Weekly Devotional March 7th 2019

Ash Wednesday we reflected a bit on the history of “Just as I Am.” (The backstories of all the Songs of the Soul for Lent will be compiled and available for those who want them at the end of Lent). As I was reading about the recent tornadoes in the Southern US the lyrics of “Just as I Am” spoke to me.  

Eastern Alabama – Western Georgia Tornadoes

Facts:

  At least 23 dead

At least 800 people homeless…not as in their homes were damaged…

as in they came home to their homes completely gone

Deceased range from age 6 to age 89

Quotes:

“She was the air in my lungs,” father of a 10 year old girl who died.

“Heaven got the sweetest little boy.” “I love you, A.J., for making me smile when I was with you,” mom of a son who died.

“He was my wedding gift. He’d send me flowers at work just to let me know he loved me,” wife of deceased husband.

“She loved dancing. Believe it or not she was dancing on her ultrasound.”

“She was loved by many and she loved in return,” parent of an 8 year old.

“In three days we won’t be the headline of the news cycle. Please don’t forget us—in three days, in three weeks, in three months. It will take years for many of the survivors to have a home again,” First Baptist Pastor

 

Truth:  

We are vulnerable, fragile, creatures on this sometimes harsh and unpredictable planet. Add in, diseases, poverty, cruelty of other humans and accidents, and its clear life, at times, is tenuous and has more than its share of grief. 

“Just as I am without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me, and that thou bidst me, come to thee. O lamb of God, I come; I come;”  

Just as I am was written for comfort and assurance in the brokenness that occurs in our world. Please keep those who are recovering from life’s worst in your prayers this Lent. Remember, when you face trials, God always, always cares and calls you to come rest in that care. Also, know that the 4th Sunday of March is UMCOR Sunday for all UM Churches. Through the United Methodist Committee on Relief you are already part of God’s care in the aftermath of the recent Tornadoes. Supplies and caring UMs were on their way within 48 hours of the devastation–with clean up supplies and listening ears–to hear, heal, and help in the rebuilding of lives over the months to come.  

For a modern intrepretation of Just as I Am check out Nicole Nordman’s version.

Lenten Blessings, Pastor Roger  

Weekly Devotional Feb 21 2019

I recently saw a picture with some feisty words on it. “When I give you my time, I am giving you a portion of my life I will never get back. So don’t make me regret it.” They are not exactly words of kindness, I suspect they are words born of frustration and disappointment; they are likely meant to be a bit humorous. But, they have their sting. Probably, we have all given our time (and sometimes more) only to feel unappreciated or taken advantage of. Sometimes we are stung and we want to sting back. It is natural.

Truth is, sometimes we have to say, “no” for our own health. Yet, as we take care of ourselves, Jesus has these words, “Love your enemies, do good and lend expecting nothing in return. Be compassionate as God is. Don’t judge and you’ll avoid being judged. Don’t condemn and you won’t be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. Give, and one day it will be given to you, a good portion…overflowing. The portion you give will determine the portion you receive” (Luke 6:35-38).

As near as I can tell, Jesus is making it clear that generosity is always noticed by God–even if others don’t seem to appreciate it.  Some days we may not have it in us to go the second mile. Occasionally, we may be exhausted and need to generously give ourselves permission to say “No.” But, we don’t need to judge others to take care of ourselves. We don’t need a grudge to take care of ourselves. And, we don’t need to let having been taken advantage of keep us from having a generous spirit.

Imagine a picture with these words: “When I give you my time, I am giving you a portion of my life I will never get back–and that’s OK. When I don’t share my time, I’m not judging you. Sometimes, I need time to recharge.” It sounds a bit more grace-filled than “Don’t make me regret it!” It sounds a lot like Jesus’ challenge to love our neighbors as ourselves.

What are other ways you and I might live more grace-filled lives. This Sunday we’ll linger with Luke 6:27-38 during worship to explore other ways Jesus Invites Us to Grow in Grace.

God’s Peace, Pastor Roger

Weekly Devotional Feb 14 2019

The Dakota’s Methodist Foundation posted the image above with wise words, “Stop looking at yourself negatively for what you’re not; start loving yourself for everything you already are.” It’s an invitation to see the world and ourselves differently. It’s an invitation to focus on the blessings and set aside the limitations.  

In Luke 6:20-21 Jesus says, 

Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.

Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.  

Jesus words invite his followers to see the world differently. He invites us to understand that God sees and acts in the world differently than we might imagine. It’s like Jesus is saying, “even when we may not feel like things are going well, or that things will ever be OK again, trust God is at work bringing blessings into our lives.”  

