When many of us think of an evangelist, we think of someone who has much more personality 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?
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.
God 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 finding 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?
We hear this question during this time of year. Some of us even give something up. Why? We know that at times there are assorted medical tests and procedures that require fasting, but those are for accurate results or avoiding potential problems. These are about physical well-being, not about spiritual disciplines. Some have fasted in protest of an unjust practice. This is not a spiritual discipline, but it is a response to a human behavior.
Giving up something or fasting is a way for us to grow in our spiritual lives. As we deny ourselves, we are able to become more aware of God’s sacrificial gift for us. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, fasted weekly. Fasting allows us to pay penitence for our overindulgences. It also allows more time for prayer. We fast from something we depend on so that we may more fully depend on God. Many of us think of a traditional fast, such as giving up food or drink. However, there are other types of fasts. Some give-up social media for Lent. Still others abstain from meat during Lent.
Consider this spiritual discipline for yourself and your family. You may choose to give up alcohol, chocolate, food on Fridays, Face Book, going to the movies, potato chips, texting, or some other thing that is a part of your daily life. In the giving up, you are making more room in your life for God.
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.
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.
We all struggle to find the place where we belong. Christians have a place of belonging. We belong to God.
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?
The 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!
This Sunday at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, we are celebrating that no matter where we are in life, we can be transformed by God. Just as the God made the dry bones to live in Ezekiel 37, so we can have new life.