February 6

I opted not to watch the State of the Union address.  However, I did sign in to Facebook later that evening.  I regretted it.  My Facebook feed was filled with negativity.  I knew I had to process the barrage of anger in some way.  So, I took a deep breath and decided to chime in.  I wrote:

Yes Facebook world, please breathe; we all are aware President Trump refused to shake Speaker Pelosi’s hand and Speaker Pelosi chose to tear up President Trump’s speech: two people with titles snubbed one another with symbolic actions.  (No one was physically hurt).  Just thinking we are better off not promoting either negative behavior, defending either choice, or slamming ‘the other party’. I think there is an alternative…In the next 24 hours, I am committing to another path, to find and do something that shows respect and kindness toward another human being.

In Matthew 5:13-14 Jesus says to his followers, “You are the salt of the earth.  But if salt loses its saltiness how will it become salty again?  It’s good for nothing… .  You are the light of the world.  A city on a hill can not be hidden.”  Our world desperately needs salt to preserve basic values like kindness and respect.  Our world desperately needs light in these dark and divided times.  Frankly, some days I need salt and light to get me through.  Those are the very days I need to find ways of being salt and light. 
 
So, I did go out of my way to share a couple of kindnesses in the 24 hours following witnessing the state of our division.  Jesus said, “let your light shine before people so they can see goo…and praise God” (Matthew 5:16).  Sunday we’ll be exploring ways we can be light, and salt, for one another in this world.  In the meantime, take a look at the “Here’s What’s Cool” image that began this devotion.  Prayerfully do anyone of these things today.  The world will be brighter and you will feel lighter for it.  
    
God’s Blessings, Pastor Roger

January 30

Many years ago my wife and I were seated next to another pastor and his wife at a community fish fry. The other pastor’s Mom, a retiree who’d settled in the southern US, was visiting and at the table. The table-talk turned and the next thing we knew the other pastor and his Mom were talking theology. If I recall correctly he had to head to the office and go through the list to see who was eligible to take communion on Sunday. I still remember his Mom saying, ” Son, you may be a pastor, but you’re not qualified to say who can take communion. Only Jesus knows what’s in the heart.” The son retorted. The Mom said, “You know, the church I go too doesn’t do that anymore. It’s still the same denomination; Son, times are changing. You need to adapt.” I smile every time I remember the two of them–Mom breaking with generations of tradition, and the son holding fast to the past.

Within the United Methodist Church there are two sacraments (visible expressions of holy spiritual truths) that pastors are placed in charge of: baptism and communion. However, in the United Methodist tradition pastors are placed in charge of baptism and communion to make sure both remain open to all who reach out to experience God in the moment. Babies who can not affirm their own faith are baptized to remind us God chooses to love us even before we can respond to that love. Even when adults is baptized, the fact that we baptize babies reminds us part of baptism is surrounding and nurturing one another with Christ-like love. Likewise, pastors in the UM Church are placed in charge of the sacrament of communion NOT to decide who gets to take communion. Instead, we are charged with keeping Christ’s table open to all who seek–including young children mentally-impaired, those with dementia or any who may not fully understand. I like to say, “if we had to understand communion fully to receive it, none of us could receive. There is always more to learn and room to grow.”

This Sunday I will be part of a Healthy Church Consultation Team for Hillcrest, UMC in Bloomington. But, Grace will still have communion. The youth will serve. Tonight (Wednesday) I will bless the bread and juice–and use that time of blessing as a teaching moment with the youth who will serve on Sunday.

No doubt I will tell them that if I was asked to name three things I love about the United Methodist Church, always in the top three would always be: 1) the open communion table where all are welcome who seek to follow Jesus by loving God and neighbor. 2) the UM affirmation that God loves us and says, “Yes” to us before we can even say “Yes” to God. The theological term for God loves us before we even know it is “prevenient Grace.”

The devotional challenge of the open communion table and prevenient Grace is two-fold. First, we ask ourselves if we are blocking God’s grace in our own lives. Any day we ask if we are “good enough” we need to step back and remind ourselves God chooses to love us before we measure up and in spite of the fact that this side of heaven we’ll always be flawed. Second, we examine our attitudes to see if we are asking others to “measure up” before receiving God’s love. If so, we ask God to help us grow in grace and hospitality–and remind ourselves that God has chosen to love us before we “get it right” or “understand it all.”

That is “Grace” and it is “amazing” indeed.

