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?

 

Protection By Things

We are scared.  We are all frightened at times, but I think we are scared of people.  We are so afraid of people that we use things to protect us.  While sitting in my local Panera, I noticed that all of us had some object to protect us.  I had an ipad protecting me as well as my salad.  One gentelman had a newspaper and some device connected to his ear buds.  Another had food, laptop, and phone protecting him.  Some had only a phone.  Some were protected by papers.  Still another couple was protected by food, two phones, laptop, and a paper notebook.  Another man was so vigourous in consuming his salad that no one would dare approach him. His shoulders were hunched over, his head down. He ate quickly.  He had what appeared to be a Bible with him.  He did not open the Bible while he was there, but it seemed to give him protection none the less.  I wondered if he had brought it in case he had to wait for the food.  He moved very quickly to leave after inhaling the salad.

There was one woman who was just eating.  Yes, she had food, but she looked around.  She was eating alone.  She did not try to hide behind anything.  She was not afraid.  She was the exception.  She was okay to let her thoughts wander.  She was okay to allow other people to see her.  She did not need to hide behind other people, activities, or things.  She did not appear to be in a rush.  She sat and ate her soup, bread, and iced tea.
I wonder, with my empty salad bowl, how often we fail to enjoy the moments because we are so busy protecting ourselves with things.  Our things insure that we will not be approached by another person. Our things assure that we will not be left alone with our thoughts.  We are safe from everyone because of our things.  There is no chance to interact, to be vulnerable, or to be exposed.  They won’t make eye contact with us because we are looking at our things.  They won’t talk to us because we are busy with our things.  We won’t be rejected because we have already rejected them.  Our things are more important than them.  We don’t need them.  We are fine with our things.  Or, so we try to tell ourselves.
The truth is that our things – electronic devices, papers, books, food, or anything else, gets in our way sometimes.  We need to have moments where we are vulnerable and exposed to other people.  We need times when we are open to ourselves to let our minds roam.  My friends, take courage.  Do not be afraid.  Put down your things and allow yourself to be vulnerable to others and yourself.  We may find in our vulnterability that we are changed.

Trust . . . No One?

Recently I was shopping at a big box office supply store.  The person at the counter had a tattoo on his arm.  It ran the length of his forearm, but I couldn’t tell what it said.  I told him I was trying to read his tattoo, so he held up his arm so that I could read it.  It said “trust”.  I thought it was a great reminder of our need to trust one another.  Then, he held up his other arm.  It also had a tattoo that said, “No One“.  I wanted to launch into a discussion of his thoughts and opinions of people; however, I could tell it wasn’t the time.  I told him that it made me sad.  He shrugged.  I left.

If it had been a different time or place, then I could have asked him more.  I could have asked why he had come to this as something he wanted to permanently say.  Was this his life philosophy?  If so, what had happened to him to make him so cynical? Did the people who were supposed to take care of him violate his trust so profoundly that he could never trust again?  Had there been no one in his life that proved worthy of being trusted?  It makes me sad to think about some of the scenarios which would make him trust no one.
Then I considered that maybe no one had done anything.  Maybe he had been the one to violate trust.  Maybe he felt so guilty for the violation that he could never see trust as a viable option.
It seems unlikely that a life of trusting no one is an option, but I would not want to try.  to have relationships with other people means that we must trust them.  Yes, there are some who will consciously or unconsciously violate that trust, but it is worth the risk.  It is worth the risk of having our trust violated in order to trust.  Because trust in one of the foundations of a meaningful relationship.  Trust allows us to share our hearts and souls with another person.  It allows us to give and receive comfort and love.
For that cashier and for all of humanity, let us trust more.  Let us trust others by sharing our lives with them.  Let us be willing to take a chance on other people, to care enough about them to share ourselves.  Let us realize that life is more vivid when lived in relationships.  Let us trust.

Shepherds

English: The loneliness of Culloden Culloden i...

English: The loneliness of Culloden Culloden is one of the few areas that I leave feeling full of sadness. This lonely tree at the sight says it all. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Everyone experiences  loneliness and isolation.  Some people experience it more than others.  They may have a greater need to be connected to others, or they may have lost and never a significant connection in their lives.  Some are lonely because there are not other people around.  Others are lonely because they have a sense of isolation even though they are in a crowd.  I suspect that a lot of our loneliness is about the sense of connection we have to other people.

Shepherds are often alone, even today.  They face a great deal of isolation as they care for the sheep.  Maybe that is why they were invited to the birth of Jesus.  God chose to reach out to those who were isolated and alone.  God chose to share with them because God wants to offer to all a connection to something more.  God wants us to know, especially those of us who are lonely and isolated, that we do not have to be alone.  We are invited into God’s story.  God wants us there are God interacts with humanity.  God wants us to be a part of something more.

This Advent and Christmas, realize that God is with you.  Invite others to be a part of the experience of God.

Modern Shepherd

Manger Snatching

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Shiloh United Methodist Church in Bedford, Virginia has been robbed!  The majority of the figures in their

English: Nativity scene on the Buenos Aires Me...

English: Nativity scene on the Buenos Aires Metropolitan Cathedral. Español: Portal de Belén en la Catedral Metropolitana de Buenos Aires Français : Crèche de Noël dans la Cathédrale métropolitaine de Buenos-Aires (Argentine) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

outdoor nativity scene were taken.  This nativity has been placed in front of the church for forty years.  Maybe it was a practical joke.  Maybe it was a decision made while under the influence of alcohol or other substances. Maybe it was more than that.  Maybe someone is trying to get even with this church and congregation.  Maybe it is not even about this church and this congregation.

