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’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!

 

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?

 

 

 

Make a Decision

Here in Norfolk, a restaurant is closing.  This particular restaurant has been open nearly 70 years.  From the article in the July 7, 2013 edition of The Virginian Pilot, it seems that the owners decided it was time.  They probably have a host of reasons, like most of us do, for making life decisions.  Yet, it all seems to come down to being willing to making the decision.  I don’t know about the family which owns Veneziano’s, but many of us have trouble actually making a decision.  We want to put it off.  We want to pretend that things will fix themselves.  We want to avoid what needs to be done.

Reality is that the longer we put off making a decision, the more difficult things become.  The decision is sometimes made for us.  The once small problem often becomes much larger.  The funny sound our vehicle was making that we should have gotten checked out sooner results in us stranded on the side of the road. The putting off of decisions allows difficult decisions to fester and become worse.  Consider the medical issue that we should do something about.  We don’t because we are worried about what it might cost.  We don’t because we are worried about what the results will be of making a decision.  Our delay allows things to fester.  Our delay usually expands the problem.
We often put off God.  We put off deciding to get involved.  We put off the decision to change the way we are living.  We put off praying.  We think that there is plenty of time.  We think that another day won’t matter.  We think that if we don’t make a decision, then someone else will handle the situation. Our indecision hurts us and those around us.  Our putting off a decision to have God more apart of our lives makes our daily lives more difficult.  Our avoidance of living a kingdom life hurts others.  This may be the only opportunity for us to share hope with others.  This is the time to make decisions.  Are we going to live a life for God’s kingdom, or are we going to avoid the kingdom?  Are we going to allow God to move in and through us, or are we going to just put things off?  Are you willing to make a decision?  Will you serve God today?

 

Being Better

English: Christ Handing the Keys to St. Peter ...

English: Christ Handing the Keys to St. Peter by Pietro Perugino (1481-82) Fresco, 335 x 550 cm Cappella Sistina, Vatican. Ελληνικά: Λεπτομέρεια από την νωπογραφία του Πιέτρο Περουτζίνο, Ο Χριστός Παραδίδει τα Κλειδιά στον Πέτρο, 335 x 600 cm, Καπέλα Σιξτίνα, Πόλη του Βατικανού. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I want to better.  I want to send emails and write blog entries with  no spelling errors.  I want to be healthier.  I want to be a more compassionate person.  I want to be more effective in my time management.  I want to be neater. I want a better relationship with God.  I want to give my family more quality time.  I want to cook more and eat out less.  I want to drink less soda.  I want whiter teeth.  I want to be in a better place financially.  I want to be a better listener.

The list of my wants goes on.  I imagine I am not the only one who wants to be a better version.  The way I live my life is a testament to God, so every error seems to be letting God down.  My imperfections are glaring and ever before me.  I imagine that is why I like Peter so much.  He routinely makes mistakes in the Bible.  He is rebuked, warned, and scolded.  He denies Jesus.  Yet, it is on him that the church is built.

Peter shows us that we are not expected to be perfect.  We are expected to do our best to honor God.  We are expected to realize our need of God’s guidance.  We are called to realize that we need other people to help us and hold us accountable.  No one is perfect.  We all want to be better.  We can only expect a certain amount of self improvement, the rest is god improvement.  Especially this week, let us be molded and shaped by the one who loves us unconditionally.  Let’s not pay attention to the small things, but let us pay attention to the large things.  Let us pay attention to Jesus, our faith life, and how we share our faith with the world.  Peter denied Jesus three times before the rooster crowed.  Do you deny Jesus?  Do you deny Jesus your time or attention?  Do you deny Jesus a place in your decision making?

Maybe we cannot get all our wants met, but we can grow as children of God.  We can in our imperfect states be builders of the kingdom.  Allow God to work in and through you.  Accept God’s offer of relationship with you just as you are.

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

Moving Forward

This fall has been full of the unexpected.  Most of the unexpected things were painful things.  While there were many positive moments, the reality is that things have changed this fall.  Family members now have medical conditions that will never go away.  Another family member died.  In all the difficulties of this fall, I have realized that I have a choice.  We all have a choice.  We can stay where we are, wishing for what once was, recalling the better days of the past, and playing the “if only” game, or we can move forward.  This does not mean that we should not take the time we need to grieve, regain health, or accept our new situation, but it does mean that there is a point when we need to choose our next steps.

 

I am choosing to move forward.  I am preparing for Christmas.  I am not just buying presents, baking, and decorating, but I am preparing my heart.  Each year we are given this season of preparation prior to our celebration of Jesus birth.  It is not just a celebration of what happened in the past, but it is a next step.  It is an opportunity for Jesus to be birthed in our lives in a new and powerful way.  It is a next step in our lives as we grow in God’s grace.

 

No matter what your fall or year has been like, I hope you will join me in moving forward.  I hope you will join in preparing yourself for the birth of Jesus, celebrating the new life that is offered to all of us.  We are moving forward.