September 27

Jesus once told the story of a rich man who often wore purple–a color signifying royalty in Jesus’ day because it was expensive to dye cloth purple.  Every time I hear the story I think of another person in the Bible who dealt in purple cloth.  Her name was Lydia.  She’s remembered as a generous, faithful pillar of the early church.  She was the epitome of giving to Christ’s mission.  The rich man, not so much.  Daily he saw a beggar named Lazarus, but showed no mercy.  Lazarus would have been content with crumbs from the table of the rich man.  But, the rich man was neither generous or compassionate–until the day he died.  On that day the rich man found himself looking over a wide chasm.  On the other side was Lazarus–eating well, perhaps wearing purple, while the rich man did not even have water to cool his own tongue.

At that moment, in his own suffering, the rich man suddenly had compassion for his family.  “Warn my brothers, so they don’t end up like me.”  “Send Lazarus to tell them.  If someone goes to them from the dead, they will change their hearts and live.”  Abraham came to the rich man and said, “If they don’t listen to Moses and the Prophets, then they won’t be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.”  (Luke 16:19-21)

Sometimes fear wins out over compassion like the rich man who placed a gate between himself and Lazarus.  Sometimes arrogance overrules compassion.  Sometimes weariness when the amount of human need seems beyond our ability to fix.  It’s literally called “Compassion Fatigue.”  No doubt you’ve felt it when mass shootings or natural disasters come really close together.  Even though Jesus’ greatest commandment is love God and love our neighbors as ourselves, sometimes we fail, especially if compassion fatigue sets in.
One way to sustain compassion in such times is to remind ourselves we aren’t called to fix the world, just to show compassion to one person at a time.  Another way is to ask for help in sharing compassion.  For example, visit the Upper Room Prayer Wall.  If you have a friend, family-member or stranger whose problems you can’t fix at the Upper Room Prayer wall you can simply share a first name of someone you’re praying for, the state you’re from and what you’re praying for.  It’s free of charge and an Upper Room Prayer team holds your prayers in their hearts, and anyone who visits the virtual prayer wall can do the same. Simply visit the wall by clicking on the link:  http://prayer-center.upperroom.org/prayer-wall    The Upper Room is one of United Methodism’s most powerful ministries–with many videos and books to sustain and grow Jesus’ followers.   Also, keep your eye out and your ears open for others who may be experiencing compassion-fatigue.  Asking someone, “is there anything you’d like me to keep in my prayers” can be a wonderful gift to a weary soul.
God’s Peace,
Pastor Roger

September 20

This evening I had the opportunity to stop by the hospital to have a prayer with Scott and Lisa Gedrose–who are welcoming Casey James into this world.  Casey is a nice-sized baby but is in the NICU.  Please keep him in prayers.  It was my privilege to walk with Scott and his five other kids as they made their way through the hospital to visit Casey and their Mom.  They were adorable.  “Look, it’s the church guy,” one said.  When the got to the NICU they each happily washed their hands, and started whispering.  Two of them showed me how high they could jump.  When it was time to visit Casey the oldest two boys said, “let the youngest go in first” (chivalry at its best is alive!).  Eventually, every sibling had a chance to see, touch and say “hi” to their new brother.  Then, one of the littlest said the most wonderful thing.  “He’s so cute” (followed by the perfect pause)… “I’m gonna cry!”
 
     Yes! That is the perfect response to new life!  A wise child–who at that moment knew exactly what’s important.  
 
     This upcoming Sunday our theme is “Spend Life in Wise Fashion” and focused on a Scripture I’ve puzzled over where Jesus tells the story of a manager who is about to be fired and creates a plan to care for himself post-firing by strategically using his employer’s funds make friends with those who may care for him when he is jobless.  The employer finds out–and commends the sneaky manager.  Then Jesus goes on to call us to be wise with life–like this manager was with money.  It has always seemed like an odd parable.  
 
     Someday I hope to ask Jesus about it.  In the meantime Jesus still calls us to be wise–to use all at our disposal to focus on the stuff that is truly important.  Relationships, things that make us cry happy tears, gratitude for the gift of life itself, these are the very things that we focus on when we are wise.  These are the very things that protect and shelter our souls in times of worry and struggle.  Sometime today, for a few moments, focus on a beautiful, uplifting moment in your life.  Close your eyes and simply “know in your heart” God was in that moment.  Then ask God to help you remember “these are the moments” life is about.  Ask God to give you power live wisely–staying focused on the important stuff.
 
