Weekly Devotional April 11 2019

Wednesday evening our Song of the Soul was “Are Ye Able,” with its refrain, “Lord, we are able, our spirits are thine, remold them make us, like thee divine.  Thy guiding radiance, above us shall be, a beacon to God, to love and loyalty.”  While exploring the history of the song, we also took a look at the prayer purposely placed next to the hymn.  It’s a prayer for overcoming adversity.  We’ve reached that point in Lent when we remember Jesus’ followers were rather bold in saying, “Lord, we are able.”  Because, like us, they were prone to failure.  In other words, on our own, we aren’t able.  We need, as AA aptly puts it, a “Higher Power.”

Unfortunately, there is another thing that often comes with knowing we fail; that is feeling unworthy or unlovable.  So, last night we not only pondered the disciples falling asleep in the garden and disappearing as the cross drew near; we also pondered the post-Easter words. “Do not be afraid.”  “Fear not.”  Have you ever heard those words echo a whisper of forgiveness?    Sometimes I re-imagine Jesus showing up to his followers after they/we fail.  “Don’t be afraid, I haven’t abandoned you.” “Don’t be afraid, I have forgiven you.”  “Don’t be afraid, today is a new day and I will help you do what you cannot do on your own.”

Lent reminds us of our deep need.  Easter reminds us God in Christ wants to help us to overcome what we can not overcome on our own.  With God’s helps and strength we are able.  Let that promise be your strength.  Pray each day that God might give you the opportunity to whisper that beautiful truth into another’s life.

If you wish to encourage another on life’s journey, invite someone you know who could use a blessing to worship this Sunday.  The message of God’s life transforming love will fill the sanctuary in song and word.  Grace choir has been hard at work practicing a Cantata that shares the hope and beauty of God’s promises.

Blessings, Pastor Roger

Weekly Devotional April 4, 2019

          Every day we awake is a new opportunity to be a blessing and show appreciation.  We’ll never know exactly what Mary was thinking when she began to anoint Jesus’ feet with an expensive, fragrant perfume (John 12:3).  We can guess she was expressing appreciation and gratitude.  Sadly, those around her didn’t think much of the gift.  We do know, however, that Jesus appreciated the thought and the gift.  Jesus gave the gift holy significance, and he spoke protectively, “Leave her alone!”  There are many voices in life that try to rob us of gratitude and generosity.  There are things that threaten to rob us of the joy of living.  Truth is, to give one thing is to ignore something else.  That said, Jesus words, “Leave her alone,” are meant to quell the voices and silence the things that would rob us of grateful and generous spirits. Put differently, every gift given with a kind spirit is a good gift in God’s eyes.  Every day lived in love is a good day in God’s eyes.
      You and I have been given today.  So, yes, “go make a difference, touch a heart, encourage a mind, inspire a soul and enjoy your day.”  Don’t let any naysayer take away a single moment of appreciation, generosity or joy out of your life today.  God gave you today so you can be a blessing in your own way.
God’s Peace, Pastor Roger

Weekly Devotional March 21 2019

It seems we’ve happened upon a theme at Grace.  Last night at Lenten worship we explored the history of “Come as You Are.”  You can take a listen at

This next Wednesday we’ll explore the backstory of “I Come to the Garden Alone.”  This Sunday the Gospel of Luke will also lead us to a garden that is part of a parable Jesus’ tells.  Jesus speaks of a garden that is no longer producing.  It’s a garden that the owner is ready to tear up.  But, the gardener is a hope-filled, give-it-another-chance person.  Sometimes it’s not easy to “come to the garden alone, while the dew is still on the roses” because we don’t feel worthy.  That’s especially true after we wrong someone or embarrass ourselves.  Sometimes it’s not easy to believe we can actually “Come as We Are” into God’s presence because we know we haven’t been our best selves.  But, the God who created the quintessential garden of Eden and the garden-planet we call earth, is a hope-filled, give-people-another-chance God.

In the parable Jesus shares from Luke 13:1-9, we glimpse the possibility of receiving second-chances ourselves; in fact, I think the parable invites us to share God’s hopefulness by offering second chances to others.  We are called to create the place where people can be set free of their past and grow to bear fruits of the spirit again.  We have this great opportunity.  We can pray to have the attitude of the one-more-chance gardener–and become part of God’s hopes taking root in people’s lives.