A few translations use the word “happy” instead of “blessed.” They pick up on the fact that we can sometimes choose how we respond to life. It’s a good point. However, I believe “blessed” is a better word, because it focuses on what God is up to in the world. Blessings are bestowed; that truth is especially important when all the positive-thinking in the world fails. Blessings can be received even in the midst of grief; that is crucial when the tears flow and happy feelings are out of reach. More importantly, you or I can not give anyone happiness. But, we can all share blessings with others.

If Jesus’ words find you in any way poor, hungry or sad, know God notices and will bring blessing into your life. You are not forgotten by the God who made you, loves you and hopes you will remember to love yourself.  

If Jesus’ words find you watching someone in the midst of struggle, wishing you could bring happiness, or change the situation in someone’s life, be reassured you can offer the reminder God is a caring and blessing God. You are made in God’s image–your style of being you is just what God needs to speak a blessing to someone. Pray God will show you the person you need to bless.

God’s Peace, Pastor Roger

Weekly Devotional Feb 8 2019

Wednesday, before the winter storm and blizzard started in earnest, I went to put on my winter boots only to discover one had split in several places the last time I blew snow. I guess they didn’t like going out in -30. I searched for my gorilla tape. No luck. I thought about using CA glue, then paused after opening the bottle. “What if…?” I wondered. There’s a Bible passage where some fishermen are having terrible luck. But, Jesus, suggested to them that they go out further to drop their nets. They might have said, “No.” Instead, they responded, “What if…he is right?” Their nets were filled to overflowing. 

“What if…I take my boots back to Scheels where I bought them two or three years ago?” They say they pride themselves on customer service. So, I carried my boots into Scheels hoping they might be able to send them in somewhere to be fixed. I shared they were 2 or 3 years old but mostly worn for snow blowing. Within moments, I was being handed a gift card for new snow boots. I was stunned. They’ve made me a fan and I’m willing to say good words about them. The fishermen’s nets were overflowing. It made them a fan of Jesus–so much so that they were willing to drop everything to follow him and become “fishers of people” (Luke 5:1-11).
How many times has Jesus exceeded our expectations: answered our prayers with more than we thought possible, carried us through what we thought might crush us, cared for someone we love when we ourselves could do no more? Jesus invites us to share those stories, too. In fact, when we follow Jesus we are encouraged to extend kindness and understanding beyond what people expect. We are called to be generous beyond what is customary. I think that’s part of what Jesus means when he calls his followers to fish for people. Going above and beyond in caring for others can be one way we invite others to know God cares and understands. (This seems a good time to share the reminder that coats, boots and gloves are being collected for the homeless. They can be brought to Grace and we will get them to Jillian Gould – director at the Gladys Ray shelter).
Who do we know that might need some extra care? How might we show that person or family, that we care and God cares? This week I invite us to pray God will show us how to show others Jesus loves them deeply. I invite us to pray about ways we people might experience the surprisingly generous love and care of Jesus at Grace Church.
We’ll explore caring and other ways of inviting people to know Jesus’ love this Sunday at Grace with our theme: “Jesus Invites Us – Grow in Purpose.” Hope to see you there.
Blessings, Pastor Roger

Weekly Devotional Jan 31 2019

One of my childhood lessons was “never steady a BB gun by resting the barrel on an electric fence.” All was well, until I completed the circuit by touching my finger to the metal trigger. My elbow kicked like a mule and my brain has never forgotten.

All of us have our moments–and if we survive we become cautious. For some people cautiousness kicks in when they near a church. A bad experience with church or even no experience with church is enough to lead a those who is seek a connection with God to be cautious when it comes to church. As congregations our job is to build inviting paths rather than set up electric fences. Truth is, we’re usually really good at opening the gate for those who feel comfortable within a church. But, the some of the simplest things can jolt those new to church.

Familiar words to us can be jolting to others. “Narthex, Fellowship Hall, Chancel Area” are church-words that can leave a non-churched person feeling out of place. My theology professor and adviser in seminary warned, “those who get As in theology often don’t do well as pastors.” He reminded us everyday theology words like Heilsgeschicte and Eschatology can be barriers even for people steeped in the life of the church. He challenged us to know what such words meant so well that we would not have to use them. He pushed us to find ways of paraphrasing even their English translations: “Salvation History” and “the Ultimate Destiny of the Soul(s) of Humanity.”

