March 29

Last night in my dream world I had a full social life.  For some reason I’d been picked as a judge in a piano contest at a school; I had all the chairs and extra in my living room set up for a family movie night and all my family was scheduled to arrive along with a few friends; I planning a wedding with a couple whose parents were planning an extremely large reception; but accidentally messed up a food order and ended up with with a dozen cases of canned mushrooms at the church. Almost a lifetime ago now, Elizabeth Kubler Ross published a book–The Five Stages of Grief.  Since that time other researchers have noted that the stages aren’t like stair-steps and they can come in any order.  Plus, people can be in two or three stages at once and hop around through the multiple facets of grief.  Some have even suggested there are more than five stages.  Last night in my dream world, my mind was in denial.  I was plunging ahead with multiple large social events–except none of them ever quite materialized in the end.  In complete denial I’d plunge ahead with an event, only to have it canceled, and plunge ahead with another.

     During my daytime hours when I see frustrated or oblivious people trying to work around the shields or extended distance barriers meant to protect cashiers and other customers or hear people vent frustration over all the unnecessary inconvenience right now, I find myself saddened.  But, I also remind myself “denial” and “anger” two of the stages of grief.  It helps me get to a better, more patient place personally.  That is important for me right now as my role is to empower others to be their best selves for the sake of each other during a very difficult time.  I’ve noticed over the past couple weeks that’s meant creating video devotions and live-stream worship that says, 1) “Covid-19 is very real and extremely contagious, ” 2) “it is OK to be sad over empty churches and cancelled important events”; 3) “God has given us tools to live in a time like this such as Micah 6:8 (do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with your God); and I Corinthians 13:4-8 (Love is patient, love is kind…it isn’t irritable or rude).”
     I’ve also found myself encouraged hearing what creative ways others are leaning into their best selves.  One who wears a smart watch says when the heart rate begins to race, repeating the Apostles’ Creed brings it back down; another shared about diving deep into the Lenten Study book “Reckless Love: Jesus’ Call to Love our Neighbor”; another picked up the directory and simply started calling people to check in.  Lydia circle created a call list and began making calls.  Some are doing frequent video chats with family.  Another is sending cards of care.  This Sunday, I found myself responding with a note to each person who commented on livestream worship.  It soothed my soul.  Have you found your “something” that brings calm to your soul amidst the chaos?  I’d love to hear about the “something” that is working for you and share it with others in a future weekly devotion.  If you’re willing to share a practice that is blessing you and/or others during this time, simply send me an e-mail at graceunitedmethodistpastor@gmail.com
     Please know this, I am praying over our church directory each day for all of you…and miss seeing you.  I pray you will find ways to do more than cope.  I pray God might breathe a bit of new life into you even in the midst of the challenge.
QUICK NOTES:  Please keep in your prayers:
1) JoAnn Oelke.  Doctor’s have identified inoperable heart issues that will be addressed through medication and therapy.
2) Richard Wagner and Family – Margaret’s funeral service is postponed to July 18th.
3) Pray for Medium Risk and High Risk “essential workers” who interact with dozens to hundreds of people each day.
4) Pray for many who are unable to visit loved ones in hospitals, some who are unable to be with loved ones during times of death,
    some who can’t be in delivery rooms with Mom’s because of lack of masks.
5) Pray for those who’ve been laid off and are actively waiting to see what resources are available and how to access them.
ADDRESS UPDATES/CORRECTIONS:
 for Richard Wagner:  511 40th St. S #120, Fargo, ND  58103
 for Don and Pat Walter  3102 S. Univ. Dr. (Villa Maria) Fargo, ND  58103
LEADERSHIP TEAM:
I will be subscribing to a $9.95/month app called Blue Jeans to create a virtual room for us to meet in, do some work and planning together, and stay connected.  Our building and physical gatherings will be closed until at least May 10th.
 
