What are You Giving Up for Lent?

2013-lent-controlWe 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

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.

are-you-ready_wide_t_nv
     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

0e735057_header-life-learning-general-classes-spiritual-life-home
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!

 

Beaches and Hurricanes

     I don’t know what it is, but when there is a large storm, such as a hurricane off the coast, I want to go watch the waves. I am not the only one.  There were many who posted pictures of the flooding and waves on Facebook, so I know they have the same desire.
     We want to see the storm surge, the waves crashing against pylons, the water up against homes, and the general chaos that a storm brings.  I have always wondered why we are so fascinated.  It must be good television ratings because plenty of news crews stand near closed roads and beaches to show us viewers that the storm is real.
      We want to see a storm because we are fascinated with things that are so much bigger than us.  The threat of a storm can get us excited and move us into action.  We know that a storm can transform our lives, but these storms are so much easier to deal with than most of the storms of life.
     We can have  a true physical storm.  While these may be unpredictable, at least they are visible.  The storms that most often assail our lives are storms that we cannot see.  They are storms that attack us spiritually.  They are storms that threaten to rip apart our lives, our families, and our well being.  Sometimes, no one else is even aware of the storms that assail us.  At least with a hurricane, everyone in a locality is in it together.
     The church is in it together.  We are called to trust others with the storms in our lives and to support one another in the storms of life.  We need each other for love and support.  So, during hurricanes and other times, be the support for the members of the church and allow the church to support you.