Weekly Devotional 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

Weekly Devotional 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

 

Weekly Devotional 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

Weekly Devotional June 21, 2019

     I had a dream while I was at the Annual Conference of Minnesota Methodists.  It seems well to pay attention to dreams when the day before has been steeped in prayer and Scripture–and when the Sunday Bible reading is rambling about deep in the brain as well.  It was a simple dream–but a bit frightening.  We had a busload of Grace Kids going somewhere and a couple of us needed a bathroom stop.  But, the place we stopped could best be described as huge business that was a combination antiques and pawn shop.  There seemed to be a little of everything inside.  Books, drum sets, violins, guitars, dolls, computers, art supplies, fishing gear.  Everything, and all really nice stuff.  The owner saw the busload of kids outside, and a couple of the kids and adults who just stepped in the door.  I immediately knew this was probably not the place to make a bathroom stop when the owner said, “This store has been my life and it is time.  Invite all the kids to come in.  Each child can pick any one thing that speaks to his or her soul and keep it.  No cost.”  My jaw dropped.  The owner smiled.
 
     Isaiah 55:1 says, “All who are thirst, come to the water!  Whoever has no money, come buy food and eat.”  This week’s Scripture says, “Now you belong to Christ, you are now descendants of Abraham and Sarah, heirs of God’s promise” (Galatians 3:29b).  As I watched all the kids search for that something that spoke to their souls, I awoke.  I knew I had glimpsed heaven–and God’s hope for the church on earth.   The shop-owner was Jesus–who meets people where they are, discovers what they most need and shares freely. The shop-owner was showing the church it’s mission.  We are meant to help people find that which speaks to their souls–to share what we have found and treasured in ways that bring life, hope and celebration.
 
     Sharing one thing with another–one gift, one kindness, one moment of care, one reminder that someone is a child of God–is our purpose.  When has someone reminded you that God has adopted you?  How might you show another he or she is adopted and ever-loved by a good and gracious God?
 
     Blessings,  Roger

Weekly Devotional June 14, 2019

“This hope does not disappoint us because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit…” (Romans 5:5) Paul concludes a couple thoughts on suffering and struggle with the reminder that God can pour hope and love into our hearts even in the midst of struggles. What are the things that restore your soul? How does God whisper gratitude into your life, even when things aren’t going so well?

The returning green and flowers after a long winter always seem to speak to me of how the harder, harsher seasons of life don’t last forever. Show me a glorious flower and I glimpse the resilience of the human spirit and the persistent presence of a life-giving God. Today, take a moment to look and listen to the world around you. Find something that pours a bit of hope and love into your heart. It may be the face of a kind friend; it may be watching one person share a good deed with another; it may be the song of a bird–even a common-place Robin has a wonderful song; it may be the feel of a warm breeze upon your bare arms. Pausing to let God pour a bit of love and hope into our lives is time well spent. Even better, tell another about something that filled your spirit.

As we near Sunday, whether you’ll be in church or away this weekend, I invite you to read the Scripture for the Sunday morning–Romans 5:1-5. It never fails to uplift me and I expect it will give a boost to your day as well.

Summer Blessings,
Pastor Roger

Weekly Devotional June 5, 2019

Memorial Day weekend three Facebook friends posted pictures of “the first campfire” by the lake. Another posted a photo of the first colorful blossoms of the garden. My wife posted a picture of a full-grown bear we saw in Clay County. Many, myself included, posted words of thanks for the fallen who’d served to protect our country. It was a litany of the things that inspire us–that keep flame of gratitude burning in our hearts. This Sunday is Pentecost: one of the big three in church special days, Christmas, Easter and Pentecost. We often don’t know what to do with Pentecost. We wear red if we remember. Sometimes we may have a birthday cake for the church. I’ve hung kites from the ceiling of sanctuaries. I’ve had fans blowing on wind-chimes. Yet, the wind blows where it will and moments of inspiration can’t be forced. Like an unexpected bear crossing a wide open field, or that feeling that suddenly touches the heart watching the first campfire of the season, the Spirit speaks when the Spirit speaks. When it speaks, we remember God is near; we remember we have a purpose.

Acts 2:1-21 tells of one of those moments when the Spirit moves, people are inspired and the church finds its purpose. I invite you to read it each day before Pentecost. I also invite you to reflect on these words from Marianne Williamson that speak to me of Pentecost. “We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.” (Marianne Williamson) Together we have a purpose to share our moments of inspiration, to share the moments God has blessed us, to invite others into the blessing of God’s love for everyone. So, keep sharing what inspires you–on Facebook, over cups of coffee, sitting with a grandchild, or any way you can. And, keep remembering you have a purpose in God’s grand plan of making sure, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Acts 2:21)

May you have many Spirit-filled Blessings

“We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.” (Marianne Williamson)

Pastor Roger Grafenstein

Grace United Methodist Church
1120 17th St. South
Moorhead, MN 56560
218-233-1857

Weekly Devotional May 24, 2019

A clear blue sky with a warm breeze that almost melts into you, add in the sound of waves softly lapping at the shore, and you may have peace. A rocking motion, the warmth of a baby resting on your chest with soft breaths whispering contentment into your ear, I expect you can nearly feel the peace imagining it. Life is filled with moments that subtly remind us of the goodness of God. But, life is also filled with challenges and worries. Jesus knows this. So, there’s a moment in the book of John when Jesus prepares his followers for his crucifixion and death. He says, “Don’t be troubled or afraid. There will be a time when I go away, but I will return.” (John 14:27-28). He says, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give you, not as the world gives.”

I believe Jesus’ hopes that by knowing him we’ll be able to find peace when days are neither sunny or warm. I believe Jesus wishes to offer us peace even when the waves driven by a storm. I believe Jesus also prays peace for us when the darling little one that slept upon our chest, is close to grown, and not always gracefully stumbling through life’s choices. How do you find the peace Jesus offers when storms arise? How do you find peace when people you love make choices that may harm them?

Confirmation Sunday I chose the 23rd Psalm to preach on. Then, Wednesday, at the request of a Eloise Brendemuhl’s family I preached from the 23rd Psalm again for her memorial service. Thursday, I decided to preach on the 23rd Psalm at Parkview Terrace and Moorhead Rehab Center. Sometimes, a favorite Scripture is where we find peace–especially if that Scripture helps us visualize peaceful places and moments. Often, when we are worried or troubled our heart rate increases. Our body gears up as our flight/fight response keeps getting nudged. One way to pray is to begin without words–simply breathing in for the count of four, holding the breath for the count of four, letting the breath out for the count of four, then waiting four more seconds before breathing in again. Cycling through that pattern of breath a couple times before conversing with God may allow us to sense God’s peace-giving presence during our prayer time. Another practical way to lean into Jesus’ peace is to softly sing a verse or two of a favorite hymn–or the hymn that God mysteriously brings to mind at the moment. (God doesn’t care if we remember all the words. The words we need are more than enough).

The point is, Jesus says you deserve peace, especially when the circumstances around you are less than peaceful. If you find yourself longing for peace today, take a moment to read a favorite Scripture, begin a short prayer time with a breathing exercise, or softly sing a hymn that speaks to you. If you see another in need of peace, maybe you’ll even have a little extra peace to share.

Sunday, we’ll revisit the peace Jesus offers.

Shalom,
Pastor Roger

Weekly Devotional June 21 2018

Strike up a conversation and then listen. Soon, it will become obvious that Storms and Giants are commonplace in our lives. This Sunday our Bible readings will lead us to stormy seas and let us catch a glimpse of a giant named Goliath. Sometimes Bible readings seem difficult to connect to daily life. But, storms and giants? We face them, or see others face them, many times during life. It wasn’t that long ago I watched my Dad and Mom–as one was still recovering from battling cancer, the other was going through two hip replacement surgeries. Sometimes I visit with families and wonder why, so often, challenges come one like one wave after another. While we may not know a giant named Goliath we know giants that go by other names–cancer, addiction, bankruptcy, terminal, divorce and the like. There’s a saying, “Old Age Isn’t for Sissies.” It’s a flamboyant way of saying, “sometimes it seems the storms are too frequent and the giants are too strong.”

Spoiler alert: Jesus calms the storm. David slays the Giant. God prevails! Whatever storms you face today. Whatever giants threaten a friend or family member you care about–somehow God will prevail. Somehow God gives the strength to face whatever is next. If you are facing a giant read I Samuel 19:32-50. If you’re facing a storm, try reading Mark 4:35-41. Let the words be your courage. If you are in town over the weekend, come and hear more about God’s strength in the storms.

If you, or a loved one, are facing a challenge, a helpful approach to prayer may be whispering, “God, help me trust you will prevail.” You might try breathing in during the word “God” and breathing out during “help me trust you will prevail.” Repeat as needed.

God’s peace, strength and courage,

Weekly Devotional June 8 2018

When the laughter begins–heartfelt laughter that is not laughing at someone’s misfortune–we find ourselves drawn to it. Being around light-hearted people lifts our spirits. As followers of Jesus we are meant to be light-hearted and joy-filled because Jesus says his burden is easy and his yoke is light. Yet, it is all too easy to let our worries, fears and hurts crowd out the joy Jesus offers. This upcoming Sunday we’ll explore Mark 3:20-30 where Jesus is literally healing people and lifting their burdens. Unfortunately, the “church” of his day does not rejoice and celebrate. In fact, the most religious literally begin to worry the devil is at work in the healing.

Are you carrying a worry today? Does it seem easier to see fate working against you than God working for you? Last week when I was at Annual Conference a woman by the name of Dr. Simbo shared these powerful words in a prayer she offered. “The joy you give us is not conditional upon the circumstances of our lives but upon your unconditional gift to us in Christ Jesus.” We can choose to believe God knows what God is doing in our lives and is at work even when we don’t see or understand it. We can pray for the gifts of faith and trust. One wonderful prayer is found in our hymnals. My guess is you’ll recognize the words and maybe find yourself humming the tune.

“Because he lives, I can face tomorrow.

Because he lives all fear is gone;

because I know he holds the future,

and life is worth the living just because he lives.”

God’s joy be yours this day.