“This hope does not disappoint us because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit…” (Romans 5:5) Paul concludes a couple thoughts on suffering and struggle with the reminder that God can pour hope and love into our hearts even in the midst of struggles. What are the things that restore your soul? How does God whisper gratitude into your life, even when things aren’t going so well?
The returning green and flowers after a long winter always seem to speak to me of how the harder, harsher seasons of life don’t last forever. Show me a glorious flower and I glimpse the resilience of the human spirit and the persistent presence of a life-giving God. Today, take a moment to look and listen to the world around you. Find something that pours a bit of hope and love into your heart. It may be the face of a kind friend; it may be watching one person share a good deed with another; it may be the song of a bird–even a common-place Robin has a wonderful song; it may be the feel of a warm breeze upon your bare arms. Pausing to let God pour a bit of love and hope into our lives is time well spent. Even better, tell another about something that filled your spirit.
As we near Sunday, whether you’ll be in church or away this weekend, I invite you to read the Scripture for the Sunday morning–Romans 5:1-5. It never fails to uplift me and I expect it will give a boost to your day as well.
Memorial Day weekend three Facebook friends posted pictures of “the first campfire” by the lake. Another posted a photo of the first colorful blossoms of the garden. My wife posted a picture of a full-grown bear we saw in Clay County. Many, myself included, posted words of thanks for the fallen who’d served to protect our country. It was a litany of the things that inspire us–that keep flame of gratitude burning in our hearts. This Sunday is Pentecost: one of the big three in church special days, Christmas, Easter and Pentecost. We often don’t know what to do with Pentecost. We wear red if we remember. Sometimes we may have a birthday cake for the church. I’ve hung kites from the ceiling of sanctuaries. I’ve had fans blowing on wind-chimes. Yet, the wind blows where it will and moments of inspiration can’t be forced. Like an unexpected bear crossing a wide open field, or that feeling that suddenly touches the heart watching the first campfire of the season, the Spirit speaks when the Spirit speaks. When it speaks, we remember God is near; we remember we have a purpose.
Acts 2:1-21 tells of one of those moments when the Spirit moves, people are inspired and the church finds its purpose. I invite you to read it each day before Pentecost. I also invite you to reflect on these words from Marianne Williamson that speak to me of Pentecost. “We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.” (Marianne Williamson) Together we have a purpose to share our moments of inspiration, to share the moments God has blessed us, to invite others into the blessing of God’s love for everyone. So, keep sharing what inspires you–on Facebook, over cups of coffee, sitting with a grandchild, or any way you can. And, keep remembering you have a purpose in God’s grand plan of making sure, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Acts 2:21)
May you have many Spirit-filled Blessings
“We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.” (Marianne Williamson)
Pastor Roger Grafenstein
Grace United Methodist Church
1120 17th St. South
Moorhead, MN 56560
A clear blue sky with a warm breeze that almost melts into you, add in the sound of waves softly lapping at the shore, and you may have peace. A rocking motion, the warmth of a baby resting on your chest with soft breaths whispering contentment into your ear, I expect you can nearly feel the peace imagining it. Life is filled with moments that subtly remind us of the goodness of God. But, life is also filled with challenges and worries. Jesus knows this. So, there’s a moment in the book of John when Jesus prepares his followers for his crucifixion and death. He says, “Don’t be troubled or afraid. There will be a time when I go away, but I will return.” (John 14:27-28). He says, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you, not as the world gives.”
I believe Jesus’ hopes that by knowing him we’ll be able to find peace when days are neither sunny or warm. I believe Jesus wishes to offer us peace even when the waves driven by a storm. I believe Jesus also prays peace for us when the darling little one that slept upon our chest, is close to grown, and not always gracefully stumbling through life’s choices. How do you find the peace Jesus offers when storms arise? How do you find peace when people you love make choices that may harm them?