Our February focus at Grace Church is “Jesus’ Invitations to Us.” It turns out Jesus’ invitations to us are often invitations to be more inviting. How do we live life so we’re not the jolting electric fence but the beautiful gateway to a life-giving relationship with God? Each week we’ll take at a part of the arts of welcome and invitation. The Bible tells of God speaking to a boy named Jeremiah. “God touched his mouth and said, ‘I am putting my words in your mouth. This day I appoint you…to dig up and pull down, to destroy and demolish, to build and plant.'” (Jeremiah 1:9-10) I think those words mean God sent Jeremiah to dig up and pull down barriers that keep people from knowing God; I think God called Jeremiah and still calls to church to build andplant the foundations for bridges and paths that lead people into meaningful relationships with the God who made us and loves us.

How will you and I speak inviting, bridge-building words today?  

Blessings, Pastor Roger

Weekly Devotional Jan 25 2019

 As I read this upcoming Sunday’s gospel from Luke 4:14-21 many stories went through my mind.  In it Jesus talks about the Spirit of the Lord being upon him to “preach good news,” “proclaim freedom,” “offer liberty” and more.  One of the stories I remembered was a drummer I knew.  Buck was a gifted drummer and had spent part of his life drumming for bands.  But, band life isn’t always conducive to family life.  So, Buck changed gears–but he still drummed on occasion, sometimes at the church I was serving.  Buck also collected drums and he came up with an idea during his time working with special Olympics.  Drumming could be therapeutic and life-giving.  So, he applied for a small grant for drums, sticks and space rental.  He received the grant and began offering an opportunity for young people with special needs–a drumming group.  It started as you’d expect, dozen plus special needs individuals with drums and sticks and minds of their own.  Pandemonium is what I imagine.  But, God worked through Buck’s natural gift of patience, a humble ego with nothing to prove, and love for people exactly as they were.  The result: over a dozen individuals with wonderful smiles on their faces, a newfound ability to work in concert together, making music on the drums.  Every time I saw them perform it touched my heart.  They were proud; they were in time; they were a band; they found they had something they could share that blessed others.  

      Take a few moments to read Luke 4:14-21.  Imagine a time where you’ve seen people freed to be their best selves.  Jesus’ ministry was about creating a world where everyone’s gifts can shine and all hurts be healed.  Sunday, I’ll share another “Jesus brings good news” story that I got a chance to see just this past week.  Plus, we’ll all participate in another such story– as we are part of Lucy Grace Petik’s baptism.  Lucy Grace and her parents were the “holy family” in our Living Nativity this past year.  One of their other daughters played the manger-cow who transformed into a little girl dancing while the congregation “Joy to the World,” that Sunday.  It wasn’t scripted but it was a Holy Spirit moment.  
      God is good and ‘thanks be’ for all the times we get to glimpse the goodness

Weekly Devotional Jan 16 2019

“Humans feast on the bounty in your house. You let them drink from your river of joy.” (Psalm 36:8) I had the privilege of doing a couple of deliveries today. I filled the back of the Subaru twice: 87 pounds to the Food Pantry donated by the Dilworth CVS and an entire cartload (both top and bottom filled) of diapers,wipes and toiletries to Churches United for the Homeless. This upcoming Sunday we’ll read from Psalm 36 about the bounty in God’s house and the joy God wants all people. I was reminded that sometimes the bounty of God depends upon the faithful generosity of God’s people. “Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven” is not only a prayer of our lips, it is the love of our hearts expressed through the action of our hands.  

The joy in my deliveries was deeply rooted in the fact that I know every week Lee Jensen delivers food that you donate to the food pantry. The joy in my deliveries was knowing all the love and compassion that went into the giving of diapers and wipes to those to bless those who are down on their luck, and knowing every so often people of Grace go to Churches United and prepare the evening meal for the residents there. My prayer is that every day the lives we live, individually and collectively, may point to a God of bounty and joy.

This Sunday we’ll celebrate God’s bounty, joy and so much more in worship. Hope to see you there. Blessings, 

Pastor Roger Grafenstein
Grace United Methodist Church 

1120 17th St. South

Moorhead, MN 56560

Weekly Devotional Jan 2 2019

My Christmas practice for many years has been to follow the church calendar–keeping the lights glowing through the twelve days of Christmas until the wise ones reach the manger. This year my manger lights no longer glow. Mary burned out two night ago. The bulb for her in the outdoor nativity ceased to light in the bitter cold. Plus, the blizzard completely covered baby Jesus. I’m not trudging through the cold and snow to fix it. I do know the difference between a plastic Mary and the real meaning of Christmas. So, my routine will be a little different this year.