THANKS FOR MAILING & DROPPING OFF OFFERINGS IN THE MAIL SLOT.
If you are out and about getting essentials, the church could use AA Alkaline batteries for our mics and hearing assistance devices.  We will gather in person to worship again!!!  Simply Slide a 4, 8 or 16 pack in the mail slot.  Double A Alkaline–Duracell and Energizer seem to last the best.
Blessings,
Pastor Roger

March 24

So, there is this.  Sunday, we at Grace attempted to widen our screen for viewers and accidentally posted our live worship on its side, and took a good share of the day to rightly orient it.  Meanwhile a priest from England was getting lots of views.  He’d set up a little altar of sorts, with a cluttered office background.  While trying to keep the altar the focus of his video, he leaned over it to speak.  Unknowingly, he lit his sweater on fire.  The picture shows the back of his sweater flaming up behind his face.  I confess I laughed lots watching the video.  Pastors the world over tried live-streamed video Sunday and we critiqued what we did making a list of do’s and don’ts for next time.  Now most of us can also say, whatever glitches we had along the way, “at least we didn’t light ourselves on fire.” 
    So, I don’t know how you’re faring with the changes Covid-19 is bringing to you routine.  What i do know is that most of us struggle with changes to routine.  My wife and I stocked up on food to have a 14 day supply, trying to focus on proteins since we both have diabetes.  We also stocked up some less healthy snacks–which we usually try not to keep around.  If we crave a not-so-healthy snack we make ourselves travel to the grocery store to get it because it’s easier when it’s not in the house.  Now such things are in the house.   It turns out I have x-ray vision and can see the unhealthy snacks through the cupboard doors.  Not a good situation for me–though it’s better now that I recognized that I was making too many trips to the cupboard.  “Well, at least I didn’t set myself on fire.”
       I’m guessing you may have some Covid-19 lifestyle changes that are challenging for you:  housebound without March Madness basketball, working from home, kids home, working at a place that is busier and/or riskier, going to an office that is completely quiet; maybe you’re part of a peer support group that’s not meeting; maybe you worry because you or loved ones work on the front-lines of people-care (medicine, police, groceries, prescriptions); maybe you’re feeling stuck in a setting that is on lock-down or in a quarantine of sorts; maybe you’ve had non-essential surgery postponed.  My Mom was scheduled for shoulder surgery in mid-April to repair three tears in the tendons.  I understand it is safe not to have the surgery now; but, I thought, “I wonder how many tears would make it an essential surgery?”  Right now life is more challenging for all of us in a way that I expect it hasn’t been since WWII.
     This past Sunday morning, as Sharon accompanied Trisha on flute and Jack as vocalist, I knew we got one thing right.  As soon as I heard the first song, I knew God had guided us.   “You Are Mine” written by David Haas, God’s Spirit burned in my heart and moistened my eyes, as Jack sang.
“I will come to you in the silence, 
I will lift you from all your fear.  
You will hear my voice, 
I claim you as my choice, 
be still and know I am here.”    
scroll down to sermons and click on the coffee cup and Bible or
Click HERE  to hear “You Are Mine” (song begins at the 2:00 minute mark).
   Everyday be patient with yourself and others.  If it’s a challenging day, remember “it’s a good day if you don’t start yourself on fire.”
God’s blessings and prayers for health,
Pastor Roger

March 20

I arrived home after a quick trip to West Acres at closing time–so I could get a picture.  West Acres felt like one of those movies where Zombies might appear any moment.  When I arrived home I was very glad I had a sharp hunting knife.  (Wow-hold on; this really isn’t as weird as it sounds).  I arrived home and heard a faint hum that wasn’t stopping.  Sure enough, the sump pump was running, but unable to pump through a frozen hose.  Hence, I was thankful for a really sharp knife to cut the ice-filled hose quickly–though not so quickly, I did get a full body, outdoor, in 40 mph winds, cold shower.  As miserable as that may sound, for a while life was back to normal.  I had a project with a beginning, a solution and an ability to fix, after a quick trip to Tractor Supply for hose and clamps.
     For a little while life was normal again.  It took my mind off questions that were weighing on me.  1) Those on ventilators with hospital visiting restrictions, are they suffering without family being allowed to visit; 2) those four senators (republican and democrat) who sold stocks as soon as they had the intelligence report on Covid-19 virus three weeks ago, how do they live with that choice? 3) The US Senator, a former accountant, that did the math of “well 97% will live?  We don’t need extraordinary measures,” wasn’t he listening when the physicians said, “without social distancing 50% of the population will be infected within 8 weeks?”  In the FM area alone that would be an extra 3,000 deaths in 8 weeks; many days without Covid-19 our local hospitals and emergency rooms are near capacity.  4) Who came up with the idea to suggest medical personnel could use handkerchiefs and scarves to protect themselves?  Did all of that entire group skip 9th grade biology?  5) How will my parents fare in all of this? how will church members fare? 6) how will Grace church pay bills without regular Sunday offerings? 7) What happens when the Spring Breakers come home to closed colleges and move in with their older parents?
     I don’t know what questions are running through your mind in this time of social distancing.  I do know the questions are not normal, everyday questions.  I do know we need emotional and spiritual breaks from those heavy questions.  While I don’t wish a frozen sump-pump hose on anyone, I do wish normal life moments for each of you.  I encourage you to create normal-life moments.  In talking with one of our members over the phone, he indicated shared a normal life practice that was encouraging him during social distancing.  In a phone conversation, Bill Krogen told me how chapter five of “Reckless Love:  Jesus’ Call to Love Our Neighbor” was speaking to him.  Today Lydia Circle is working on creating a volunteer phone callers team to connect with the home-bound.  The great Cellist Yo-Yo Ma is choosing to play beautiful, soothing music that people can access online for a sense of calm and spiritual renewal.  I am still returning to the Bible I set out at the beginning of Lent–open to I Corinthians 13:4-8.  “Love is patient, love is kind; love is not jealous or boastful, arrogant or rude.  Love does not insist on its own way, etc.”  Great words especially in times when we need to treat those we love with an extra measure of patience and care.
     In these far from normal times, ask God to keep bringing you back to those things that restore your soul and mind.  Ask God to show you how you might help someone else find a sense of “normal” and “peace” today.  
Blessings and Health,
Pastor Roger