Blessings, Pastor Roger

January 17

Many of us are familiar with the scene of Jesus walking along the shoreline calling fishermen to follow him. Among those fishermen was a man named Simon who Jesus renamed Peter–the rock, the person Jesus will use as a foundation for his church. The gospel of John has tells the story of Peter’s call a bit differently, however. John 1:40-41 says, “One of the two disciples who heard what John (the baptist) said and followed Jesus was Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter. He found his own brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah.’ Andrew lead Simon to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, ‘You are Simon, son of John. You will be called Cephas (which is translated Peter).'”

As I ponder the account from the Gospel of John, I am struck by a few things in it. First, Jesus doesn’t seek out Simon Peter. Second, Simon Peter has an open mind and heart. Third, it answers a question I’ve always had with the version from Matthew’s account, “why did Simon drop everything to follow Jesus when he didn’t even know who he was?” In John’s telling, Simon Peter first put his trust in his brother Andrew. The way John describes it, Andrew lead his brother to Jesus. Andrew said, “we’ve been spending time with this fellow Jesus, and we are convinced he must be the messiah.”

Some people do have a spiritual experience where they kind of meet Jesus out of the blue–a vision, or a dream. Most of us, however, have had someone like Andrew, someone we already trust, invite us to trust Jesus. For me it was a Sunday School teacher, my parents, a college professor, a pastor and a handful of writers. Many of the times I’ve found myself growing in the faith, it’s been because someone I trust invites me to see faith or be faithful in a new way.

Who has been your Andrew leading you into Jesus presence? When have you been Andrew for another? Who trusts you that may be struggling right now? Perhaps it’s your chance to say, “Jesus helps me navigate life. I’d love to have you come with me to the place where I feel closest to him.”

Blessings,

Pastor Roger

January 9

“I’ve put my Spirit upon him to bring justice to the nations. He won’t cry out or shout aloud… . He won’t break a bruised reed; he won’t extinguish a faint wick, but he will surely bring justice” (Isaiah 42:1b.4) I remember occasionally watching Mr. Rogers with my children. For a children’s program he took on some hard issues–including bullying and death–always with a calm, non-anxious voice. A couple Presbyterian pastors I served with years ago assured me he did become anxious about “written tests;” they claimed he requested to take tests in seminary orally. I don’t know know if those reports are true. I do know he had a gift of communicating care with the spoken word. When I read the words from Isaiah 42 about how to recognize God’s chosen, Mr. Rogers, is one of the ‘celebrity’ leaders I think of.

There are many others I think of who have similar characteristics–they don’t should aloud and work hard to avoid extinguishing others light, especially if the wick is faint. As followers of Jesus, the church, we are called to lead the world into God’s arms by exhibiting the same traits. Today, the Scripture asks us, “Where can we choose to speak without shouting?” “Who is like a bruised reed that we are called to be gentle with?” “Where must we move carefully to avoid stirring the winds that will extinguish a faint wick of another’s hope?”

Isaiah says, The messiah may be gentle, but he will never be extinguished or broken. His justice will prevail. Today, take heart in being kind. Be strong in standing with the weary. God’s goodness and justice will prevail.

Blessings,

Pastor Roger

December 27

“O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name throughout the earth.”  If the Christmas manger-moment has one lasting message for us every single day of our lives, it has to be that God’s glory and majesty often hides in plain sight.  In fact, God’s wondrous presence isn’t seeking to hide.  It remains hidden when we neglect to be attentive.  Because of Christmas a feed-trough was transformed into a manger–a cradle for an infant Christ.  Because of Christmas a peasant girl was transformed into the royal mother of a king.  Because of Christmas mere shepherds became Pulitzer-Prize level reporters on the one moment that would transform our world.  Because of Christmas an ordinary carpenter became the metaphorical general in charge of guarding God’s child.  Shortly after the visit of the wise ones, he’d strategically saved Jesus and Mary from all of Herod’s soldiers by leading a wise retreat to Egypt.  The Christmas message starts with seeing God at work in the most ordinary of places and people.

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Wherever life finds you today, whoever you are with, God is there.  Wherever life finds you tomorrow, whoever you are with, God is there.  Every day you and I are called to be part of God’s saving grace:  and it begins with asking God to help us see the holy purpose and plan in seemingly ordinary moments and people.  Today, if you’re married, take a moment to be amazed with your spouse.  Think of all he or she has overcome, and all the blessings he or she has shared.  If you’re single or widowed, choose a friend whose life inspires you.  Let gratitude for that person fill your heart.  If neither of these fits, choose a child, or a parent, or even a moment in life that was a blessing.  Thank God for everyday holiness that has touched your life–that is all too easy to forget.  Then, pray God might use you to bring a glimmer of divine glory and beauty into the world today.  Remember and trust that even what seems like a small faithful act may have lasting results you never dreamed of.

