And Then Some

Have you ever seen the video called Cosmic Eye? It’s an incredible video that starts on someone laying in the grass and it continues to zoom out beyond our earth, then beyond our solar system etc. Then it quickly zooms back in and goes into the eye of that person breaking down the biological make up of our genes and DNA to the most basic atom. If you haven’t seen it, it’s a three minute video you can watch by clicking here.

The universe is absolutely massive, and there are parts of creation we have no clue about! Colossians says, “By Christ all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities: all things were created by him and for him. he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:16-17). There was intended to be things we would never see on our own or in this lifetime. But one of the things that really caught my attention was “in him all things hold together.”

The very same God that created the universe in it’s entirety and in it’s complexity created and holds you. The same power and authority that commands the rain and the waves when to fall and when to stop speaks life into you. The same breath that is in the wind breathed into your lungs and gives you life. It can be easy to feel small in such a big universe, and yet God intentionally created you.

I don’t know who needed to hear that today, but I hope it gave you comfort and value in the midst of a world that is so complex that we can feel lost. God loves you in ways that you experience and understand, and then some.

Blessings friends.

All things were created by and for him.

God Sized Prayers

We’ve talked about prayer on and off the last few weeks, and make no mistake we’re not going to slow down that conversation. Especially as we approach our stewardship series, I’ve found myself praying pretty intensely over the commitment cards, over the budget, and over our congregation as we discern how we are going to serve God this upcoming year. Yet, I found myself convicted by the Holy Spirit that my prayers were too small. At first, I felt somewhat offended by this conviction, because these prayers came with the truest of intentions. This conviction led me to an old book I’ve read called The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson, if you haven’t read it, I highly recommend it.

The part of the book I was drawn to discussed big dreams. I realized the point of this conviction was that I was praying for things that were obtainable even without God. Sure, I was being realistic in what I was praying for, but I certainly wasn’t being faithful to God’s possibilities. Maybe you’ve found yourself in that place before as well. You’ve prayed for the bare minimum because you were able to just take care of that yourself. If that’s where you’re at because you’re struggling with even getting there, that’s okay, and I think that’s a God sized prayer in the moment. More often than not, it’s because we just haven’t stepped into God’s possibilities yet, whether out of fear, complacency in where we are, or not knowing it.

I want to invite you to join me in a prayer initiative for the rest of this year. This week as we begin asking the question “What If?” we will start with a passage in 2 Chronicles 7. A familiar verse arises from this passage in 7:14, “if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” So, what will God do if we humble ourselves, pray, and seek God’s face? Every day at 7:14 in the morning and/or in the evening, let’s say this simple yet powerful prayer together:

“God, give us eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to discern Your vision for Grace UMC.”

Write it down, set a reminder in your phone, put it on a calendar. Let’s pray boldly to God who is bold in response.  Powerful things can happen when people of God pray together and trust faithfully together!

The Practice of Emptying

Throughout our current sermon series, I want to take an opportunity to expand on something that I wasn’t able to dive into on Sunday morning.  While looking at the first statement of the Beatitudes, “blessed are the poor in spirit,” I mentioned the spiritual discipline of emptiness.

Emptiness is completely counter to the cultural that we live in. Shows like Storage Wars and Pawn Stars have glamorized accumulating stuff and wealth, there are All-You-Can-Eat buffets that encourage you to stuff yourself until you can’t anymore. So what would it even look like to empty ourselves and take on that posture of being poor in spirit?

It starts with an attitude of humility. There is no way we can adopt a poor spirit if we have a low view of being poor. Time and time again in the Bible the poor are celebrated and uplifted, yet now poverty is something we strive to avoid or get out of. Perhaps it’s time to eliminate clutter and excess in our lives that we’ve accumulated. Find an organization to donate to, talk to people in your sphere of influence and see if someone is in need. But it’s more than just a physical emptying. We ought to work on emptying ourselves of anything that is not of God; worry, fear, hate, division, and greed to name a few. It’s hard to bear witness to the Spirit if it’s being clouded by our witness to the world. Ultimately it starts with us being intentional. I’ll admit I struggle with this because I get into my routines and habits and enjoy the flow of being comfortable. Being intentional about emptying ourselves disrupts flow, but invites us into a deeper need of Christ rather than our calendars. 

I invite you to pray this with me, a portion taken from a book on prayer by Ted Loder:

“Gracious and Holy One, creator of all things and of emptiness, I come to you full of much that clutters and distracts, stifles and burdens me, and makes me a burden to others.
Empty me now of gnawing dissatisfactions, of anxious imaginings, of fretful preoccupations, of nagging prejudices, of old scores to settle, and of the arrogance of being right.