Blessings, Pastor Roger  

August 28

I’ve an interest in watching presidents after they’ve served their terms.  Jimmy Carter became a celebrity face–and frequent nail-driver for Habitat for Humanity.  George Bush Sr. shaved his head to show solidarity with the two year-old son of one of his secret service detail.  George Bush Jr. has spent much time with wounded vets–visiting and painting portraits.  What gets less attention is that he’s been pivotal in working to end HIV in Africa–sponsoring a critical clinic.  Plus, he and his wife have expanded their health-care focus into the battle against cervical and breast cancer on the African continent.  I would not say he was one of my favorite presidents.  But, he’s one of my favorite former presidents:  because he specifically chooses to go out of his way to befriend those who are “low on the social ladder.”

Sunday we’ll be looking at a parable Jesus told about how to approach life–with a strong invitation for us to “be humble and befriend the humble.”  The parable is filled with wonderful direction–including “when you give a banquet, invite the poor, crippled, lame and blind” (Luke 14:13). 
St. Augustine said, “It was pride that changed angels into devils; it is humility that makes (humans) as angels.”  Any day we choose to “be humble and kind,” no matter how insignificant our actions may seem, the world will be better for it, and so will we.
May the Lord bless you on your humble walk with Jesus.
Pastor Roger

August 22

Who would you describe as a Rock, Refuge, Rescuer, Hope, Dependable and Trustworthy? Psalm 71:1-6 describes the Lord as all these things, ending with the words, “My praise is always about you.”
I remember my first car, a Chevy Monza. One time I forgot the lights on in the college parking lot for four hours. It was bitter cold. When I returned to the car, the lights were dim. Snow was blowing. I turned the key. The motor barely turned over, but barely was just enough. It fired up. I began to triple-check my lights when I got out of the car after that. The Monza was a car with window cranks, no power brakes, only one adjustment on the seat, no CD player, ½ the horsepower of today’s average 4 cylinder, and I had to add the clock. But it never failed to start—no matter how cold; Even if I had to dig through the snowbank the snowplow left to get into it. Some days I miss it. I liked the style and I loved its dependability. It took care of me well—better care than I recognized at the time.
The Psalmist says, “God is dependable, trustworthy—a rock, refuge and rescuer.” God takes care of us well: better than we are often aware of at the time even if we metaphorically “leave the lights on,” translated “even if we neglect God and our spirituality.”
Take a moment to think about a time had a you had a “sinking feeling” but God came through for you. Worst fears aside you survived. Looking back things even could have been worse. In hindsight it’s clear God was protecting you. Hold on to that moment. Thank God. Then look around. Who do you see that may be experiencing a “sinking feeling?” How might you share that God is your Rock, Rescuer and Refuge? How might you help another to trust God is dependable?
And, if you happen to be in one of those “sinking feeling” times in your life, I invite you to read Psalm 71:1-6 and dwell on the word of hope that speaks to you.
Blessings,

Pastor Roger

August 8

“Faith is the reality of what we hope for, the proof of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1) Tuesday evening I rode along with the DARE Officer – Officer Ethan – to a few of the 77 Nite to Unite gatherings in Moorhead. What I repeatedly heard was how good it felt to know your neighbors–even if you don’t know them all by name. What I saw were kids running up to Officer Ethan because they knew him from the DARE presentations in their schools. What I tasted was a pretty wide sampling of summer picnic fare. What I felt, especially after a weekend of with two tragic mass shootings, was gratitude for who we can be at our best. People were simply out being kind to each other–learning a bit about people they hadn’t met before and catching up with people they knew but may not see much. Because I was riding along with an officer, I also overheard people name things that were safety concerns in their neighborhood. It was good to see people at their best–caring for their little corner of the world, so to speak.

Sometimes, when the news is bad and bloody, we forget there is still good in the world. Our faith may falter and we may begin to doubt our best and kindest hopes still have a chance of becoming reality in this world. We may feel helpless to make changes–especially when our legislators each seem locked into their own viewpoints and unwilling work toward compromises. Unfortunately, it’s easy for me to become locked into my viewpoints as well. I once read that “faith in God is the willingness to exchange what we think we know for what is God trying show us.” I believe we need to support leaders who are willing to exchange their locked-in ideas for possible solutions that will involve compromise. I believe we need to choose leaders based on their ability work with others with varieties of viewpoints–in other words who are “good neighbors.” Put all the kernels of truth together and we may one day have a harvest of hope.

In the meantime, Tuesday evening reminded me what you and I can do in our little corners of the world to make the world a better place. We can be “good neighbors.” We can refuse to give up the hope that God is working for something better in this world. We may not see it yet. But, faith tells us there is a better day and a better way. You and I can vow to be a “good neighbor” to someone today. We can also pray God will help us exchange our broken ideas for God’s own ways. The world will be better for it. We will be better for it.