Be sure to take a moment to click on the link above to listen to “Come as You Are” by Crowder.

 

Have a Blessed Week, Pastor Roger

Weekly Devotional March 15 2019

 

(Image from the Dakota’s Area UM Foundation – Facebook post)

“How often I have wanted to gather you like a hen gathers its chicks under her wings” (Jesus – Luke 13:34b).

The above words of Jesus seem to speak for a God that offers to support, protect, and embrace us.  Jesus, continues with the words, “But you didn’t want that.”  There are so many reasons we try to go it alone. We could make a mighty long list.  However, we can also make a list of the times God reminds us we are not alone.

“The Lord will guide you always” (Isaiah 58:11).

“The Lord is my light and salvation…the Lord is my fortress” (Psalm 27:1).

“The Lord is my shepherd…The Lord makes me lie down in green pastures;

leads me beside the still waters.  He restores my soul. (Psalm 23:1-2)

“Do not be afraid, I am with you” (Isaiah 41:10)

The Bible is filled with reminders that God is always ready to embrace us–restoring our souls even in the worst of times.  The Bible doesn’t say life will be problem-free.  Far from it.  However, a sense of God’s embrace in the midst of trials can go a long way toward protecting our souls from hate, cynicism, hopelessness and despair.  Honestly, as a grandpa, I find a mini high-five or a pint-sized hug from my granddaughter has a similar restorative power for the soul.

Let God embrace you in your time of need.  A great way of doing this is to read a single-line promise like those above while imagining Jesus beside you, his hand resting on your shoulder.  Maybe you’ll glimpse the nail-marks of his previous life.  Remember, God carried him through and will carry you through.

Remember, also, you may find yourself sitting with another who needs a reminder God is near.  It is OK to ask, “would you like a hug?”  It is also OK for someone to say, “no” to a hug.  It is OK to ask someone if you can keep them in your prayers.  It is OK for someone to say, “no” to that as well.  Still, God’s embrace may be felt by another without our hug, or our prayers.  Sometimes just our quiet, caring presence for a fleeting moment is enough.

May you feel God’s protection today.  May God give you the grace to be a reminder of God’s protection for another when the time is right.

Blessings, Pastor Roger

Weekly Devotional March 7th 2019

Ash Wednesday we reflected a bit on the history of “Just as I Am.” (The backstories of all the Songs of the Soul for Lent will be compiled and available for those who want them at the end of Lent). As I was reading about the recent tornadoes in the Southern US the lyrics of “Just as I Am” spoke to me.  

Eastern Alabama – Western Georgia Tornadoes

Facts:

  At least 23 dead

At least 800 people homeless…not as in their homes were damaged…

as in they came home to their homes completely gone

Deceased range from age 6 to age 89

Quotes:

“She was the air in my lungs,” father of a 10 year old girl who died.

“Heaven got the sweetest little boy.” “I love you, A.J., for making me smile when I was with you,” mom of a son who died.

“He was my wedding gift. He’d send me flowers at work just to let me know he loved me,” wife of deceased husband.

“She loved dancing. Believe it or not she was dancing on her ultrasound.”

“She was loved by many and she loved in return,” parent of an 8 year old.

“In three days we won’t be the headline of the news cycle. Please don’t forget us—in three days, in three weeks, in three months. It will take years for many of the survivors to have a home again,” First Baptist Pastor

 

Truth:  

We are vulnerable, fragile, creatures on this sometimes harsh and unpredictable planet. Add in, diseases, poverty, cruelty of other humans and accidents, and its clear life, at times, is tenuous and has more than its share of grief. 

“Just as I am without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me, and that thou bidst me, come to thee. O lamb of God, I come; I come;”  

Just as I am was written for comfort and assurance in the brokenness that occurs in our world. Please keep those who are recovering from life’s worst in your prayers this Lent. Remember, when you face trials, God always, always cares and calls you to come rest in that care. Also, know that the 4th Sunday of March is UMCOR Sunday for all UM Churches. Through the United Methodist Committee on Relief you are already part of God’s care in the aftermath of the recent Tornadoes. Supplies and caring UMs were on their way within 48 hours of the devastation–with clean up supplies and listening ears–to hear, heal, and help in the rebuilding of lives over the months to come.  