Hollow out in me a space in which I will find myself, find peace and a whole heart, a forgiving spirit and holiness, the springs of laughter, and the will to reach boldly for abundant life for myself and the whole human family.”

Amen.

Invitation

Have you ever been left out of a party? Perhaps you heard about it and wondered, “what happened to my invitation?”, truly a crushing blow to the spirit. On the flip side, what a great feeling it is to be invited to something, because someone intentionally wanted you to be apart of whatever was going on.

Jesus sent out invitations quite often during his time on earth. He invites people to rest in him (Matthew 11:28), quench their thirst and satisfy their hunger (John 7:37, John 21:12), and to see what he is doing (John 1:39). Jesus invites us to be healed, to be forgiven, to be challenged and to be transformed by the power of His love through His sacrifice and resurrection. Each and every one of us, YES YOU, are invited into a holy relationship with the Creator of the universe, the Redeemer from our sin, and the Sustainer of life itself! I don’t know about you, but I would gladly RSVP yes to that invitation each and every day.

But, if I’m honest, I have a tendency to be selfish with my invitation. You see while there is a personal invitation to me, God also challenges us with the task of handing out other invitations as well. Too often, I’m concerned about my own experience that I forget to help others draw near as well. Think about it, when was the last time you truly invited someone to experience Christ, be it a worship service, an event, a service opportunity, or even just in fellowship?

We have a great opportunity to invite people each and every week for worship, and especially this week with our Kick-Off activities. I want to encourage you to take time to intentionally invite someone. Think about the message that sends to that person, they are wanted, they are thought about, they are loved!

Who are you going to invite?

Significance of a Song

St. Augustine is credited with the saying, “When you sing, you pray twice.”

Singing is such a powerful tool for us to communicate and express the emotion on our hearts.  That emotion can range from joy,  to sadness, to frustration, to praise and adoration.  In our United Methodist heritage, it’s also how we have taught and learned key elements of our faith. Charles Wesley paid special attention to the words and phrases he was using to focus on the Trinitarian nature of God.

Because of that strong background of music in our history, and the impact it has on our worship, we are utilizing a Hymn Sing in our September 5th worship service. This will be an opportunity for us to bear with one another in song and experience our voices lifting to our favorite hymns. I’m attaching with this John Wesley’s rules for singing. Take them as you will, I find them encouraging and thought provoking.

Start warming up those vocal cords!

In Times of Trouble

I remember as a kid when we would do fire drills and tornado drills. I can’t imagine it was the highlight of the day for teachers, but as a student I was thrilled to break up the typical routine of the day. Depending on the drill we’d file out of the classroom into the hallway or out on the lawn across the parking lot, practicing the procedures and plans if there were to be an emergency. Schools now have to implement active shooter drills and lockdowns in the case of a school threat. Ultimately, each of these are put into place to know what to do when there is a time of trouble.

Do we have a plan in place for our own lives?

Jesus gives us pretty clear indication we’ll face it in our lives.
“In the world you have distress” -John 16:33
Let’s be real, there is plenty of distress around us: Political and social division, Covid-19, the situation in Afghanistan, and so much more.
Add on the unique day to day stressors and challenges each of face, we ought to have a plan in place of what to do. It has become easier to “doom scroll” through social media and let our reactions get the best of us in the comment section. We shake our heads while watching the news. Our conversations turn more and more bitter with one another as we desperately hang on to any shred of positivity and hope in our world. Before we know it, any plan we might have had in place has been obliterated with a sensationalized version of coping. Believe me, I’ve done it.

I know it’s cliché, but what would Jesus do?

In the face of the darkest moments of Jesus’ life on earth,
Jesus implemented his plan for trouble: He prayed.
“‘Stay here while I go and pray over there.’ When he took Peter and Zebedee’s two sons, he began to feel sad and anxious. Then he said to them, ‘I’m very sad. It’s as if I’m dying. Stay here and keep alert with me.'” -Matthew 26:36-38
Sounds too good to be true, right? Certainly praying wouldn’t magically make it all go away. Well, it didn’t make it all go away, but here’s what it do.
Jesus was able to orient Himself to God instead of the circumstances.
He encouraged his disciples to do the same. Our tendency can also be to shut down and think, ‘well it’s not impacting me’. Jesus encourages in the midst of trouble to be alert.

Here’s my encouragement and challenge for you today:

It’s important for us to name we are certainly in a time of trouble as a world.
Jesus calls us to be alert, to stay in the know and be aware of what’s happening around us, so we’re not aloof to the cries of those in need.
Be alert and pray. Orient yourself to God and not the situation.
Before posting that comment, pray for God’s words and wisdom.
Before complaining about the state of the world, pray for God’s mercy and peace to be known by all.
Before shaking your head in frustration, pray for God’s Spirit to sustain you.
Let us remain alert in a world that desperately needs the hope of Jesus in these times.

