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

Weekly Devotional June 28th 2018

Tuesday, it appeared the focus of Sunday was going to be “Healed and Set Free.” But things happen when a person reads and re-reads Bible passages. Mark 5:21-43 is a healing story interrupted by a healing story. It begins with a girl nearing death, is interrupted by a bleeding woman whose story is so compelling that the dying girl is practically forgotten until she is brought up again. Both stories are about being “healed and set free.” But, I saw something new that seemed very timely for our world today. In a world where so many people and things are in need of healing, this reading from Mark, tells about energy flowing from Jesus. But, wonderful wonder of wonders, there is “Enough Jesus to Go Around. It’s kind of like the five loaves and two fish that fed thousands on the hillside. Jesus always offers more than we can imagine.

Is there a place in your life where it seems your resources and best efforts are too little? Jesus does want the best for us and invites us trust he is also at work in our lives. We are not left alone to get by on our own efforts. Is the someone you are praying for that you wish you could do more for? Jesus invites us to do what we can, maybe even more than we think we can, AND to trust Jesus is also at work in that person’s life. Are you in need of healing? Take a look at the Scripture and be reminded Jesus eventually does bring new life to both the woman and the girl in the story (and those who care for them). It’s an invitation to trust Jesus is still seeking to take us by the hand and set us free to live anew even when it take more time than we’d like. The healing may not always be in the way we expect but it always seems to be what we most need.

There Is Enough Jesus to Go Around.

Blessings,

Weekly Devotional July 5th 2018

“What does the Lord require of us? God has already shown us what is good. Love kindness, show mercy and walk humbly with our God.”  (Micah 6:8) I am particularly fond of the words of the prophet Micah. His words remind us that being faithful is about our actions and our attitudes. He reminds us that a faithful life is within our reach. There’s hope in knowing kindness, mercy and humility can make a difference in a broken world. Still, as human-beings, our hearts often break and we find ourselves wishing we could do more.

Last week there were two children who drown in the Fargo-Moorhead area and our hearts go out to their families. It may not seem like kindness, mercy and humility are enough. However, those of you who were in church on Sunday already know, in a way you were with Grace’s Mom and family on that tragic day. Because you support Grace Church with your prayers, presence, gifts and service, you have a pastor who volunteers as a Moorhead Police Chaplain. Your faithfulness to Grace Church allowed me to answer the call and be with Grace’s Mom at Buffalo River State Park. I could not bring little Grace back to life. But, I could whisper a prayer and be a visual reminder to her family that God had not abandoned them during this time, and that Jesus held little Grace in his arms. I was also able to be with officers later in the evening. It was a humbling privilege for me to be a sign that God still cares in the midst of tragedy. But, the only reason I could be there is because of you kindly, mercifully and humbly giving yourselves to the mission of Grace Church–to this idea that God is calling to be the church beyond our building’s walls right in our neighborhood.

On Sunday mornings when there is Sunday School for the kids, most of us aren’t in the education wing. Yet, we are part of supporting those who are teaching God’s love to the next generation. When you send a card, pick up the phone, or visit someone to directly care for them, I hope you feel the support and encouragement of your Grace family. Loving kindness, showing mercy, and walking humbly is not something we do alone. Jesus can work mightily through these simple actions and attitudes because we practice them together and support one another in them.

The next time you see someone do or say something that exemplifies kindness, mercy and humility, take a moment to show your appreciation. It is good when we encourage each other on the journey of faithfulness.

Sunday we’ll talk more about what it means to be Sent by Jesus and Sustained by Jesus.

Blessings,

Weekly Devotional June 21 2018

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,

Weekly Devotional June 8 2018

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.