March 20

I arrived home after a quick trip to West Acres at closing time–so I could get a picture.  West Acres felt like one of those movies where Zombies might appear any moment.  When I arrived home I was very glad I had a sharp hunting knife.  (Wow-hold on; this really isn’t as weird as it sounds).  I arrived home and heard a faint hum that wasn’t stopping.  Sure enough, the sump pump was running, but unable to pump through a frozen hose.  Hence, I was thankful for a really sharp knife to cut the ice-filled hose quickly–though not so quickly, I did get a full body, outdoor, in 40 mph winds, cold shower.  As miserable as that may sound, for a while life was back to normal.  I had a project with a beginning, a solution and an ability to fix, after a quick trip to Tractor Supply for hose and clamps.
     For a little while life was normal again.  It took my mind off questions that were weighing on me.  1) Those on ventilators with hospital visiting restrictions, are they suffering without family being allowed to visit; 2) those four senators (republican and democrat) who sold stocks as soon as they had the intelligence report on Covid-19 virus three weeks ago, how do they live with that choice? 3) The US Senator, a former accountant, that did the math of “well 97% will live?  We don’t need extraordinary measures,” wasn’t he listening when the physicians said, “without social distancing 50% of the population will be infected within 8 weeks?”  In the FM area alone that would be an extra 3,000 deaths in 8 weeks; many days without Covid-19 our local hospitals and emergency rooms are near capacity.  4) Who came up with the idea to suggest medical personnel could use handkerchiefs and scarves to protect themselves?  Did all of that entire group skip 9th grade biology?  5) How will my parents fare in all of this? how will church members fare? 6) how will Grace church pay bills without regular Sunday offerings? 7) What happens when the Spring Breakers come home to closed colleges and move in with their older parents?
     I don’t know what questions are running through your mind in this time of social distancing.  I do know the questions are not normal, everyday questions.  I do know we need emotional and spiritual breaks from those heavy questions.  While I don’t wish a frozen sump-pump hose on anyone, I do wish normal life moments for each of you.  I encourage you to create normal-life moments.  In talking with one of our members over the phone, he indicated shared a normal life practice that was encouraging him during social distancing.  In a phone conversation, Bill Krogen told me how chapter five of “Reckless Love:  Jesus’ Call to Love Our Neighbor” was speaking to him.  Today Lydia Circle is working on creating a volunteer phone callers team to connect with the home-bound.  The great Cellist Yo-Yo Ma is choosing to play beautiful, soothing music that people can access online for a sense of calm and spiritual renewal.  I am still returning to the Bible I set out at the beginning of Lent–open to I Corinthians 13:4-8.  “Love is patient, love is kind; love is not jealous or boastful, arrogant or rude.  Love does not insist on its own way, etc.”  Great words especially in times when we need to treat those we love with an extra measure of patience and care.
     In these far from normal times, ask God to keep bringing you back to those things that restore your soul and mind.  Ask God to show you how you might help someone else find a sense of “normal” and “peace” today.  
Blessings and Health,
Pastor Roger

March 17

 The picture is the cover of my check book with the words from Proverbs 3:5.  When I write a check they call me back to the relationship that is meant to guide me.  They invite me whether the numbers inside the checkbook or encouraging or discouraging to remember who is my comforter and provider, and who I am called to be.  We need words that guide and put things in perspective.  We need such words when we spend money or expend our lives.
 
     This week I saw another set of words that also reminded me of who I am called to be.  “Your grandparents were called to war.  You’re being called to sit on your couch.  You can do this.”  I laughed and told my wife.  I was surprised she didn’t laugh.  Turned out she was sleeping in the chair next to mine. A few minutes later she woke up, read the words on her Facebook feed, started laughing, and read them to me.
 
     The words were posted by a person who knows what she is saying.  During the Iraq war her husband was called to service.  Their children were early teenagers.  While overseas, his tour of duty was extended.  Their family’s sacrifice was no small matter.  There were tears, worries, loneliness, economic challenges for them, and many, many others.  As I read the clever words that made me laugh, I couldn’t help but think “being stuck at home with family” would seem like a cakewalk compared to waiting each day, not knowing if your husband, (your kids’ father was still alive in a war zone each day).  
 
     The truth is, each challenge is unique.  The truth is sometimes life’s metaphorical checkbook is full, sometimes running on empty.  But, all times the words of Proverbs 3:5 ring true:  “Trust in the Lord with all your heart.”  Today at 5 PM in MN indoor dining in restaurants ends, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart.”  This week there is no school in MN, North Dakota, or many other states.  “Trust in the Lord with all your heart.”  The next two weeks, at the very least, all Grace UMC church activities are cancelled.  “Trust in the Lord with all your heart.”  May God grant you the gift of trust.  
 
Blessings, Pastor Roger   

March 13

I am torn.  Sunday at Grace do we put locks on our TP dispensers or do we advertise, “A free roll for every attender.”  ☺ Truth is, since one of these packs is already spoken for, I probably don’t have enough rolls for every attender.  Plus, news reports are that yesterday Dilworth, Walmart was out, Costco was out and Moorhead, Target was out and Dilworth, CVS was almost out.  This is an odd way to start a weekly devotion.  But, this week those in attendance at Grace will meet the Woman Jesus met at the well.  She came to the well for a necessity–water.  Jesus offered her what she did not know she needed, “Living Water”–that is hope, forgiveness and freedom from her soul ever thirsting again.  (See John 4:5-30).  
 