How People Really Are

“Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
-Philippians 4:8

It can be easy to be dismayed by others in the world we live in. At times it becomes difficult to see the good in people, because we’re so quick to jump to our differences and faults. And if you are anything like me, it’s starting to weigh heavily on your soul. You might start asking questions like “why don’t we love each other?” or “will we ever be able to come back from this?”

I came across a video this morning that really spoke to me, and gave me chills. It’s a story from a man named Neal Foard, who was traveling with his father in 1969 when their car broke down. With no money and stranded, they weren’t sure how they might get to their destination, or even get the car fixed. They were greeted with unexpected generosity and kindness from complete strangers. At the end of the video he reveals the lesson his father taught him from all of this and says, “No matter what you see in the movies or on TV,  or you read in the papers… That’s how people really are.”

Friends, our very nature and design is good, very good. I want to encourage you to heed these words from the book of Philippians, to dwell upon the things in this life that are good, especially when we think about others. I encourage you take a moment and watch the video using the link below.

Blessings

Pastor Taylor

Watch Video Here

Who Do You Say That I Am?

In Matthew 16, Jesus is being pressed by the Pharisees and Sadducees for proof of his divine nature, asking for signs from heaven. It says they asked for one, but let’s be honest, they probably asked for far more than that. Jesus then has a conversation about the Pharisees and Sadducees with his disciples. He goes on to ask them, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” (16:13). They throw out a spattering of familiar names, Elijah, Jeremiah or  even John the Baptist. Then Jesus asks, “But who do you say that I am?” (16:15). Peter responds, “You are the Messiah”, a proclamation for the ages! Peter has identified who Jesus is to him, out loud to Jesus and his friends.

There are a number of fascinating facets to this passage, but one I want to focus on is Peter essentially proclaiming his faith. At some point or another the term “share your faith” has come up in church and each of us has been challenged to do so. I use the word challenge because for many, it is difficult. We’re often not sure exactly what to say, worried that we may end up saying something wrong and becoming a heretic *gasp*! This very question is a helpful starting point for how we share our faith with others, by first identifying what Jesus means to us.

For me, Jesus is my identity. I have a tendency to get to wrapped up in what am doing well or what have done wrong. My worth and my value get so wrapped up in who I am that I could never possibly measure up, nor could I ever dig myself out of the holes I put myself in. Remember what Paul says in Ephesians 1, “In Him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit.” My identity was already determined LONG ago. I get the privilege and freedom of wearing the seal of the Holy Spirit, the sacrifice of Jesus, the love of the Creator, not my own faults or accomplishments. Admittedly, I struggle to remember this at times, and yet it is foundational for my faith story.

How would you answer this question right now? I want to encourage you to take some time this week to answer this question, and then answer it publicly. Share it in a Facebook post, text a friend, or tell someone during your weekly activities. Who do you say Jesus is?

 

Slow Down

For Each Moment
Can I confess something to you? I have a tendency to go a million miles a minute when I get excited about something. So much so, that I might even miss the very thing I was excited about, because I didn’t take a single moment to slow down and take it all in. I think that happens to all of us at one point or another. Perhaps we’re excited about something, or we’re just trying to speed over a moment because it is difficult or unpleasant.
.
I received a book of prayer recently from a dear friend and mentor of mine. They recommended this particular prayer and I’ve found myself drawn to it more and more every day. Pray this prayer with me today, and join me in an opportunity to slow down and be grateful for each and every moment, no matter what we might be in.
.
Lord, thank you for each moment,
   for the blue-sky moment,
      the softening earth, the freshening wind,
   for the sap flowing,
      the bird nesting, the yellow bush,
   for my full heart
      and the joy rising in me.
Soften me
   to receive whatever comes as a gift
      and to praise you in it.
.
Lord, thank you for each moment,
   for the twilight moment,
      the pause, the good tired,
   for the quiet reflection,
      the slowing down, the mysterious sunset,
   for my contented heart
      and the wisdom growing inside me.
Gentle me
   to feel whatever comes as a gift
      and to praise you in it.
.
Lord, thank you for each moment,
   for the midnight moment,
      the loneliness, the fretful wondering,
   for the watchful stars,
      the long ache, the sleepless wait,
   for my restless heart
      and the hope straining in me.
Focus me
   to see whatever comes as a gift
      and to praise you in it.

~Ted Loder

Pastor Taylor

Practice Makes Perfect

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:

https://www.umc.org/en/content/the-wesleyan-means-of-grace