Confirmation Sunday I chose the 23rd Psalm to preach on. Then, Wednesday, at the request of a Eloise Brendemuhl’s family I preached from the 23rd Psalm again for her memorial service. Thursday, I decided to preach on the 23rd Psalm at Parkview Terrace and Moorhead Rehab Center. Sometimes, a favorite Scripture is where we find peace–especially if that Scripture helps us visualize peaceful places and moments. Often, when we are worried or troubled our heart rate increases. Our body gears up as our flight/fight response keeps getting nudged. One way to pray is to begin without words–simply breathing in for the count of four, holding the breath for the count of four, letting the breath out for the count of four, then waiting four more seconds before breathing in again. Cycling through that pattern of breath a couple times before conversing with God may allow us to sense God’s peace-giving presence during our prayer time. Another practical way to lean into Jesus’ peace is to softly sing a verse or two of a favorite hymn–or the hymn that God mysteriously brings to mind at the moment. (God doesn’t care if we remember all the words. The words we need are more than enough).
The point is, Jesus says you deserve peace, especially when the circumstances around you are less than peaceful. If you find yourself longing for peace today, take a moment to read a favorite Scripture, begin a short prayer time with a breathing exercise, or softly sing a hymn that speaks to you. If you see another in need of peace, maybe you’ll even have a little extra peace to share.
Sunday, we’ll revisit the peace Jesus offers.
June 23rd, Grace’s first “new website” training is underway. Looking forward to a wider variety of posts and information.
Strike up a conversation and then listen. Soon, it will become obvious that Storms and Giants are commonplace in our lives. This Sunday our Bible readings will lead us to stormy seas and let us catch a glimpse of a giant named Goliath. Sometimes Bible readings seem difficult to connect to daily life. But, storms and giants? We face them, or see others face them, many times during life. It wasn’t that long ago I watched my Dad and Mom–as one was still recovering from battling cancer, the other was going through two hip replacement surgeries. Sometimes I visit with families and wonder why, so often, challenges come one like one wave after another. While we may not know a giant named Goliath we know giants that go by other names–cancer, addiction, bankruptcy, terminal, divorce and the like. There’s a saying, “Old Age Isn’t for Sissies.” It’s a flamboyant way of saying, “sometimes it seems the storms are too frequent and the giants are too strong.”
Spoiler alert: Jesus calms the storm. David slays the Giant. God prevails! Whatever storms you face today. Whatever giants threaten a friend or family member you care about–somehow God will prevail. Somehow God gives the strength to face whatever is next. If you are facing a giant read I Samuel 19:32-50. If you’re facing a storm, try reading Mark 4:35-41. Let the words be your courage. If you are in town over the weekend, come and hear more about God’s strength in the storms.
If you, or a loved one, are facing a challenge, a helpful approach to prayer may be whispering, “God, help me trust you will prevail.” You might try breathing in during the word “God” and breathing out during “help me trust you will prevail.” Repeat as needed.
God’s peace, strength and courage,
When the laughter begins–heartfelt laughter that is not laughing at someone’s misfortune–we find ourselves drawn to it. Being around light-hearted people lifts our spirits. As followers of Jesus we are meant to be light-hearted and joy-filled because Jesus says his burden is easy and his yoke is light. Yet, it is all too easy to let our worries, fears and hurts crowd out the joy Jesus offers. This upcoming Sunday we’ll explore Mark 3:20-30 where Jesus is literally healing people and lifting their burdens. Unfortunately, the “church” of his day does not rejoice and celebrate. In fact, the most religious literally begin to worry the devil is at work in the healing.
Are you carrying a worry today? Does it seem easier to see fate working against you than God working for you? Last week when I was at Annual Conference a woman by the name of Dr. Simbo shared these powerful words in a prayer she offered. “The joy you give us is not conditional upon the circumstances of our lives but upon your unconditional gift to us in Christ Jesus.” We can choose to believe God knows what God is doing in our lives and is at work even when we don’t see or understand it. We can pray for the gifts of faith and trust. One wonderful prayer is found in our hymnals. My guess is you’ll recognize the words and maybe find yourself humming the tune.
“Because he lives, I can face tomorrow.
Because he lives all fear is gone;
because I know he holds the future,
and life is worth the living just because he lives.”
