February 18 Devotion

“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.

Blessings,                                                                                                            UMNews

Pastor Roger

February 3 Devotion

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,

Pastor Roger

January 21 Devotion

Greetings, 
This week a little something different (and brief) for our weekly devotional in a time of what may be informational and emotional overload.  So, I simply share with you an inauguration day reflection and prayer, followed by Psalm 62:5.    
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Inauguration Day 2021
Today, I remember
my Dad making me breakfast,
baking holiday treats in the kitchen with my Mom,
sledding with my children,
holding hands with my wife in the moonlight.
Today, I remember
tears at my grandma’s funeral,
where I was when the towers fell,
the right words at the right time from a friend,
waiting for a loved one to awake after surgery.
Today, I hope
we remember each person has memories & hopes;
each life is a treasure-trove of experiences;
where we find common-ground we find peace;
that mutual respect is a priceless gift.
Today, I pray,
May we allow change to:
usher in a new spirit in our nation,
foster a new appreciation for one another,
to open our hearts to care for all in our human family.
Amen.
 
“All people, Trust in God at all times! Pour out your hearts before the Lord! God is our refuge” (Psalm 62:5).
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Blessings,
Pastor Roger

January 15 Devotion

Many of us have sat and waited in hospital settings while a family member undergoes medical procedures.  Those procedures can range from hours of surgery in the middle of the night to sliding a tiny tube through the circulation system until it reaches the heart to take a peek inside.  The procedures can go on for weeks and months such as chemo or radiation.  Or, they may be relatively quick like MRIs.  What we discover is that waiting drains more energy than a regular day at work.  Not knowing, uncertainty, change of routine, not having control of outcomes, and the possibility of things going wrong can take their toll on us emotionally and physically.  
 
     While I type these words, many of us know people who are in the midst of going through such uncertainty in medical settings.  And, all of us are going through not knowing, uncertainty, change of routine, not having control of the outcomes and the possibility of things going very wrong on a national level.  For most of us, that wears on us.  It drains our emotional reserves.  It numbs us to the beauty that is also part of each day.  It leaves us with a feeling of being helpless as the world is in chaos.  
 
      The picture above of Thomas Merton and his words is a reminder that there are still critically important choices we can make each day–for the sake of our souls and the benefit of those nearest to us.  “Speak words of hope.  Be human in this most inhuman of ages.  Guard the image of (the best in humanity) for it is the image of God.”  This Sunday we will glimpse a moment in time when Jesus meets Nathanael.  “Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said, ‘here is a genuine Israelite in whom there is no deceit.’  Nathanael asks, ‘How do you know me?”  Jesus says, ‘I saw you under the fig tree.'”  (John 1:47) Only Jesus and Nathanael know the particulars of what Jesus saw.  What we know from reading it, however, is that Jesus notices integrity–and it matters greatly to him.  These days, these tiring, chaotic, unsettling days, integrity still matters to Jesus.
     Being our best selves still matters.  Speaking hope, sharing kindness, living honestly, blessing others, still matters.  In fact, it matters more than ever now.  We can choose those things.  We can choose to be about the basics–loving God and loving neighbor.  The living Christ will notice and be grateful–because it keeps his mission alive in this world–especially in fractured times.  Take comfort in the fact your faithful actions matter and God is still at work through every loving act.
Be Well and Be Blessing,
Pastor Roger

December 9 Devotion

This past week I clicked on a Facebook post by a member of Grace. It was a comical post but it also brought tears to my eyes. It’s a Christmas Pageant where a sheep pulls the doll-baby Jesus out of the manger during a song and starts dancing with him. Simply adorable. The link to the original story and video is below.
 
You and I don’t know the children, yet we know the children. We know they are learning. We know they are participating in a tradition we’ve come to know as sacred. We know the unexpected things the children do are often the most memorable of all. So, watching the video was bitter-sweet for me. The in-person kids Christmas program is one of the most precious events in a church’s life–tears over what will not be this year. Simultaneously, my heart was warmed by the spirit of the sheep character dancing with the doll-baby Jesus.
 
On the 20th of December, if all goes according to plan, we will have a Grace Kids’ virtual Christmas program. Some things about it will be different–including how we participate from our own homes. The story, however, will not change. It’s a story meant to lead us to the manger to embrace Jesus. It’s a story meant to start our spirits dancing. It’s a story meant to whisper God is with us at all times, through all things. Hold that hope. Hold hope through memories. Hold hope through imagining the promises fulfilled.
 
