God uses the ordinary

When many of us think of an evangelist, we think of someone who has much more st20patrick20shamrock20imagepersonality or knowledge of the Bible than us.  An evangelist is a someone who has great faith, much more than ordinary folks like us.  Or, at least, that is what we imagine.  The truth is that evangelists are ordinary people who seek to do what God wants everyone to do.  God wants us to share our faith with others so that they might find their own faith in Jesus.  We tell others how faith shapes and informs our lives so that they can be open to the possibility of faith in their own life.  It is like sharing the insider information for life.  We go to those around us to find service providers, such as mechanics and hair dressers,  so we do the same thing with something much more important.

St. Patrick’s Day is known for the joyous celebration of Irish heritage, green beer, and leprechauns.  Yet, if we take the time to look up St. Patrick, we find someone who went from a wealthy family to being kidnapped.  He was forced to be a slave in Ireland.  While a slave, he heard God calling him to flee Ireland.  Eventually, he went back to Ireland to share his faith with the people.  The place of his enslavement was also the place where he reached out to others.  Many accounts paint him as an ordinary person, although we don’t know much about him.  We think that he probably died on March 17, so we celebrate St. Patrick’s Day on that day.

We learn from him that no matter what our background, God can use us.  We are all called to share our faith.  God can use each one of us, but we have to open ourselves to God’s call on our lives.  As we move through the season of Lent, I wonder what God is calling you to do.  It may be that God is calling you to invite friends and family to worship with you on Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday.  It can be about more than eggs and bunnies.  It can be an opportunity to share faith.  St. Patrick used ordinary items to share faith.  What will you use?

Learning Together

dog_on_computerfeature“You can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” is a saying that most of us have probably heard.  But, we are not dogs!  We are followers of Jesus.  We are people who continue to grow and learn until our lives are over.  The cartilage in our bodies continues to grow, including our noses and ears.  We also can continue to grow in wisdom and knowledge of God.

This spiritual discipline is an act of piety.  It allows us to reflect upon our lives and God.  These acts of reflection prepare us to receive God’s grace more fully.  Study allows our minds to grow.  When we study with a group of other people, we are able to grow even more because we have the benefit of their knowledge.  We can learn more when we study together.

We also have the chance to grow our relationships with others which is an added benefit growing-in-christ-300x200to becoming involved in a study or small group.  Church membership is not required to get involved.  Below are some of the types of classes and groups:

Bible Study:  God has given us the Bible so that we may learn about God.  There are many ways to study the Bible.  Some of these studies occur during a morning class such as Sunday school.  Some of these are long term studies.  Others focus on a specific biblical theme.

Virtual Classes: These on-line classes offer a digital class experience.  Some of the course are at a specific time and offer interaction with the group while others are done at your own pace and in your own time.  Many of these are offered through the United Methodist Church.

Workshops: These are usually one or two days and focus on a specific topic.  We often have workshops with outside trainers and teachers to gain new knowledge.

Book Study: The number of times these groups gather can vary.  Some will meet once to discuss a specific book while other groups will meet over a course of weeks to glean insight from a book.  These are great opportunities for those who like to have time to process information before sharing thoughts about the information presented.

Thematic Study: Sometimes we want to delve into a topic or theme.  These studies can vary in length, but they are usually focused around a specific topic.  Our church is focusing on spiritual disciplines, so we will have a study on prayer as well as Sabbath.

There are many types of classes and ways to get involved.  The important thing is that we never stop growing.  In order to grow, we must find time for growth, study, and fellowship.

God is Love

Celebrating Valentine’s Day can be a joy or a burden.  Some struggle with the constant reminders of romantic love.  Some struggle with the pressure to buy traditional gifts regardless of personal preference or finance.  Some mourn a love lost.  Some mourn a love that has never been. Others are truly celebrating.  They are full of love and want the whole world to know.  There are often surprises for some and for others life changing decisions.  No matter how you feel about Valentine’s Day, God loves you.

Gogod_is_love_by_kpmoorse-d2yxhq9d loves you completely and unconditionally.  It is a love larger than any love that one person can feel for another person.  It is a love larger than what we feel for ourselves at times.  It is a love that is present before we are even aware, and it is a love that continues always.  This love is not only for us, but it is a love God has for everyone.

This Valentine’s Day maybe we should consider how we respond to God’s love.  In this season of reflection and preparation, maybe it is time that we look at how we share God’s love with others in the world.  Are we as loving as we can be, or are we pre-occupied with our own feelings?  Are we wrapped up in ourselves and our circle of friends, or do we consider those beyond our personal circle?  Do you show care for those in your daily life, or do you demand that they march to the beat of your drum?

Many in our world spend a great deal of time and energy on fi59232-god-is-lovending and cultivating a romantic love.  What if you gave God a tenth of that time to showing love to other people?  If we reached out to one new person each day for the rest of Lent, would our perspective change?

 

Ashes, Ashes, We All Fall Down

This week we will have a special service, held only once a year.  It is Ash Wednesday, and it marks the beginning of Lent.  Even if you have not been to this type of service, you may have seen folks with black smudged crosses on their foreheads.

