. Things we have justified by saying everyone else is doing it or I am not hurting anyone. The crowd is not concerned about our denial, but I know God is. God wants us to follow His example and always treat others with compassion. God wants our lives to show his love and grace to everyone, including ourselves and those we may not like. I accept that challenge and will strive to live it. How about you?

Monday, March 1, 2010

In the Garden

The second event of the last 24 hours of Jesus' life take place in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:32-42). This was a garden filled with olive trees. The word gethsemane means olive press, so somewhere in the garden there was an olive press. An olive press was a large smooth stone with a round stone that would be pushed around to squeeze the oil out of the olives. Did you know half of the weight of a fresh olive is oil? Useless fact, I know, but at least you learned something today, right?
I found it interesting that this garden was named for an olive press as this garden is known as the place Jesus came to pray before he was arrested, tortured and crucified. Jesus probably felt like an olive in a press this night as the pressure of what was about to happen was coming down on Jesus. The pressure of what Jesus saw coming was driving him to his knees.
It was after midnight that Jesus and his disciples arrived in the garden. Jesus asked his disciples to pray and yet they kept falling asleep. We know Jesus was praying to God that there was another way to redeem humanity other than his torture and death. However, Jesus was going to give his life if that was what God asked him to do.
Again I want to think about what it would have been like to be one of Jesus' disciples in this situation. When Jesus asked his disciples to pray
they had no clue what was about to happen. I probably would have fallen asleep just like the disciples did. For one thing, I am not a night person. I have a hard time staying up until 10:30pm. Another thing is that not knowing what was about to happen I probably would not have been really excited to pray. If I knew what was going to happen I would have been devoted in prayer, but not seeing the significance of that night I would have been more lazy in my prayers. I wish this was not the case, but there are times I am more fervent in my prayers than others.
Routine prayers don't usually get me so excited that I could pray for hours. When I do have a specific prayer concern or my spirit is given direction then I can be drawn passionately into my prayer time. I would have hoped given the situation the disciples were in that my spirit would have been so connected to God that I would have been drawn into prayer, but I can't say for sure that would have happened since it didn't with the disciples. They fell asleep and Jesus was left alone in prayer to struggle with his impending death. At the end of this prayer time Judas enters the scene with a crowd of armed guards. Judas greeted Jesus with a kiss on the cheek and then Jesus was arrested.
How do you react when the pressures of the world are coming down on you? Do you turn to prayer? Also, how faithful are you to be in prayer for those around you? When Jesus needed the disciples in prayer the most, they fell asleep. Will we do the same for those around us or will we dedicate ourselves to praying for others?

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Last Supper


During the six Sundays in Lent I am going to be focused on some significant moments in the last 24 hours of Jesus' life. The main question I want to wrestle with is what it would have been like to be a follower of Jesus during those final hours? And I think there are two ways to look at this question. First you could look for what that moment was like as it actually occurred. However, you could also think about how that event would have changed in your mind looking back, after Jesus was raised from the dead.
The first event that the final 24 hours of Jesus' life was the Last Supper (Mark 14:12-25). Jesus and his disciples were celebrating the Passover. This was a tradition of remembering the deliverance from slavery in Egypt for the people of Israel. They celebrated this meal every year. The disciples may have just been going through the motions until Jesus changed the tradition and took bread, blessed it and broke it. He gave it to them saying it represented his body. Next he took a cup and blessed it and gave it to each of them. He said this wine represented his blood of the covenant. At this meal we also know Jesus washed his disciples feet as a symbol of his servanthood to them. He also informed them that he would be betrayed by one of them and Peter would deny him.
For me this would have been a lot to take in. I think in the moment I would have been trying to figure things out. I do not think it would have made a lot of sense to me, but I also would have thought it was meaningful. I enjoy it when people take something I think I have figured out and then they make me think a little more. By changing what the disciples were used to Jesus challenged them to open their hearts and minds and to look past what they already thought they knew.
If I were looking back after Jesus' resurrection, I think I would have really treasured the Last Supper. I would have felt like Jesus was drawing strength from having his closest friends surround him as he faced his final hours. And I would probably have never have let that sacred time escape my memory.
What about you? What would you have thought or felt if you were present for the Last Supper?

