June 23rd, Grace’s first “new website” training is underway. Looking forward to a wider variety of posts and information.
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:
This week our Sunday Scripture will take us to a locked room (post-Easter & pre-resurrected Jesus’ experiences). In a way the disciples grieving together in a locked room, fearful of what might happen to them if they were out and about and recognized as a follower of Jesus, may seem like it has nothing to do with our lives. But, I think of all those who quietly carry burdens and worries. As humans we love others–and we worry for them when they have struggles in their lives. We lose people we love and appreciate others’ care and concern. Yet, sometimes we need to be alone and not talk about it. We face medical issues and even with the care of physicians and nurses, there is a part of our journeys they can’t walk for us. Tonight the Moorhead Police Chaplains are hosting a 7 PM “opiate education” gathering at Christ the King Lutheran because every 12.5 minutes a person in our nation dies from an opiate overdose. All ages are affected and a wide variety of families are affected. To be human is to face struggles.
The power of Sunday’s Scripture from John 20:19-31 can be glimpsed in these words, “while the disciples were behind closed doors because they were afraid…, Jesus came and stood among them. He said, “Peace be with you.” (John 20:19b). Perhaps there is no more powerful moment than when the risen Christ steps into our deepest fears and hurts to speak a word of peace. Whatever you might be facing today, my prayer is that Jesus’ word of peace will come soon, and as often as needed. My prayer for Grace Church is that we will be the people who work with Jesus to bring that word of peace and hope where ever and whenever it is needed.
If you are carrying a worry or fear today, I invite you to close your eyes for a moment. Name the fear or worry. Then imagine Jesus stepping along side of you, placing a hand on your shoulder, and saying, “I bring peace and will walk with you through this.” Let the risen Christ speak to your heart.
Wednesday night at Grace included a discussion about blessing others and meals. It was amazing to hear how people from Grace had been involved in blessing others. One story involved blessing a neighbor with home-cooked food in the midst of the snow storm. (Someone noticed Meals on Wheels had been cancelled for the day and became their neighbor’s keeper). Another involved serving at Dorothy Day and a man there asking for prayers as he was heading into detox. Yet, was about an adult noticing a distraught child in the lunch-line, asking a few questions and then intervening in a bullying situation. Someone else shared of providing a meal in a restaurant for a person whose name she never learned. One of the youth at service shared how grateful he was for the blessing of those “amazing ladies” who provided the wonderful soup each Wednesday and made the evening a highlight of the week for him and his siblings. I was moved by how much God was working through the people gathered. God definitely fed my soul as I listened to the stories.
It was a great reminder of the power of kindness. It was also a powerful reminder of the claim Michael Frost makes in his book “Surprise the World: The Five Habits of Highly Missional People.” He says that if you practice habits such as blessing, people will notice and ask, “Why?” The story of the food delivery in the snow storm involved the recipient becoming teary-eyed and asking, “Why?” “Why would you do this for me?” Michael Frost says that is the perfect time to share some version of–“it’s what God calls me to do because it’s what Jesus would have done.”
It was simply a joy to hear so many stories of people listening to God’s call to bless and feed, to listen and love.
When was the last time you put a smile on another’s face with an act of blessing? When was the last time you fed another physically or spiritually? Let the memory lift your spirit today. Then take a moment to ask God where you might bless someone today.
REMEMBER TO TURN YOUR CLOCK AHEAD ON SATURDAY NIGHT. DAYLIGHT SAVINGS TIME BEGINS AT 2:00 A.M.
This week for the devotion I’d like to share a poem written by a 17 year old that was yesterday’s devotion from the Upper Room. It spoke a word of peace into my busy day. Perhaps it will do the same for you. The poem originally appeared in a United Methodist teen-devotional resource called “devozine.” If you have a middle-school or high school student you wish to bless, a “devozine” subscription would make a great gift. Simple click on the link at the bottom of the poem for more info.
BE STILL and let my love surround you,
Be calm now that my grace has found you.
Be joyful now that i have set you free.
Be trusting and follow me faithfully.
Remember all I have done for you.
Remember that my love is true.
Remember who I made you to be,
Remember that I love you and the best is yet to be.
When life gets hard and you want to give up,
When the road gets long and the path gets tough,
When you’re scared and alone and you want to hide,
When the whole world’s against you, I’ll be by your side.
Be still and let my love wash over you.
Be still and watch all I can do.
Be still and believe in me.
Be still and I will set you free.
– devozine, January-Feb 2018
“Be Still and Be Free'” by Angelina Palumbo, age 17, in devozine, the lifestyle devotional magazine for teens, January-February 2018. Copyright © 2018 by The Upper Room. All rights reserved. http://bookstore.upperroom.org/ Learn more about or purchase this book.
Grace’s kids program grew for a couple years in numbers and has plateaued numerically. But, this year there’s been a different type of growth–a growth in depth. It’s as obvious as what I call “the baby-ducks phenomenon.” More than once I’ve watched adult leaders get up to walk somewhere within the church. Without a word, a few kids closely tied to that leader invariable notice and get up to follow, even if it ends up being a trip to the coat rack because the adult leader only needed something from a pocket. In other words, trust has deepened. Relationship has grown. I see the same with some of the kids seeking out people that are becoming their favorites within the congregation just to say, “hi” on Sunday morning. In the grocery store, kids from church will spot me from a distance, before I spot them, race over to say, “hello.” It’s a little harder to gauge people’s relationships with God. But, I see some signs those are growing as well.
This Sunday the Children’s Ministry is leading worship–and focusing on Following Jesus. “Let them deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). I will be curious to hear what the kids have to share. It also brings up important questions in all our lives: “how are we doing at following Jesus?” Do we notice where Jesus leads? Are there places in our lives where Jesus calls us one direction but we find ourselves wanting to go the opposite direction? I invite you to take a few moments before Sunday to read Mark 8:31-38 and listen to what Jesus says. Pray over it. Perhaps click on the link that follows as you pray and let a piano arrangement of “Where He Leads Me I Will Follow” be part of your reflection.