Blessings,
Pastor Roger

July 25

This morning, when I returned to the church after leading worship at Parkview Terrace and Moorhead Rehab Center, I was pleasantly surprised to see Vacation Bible School preparations underway.  That the preparations were underway wasn’t the surprise.  We’ve many faithful people investing their time for the mission. The pleasant surprise was that the retired adults who are focusing on the crafts were working with two of the youth to set things up.  It warmed my heart to see them working together:  visiting, laughing, building inter-generational relationships.  How many times I’ve heard, “my grand-kids keep me young.”  How many times I’ve heard one of the vital things youth need are older mentors and a support system beyond their peers.  Not all retired adults have grandchildren, or live close to them.  Not all young people get the chance to live near their grandparents, or have grandparents that are still living.  But, imagine a world where family extended beyond blood-relatives.  Imagine a world where people were continually adopting each other in a myriad of ways that blessed, nurtured and uplifted.  One of the purposes of the Church is to create a community where we recognize we are all family as brothers and sisters of Jesus.  “See what kind of love the Father has given to us in that we should be called God’s children, and that is what we are!”  (1 John 3:1a)  We are all God’s children–however many years we’ve lived on this earth.  Still, it’s a privilege to glimpse signs of this truth.

     Where have you seen God creating relationships that are blessing?  Who reminds you that you are a brother or sister of Christ?  When have you been “adopted by” another?
     Today, keep your heart open; perhaps you will feel God’s call to adopt another into your care.

God’s Peace,
Pastor Roger

July 18, 2019

Recently I was talking with a retired couple who both asked about the kids ministry at Grace.  They also shared a few camp and VBS memories from their childhood.  Over fifty years later, a half century, and they still remember the impact of events that adults created for them to have fun and learn about God’s love in Jesus.  My heart is always warmed by such stories.  In my own life I am also able to look back at events–weekends, camps, outings that adults of the church created to teach me how Jesus’ love can make all the difference in our lives, especially in times of struggle.  More than that, I can still name the names of those adults, some of them now passed on to heaven’s shore.  I usually don’t say, “Yee Haw!” when I think of them.  But, I do get a grateful feeling, and am reminded each of us is called to pass the faith on in some way or another.  VBS is one of those ways.  I invite you to start praying now for VBS leaders and the kids who will attend.  If you are crafty, enjoy teaching, like to creating snacks, enjoy leading kids in outdoor games, or are adept at giving first aid if needed please let Sarah Martin or Stephanie Grow know or me know, ASAP.  If you’ve not helped before we need need time to do the obligatory Safe Sanctuary background check.  And, the sooner we know the more it helps with planning.

Finally, I invite you to attend worship this Sunday–it will be a bit of a VBS preview, partially lead by Jen, Len, Katelinn, Breanna, and Brayden Beck.  If you have western attire, feel free to wear it.  If you have grandchildren visiting, feel free to bring them.  If a new neighbor has moved in near you, feel free to invite.  It will be an informal worship, that maybe, just maybe, will bring back some grateful memories that you have for those who have blessed you on your faith journey.  And, I expect, it will whisper there is, indeed, hope for the future.
Blessings,
Pastor Roger

July 10, 2019

Sunday, I’ll be sharing five things I’ve learned in the last 30 years of being a pastor. There’s way more than five things, however. So, let me share a sixth thing I’ve learned. Every church I’ve served has had quiet, silent, humble servants who bless their churches in more ways than most people notice–unless suddenly that person isn’t there. They prune bushes and trees. They replace batteries and light bulbs. They keep watch for those who need hearing assistance devices and make sure those devices are ready. They notice the recoil rope on the push mower is about to break and set to work making the repair. They chop ice away from the door, spray weeds in the parking lot, recycle the paper, and tend the flowers. They notice that person standing alone and quietly go to check on him or her. They send cards. They lift prayers. The list things they care for is long and important. But, in the Spirit of Micah 6:8 they walk humbly with God not seeking to draw attention to themselves. Sometimes they’re long-term members. Sometimes they’re are rather new to the congregation. I am humbled and grateful every time I glimpse one of them in action–or simply notice where they’ve been by the things that mysteriously get done. They remind me how much we need each other to be the church. Add in those who are willing–who just need to be asked or have a sign up sheet put out, and I’ve learned to appreciate the strong human desire to serve and make a difference. It’s real and it’s beautiful–and it has made me more humble and appreciative.

I invite you on the 14th to bring a thought to worship. I invite you to be thinking of one or two transformative things God has taught you about life over the years. You’ll have a chance to write down a sentence or two that will be be shared on future worship slides by completing the following sentence “Over the Years God has changed/blessed my life by teaching me….”