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“O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name throughout the earth!” (Psalm 8:1)
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 Blessings,
Pastor Roger

December 19

The Biblical account of the Joseph that was engaged to Mary shows a man struggling deeply.  Having discovered Mary to be pregnant, knowing it wasn’t his child, but also loving her deeply, he struggled.  Matthew 1:19b-20a says, “He decided to call of their engagement quietly.  As he was thinking about this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream.”  Some struggles are such that we think of them whether awake or sleeping, whether we are aware of it or not.  The worry begins to affect every part of our lives.  That’s where Joseph’s mind is when we first meet him.
When Joseph wakes up, he lives into what he believes to be God’s plan after seeing a vision.  He takes Mary for his wife.  He puts someone else’s needs before his own.  Each year I read the story, Joseph makes the same choice.  Of course, two thousand years ago it was recorded that Joseph chose to become, in a word from Genesis, “a helpmate” for Mary, and a daily father to a child to be born that he would treat with the same love as his own.  One of my personal weekly devotionals that I read has chosen to focus on A.A.’s 12 steps for the past couple weeks.  Today it shared these words about step twelve:  the culminating step of a whole and healthy life:  “Helping is a foundation stone of recovery.  A kindly act once in a while isn’t enough…. We have to act the Good Samaritan each day.”  When I say, “each year I read the story, Joseph makes the same choice,” it makes me smile (in the way I smile at corny Dad jokes when I tell them); but, it also reminds me that to live a full and healthy life, we called to choose helping, kindness, and service to others on an everyday basis.
May each of us find a way to help another today.
To take a prayerful step deeper with this devotion, re-read it.  Or, ready Matthew 1:18-25.  Identify a word or two that stands out for you.  Keep going back to that word over and over again today.  Perhaps write the word down.  Watch for where God speaks to you through that word today.
God’s Peace,
 Pastor Roger

December 13

I have a card on my desk for a service that already happened.  The date’s past, but I keep the card on my desk as a daily prayer reminder of those who are facing the holidays without a loved one.  On the card is the poem – “I Am Learning How to Live.”  It’s not just those who are grieving a fresh loss that are learning how to live.  In a sense, all of us are learning how to live.  If we stop learning how to live, fully and hopefully, we are merely surviving.

     Struggles always bring the temptation to slip into a merely surviving mode.  There are those struggling to make ends meet, who feel burdened, especially at the holidays.  However, there are those with all they need who may be feeling overwhelmed in any one of a myriad of ways.

 
     As we draw near the manger, we are reminded life is about more than just surviving.  Jesus’ life began with a struggle:  being born in a cowshed, being wrapped in rags and laid in a feed trough.  Part of learning how to live is choosing how we speak of things; so we say “in a stable, wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger.”  It was a night about surviving, but also a night filled with meaning; meaning transforms ‘just surviving’ into ‘learning how to live.’
 
     This Sunday Grace Choir, a woman’s ensemble, and Voce’ Hominum from Concordia will fill our worship with song.  Grace Choir is not fond of applause because they aren’t singing for recognition or training to be the next pop stars.  But, we’ll have a chance to applaud at the end of it all, because worshipers do need ways to respond when their spirits are lifted.  The point is, when I talk with people who sing in church choirs, often it is something they do because it uplifts them and fills them; it gives them a way to serve God.  The music, getting together with others to practice, and being part of creating something beautiful adds meaning to life.  In other words, choir is a way for our spiritual selves to “learn how to live.”
 
     If you are feeling like life is “just surviving,” I encourage you to find something, some practice that adds meaning to life.  It may be gathering for a 1/2 hour coffee once a week with one or two other people simple to create a list of people to keep in prayer during the week.  It may be creating one Christmas gift for someone that is homemade. (Don’t feel rushed – a Christmas gift can be given in January or February and still bless someone).  You may choose to find and share a single, completely positive, no negativity or criticism, Facebook post each day to bless a world that sees too much anger and despair.  In other words, find a way to do something that adds a little beauty and love to the world.  If you can, coax a friend to do the same.  If hearing this Sunday’s music really moves you, ask Jack (our Choir director) about being part of Grace choir for the second half of the year.
 
     Jesus said, “I came that (all) may have life, and have it abundantly.”  John 10:10 KJV.  Everyday is an opportunity for us to say, “Today, I am learning how to live.”   
 