This Sunday, the 13th of December, we will glimpse a messiah who knows his mission. In the words of the prophet Isaiah, “he will proclaim, The Lord God’s Spirit is upon me because he has anointed me. He has sent me to bring good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim release for the captives and liberation for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and a day of vindication for our God, to comfort all who mourn.” (Isaiah 61:1-4) This coming Sunday worship will remind us that this baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger, becomes the love of God who swaddles us in comfort and healing
Where do you need comfort or healing today? Who is a person you care about who needs comfort and healing? As a prayer today, take a moment to imagine an adult Jesus drawing near. Quietly he drapes a blanket of warmth, light and healing over your shoulders. He says, “I understand;” “I am with you and all will be well.” Rest in the moment. Then watch the video, and remember again the joy we are meant to have dancing through this journey called life with the saving grace named Jesus.

Blessings,

Pastor Roger

December 1 Devotion

Joanna Sisk reflects on the loss of her parents to Covid-19.  Married 47 years, Dad a truck driver and Mom a nurse, they died one minute apart in Jackson, Michigan after battling the virus.  Yes, knowing they are together does make it easier to cope with the loss of both at once.  Even so, Joanna shares what makes the loss much, much harder.  “Like so many who have lost loved ones to the virus, Sisk says it is agonizing to hear others brush off the risk.”  (Keep in mind Joanna is sharing from the fierce battleground state of Michigan—though all states have become political battlegrounds over the virus).

Specifically, Joanna said, “People were talking about it and not knowing that my parents were in the hospital, both fighting for their lives with it,” Sisk said. “I just had tears streaming down my cheeks, listening to them. Our entire family is completely devastated.”

The prophet Isaiah heard God’s word to a hurting people long ago.  “Comfort, O comfort my people,” says your God. (Isaiah 40:1) The gospel of Mark does not say anything about how Jesus was born.  It jumps right into Jesus’ adult ministry, pausing just long enough to mention one thing before Jesus’ ministry began.  There was a man calling out in the wilderness, “prepare the way for the Lord, and make his paths straight.” (Mark 1:3) That man, John the Baptizer, “Called for people to be baptized to show that they were changing their hearts and lives and wanted God to forgive their sins.” (Mark 1:4)

Reading Joanna Sisk’s words about her tears, as her family heard people with no first-hand experience with Covid-19 deny its reality, reminds me we are called to comfort one another.  Whenever we choose conflict over comfort in the face of pain, we desperately need to hear John the Baptist’s call to change and ask forgiveness from the God who made us.

I have no doubt Covid-19 is real and sometimes devastating.  That does not mean I am exempt from needing to hear John the Baptist’s message.  There have been many times in my life when I have chosen to engage in conflict instead of seeking to comfort.  Making room for Jesus in our lives always means making room for Jesus to change how we live our lives.  Every day we have room to grow into more compassionate, understanding, comforting people.  In fact, now more than ever, the world needs Jesus’ followers to be signs of compassion, understanding and comfort.

A prayer for today: “Loving God, I seek to prepare the way for you to enter my heart.  Show me where I need to change, so that I may be a sign of your compassion, understanding and comfort.”

In these trying times may you feel God’s comfort today.

Be Well and Be Blessing,

Pastor Roger

November 17 Devotion

Greetings,

Friday afternoon I went out to get a furnace air-filter.  Ace Hardware’s Moorhead lot was empty.  A door-sign said, “Out of an abundance of caution we are closed…”; Ace was dealing with a positive Covid-19 case, testing all their employees, and taking appropriate precautions.  Later, I noticed Altony’s restaurant was empty and its name removed.  Monday the Tires Plus lot was empty and re-opening in 14 days.  Perhaps effects of the pandemic.  Friday morning I was aware of 13 active cases (people I know or relatives of people I know).  By Saturday eve that number increased to 19 cases, plus one awaiting test results.  Cases, deaths, and hospitalizations have rapidly risen.  Health-care workers worldwide are distressed as health-systems overload.  When I read Minnesota’s daily death toll exceeded 50, one day, I felt sick to my stomach for a bit.  Most are feeling the stress in one way or another.  Even those who are not convinced Covid-19’s real feel the stress of its effects on the world.  It is a lot to take in.