God’s joy be yours this day.
This morning as I sat at the MN United Methodist Conference, I heard the freeing words we would be blessed to repeat to ourselves daily. “Jesus cannot be contained by our fears” (Tyler Sit). This year’s theme for the conference is “Discover Joy – Live Deeply.” Joy doesn’t happen where fear rules. And joy and abundance is what Jesus came to offer us. My prayer for you today is that Jesus love will conquer any fears or worries that linger in your lives. And, if God grants the opportunity, maybe you will have a chance to help another overcome fear and embrace joy and hope. Jesus cannot be contained by our fears. Amen.
A teacher of the law came to Jesus by night. After Nicodemus told Jesus that he’d heard some of his teaching, seen some of his healing and knew Jesus was connected to God, Jesus interrupted him. Before Nicodemus could ask Jesus a question, Jesus shared an answer. “You must be born anew–born of water and the Spirit.” the late J.I. Packer (not from Green Bay) said, “Once you become aware that the main business you are here for is to know God, most of life’s problems fall into place.” Being born of the Spirit is allowing God to help us make life-giving changes in our lives. Jesus said, “I have come that you may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). If joy, abundance, or a lightness of heart have quietly slipped away in your life, Jesus still whispers across the centuries, “invite the Spirit in to help you start fresh.”
This Sunday, of course, we’ll take some time to remember those who have served our country and have gone on to heaven’s shore. But, we’ll also be inviting God’s Spirit to come into those places in our lives where we need rebirth and transformation. Please pray for the service and those who will be attending before-hand. Pray for any who are feeling the need for a fresh start, release from weariness, or a renewed sense of purpose. If you have the chance, read John 3:1-3–and ask God to show you where God is offering newness in your life.
First a reminder that the “Relationships Built on Kindness: Moving Beyond Bullying” workshop will be held at Grace UMC this evening starting at 6:20 PM. It is for all ages. Now, onto this week’s devotion.
The United Methodist pastors in MN are all reading a book entitled “God Unbound.” Near the end of the book there is a word about prayer based on the Psalm 23 image of “God preparing a table before us in the presence of our enemies” (those things we fear). The author suggests prayer involves:
1) Showing up–aware of self, neighbors and the world
2) Paying attention–to what we feel and what’s going on around us
3) Having an attitude of cooperation with God’s invitation, instruction or correction in our lives
4) Releasing the outcome of our prayers to God. God is God and we are not.
It’s #4 that is most challenging for me. Sometimes its hard to be present in the moment or identify my own feelings. But, those practices always seem easier than turning the outcome of my prayers over to God. Honestly praying with Jesus’, “Not my will but Thy will be done,” is easier said than done. Jesus’ prayer, “Not my will but Thy will be done,” models for us what God Unbound means. God understands our situations better than we do. God knows our loved ones better than we do. God seeks to work in this world–but not always in the ways we expect. So, for us to pray in a way that frees us means to pray in a way that “lets God be God and reminds us we are not.”
Perhaps you’ve been praying over a situation in your own life or in the life of someone you care for. Maybe you have an outcome in mind. What would it take to turn that outcome over to God? “These are my hopes God, but not my will, let your will be done.” Such a prayer is not easy because it is a form of letting go of control. Not being in control is frightening. But, allowing for God to do what God sees fit can be calming. When we struggle to let God be in control one thing we can do is pay attention to every time we feel anxious or worried. Every time we feel those feelings, we can repeat Jesus’ prayer, “Not my will but thy will be done.” If we are not driving, we might even close our eyes and quietly repeat “Not my will but Thy will be done” 2 or 3 times.
If you are more musically inclined, you may even consider softly singing,
“Be not dismayed whate’er betide, God will take care of you;
beneath his wings of love abide, God will take care of you.
God will take care of you, through ever day, o’er all the way,
God will take care of you, God will take care of you.”
If you’re in a place where you can watch a video perhaps let this version orchestral version of God Will Take Care of You performed in Germany be part of your prayer today. Click on: