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?

 

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!

 

Habit of Connecting

I recently read that a congregation should be following up with guest for six weeks.  That is a long time.  I have seen some churches that connect with guests for three weeks, but six weeks is the longest follow-up that I have seen.  It makes sense, though.

Imagine being a first-time guest at a church.  Perhaps you have been to church before, but maybe you have only gone to churches for weddings and funerals.  It could be that you have memories of being shushed by well meaning adults while wearing uncomfortable clothes.  Perhaps you remember the formality of weddings or the grief of death.  No matter what the memories, it takes courage to visit a church for the first time.
Before you even walk into the building, there are decisions to be made.  What will you wear?  You don’t want to be overdressed, but it would be worse to be under-dressed.  Maybe you are not someone who is comfortable in a suit or high heels.  Will it matter?  Finally you decide on the outfit.  You see that the service starts at a specific time.  You don’t want to walk in late, but you  have to decide what time to arrive.  Where should you park?
Finally, you make it into the building.  Hopefully someone welcomes you.  They have a program, so you can have a clue about what is going on in the service.  You find a seat.  Did you sit in someone else’s seat.  Maybe you have heard that some chuch folks always sit in the same seat, like in school.  You sit in an aisle seat because you want to be able to make a quick exit.  You never know if things are going to get weird.  (Maybe you have seen some documentaries on snake handling churches.  You don’t think this is like that, but you want to be able to leave if neccessary.)
The service starts.  There may be a pastor leading it.  There may be a worship leader.  There may be a kid who comes in to light candles.  There is music, and there is a good chance that you don’t know the music.  There is someone reading from the Bible.  It is starting to get interesting.  Hopefully the sermon or message from the pastor connects with your life, but there may be things you don’t understand.  Everyone else seems to know when to stand or sit.
Maybe the service is something that you enjoy, but you are not sure if it is for you.  You have plans the next week for brunch.  The church sends you a gift.  That is nice.  You decide to go the next week, but you over sleep.  The following weekend you go visit family for the weekend.  You  have to work the next weekend.  You wonder if they will notice how long you have been gone.  You don’t go because you cannot decide what to wear.
They are still inviting you.  They do care and want you there.  You make your second visit.
Six weeks is not that long when you are following up with guests, especially if their decision has eternal effects.

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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For Sale

Image-1FBFC196CB7111DA

Image-1FBFC196CB7111DA (Photo credit: c8132)

 

There is an 8,000 square foot former Church/Synagogue building for sale.  According the realtor’s postcard, it is an ideal location for school, day care, or special events.  The congregation has apparently left, and there is room for something else.  It seems that there is always something to replace our spiritual life.  There are things to take up our time and attention so that we do not have to think about faith at all.  In fact, we can get so good at filling up our lives that we don’t even miss our spiritual life.  We become convinced that we don’t need it in our lives.  We can ignore it.  God can be put on the shelf and never considered again.  Sell that space to something else in our lives.  Sell the space to learning, whether it is a new language or the latest celebrity gossip.  Fill that time spent in prayer with other important life events.  There is more time for shoe shopping, television viewing, and video games! So, we fill our lives up with things that entertain, educate, and amuse.  We do what we can to feel good.  We seek our own pleasure.  Then, when we find ourselves at a significant life event, we realize it is not enough.  The pleasure, the education, the entertainment, is not an anchor to hold onto.  When we have a significant life event, such as a birth , death, marriage, divorce, job loss, terrorist attack, or major health issue, we find ourselves adrift.  We find that there is nothing to hold onto in our distress. We want for something to cling to in the midst of our distress.  That is when it becomes abundantly clear, we have neglected our spiritual life.  The things with which we filled our life are not enough.  We feel lost and alone, and we have offered up our spiritual life for sale. Before a major life event, examine what claims your time and attention.  Have you ignored your spirit for too long?  Is it time to re-prioritize and evaluate?  What do you have to hold on to when things start to crumble?  Have you sold your faith?

 

 

 

What do you need?

Moving boxes

Moving boxes (Photo credit: Andrea_R)

My family and I are moving.  We are in the throes of asking the question, “What will  we need?”  We are not sure of our answer.  The new house and community are different from our current living situation.  We, like most people, probably have too many things, but we just do not know what the future will hold.  As we debate the need for personal belongings, I am wondering about other needs as well.

What do you need to be content, happy, and fulfilled?  Do you need a lot of money?  Do you need a lot of things?  Do you need a certain standing in the community?  I imagine most of us have fairly simple needs, but we try to make things more complicated than they need to be.  We need . . .

  • to love and be loved
  •  to know that we are making a positive difference in the world
  • to be able to have our physical needs met
  •  to know that we are a part of something larger than ourselves

Instead of focusing on the extra things of life, why not pay attention to these four things?  As we seek to take care of the basics, I suspect that the other things will take care of themselves.