March 17

 The picture is the cover of my check book with the words from Proverbs 3:5.  When I write a check they call me back to the relationship that is meant to guide me.  They invite me whether the numbers inside the checkbook or encouraging or discouraging to remember who is my comforter and provider, and who I am called to be.  We need words that guide and put things in perspective.  We need such words when we spend money or expend our lives.
 
     This week I saw another set of words that also reminded me of who I am called to be.  “Your grandparents were called to war.  You’re being called to sit on your couch.  You can do this.”  I laughed and told my wife.  I was surprised she didn’t laugh.  Turned out she was sleeping in the chair next to mine. A few minutes later she woke up, read the words on her Facebook feed, started laughing, and read them to me.
 
     The words were posted by a person who knows what she is saying.  During the Iraq war her husband was called to service.  Their children were early teenagers.  While overseas, his tour of duty was extended.  Their family’s sacrifice was no small matter.  There were tears, worries, loneliness, economic challenges for them, and many, many others.  As I read the clever words that made me laugh, I couldn’t help but think “being stuck at home with family” would seem like a cakewalk compared to waiting each day, not knowing if your husband, (your kids’ father was still alive in a war zone each day).  
 
     The truth is, each challenge is unique.  The truth is sometimes life’s metaphorical checkbook is full, sometimes running on empty.  But, all times the words of Proverbs 3:5 ring true:  “Trust in the Lord with all your heart.”  Today at 5 PM in MN indoor dining in restaurants ends, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart.”  This week there is no school in MN, North Dakota, or many other states.  “Trust in the Lord with all your heart.”  The next two weeks, at the very least, all Grace UMC church activities are cancelled.  “Trust in the Lord with all your heart.”  May God grant you the gift of trust.  
 
Blessings, Pastor Roger   

March 13

I am torn.  Sunday at Grace do we put locks on our TP dispensers or do we advertise, “A free roll for every attender.”  ☺ Truth is, since one of these packs is already spoken for, I probably don’t have enough rolls for every attender.  Plus, news reports are that yesterday Dilworth, Walmart was out, Costco was out and Moorhead, Target was out and Dilworth, CVS was almost out.  This is an odd way to start a weekly devotion.  But, this week those in attendance at Grace will meet the Woman Jesus met at the well.  She came to the well for a necessity–water.  Jesus offered her what she did not know she needed, “Living Water”–that is hope, forgiveness and freedom from her soul ever thirsting again.  (See John 4:5-30).  
 
