Practice makes perfect. I’m sure we’ve all heard that at one time or another in various activities in our lives. For me, I couldn’t stand practice! I didn’t want to go through fundamentals or drills, I just wanted to play whatever game I was involved in. But without practice, I couldn’t possibly know how to actually play the game, or play it well for that matter.
The same goes for our faith. While technically we are “in the game” no matter what we do, it takes intentional practice to live out our faith well. Let me make a confession, I’m not always great at practicing in my spiritual journey. The fundamentals are sometimes repetitious, the drills are arduous, and the conditioning can be downright exhausting and frustrating. My biggest encouragement for continuing these practices is the fact that it was modeled by Jesus. Time and time again Jesus would leave on His own for retreat, prayer, worship, and fasting.
Perhaps you’re in a place where you have developed good spiritual practices. Maybe you’ve never done some without even trying. The good news is there is time to start!
My encouragement today is to try a new practice. Maybe you want to try fasting for the first time (it doesn’t have to necessarily be from food), or take time for solitude and silence or praying through the scriptures.
For more info on spiritual disciplines, or Wesleyan Means of Grace, check out the website below:
Dictionary.com gives a few different definitions for renewal, but there are two I want to reflect on.
The first being “an instance of resuming an activity or state after an interruption.” I think it’s fair to say that Covid-19 was a little bit of an interruption of not only church, but every aspect of our lives. It’s been a difficult year in the sense of navigating waters we’ve never journeyed before, struggling with isolation and lack of community, and anxiousness around the unknown timeline of all those elements. Yet, we live as people of hope and renewal each and every day because of Christ. This week we begin a season of renewal as we return to singing in person! What a joy it will be when our voices are raised together once again to sing praises to God. Psalm 105:2 says, “Sing to him, sing praise to him; tell of his wonderful acts”. Not only will our voices proclaim the goodness of God, but we can honestly reflect on the difficulties of this year and how God’s faithfulness remained amidst it all.
The second definition it offers is, “the replacing or repair of something that is worn out, rundown, or broken.” Friends, let me tell you this one is me. My heart has felt rundown and worn out from the last year, and I believe many of us feel that. The work of coming back from the pandemic, working towards justice and peace in our communities, and the work of moving forward together in our denomination has taken it’s toll on many of us. Here’s the good news: Jesus fully knew that this world would offer difficulties, and because of that offered us an invitation to not got at it alone. Matthew 11:28-30 says, “come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” Jesus offers us rest, not by taking us out of our situations but by bearing the load with us. There is no point where our burden can outdo Jesus. At His most vulnerable moments, Jesus invites the disciples to the table for a meal, yes even Judas and Peter. As we come to Christ’s table for communion this week, remember that it is Jesus who invites you to bring every part of your lives to Him, and He will give you rest!
I invite you to pray this prayer with me:
“Lord, thank You for the rest You give us. You know my greatest burden, and You take it as Your own. May the way I live, be a response of gratitude and renewal.
In Jesus’ mighty name I pray. Amen.”
Pastor Taylor Johnson
“We love because God first loved us.” 1 John 4:19 (CEB)
This has been an important verse in my life for a number of reasons. It was my and Kiersten’s wedding verse, really becoming our family verse. The reason we chose it is this simple truth: our marriage, our family, our ministry does not exist without God first moving. We get caught up in a culture that says, “you need to do something in order for X, Y, Z.” With God, it is completely the opposite. God says, “I love you enough that I worked ahead of you”. We then get the opportunity to respond to what God has done. The challenge in that? We respond no matter what we do. Something I hope you’ll consider this week is this: How does my life reflect God’s love, what’s my response?
As Sunday April 11th neared I braced myself a bit. There was word of a “White Lives Matter” protest based on posters that had been placed around cities such as Fargo: posters with a stereotypical Aryan-looking man’s face on them, square jawed, light hair, master-race look from WWII. Thankfully, virtually no one showed up in Fargo or anywhere for those rallies. In Fargo a couple hundred folks did show up, peacefully affirming diversity instead. Then came Monday. A colleague from Brooklyn Center shared the news of another black man killed by police and chaos into the streets. On the national news there were images of a black soldier being pepper-sprayed in his car by police. As the day unfolded there was a school shooting in Knoxville killing one student, injuring more and injuring a police officer. A police chase in Georgia ended up in three officers shot and killed. On a personal note a family friend collapsed at work with a possible heart-attack. An acquaintance’s daughter took her life. A vandalism-spree damaged 60 cars in Devil’s Lake Sunday night.
Friends, we can brace ourselves in this life. But, bad, stressful stuff can still take us by surprise. I saw a number of Facebook posts Monday with varied versions of “This just has to stop!” “We have to be better to each other!” “Our nation’s people are tired!” Not long after the beating, trial, crucifixion, and burial of Jesus, not long after the word of the disappearance of Jesus’ body, with a few accounts of a risen Christ, Jesus’ disciples were sticking close to one another. They were supporting each other and bracing for any next “bad” thing that might come their way. Jesus’ resurrection had not claimed and transformed their lives…because every time the risen Christ drew near. his followers were terrified and filled with fear. On Sunday we’ll read Luke 24:36b-48 and hear their fear described.
Jesus’ followers were bracing themselves for the worst. So, the risen Christ kept appearing with the words, “Peace be with you” and “Do not be afraid.” Peace be with you. Some days we desperately need to hear those whispered into our lives. A sunrise, a world covered in a blanket of snow, the laughter of a toddler, the nuzzle of a four-legged friend vying for a bit of attention, sure, none of those things is as big a sign as the risen Christ standing in our midst, but they are all good things.