Monday, February 15, 2010

Get Ready

First I want to praise God for the youth who led worship yesterday. You did a wonderful job at offering a worship service that did touch many lives. I had many people make positive comments to me. So great job!
I think God was leading our youth to help all of us get ready for Lent which begins with Ash Wednesday this week. Then starting next Sunday we will be focusing during Lent on the last 24 hours of Jesus' life. There is a video introducing this series on our church webpage. During the six Sundays of Lent we will remember the Last Supper, Jesus' prayer in the garden, Jesus' time being tried and tortured, and finally the crucifixion. All of this is to get us ready for a wonderful celebration of Easter.
If we want a joyous Easter we need to get ready by remembering what Jesus went through to get there. Jesus did not just have a nice wonderful life on earth and rise to heaven. He had a life of wonderful ministry, but also difficulty, temptation, and suffering. When we better understand what Jesus went through for us, we become ready to celebrate Easter more fully. My hope is also that we do not just celebrate Easter on that one Sunday a year we call Easter, but that each and every day becomes an "Easter" for us, as we rise each day to praise and serve God.
So I hope you will join me over these next six weeks of Lent and then the grand celebration of Easter. My hope is to reconnect with Jesus' last hours that we might experience God's work in those moments and what God is doing today. Get ready because God has big plans for this Lent.

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Mission is Here and There

Yesterday the coordinator for disaster relief who has organized much of the ministry for the United Methodist Church following the Floods of 2008 in Cedar Rapids spoke to our congregation. She shared many wonderful stories of how God has worked to help people, not only get back into their homes, but to move their lives in a positive direction. I felt it was very encouraging that God is still working in disaster areas.
She encouraged us as we plan to go for a day of work in March to help with flood recovery. There will be plenty of ministry work to be done and I know we have many gifted people that will be able to go and offer their service, whether that is making cookies, decorating cards, or putting up drywall.
She also reminded us that the ministry of service can be done to touch lives right here at home. We can go to Cedar Rapids to serve, but there is plenty to do here as well. We can serve an elderly person that needs some muscle to fix something. We can serve a parent of a teenager by listening to their frustrations. We can serve someone new to the community by inviting them to coffee. We can serve people right here in our midst.
So, I too encourage you to serve. The mission of service will take you great places, but it is also always around you waiting here at home. I encourage my congregation to get ready to serve as we move into Lent. As a part of our 24 Hours that Changed the World series where we will focus on the last 24 hours of Jesus' life, we will also be challenged to offer 2,400 (twenty-four hundred) hours of service. This service can be here or there, it can be anywhere, as long as you are offering your time and energy to serve others as you serve the Lord.
If you are looking forward to this and want to share ideas of where to serve please post a comment to this blog. You might be doing some unique service that others may want to join. Or you may have an idea of how to get someone else involved in service that is not currently doing something. We all have something to offer and we just need to find the right place to offer our gifts.
Go and serve the Lord, here and there.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Primary Faith Giver

I found an interesting piece of Cain's story in Genesis 4:17. After Cain has murdered his brother Abel and become a wanderer he tries to settle down. He has a son, Enoch and then builds a city for him. There is not much more said in the scripture about this piece of the story, but my mind begins to wonder why he built a city for his son?
That is a pretty nice gift to give your child. There is no way my kids will receive a city from me. Not that I don't want to give them one. I mean I want to give them the world, but I just can't. Where I finally felt this question lead me to was that Cain, the wanderer, did not want his son to be a wanderer. He wanted more for his son, then what he had. So he built his son a city so that he will always have a place to stay and he won't have to wander. I think that makes sense and a reasonable person might do the same thing.
However since I know Cain's story (Genesis 4:1-16) I know he is not a wanderer because he did not have a city or home of his own. He did have a place to live until he made some bad choices and was cursed by God to become a wanderer. He murdered his brother, lied to God and was sent from God's presence. He was a wanderer because his relationship with God and others had been broken. He seems to think building a city will fix this problem.
As parents we do often want to give our children what we did not have. We want to fix the problems of our childhood by giving our children all the things we never had. I do not think this is completely a bad thing, but I sometimes doubt that is the appropriate way to solve the issues we are trying to solve. Cain tried to solve a spiritual issue with a physical gift. Instead of trying to solve a spiritual issue with a spiritual gift. What if instead of a city he had built his son a sanctuary? What if he gave his son a place to build a good relationship with God and maybe even to mend his broken relationship.
As parents, I believe we can really bless our children by giving them a gift we have in our relationship with God. Of course, we cannot just hand them this gift, but we can pass it on to them by living our faith in front of them. We can pass it on by reading the Bible with them, asking questions about what God is doing in this world, and letting them know why we love and serve God. If our faith is important to us, it can become important to them.
As parents you should be the primary faith giver to your children. The church can help, but it is up to you to live it each day.
We are now finishing our series on parenting, but keep talking with others about raising our children and be encouraged that God has called you to raise your children. Let me know if you have questions of how to pass on your faith more effectively or any other parenting questions. I know the task is not easy, but through Christ we can do all things.