     I’ve a hunch the TP shortage is fueled by more than a need for toilet paper.  I suspect human beings have a longing to feel safe, prepared, and able to do something to provide for ourselves.  I also believe Jesus was telling the woman at the well she needed something she could not provide or store up for herself.  We all do.  We need a “higher power” to do for us what we can not do for ourselves.  Courage in the face of adversity, calm in the presence of the storm, strength for the journey, at some point in life we all run out of the emotional wherewithal we attempt to muster up for ourselves.  Living water or the peace that passes understanding comes only from God.  During these anxious times I invite us to take a moment a few times a day to whisper a simple prayer:  “Jesus, provide for me what I can not provide for myself–the assurance that you are with us always,” is one options.  Another is, “God, Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Amen
 
     A quick word about Covid-19 Corona Virus and Grace UMC.  Some basic behaviors for us to follow are:
            1)  frequent hand-washing with soap. 
            2)  stay home if experiencing cough, fever, chills, weakness or exposed to person with such symptoms,
            3)  refrain from handshakes for now, 
            4)  cover mouth with inner elbow when coughing or sneezing,
            5)  avoid groups over 250,
            6)  use extra caution if over 60 years of age or if you have a health impairment,
            7)  please understand unfolding circumstances we necessitate alternative communion without bread or juice,
            8)  before visiting friends in larger facilities call ahead to see if there are visitor restrictions, 
            9)  be patient with measures that may seem extreme; most of us have loved ones whose age
                    and/or current health challenges place them in the highest mortality segment of people.  
                    Though US death rates are not high at present, each person who does die was loved by someone,
           10)  since Covid-19 tests are not readily available the situation is more complex; 
                   Pray for widespread availability soon.
   
Blessings and Love in Jesus’ Name, 
Pastor Roger

March 3

This past Sunday we followed Jesus into the desert for his 40 days of desert temptation.  While there, however, I invited us to focus on what tempts us.  Personally, I visit Facebook daily and discover many helpful things–who is celebrating, grieving, hospitalized, traveling, etc.  It can be a great place to connect, encourage and pray for one another.  But, I often face the temptation to chime in where there are Facebook feuds. Most of the time I resist for many reasons–including the sense than minds aren’t changed much during Facebook feuds.  In fact, I think I am seeing a deepening entrenched divisiveness that saddens me–then I feel tempted to be cynical.  
 
I don’t know where you are feeling temptations to be less than your best self lately.  I do know we all face such temptations.  Jesus did, too.  One of Jesus’ responses to temptation was, “Go away, Satan, because it’s written, ‘you will worship the Lord your God and serve only him.'”  One way Jesus battled temptation was to remember Scripture.  So, Sunday I offered a suggestion, and am offering it again, for those who weren’t there or didn’t remember the Bible verses.  I invite you to open a Bible and set it somewhere where you will see it every day.  I invite you to open the Bible to I Corinthians 13:4-8.  “Love is patient, love is kind.  … It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking or easily angered. …always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”  
 
Whether you go on Facebook or not, we live in a world where there is an increasing amount of anger, rudeness, mistrust and meanness.  God’s Word can be our strength for the journey where we may be tempted to give in to the things that divide us.  I invite us to read I Corinthians 13:4-8 every day of Lent until Easter morning and “receive God’s strength for the journey.”
If you find the practice of having your Bible open to I Corinthians 13 somehow blesses you on any given day, I’d love to hear about it.
Lenten Blessings,
Pastor Roger

February 21

This upcoming Sunday most of the slides with the message will be filled with light.  Even the bulletin cover has tulips glow with the sunshine radiating through them.  Light is often a metaphor for holiness.  So, as we draw near the dark valley of the church year we call Lent–we celebrate light on the last Sunday before Ash Wednesday.  The Scripture for the day describes Jesus bathed in light, “his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as light.”  As a cloud arrived in the picture even it was “a bright cloud that overshadowed them.”  (Matthew 17:2 & 5)
 
     Think of the stuff that brightens your world.  Is it the kind words of a friend, perhaps a handmade card, maybe sitting at a table drinking coffee with a few of your favorite people.  All these things are filled with the holiness of God.  Yes, it’s an everyday-type holiness, but that doesn’t make it any less holy.  
 
     Recently, an actress by the name of Valerie Bertinelli was “shamed” on Twitter for not being the weight someone thought she should be.  I don’t do Twitter, but I do read news articles.  The article I read described Kelly Clarkson chiming in to defend Valerie with these words:  “True power is recognizing the projection of others’ negativity and punching it square in the face with all the positive, remarkable, intelligent, beautiful light that seeps from your pores.”  I think the risen Christ loves that quote and may have sent the Spirit to inspire it.  You and I are created in God’s image.  At our best, we let the “beautiful light (of God’s image in us) seep from our pores,” flow forth our words, and radiate blessing through our actions.
 
     Today, remember you are Christ’s brother or sister; God’s light and love is meant to shine through you just like it shined through Jesus.  Today, let the light of God shine through you to bless another.  
 
Blessings,
Pastor Roger

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