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It is not like most of our worship experiences, and some of us may not even realize why there are black smudged crosses on people’s foreheads.  The ashes are placed on us, sometimes even on the head, to remind us that we are made from dust and to dust we shall return.  As human beings we have a finite life.  We will all die.  We remember that this is because of our sin, the sin we personally have committed as well as the sins of all of humanity.  From the beginning of creation we have disobeyed God’s law.

Yet, we know the rest of the story.  Because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we have life forever in the Kingdom of God. He paid for our sin with his own life.  He conquered death so that we can live in God’s kingdom forever.

During the season of Lent, we remember our sin and the sacrificial love of Jesus.  We seek to draw closer to the One who gave all for us.  As we reflect on our sin and God’s love for us, we are preparing for the Easter celebration. When Easter comes, we are then able to more fully participate in the gift of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.

 

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Are You Ready

Are you ready? This is a question we ask ourselves as well as others. We ask others if they are ready when it is time to go or begin. We ask ourselves if we have everything we need for an event, journey or process. We are checked for readiness for medical procedures, roller coaster rides,worship experiences, and leaving our home.

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     I wonder how many of us think about getting ready for Easter. Yes, many of us think about our plans for Easter dinner, travel plans for visiting family, Easter basket ingredients, egg hunting locations, and many of the extras of Easter. Yet, these are the extras.  The central event of Easter is worshiping the One who has transformed our lives and our world. How do we get ready to worship the one who conquered death?
     Many of us get ready for Easter in a season of preparation called Lent. This season begins on Ash Wednesday, which is February 10 this year. It is a season when we take time to reflect on what God was and is doing for us. We are all sinners.  We all have actions, attitudes,thoughts, feelings, tendencies, and other things that separate us from God. Yet God loves us and wants a relationship with us. God loves us and is willing to do things in order for us to have forgiveness of our sins and be in a restored relationship with God. Many choose a spiritual discipline of self denial during this time to remember how much God is willing to do for us. We find that the disciplines of denial such as fasting or giving up something help us to prepare our whole selves for the celebration of Easter.
     I wonder how we get ready to worship God on Easter or any other day?  Do you prepare yourself?  Is there something we need to be doing to prepare for the seasons of life that are ahead of us?  Do we need to practice a new spiritual discipline in order to help our church be what God wants it to be?  I want to encourage you to pray for our congregation everyday.  Pray for our church leadership.  Pray for transformation.  Pray that we will be the church God wants us to be.

Spiritual Disciplines

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During  the last few weeks, St. Paul’s United Methodist Church has been encouraged to respond to God’s grace by practicing a spiritual discipline. Do you wonder what that means? Sure, you may have heard all of those words before, but what exactly are we talking about? That is what we are here to find out.

First, we are United Methodists. There are plenty of other Christians that have their own ideas about spiritual disciplines. We take our ideas from the Bible and John Wesley. We believe that grace is a gift from God. God reaches out to us across the gulf of sin that we have created and draws us to God. This is not something we can earn. Even though we cannot earn grace, we are not to be idly waiting for it either. We are to do what we can to make ourselves ready to receive the gift.

We get ready to receive the gift of grace by practicing spiritual disciplines. They are preparations we make in our hearts and lives so that we have a place for grace to reside. It is like gardening. Sometimes wild plants and flowers spring up in unexpected places, but there is a greater chance of growth if we properly prepare. We till the soil, prune the bushes, and provide a hospitable environment for the process of going from a seed to a thriving plant. We are getting ourselves ready for grace to grow.

The first group of spiritual disciplines, which help us be prepared for grace, are known as works of piety. These actions of faith can be thought of as activities that allow us to focus on our inward life. They give us opportunities to ponder our lives and God’s call on our lives. Some of these spiritual disciplines are: prayer, scripture reading, regular worship attendance, and fasting.

The second group of spiritual disciplines, which help us be prepared for grace, are works of mercy. These all help us see that we are not alone. There are many in the world around us. These people with us in the world are all created in the image of God, and they need us. Some of these are: feeding the hungry, fighting oppression, and caring for others. In the coming weeks we will share more of the specific spiritual disciplines. Are you practicing spiritual disciplines, and do you want to do more?

God’s Calling in 2016

godscallingThe beginning of the year is a time of mixed emotions.  First, there is excitement for the opportunity for a new beginning. It is a chance for a fresh start, and it seems that anything is possible. Then, there is the other side.  We have to un-decorate, return things that don’t fit, get caught up at work, and get back into our regular routines.

 

Maybe you have the same mixed emotions.  Sometimes the down-side is more prevalent than the possible-side. Maybe you feel more slug-like than hopeful.  The good news is that we are not ruled by our emotions. We can make decisions based on more than just how we are feeling.  We can include our thoughts and God’s calling. We can make a choice to do what God is calling us to do even if we are feeling slug-like. This means that even if you feel overwhelmed, there is still a choice to make changes.  There is a choice to do what God calls us to in the midst of holiday recovery.

