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?

 

Show UP

Churches are concerned about attendance, especially the mainline Protestant denominations.  We know that attendance is less than it used to be.

One of the reasons, maybe even a large reason, is that members of a church do not attend church as regularly as they used to attend.  The members are simply not showing up as often as they used to show up.

There are lots of reasons that people attend less.  There are many competing events for our time during traditional worship times.  There are many leisure activities that pull at us during the weekends.  We have things we want to get done, and church cuts into our time.

If our faith is important to us, the most important thing to us, then why would we not make our worship attendance a priority?  Maybe it is because we don’t think about our priorities as much as we think about the noisy gongs and clanging symbols that clamor for our attention and our time.  We don’t stop to consider what matters.  Maybe we should.

It matters if we show up for church.  It matters if we gather with the body of believers to praise God and hear God’s voice.  Showing up matters.

Showing up matters for church and other things as well.  It matters if we show up and spend time with the people who matter to us.  Telling someone they are important is not nearly as significant as giving time to that person.  Showing up at work matters, because we know that in-person meetings are often much more productive than phone-in meetings.  It matters if we show up at the wedding of a friend, the funeral of a family member, a meeting with our boss, and all sorts of other things.

Show up for church.

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.

 

Connections

West Virginia Annual Conference of the United ...

West Virginia Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church (Photo credit: WVUMC)

This past week, I was at an annual event that I have been attending for fifteen years.  For many of us, it is a homecoming experience.  It is a large event, so it is impossible to know everyone.  There are many I do not recognize, but they may know someone that I know.  We feel a sense of belonging and connection.  We are together, united by a common denominator.  True, the connection with some of the folks is indirect, but it is a connection none the less.

 

We all want to feel a sense of belonging.  We want to be a part of the group.  Even if we are only indirectly connected to the group, we still want to belong. we want to feel a part of our town, our community, or something. Our modern lives often make these connections more difficult.  We live in large cities and shop at large regional centers, so there are a lot more people.  Having more people means that it is less likely we will have a direct connection.  Many of us commute to work, so we may work with people who live in other communities.  Our working life takes up a lot of our time, so we end up having very little personal time.  We often use that personal time to handle the care and keeping of ourselves and our families.  Our health care providers maybe in a regional health care center, which means that they are not a part of our community.  We get our hair care and other things done in the regional center.  All of this leaves us feeling very disconnected to our neighbors.  We don’t know them.  We rarely see each other.  Only a handful know what is going on with the local government.  We are disconnected. We are isolated.  We are lonely.

 

One of the things that church does is provide a community.  Churches are regular gatherings of people.  These regular gatherings are ere we can experience community.  These gatherings are where we can feel sense of belonging and connection.  This sense of belonging is a part of the experience of being church.  Those of us who are a part of a church, our job is to make sure that those who are with us feel connected.  We are to help everyone, those we know and those who are strangers, know that this is a place we want them to belong.  This is more than welcome, this is accepting and sharing.  This is connection.  I was re-connected at an annual conference, I hope you find ways to connect in a more local way.

Home is Where Your Heart Is

The Home Place

My family’s home-place burned down this week.  It has been unoccupied for several years, so no one was physically injured.    I suspect, based on various comments seen on Facebook, that I am not the only one who was sad to hear the news.  The house was built by an ancestor, and it was added onto by more family.  While we are sad to lose a building, I think we are more sad to lose the place that holds memories.

 

It is the place where children  played.  It is the place where that held memories of simple times, ordinary activities.  It was a place where all of us experienced joy and love.  It was a safe place where we experienced what it was to belong to an extended family.  It was a place where we all belonged.

 

This is something that the church is supposed to be as well.  It is to be a place where children can feel safe, loved, and accepted.  It is a place where we are all welcomed, fed, and nurtured.  It is a place where we work together, learn who we are in relation to others, and learn how to love.  It is a place created more by the events and relationships that occur in the place rather than by the ambience of the building.  We, modern-day disciples, are called to make the buildings the  home-place of God.

 

I am grateful for all the memories that made the family home-place such a wonderful memory.  I thank God for cousins who carried piggy-back during hide-and-seek games in the cornfields, hand-cranked ice cream, kittens, Scuppernong grapes, woods to be explored, and a family who loved and accepted each other.  May we all know what it is to have a home place as the family of God.

Community is Not Easy

English: Bull riding at the Calgary Stampede. ...

Image via Wikipedia

Weddings are wonderful events.  Everyone is happy.  We are all there to celebrate.  But everyday is not a wedding.  To live in a community means that we are experiencing different things in our lives.  There are some who are rejoicing.  There are some who are fearful.  There are some who are suffering disappointment.  There is a wide variety of emotions and experiences happening simultaneously.

 

This past weekend was another bull riding weekend.  The PBR, Professional Bull Riders, had an event, but they also had a cut to the “big league” roster.  This means that at the beginning of the weekend, there were 35 riding on the Built Ford Tough Series.  At the end of the weekend, only the top 25 will be guaranteed spots on the tour.  Some of the riders that I enjoy got cut.  I imagine a lot of their fans hurt with them.  There are other riders who made it through the cut.  They survived.  We were relived with them.  Then, J.B. Mauney is celebrating not only winning this event but also being ranked number 1 in the world.  After a very long battle with injuries and other issues, he seems to have figured things out for himself.  There is joy for the one who is having a mountain-top experience.  There are others down in the valley.  Most are somewhere in-between.

 

The job of the community is to experience all of the happening at the same time.  We are to rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn.  We are to be with the rest of our community in all of the experiences of life.  Yet sometimes, we focus on just the joys or just the sorrows.  We forget that God is walking with us in all of the experiences of life.  Let us live fully as communities, especially communities of faith.  Let us celebrate the mountain-top, encourage those on the sides of the mountain, and be present with those who are hurting.  God calls us to share all aspects of our lives together.  It is not always easy, but it is a fuller experience of life.