History and legend remind us “the first Thanksgiving,” came on the heels of a stressful, loss-filled year.  Still, they sought to tend a spirit of gratefulness.  Psalm 100 invites us to practice gratitude: “Know that the Lord is God—the Lord made us; we belong to God.  Enter the Lord’s gates with thanks.”  Practicing gratitude is especially vital in stress-filled times.

Rory Swenson (friend and pastor at Grace UMC – Burnsville) recently shared words from author Diana Gibbons. Her writing overflows with gratitude.

I can say nothing of God, except I saw the red flames of a cardinal against the snow this morning as I drank tea.

     I can say nothing of God, except the warm smell of potato soup and the sharp tang of cheddar cheese shimmied up my nose when a friend made lunch for me.

     I can say nothing of God, except two nights ago a cricket sang a funny song in my closet amidst the socks and silence.

     I can say nothing of God, except stones can speak, deer can fly in my dreams; a strange child smiled at me in the supermarket, that each blade of green grass wears a locket with God’s face inside, and that on every hair of my cat’s face is written, “alleluia.”

     I can say nothing of God except the rough texture of grainy bread on my tongue and the sweet liquid acid of grape in my throat are a bittersweet memory of compassion and a taste of heaven.

Every day between now and Thanksgiving, find a reason to be grateful—however small it may seem.  (If you are inclined, take a moment to write down whatever brings gratitude. Perhaps start your sentence with “I can say nothing of God, except…”; Read your list on Thanksgiving).  One way or another, before closing your eyes for the night, take a moment to be in God’s presence with a word of thanks.  Every moment of Thanksgiving becomes strength for the journey and blessing for the soul.

“The Lord made us.  We are God’s.  … Enter the Lord’s gates with thanks.” (Psalm 100:3b & 4a)

May You be Well, Blessed and Grateful, 

Pastor Roger

October 29 Devotion

The etched-glass image above is from a roadside chapel in Nebraska that my wife and I paused at a few years ago.  I find myself drawn to the stillness.  Sun, rain, snow, wild prairie winds, still their faces remain peaceful.  The lines of every part of the etching remain softly rounded.  It reminds me of the wise words one of Grace’s members posted on Facebook this past week.  “There are two types of tired!  One that requires rest.  One that requires peace.”  Nearing election with virtually every form of media replete with argumentative statements, watching Covid-19 numbers surge, praying for essential-worker friends and family, noticing daylight grows shorter and nights grow colder, many may be experiencing both types of tired.  Many may long for both rest and peace.  However, as you may have discovered, it is possible to have a good night’s sleep or a quiet day and still feel tired.  That is the tired that aches for peace.

 

Look at the child-Jesus in the etched glass above.  Although the artist missed the first century, middle-eastern facial features, the artist captured a peaceful awareness in the expression of the child-Jesus.  This Sunday during Livestream worship we’ll pause to hear Jesus’ speaking to the crowd on a day when he seemed keenly aware of the “tired that needs peace.”

 

Blessed are those who are weary, because the kingdom of God is theirs.

Blessed are those who grieve, because they will be gladdened.

Blessed are the humble, because they will inherit the earth. 

Blessed are those who show mercy, because they will receive mercy.

(See Matthew 5:1-12 for the entirety of the blessings).

 

What I am hearing in Jesus’ words today is “blessed, happy, rested are those who face difficulties now, because God’s last word will bring them peace.”  What I am hearing today is an invitation from an understanding Christ to lean into peace and the things that bring us a sense of peace.  For me it might be a cup of hot coffee, two creamers, one sweet and low, and a Johnny Cash version of “Bridge Over Troubled Water” from his last album.  What would whisper a few moments of peace into your life today.  Make time for it–even if it’s just five minutes.  Take another couple of minutes to read Matthew 5:1-12.  What blessing speaks to you most today?  What blessing do you dearly wish for a friend who is struggling?  Wrap up your time with a prayer–something like, “Loving Jesus, grant me the peaceful blessing of remembering God will have the last word, and the last word will bless those who hurt.  Amen.”

Be Blessed and Be Blessing,

Pastor Roger