     Blessings,
 
    Pastor Roger
 
“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)    

December 6

One evening my wife and I received instant messages on our phones.  The first was a short video from our son of our granddaughter Aubry holding his guitar and strumming with her right hand–while he formed the chords on the neck of the guitar with his left hand.  She was so proud and intent.  The second message was a picture of our daughter of our newborn grandson Cleo–doing what he does best–napping contently.  That night I felt extremely blessed and my soul was smiling.  There’s nothing quite like the innocence, curiosity and contentment of little ones–except puppies and kittens perhaps.  Little ones can bring out our best, most-nurturing and caring selves.  Their existence is a message of hope and promise–a reason to pause and ponder, a reminder to be grateful.

 
So it is the Christian year begins with Advent–waiting, hoping, preparing to see the face of a baby, a child meant to change us so we can work with God to transform the world.  This Sunday at Grace we’ll pause and ponder the story of that baby.  We’ll remember his name is Jesus.  We’ll glimpse his face in the faces of the children who tell his story to us:  through the prepared script and the unexpected moments that always happen with children.  Watching the children’s Christmas program is a way to remember we are extremely blessed.  It’s a reason for our souls to smile.  It’s also a chance for God to whisper renewed life into our “best selves.”  If we allow it, it will remind us of the high and holy tasks we are called to–nurturing, healing, encouraging and blessing.  
According to the angel who visited Joseph in a dream long, long ago, it is in the spirit of offering our best selves to those around us that we discover Emmanuel, “God with us.” (Matthew 1:23).  Today, make time to pause and ponder the baby Jesus.  Try to see his face in any who may need nurture and care, whatever their age, as all a children of God.

Blessings,
Pastor Roger

November 26

I never knew how blessed it would feel to be a grandparent.

I thank God, each day, for the privilege.
Wrapped up in the “thank you” is a recognition:
being a parent when my kids were small was more of a blessing than I knew at the time;
getting married was more of a blessing than I knew 33 years ago;
growing up in a small town without ever once worrying about a school shooting
four and five decades ago was more blessing than I realized at the time;
the parents I had, and still fortunately have, again more of a blessing than I knew.
The list goes on and on of blessings that were more than I knew at the time.
The list reminds me of blessings I need to  focus on right now.
Each person with different opinions than me, who I may never agree with,
has a unique life-story underneath opinions that I can learn from,
that can allow me to see life through a myriad of different lenses.
Each kind action is worth dwelling on–as a whisper of hope,
and reminder of who we are called to be and what is meant to us apart
as humans with the freedom to choose self-sacrifice or selfishness.
Each song is the melody of the human soul–a miracle that rises beyond
the mystery of a lifetime of heartbeats, given by a power beyond ours.
Each moment that has even a hint of good in it is a gift than did not need to be.
I expect there’ll come a day, in the great beyond, when each of us will say,
“Earthly life was more of a privilege than we ever knew at a the time.”
Still, it is worth dwelling on the good for a moment and saying,
“Gracious God, Thank you for the privilege.” 
Happy Thanksgiving,
Pastor Roger

November 22

Thursday November 21st was the culmination of hearings that will probably lead to the drafting of articles of impeachment. Occasionally, during the day I’d catch a few minutes of the hearings.  Even from a 1,000+ miles away I could feel the tension in the room.   Also, there Seemed to be more talking than listening going on.  Add to that, carrying prayer concerns for people I care about, and by day’s end I was feeling a bit stressed.  Moreover, it was a bit cold outside when I headed to the Lydia circle meeting.  But, that meeting was the perfect place to be. 
I wish everyone reading this could have been there for the devotion time.  The devotional reflections focused on Peace.  We heard children’s descriptions of what peace would feel like and look like, of how peace would taste and sound.  We pondered adult thoughts on peace, and shared in a couple of prayers for peace.  It felt like perfect timing for my soul–and I expect it did for most of those gathered.  (Thank you Wanda for the theme and thoughts).
Sometimes it seems God just steps in with exactly the words, or thoughts, or people we need to for the moment.  It’s a reminder not only that God is always at work for good, it’s a reminder that at any given moment God might be inspiring any one of us to share prayerful words that will bless others.
When is the last time God brought you peace through another’s timely words?  When is the last time you brought peace to another through your presence?  Truth is, sometimes people don’t tell us immediately when we’ve helped them on their journeys.  So, my guess is that each of us have encouraged others without even knowing it.  Two final questions:  What brings you peace?  How might you share what brings you peace with someone else this week?
Sunday we’ll be celebrating the 150th Anniversary of the United Methodist Women.  Over the last 150 years all across the world United Methodist Women have been sharing blessings and working for peace.  I invite you come and listen to stories of caring that will warm your heart and bring you a bit of peace to start off the new week.  10 AM Sunday.  Hope to see you there.
Blessings,
Pastor Roger