Blessings,

Roger

July 3, 2019

The last days have been filled with pictures and information that has been hard to take in. Yes, immigration issues are difficult issues. However, it’s not like, “First… we have to solve all those issues before we can show basic kindness to children.” We can be kind and caring even while larger issues go unsolved. Last week in the midst of the first breaking news of the plight of children “government holding centers,” the United Methodist Committee on Relief shared information I needed to hear. Although UMCOR is not able to bring hygiene kits into government holding centers, UMCOR has provided 46,128 hygiene kits in the past three months to individuals in church-run “transitional shelters” along the border. There are signs of humanity, care and hope amidst what has become a desperate situation. Churches and UMCOR has stepped in where they can to provide for the most basic of needs. I needed to hear that encouraging word last week. I am guessing some of you may find it encouraging as well.

Psalm 82:3-4 says, “Give justice to the weak and the orphan, maintain the rights of the lowly and destitute. Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hands of evil.”

I was encouraged to see I was part of a group called United Methodists who are making a difference. I also was encouraged to see a politician who noted at one center that all the teen-aged girls were being watched over only by men, none who could speak Spanish. Not a single woman was a guard in that unit. Another unhealthy situation (that would not pass any church’s ‘Safe-Sanctuary’ guidelines) that makes me extremely concerned. I was encouraged to see someone determined to change that particular situation. And, I pray for those efforts. Caring for suffering children is a clear call to all who follow the Christ who said, “Let the children come to me.”

Sunday we shared a prayer–a prayer sent out mid-week from UMCOR for all UM Churches in the nation to share. I share it with you. Prayer has power. So I invite you to use this prayer as a way of expressing hope for all God’s children.

A Prayer for Suffering Children

God of all children everywhere,
Our hearts are bruised when we see children suffering.
Our hearts are torn when we are unable to help.

For all the times we were too busy and shooed a curious child away, forgive us, oh God.
For all the times we failed to get down on their level and look eye to eye with a child, forgive us, oh God.
For all the times we did not share when we saw a hungry child somewhere in the world, forgive us, oh God.
For all the times we thought that caring for the children of this world was someone else’s responsibility,
forgive us, oh God.

With Your grace, heal our hearts.
With Your grace, unite us in action.
With Your grace, repair our government.
With Your grace, help us to find a way to care for all children everywhere.

We pray they will know Jesus loves them–
not just because “the Bible tells them so,”
But because they have known Your love through caring followers of Christ.
Help us to show that nothing, absolutely nothing, can separate them
from Your love in Christ Jesus our Lord
Amen.

Blessings and Strength,

Roger

 

June 28, 2019

Occasionally I’ll be ready to check out an item at a store and the store’s phone will ring.  It’s most common at an auto parts store.  What follows is a conversation that I only overhear half of.  In an auto parts store the phone conversation may lead to the check out person going on the computer to search for a particular part.  It may take a few moments.  The store either has the part or not.  The price is either right or not.  Finally, perhaps five or ten minutes later the mystery person on the other end of the phone either makes plans to come in for a part or not.  Suffice it to say, sometimes I find myself frustrated while I stand waiting to check out my item–a real live person, who will make a real purchase.

     Jesus seems to have similar moments in the Bible.  Luke 9:50 and following describes Jesus asking people to follow him into Jerusalem.  One person says, “Yes, but first let me bury my father.”  Another person says, “Yes, but first let me go and say good-bye to my household.”  Jesus was there in the flesh.  But, the people he was inviting kept tending to other calls.  It wasn’t like the other calls were not important.  Of course there are lots of important things in our lives.  Yet, any of us who seek to follow Jesus into a life-change, or try to ramp up our devotional lives, or plan to take some type next step on the spiritual journey, we all know one of the first challenges in tending to the spiritual side of life, is being able to make time with all the pressing, practical demands upon our lives.
     Saying “no” to say “yes,” saying “yes” and then overcoming life’s interruptions is seldom easy.  Prioritizing things like worship, service, forgiving or loving isn’t easy when the rains are frequent, the grass is long, and all the neighbors have already finished their mowing.  But, if you’ve ever lost something, searched and searched, then when you’ve about given up, stopped to pray, only to find you suddenly knew exactly where to find what was lost, you know life works better when staying connected to God is our first priority.
     If you’ve many things to care for today, I invite you to intentionally make a few moments to be near Jesus.  If you know someone who is feeling overwhelmed, I invite you to say a prayer.  Then find a way to be a gentle interruption (a momentary God-send) in the midst of that person’s endless stuff.  Life is better when we find ways to see, and be present to, the God who is right in front of us first–before tending to the rest of life.
     Praying God’s Peaceful Presence for You,
     Pastor Roger