 

One of the things I would like to encourage you to consider and pray about is your spiritual life and its connection to your daily activities. We often get stuck in a pattern of doing the same things rather than trying to do a new thing.  For example, we go to work and come home every evening.  We are bored with watching television every night, but we don’t do anything else.  We know that there is a Bible study, but you are in the habit of going home.  Perhaps you always volunteer once a month for children’s church.  You see a need for someone to help with the altar displays, but you worry that people may not want you to get involved. Perhaps your church needs your help.

 

It is hard to do a new thing, but God is calling us to be transformed. God is calling us to use our gifts in this new year for God’s glory.  God is calling us to help transform the world, no matter if you feeling hopeful or slug-like.  Be open to what God is calling you to do.  Is God calling you to participate in a study?  Is God calling you to get more involved in church?  Is God calling you to try something new?  Trust in God’s calling rather than being tossed about by fickle emotions.

 

I am praying that you will listen to the Spirit rather than be ruled by your emotions.  I pray that this will be a year of transformation, your transformation and the transformation of the world around you by God’s work through you.  Happy New Year!

 

One Conversation

     Are your eyes open to the possibilities around you?  I confess that I am often so tuned in to my own life, thoughts, issues, lists, plans, and conundrums, that I can be almost oblivious to the world around me.  However, our church is involved in a new endeavor.  It is called Reaching New People.  Basically, this is a new ministry in which the church tries to build relationships with people outside of the church.  We ask that church members try to build connections with non-church members.  Eventually, these relationships will lead those outside the church to be curious about the church.
     Another part of this ministry is to get the pastor out of the church.  I am supposed to be building relationships with people outside of our church instead of staying insulated in my office.  I must confess that this is a little intimidating.  How does one approach total strangers?  How do I move beyond a few casual words of greeting to establish more of a relationship.  I was coached to have a question ready.  I still felt awkward.  However, I want to help grow the church.  I know that my life is better because I have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  I want others to have that same experience.  Because this is important to me, I’m willing to be a little awkward.  I’m willing to be a lot awkward.
     It was suggested that I get out into the community in places that invite conversation.  I go to several places including a couple of nearby coffee shops. I decided that one of the things missing in these adventures in awkwardness was prayer.  We have a goal of a prayer team for our events, but we do not have anyone covering our Reaching New People in prayer.  This time I prayed before I entered the coffee shop.  I confess that it was a prayer of almost desperation.  Lord, please let me find someone to talk to!.
     I walked in to a new coffee shop.  There were very few people in the shop.  I found one outlet.  It was at the table next to one of the few patrons.  I looked at the patron.  He was in scrubs!  Well, there is a conversation starter.  I began by assuring him that I was not trying to invade his space.  I told him he was sitting next to the outlet.  There was a brief exchange.  It was not earth shattering conversation.  It also was not awkward.  I just talked, listened, and shared.
     Thank you, Jesus, for non-awkward conversations.  I hope you will pray for me as I continue to search for ways to be in connection with the community.  I hope that these regular conversations will open the door for God to move in my life and in the lives of others.  I also hope that  you will be reaching out to new people, making connections, and transforming the world.  We serve a Savior who invited a few close friends into fellowship.  Then, they went about changing the world.  We can change the world as well, one conversation at a time.

Learning from Patrick

St. Patrick’s Day is a celebration.  There are parades, traditional foods, and wearing of the green.  While I have never really understood dying beer green, I understand the desire for cultural celebrations.  Yet, there is so much more to the person who became a symbol of Ireland.  He teaches us about hardship, calling, and sharing our faith.  First the hardship was when he was enslaved by Irish people.  He was captured in his homeland and taken off away from his family and country.  During his captivity, he prayed to God.  While most of us are not literally taken prisoner, we are enslaved to things and situations.  We cannot seem to free ourselves from the things which bind us.  It may be a toxic relationship, an addiction, or anything that keeps us from the life God is calling us to live.  It is only by God’s grace

e that Patrick was able to escape his captivity.  It is only by God’s grace that we are able to escape the things which enslave us.

 

 The second thing we learn from Patrick is to listen when God calls.  We are often so busy in our own affairs, that we don’t give God room or time to speak in our lives.  We are so over-tired that we do not remember our dreams.  We are so overwhelmed by noise and activity that there is no chance for us to listen.  We need those moments when we can say, like Samuel, “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.”  When Patrick listed, he was called back to the island and people of Ireland.  He responded to their need.  He responded to God’s call by returning to Ireland from Britain.
Finally, Patrick teaches us to share our faith.  We can use ordinary means to reach out, explain, and communicate.  Patrick used a shamrock to explain the Trinity.  We can use the ordinary things around us to communicate our faith.  Often, we say nothing.  We don’t talk about what we believe.  We tell ourselves that we don’t want to offend anyone.  We tell ourselves that faith is too private to share with others.  The truth is, we may be the only way another person will learn what it is to live a life of faith.  Perhaps the most important lesson of St. Patrick’s Day is not learning about Irish culture, but sharing the Christian culture.

 

 

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