Another good thing the risen Christ shares with his followers when he appears is a word to look at his feet and hands–scarred, that is, wounded and healed. Sometimes the best thing Christ’s church can share is the truth that life scars us, as well as scares us. Life scars us is a much different word than life wounds us. Scars imply healing after the pain. Scars imply joy on the other side of despair, hope on the other side of fear. Scars imply, when bracing ourselves isn’t enough and life knocks us down, God will tend our wounds and lift us back up, again and again.
Today, I invite us to work with God. Acknowledge another who is hurting. Acknowledge some days life is difficult. Then help others up in every little and large way you can–in the name of the risen Christ.
In God’s Peace and Christ’s New Life,
Easter 2021 is now behind us–at least the calendar day is. As a pastor, the Sunday morning part of Easter was less than many past Easters; With 43 in worship it was more personal than on-line only Easter 2020. Still, no congregational singing, no packed sanctuary, no sonrise service, and no in-person Holy Thursday service meant some things were “less than.” Am I alone in that experience whether you decided to attend Easter worship in-person or on-line? Easter 2021 started me thinking in a new way about the first Easter. No choirs of angels, no joyous family gatherings in a sanctuary, no kids rehearsing or sharing a program. Easter began with delicate whispers of hope into some very confusing moments.
An empty tomb, folded up grave-clothes, a rolled-away stone, and a missing body were reasons for more sadness in the beginning. The gospel of Mark has a point where it says the disciples, “told no one.” The gospel of John has the men is disbelief, running to the tomb to look, then running back to their hiding place. All the gospels show Easter dawning in small and gentle ways. The way Mary heard her name. The way two people recognized a stranger as Christ when he broke bread at their table before supper. Close disciples see him while hiding behind locked doors lest they, too, be caught and crucified. Maybe Easter 2021 was more Easter-like than I knew.
A few people gathered to hear the message. Others heard the message in their own homes. As the week unfolded but a couple of people I haven’t seen in a long while stopped by the church and we had the chance to visit. These next weeks as vaccination numbers increase, when we step out more from behind our “safe spaces” to interact with each other (albeit masked) I invite us to focus on the small signs of new life. I invite us to focus our attention less on the big “no’s” that have been part of our last year. I invite us to gratefully engage with the little “yes’s” that are starting to be a part of life again. May the Easter God give us a new and larger appreciation for the good in the smallest of things. May the risen Christ allow us to see the radiant image of God in the most familiar of people. May the Spirit whisper delicate blessings into ears ready to hear. Easter isn’t over. Easter 2021 has barely begun. Keep watch for God’s “yes’s” each day.
“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…” So begins the 23rd Psalm. Like a typical Hollywood movie, the Psalm begins with a beautiful time free of cares, followed by the challenges of the valley of the shadow of death, followed by redemption (in God’s house and presence). Psalm 23 is dependent upon a covenant or promise God made to humanity in Genesis 9 after the great flood. “Never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood. Never again shall a flood consume the entire earth.” The beauty of the rainbow after the storm becomes the sign of God’s promise: a sign of God’s own nature, a caregiver instead of a punisher, a nurturer instead of a demander.
The rainbow moment was perhaps the first time humans and God understood life would have plenty enough struggles and storms of its own, without an angry deity making life even more miserable. Think of this past week, between the snowstorms and cold pounding the south and Texas having its own essentially unregulated power-grid millions of humans are suffering through no fault of their own. The core of our faith through the message of Jesus and Scriptures like the 23rd Psalm is that it’s precisely at such times that God seeks to be our shepherd, our comfort, our guide in learning how to better care for one another, especially the most vulnerable. God’s promise not to flood the earth becomes a covenant to love, and an invitation for all the faithful to love our neighbors as well. Below is a link to UMNews that I invite you to click on. It will lead to stories of what UM Churches are doing in the midst of the storms in the Southern US. It will remind some of you of what UM Churches did in the midst of the Red River Valley floods. It will remind us what is at the heart of God’s covenant to care for the people of the earth.
May God shepherd us all, and lead us to care well for one another.
One of the most beautiful pieces of music, in my opinion, is a rather simple song. It’s a song that is like a good conversation with a friend–over food where each bite is savored and each word is gracious and honest. The song is a lullaby, so the notes from the piano are gentle, as the string section savors each note they play. It’s almost like the piano is a crackling fireplace and the strings a warm blanket soothing a tired soul.
2020 and 2021 thus far have had more than their share of challenges. Recently, I received word a friend and colleague’s grandmother passed from Covid-19 while his Grandpa was hospitalized at her side and still is struggling with it–just a few weeks more and they would likely have been vaccinated. Our Grace prayer list also includes one of our member’s brother-in-law who is on dialysis several times a week while waiting for a kidney transplant, now admitted to the hospital with Covid-19. I also find myself thinking of essential-workers again–how everyone was praising them for a time for putting themselves at risk each day. Yet, as vaccinations slowly roll out, I wonder if those essential workers not in hospital settings feel forgotten in the formula of distributing vaccines. My guess is there will be many stories to tell of this last year and griefs I haven’t even thought of for people to heal from–including seeing some of the darker angrier sides of our others.
This upcoming Sunday in worship we’ll read the words of Mark 1:29-39. Two words struck me near the end of the reading, “there too.” My guess is we’ll find people are hurting “over there, and over there, and there too” as we recover from 2021.
I invite you to click HERE to listen to Karen Marie Garret’s Tally’s Lullaby. Let it embrace and comfort you. Then, pray a sense of God’s embrace and comfort around someone you know (a weary parent, a devoted teacher, an essential-worker whose dealt with way too many angry customers this year, a person who cleans and faces risk each day, a person whose hours have been cut, a person who owns a restaurant, someone who lost a loved one). Take a moment to let God comfort you, then pray God’s comfort “there too” for another.
Christ’s Peace and Comfort,