The church is full of humans.  We seek to do our best, but we all make mistakes.  We hurt other people.  Sometimes the pain is very deep.  Sometimes the pain is so great that individuals feel alienated from church.  They feel that must stay away from church.  Some may even feel the need to retaliate on either a conscious or unconscious level for the pain that a church or individuals in the church caused.  The pain is often very deep.

People do hurt us, sometimes people in church.  People hurt  us for all sorts of reasons.  The question for us is how are we going to respond to the pain of the hurt.  We can choose to let it fester within in us, or we can choose a different course of action.  We can choose to let go of the pain.  We can choose to forgive others.  We can choose to let the hurt go so that we are no longer experiencing pain.  Letting go of pain does not mean we allow someone to continue hurting us.  It also does not mean that we do not seek justice.  Instead it means that we forgive those who have hurt us.  We forgive in order to stop experiencing pain.  Sometimes we are able to do this alone.  Sometimes we need help working through our pain.

The people of Shiloh United Methodist Church were interviewed on the local news.  They would like their manger scene back, including baby Jesus.  If the perpetrators will just leave it in the driveway, they will take care of the rest.  Also, they are willing to pray with the person.  The church members offered forgiveness and assistance to the ones who stole their manger scene.  What do you offer to the world?

 

You Just Never Know

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Rizinus-Blatt (Photo credit: flöschen)

 

Life can change in an instant.  This week I have had this lesson repeatedly brought to my awareness.  I have been spending a lot of time at a hospital with a family member.  It was unexpected for us to be in the hospital, but we were not the only ones.

 

Next store to my family member is a young woman.  She is in her 20s.  She was in a car accident, from what I understand.  She was going somewhere, but her journey was interrupted.  She never arrived.  Her family was in the middle of their lives.  Everything stopped.  Everything changed.  She has been in the hospital for five days.  Her family sits vigil at her bedside.  She is given regular neurological checks, such as raising her area or lifting her thumb. Throughout her stay I have heard her family encourage her to stay strong. They have also told her that they love her.  I hope she knows.  She and her family have had their life interrupted. They did not know this would happen.

 

 

 

What about you?  If you were in a situation like this woman and her family, would you be ready?  We are never really ready, but would you be comfortable with the state of your relationships?  Have you resolved conflicts, made peace, declared love, and forgiven?  Do they know how you feel about the? You just never know.

 

Relationships

 

English: Boston, MA, September 16, 2008 -- Bee...

English: Boston, MA, September 16, 2008 — Beethoven Elementary School Class prepares for emergencies with the STEP program. Students learn how to build an emergency kit and form a family communication plan with their teacher and principal. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

As many head back to school, they are thinking about relationships.  There is the relationship with the teacher.  How much homework?  Will I like my teacher?  Will my teacher like me?  What does he or she expect?  There are also peer relationships that many are considering.  Who will I sit beside at lunch?  Do we have assigned seats in home room?  Who will I play with?  Will I have friends?  Will I be lonely? Will they like me?   In the midst of all of the learning that happens in school, relationships are often a key part of our school experience.  We want good relationships.  We want others to like us, to care about us, and to respect us.

 

 

 

This human desire for good relationships does not change as we get older.  We may couch our wants and needs in different ways, but we are all still yearning for relationships in which we are accepted.  We want others to care about us.  We want to be loved.  We want good relationships even if we do not know how to express our feelings.  Remember that the boy who is teasing the girl probably likes her, but he doesn’t know how to deal with the fact that he likes her.

 

 

 

Instead of teasing and pulling pigtails, let’s find a way to share our feelings with those around us.  Let us build up others by building relationships.  Let us find a way to show that others are accepted and loved.  Let us look the stranger in the eye.  Let us smile at others we pass in the grocery store.  Let us remember the insecurity we all felt at the beginning of the school year.  Let us love others as Christ has loved us.

 

People Notice

My mother is a regular Facebook lurker.  I have never actually seen her post anything, but she does keep me up-to-date on a lot of people that we know.  Given these updates, it is no surprise that she looks at my Facebook.  In a recent phone call she mentioned that I had not posted about worship at my church.  Apparently, I always put something on Facebook inviting people to worship at my church.

 

This motherly observation got me to thinking.  People notice what we do and say.  They may not always voice their observations, like my mother, but they do notice.  They notice if we are not inviting them to worship.  They notice even if they do not plan to join us for worship.  They notice Facebook status updates, but they also notice our lives.  They notice if  our lives are a testimony to the faith we profess.  They notice if our lives are lived in praise of God.  They notice if we live our faith.

 

Next time you are tempted to skip doing something, remember that people notice.  People notice if you do not invite them to church.  People notice if you profess faith, but then you constantly worry.  People notice if you put more value in things than relationships.  People notice.  What are they noticing about you?

these updates, it is no surprise that she looks at my Facebook.  In a recent phone call she mentioned that I had not posted about worship at my church.  Apparently, I always put something on Facebook inviting people to worship at my church.

 

This motherly observation got me to thinking.  People notice what we do and say.  They may not always voice their observations, like my mother, but they do notice.  They notice if we are not inviting them to worship.  They notice even if they do not plan to join us for worship.  They notice Facebook status updates, but they also notice our lives.  They notice if  our lives are a testimony to the faith we profess.  They notice if our lives are lived in praise of God.  They notice if we live our faith.

 

Next time you are tempted to skip doing something, remember that people notice.  People notice if you do not invite them to church.  People notice if you profess faith, but then you constantly worry.  People notice if you put more value in things than relationships.  People notice.  What are they noticing about you?