But, the metaphor of Mary suffering “burn out” speaks. It’s not uncommon after all the varied holiday activities wrap up. After the the company has gone home and the left-overs are gone, after the wrappings are tossed and the radios have ceased playing the sounds of noel and Rudolph, after all our daily routines have flipped and flopped and life nears getting back to normal, it’s common to feel a bit “burned out.”
Sometimes I am in awe of the people who drew near to Jesus–especially the wise ones who left home and journeyed for so long. Life takes more energy when it’s unpredictable. Then again, they wise ones did have a focus and faith. They knew the difference between what was pretend and what was really important. In fact, it was their ability remember their number one priority that energized them and lead them to the manger. It was their faith and focus that gave them the courage to walk through the darkness after their manger moment–escaping Herod and giving Mary, Joseph and Jesus a head start.  
My prayer for all of us — Post-Christmas and into the New Year — is that we’ll be able to keep our focus on the things that give us life and energy. My prayer is that we’ll keep looking to Jesus to guide us — especially when we feel a bit burned out. My prayer is that we’ll remember God is still active in our lives even when they don’t feel like a celebration. This Sunday we’ll ponder a bit more of the story of the wise ones encounter with Jesus in hopes that a bit of their wisdom will become ours.  
In the meantime, if you happen to drive by the church parsonage some evening, Mary and the manger scene will NOT be aglow. I’ve given myself permission to NOT change her light bulb. The manger scene will be dark. Think of it as seeing Mary, Joseph and Jesus escaping to Egypt under the cover of darkness. God’s Blessings, Pastor Roger  

Weekly Devotional December 19 2018

This past Monday we piled into our car to have a Christmas gathering with my parents and uncle. By we, I mean my wife, son, his daughter, his dog and our dog. We had three wonderful hours with family in Alexandria and were about to head home when my son decided to check craigslist. The tires on his car were in terrible shape and he had one wheel that was bent, too. Turned out a person in St. Joseph had just posted four factory wheels, with almost new tires, already on, mounted and balanced for a low price. So, trekked a few miles out of the way, since we were already so near. It was when we slowed down in St. Joseph, MN, just as the sun was setting, that our Subaru started to kick and buck a little.
It’s Advent. I immediately thought of Mary and Joseph reaching Bethlehem: no room in the inn, the sun setting, far away from home. They had few options. By contrast, we had two mechanically inclined fellows, a three-year old that’s at least a little heartier than a newborn, and a grandma for whom such a situation wasn’t new. We had resources to stay over if we needed. The only drawback–two dogs that might make it hard to stay the night. Plus, by this time our car really started acting up in earnest, w had four extra wheels and tires for a Ford in the back. Still, we had it way better than Mary and Joseph.
How stressful it must have been for them–far from home, homeless, contractions starting in earnest. Yet, it is precisely that stress-filled, imperfect night that has become the perfect sign of God’s faithfulness. God provided shelter in a stable. God provided a safe birth, shelter, warmth, a heavenly light, angel songs, and watchful shepherds. The shepherds even brought an uplifting story to tell a young newlywed couple about the newborn baby they were holding. God made the night holy–as a sign to all in need–not just those far away from home, without shelter after dark. Yes, “Life has it’s stressful moments.” But, “God can change a stressful moment into a Bethlehem-Moment!”
Engine light on, motor-shaking, we pulled into O’Reilly’s. They loan out computer-code readers and my son knows how to use them. While he checked the codes I bought a spark plug socket and extensions knowing the old-school place to start was with checking the spark plugs. The code reader told my son – misfire on cylinder #1. Talk about a time saver. Google told me where cylinder #1 was. Monday was my son’s birthday and here we were without a cake but with an important engine candle that wouldn’t light. I popped out the plug. My son’s eyes saw the crack in the porcelain. He put the new plug in cylinder #1. I turned the key and the engine purred–smooth as fresh cream in a hot coffee. A high five and we were off. Our stressful moment was changed into a tiny Bethlehem Moment. The Bethlehem-Moment wasn’t just that the car ran again. The Bethlehem-Moment was that we calmly fixed it together. Sometimes fathers and sons aren’t calm with each other. But, this birthday night God gave us a moment that was calm and bright and blessed.
I thank God for those moments when life happens exactly the way they were meant to happen: and God whispers, “Yes, I am at work here and now.” “Yes, I am with you.” So it was, Mary and Joseph named the baby–Jesus which means “God saves,” or “God is with us.” Whatever your situation or stress-level, may you sense God-with-you during these days of nearing Christmas. May the calm of the Bethlehem stable 2,000 years ago brighten Christmas 2018 for you. A Blessed Advent and Mary Christmas,

 

Pastor Roger Grafenstein