     I’ve a hunch the TP shortage is fueled by more than a need for toilet paper.  I suspect human beings have a longing to feel safe, prepared, and able to do something to provide for ourselves.  I also believe Jesus was telling the woman at the well she needed something she could not provide or store up for herself.  We all do.  We need a “higher power” to do for us what we can not do for ourselves.  Courage in the face of adversity, calm in the presence of the storm, strength for the journey, at some point in life we all run out of the emotional wherewithal we attempt to muster up for ourselves.  Living water or the peace that passes understanding comes only from God.  During these anxious times I invite us to take a moment a few times a day to whisper a simple prayer:  “Jesus, provide for me what I can not provide for myself–the assurance that you are with us always,” is one options.  Another is, “God, Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Amen
 
     A quick word about Covid-19 Corona Virus and Grace UMC.  Some basic behaviors for us to follow are:
            1)  frequent hand-washing with soap. 
            2)  stay home if experiencing cough, fever, chills, weakness or exposed to person with such symptoms,
            3)  refrain from handshakes for now, 
            4)  cover mouth with inner elbow when coughing or sneezing,
            5)  avoid groups over 250,
            6)  use extra caution if over 60 years of age or if you have a health impairment,
            7)  please understand unfolding circumstances we necessitate alternative communion without bread or juice,
            8)  before visiting friends in larger facilities call ahead to see if there are visitor restrictions, 
            9)  be patient with measures that may seem extreme; most of us have loved ones whose age
                    and/or current health challenges place them in the highest mortality segment of people.  
                    Though US death rates are not high at present, each person who does die was loved by someone,
           10)  since Covid-19 tests are not readily available the situation is more complex; 
                   Pray for widespread availability soon.
   
Blessings and Love in Jesus’ Name, 
Pastor Roger

March 3

This past Sunday we followed Jesus into the desert for his 40 days of desert temptation.  While there, however, I invited us to focus on what tempts us.  Personally, I visit Facebook daily and discover many helpful things–who is celebrating, grieving, hospitalized, traveling, etc.  It can be a great place to connect, encourage and pray for one another.  But, I often face the temptation to chime in where there are Facebook feuds. Most of the time I resist for many reasons–including the sense than minds aren’t changed much during Facebook feuds.  In fact, I think I am seeing a deepening entrenched divisiveness that saddens me–then I feel tempted to be cynical.  
 
I don’t know where you are feeling temptations to be less than your best self lately.  I do know we all face such temptations.  Jesus did, too.  One of Jesus’ responses to temptation was, “Go away, Satan, because it’s written, ‘you will worship the Lord your God and serve only him.'”  One way Jesus battled temptation was to remember Scripture.  So, Sunday I offered a suggestion, and am offering it again, for those who weren’t there or didn’t remember the Bible verses.  I invite you to open a Bible and set it somewhere where you will see it every day.  I invite you to open the Bible to I Corinthians 13:4-8.  “Love is patient, love is kind.  … It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking or easily angered. …always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”  
 
Whether you go on Facebook or not, we live in a world where there is an increasing amount of anger, rudeness, mistrust and meanness.  God’s Word can be our strength for the journey where we may be tempted to give in to the things that divide us.  I invite us to read I Corinthians 13:4-8 every day of Lent until Easter morning and “receive God’s strength for the journey.”
If you find the practice of having your Bible open to I Corinthians 13 somehow blesses you on any given day, I’d love to hear about it.
Lenten Blessings,
Pastor Roger

February 21

This upcoming Sunday most of the slides with the message will be filled with light.  Even the bulletin cover has tulips glow with the sunshine radiating through them.  Light is often a metaphor for holiness.  So, as we draw near the dark valley of the church year we call Lent–we celebrate light on the last Sunday before Ash Wednesday.  The Scripture for the day describes Jesus bathed in light, “his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as light.”  As a cloud arrived in the picture even it was “a bright cloud that overshadowed them.”  (Matthew 17:2 & 5)
 
     Think of the stuff that brightens your world.  Is it the kind words of a friend, perhaps a handmade card, maybe sitting at a table drinking coffee with a few of your favorite people.  All these things are filled with the holiness of God.  Yes, it’s an everyday-type holiness, but that doesn’t make it any less holy.  
 
     Recently, an actress by the name of Valerie Bertinelli was “shamed” on Twitter for not being the weight someone thought she should be.  I don’t do Twitter, but I do read news articles.  The article I read described Kelly Clarkson chiming in to defend Valerie with these words:  “True power is recognizing the projection of others’ negativity and punching it square in the face with all the positive, remarkable, intelligent, beautiful light that seeps from your pores.”  I think the risen Christ loves that quote and may have sent the Spirit to inspire it.  You and I are created in God’s image.  At our best, we let the “beautiful light (of God’s image in us) seep from our pores,” flow forth our words, and radiate blessing through our actions.
 
     Today, remember you are Christ’s brother or sister; God’s light and love is meant to shine through you just like it shined through Jesus.  Today, let the light of God shine through you to bless another.  
 
Blessings,
Pastor Roger