For a modern intrepretation of Just as I Am check out Nicole Nordman’s version.

Lenten Blessings, Pastor Roger  

Sermon Feb 24 2019

I’ve had an affinity for walking sticks for as long as I can remember. I am pretty sure it has something to do with glimpsing some portrayal of Moses and his “magical” walking staff sometime before I can consciously remember. Older now, I believe all walking staffs and canes have a bit of the holy in them. In one church I served we did a VBS that included a walking stick for everyone; one member had a basswood walking stick carved for me. Another woman gave me her late husband’s homemade cane along with the backstory of where to find and harvest diamond willow. Both pieces of wood whisper holiness every time I look at them. There’s something about walking sticks and canes that speaks of what it is to journey through life. I’ve even known people who’ve named their canes. Any of you known people to name their canes?

 

I’ve seen my Mom and Dad both go through times of needing to use a cane. I’ve seen both my children each have a time in their life when they needed to use a cane. My wife has a pink cane, purchased in Ohio that she needed to use for a month or so after a side-effect from a medication. I’ve needed to use a cane recovering from a back injury. We’ve never named any of them, though. Recently, I began to wonder what I would name this walking stick I have today. After years I’ve finally found a “new shoe” for its foot—and can use it for hiking again. I think I’ve come up with a name for it.

 

My Mom, after her hip surgeries, had kind of a love/hate relationship with her cane. Most of you know the relationship. She’d use her cane for a while. Then, she’d get up and walk across the room without it, while it rested on her chair. The beautiful thing about the cane was it was never offended. It always waited for her right where she left it. It never judged her or scolded her. If her cane had been a person: I think it would have been called forgiving, faithful or patient.

 

Earlier today we heard Jesus’ words. “Treat people the way you wish to be treated.” Be forgiving and faithful because we know how much we appreciate people who are patiently at their best when we are at our worst.

 

“No matter what happens in life, be good to people. Being good to people is a wonderful legacy to leave behind.” One of the privileges I usually have when I officiate at a funeral is to hear people tell the stories of when their loved one was good to them—or helpful in some way to others. People beam with pride when they tell of Dad blowing out the neighbor’s driveway for free or Mom being the neighborhood Mom for all the kids. People heal faster when they have such stories to tell about loved ones. Kindness is a wonderful legacy to leave behind. Jesus says, “If you do good to those who do good to you, or lend expecting repayment, why should you be commended. “Instead, love your enemies. Do good expecting nothing in return.” “Act like this and you will be acting like God acts—generously.”

 

Our sight is limited. God can always see the entire picture. But, we cannot. There is way too much in this world we don’t know. So, err on the side of kindness. Jesus says, “Be compassionate just as my Father in heaven is compassionate.” Or, in the words of this slide, “You never know what someone is going through. Be kind. Always.”

 

A cane never asks, “How did you get broken?” A cane never shouts, “What were you thinking?” Or, “What did you learn?” It’s simply there when you reach for it. It’s there to steady your step, help you stand a bit taller, help you rebuild your life. A cane is there to support you when you need it most. Are these the exact things we are called to do as the church?

 

Jesus is reminding us that even though we come here to learn how to live a right and good life, we are here to work on our own lives, not to learn how to judge others. As Rich Walters says to all Christians, “You better start worrying about your own sins. God isn’t going to ask you about mine.” Or, in Jesus’ own words. “Don’t judge and you won’t be judged. Don’t condemn and you won’t be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven.” I don’t know about you, but I need that reminder every day. Ruminating on another’s flaws is time poorly spent in Jesus’ worldview.

 

While the world wastes time chasing bunnies down the rabbit holes of judgement, Jesus is inviting us to transform the world. Jesus is inviting us—to let God transform our own lives. “Give and it will be given to you,” Jesus says. “Or, as the slide says, “A person who feels appreciated will always do more than expected.” Give our best to another person and that person just may appreciate it. That person may grow into more of a blessing in our lives than we ever imagined. Give our best to someone, and even if they don’t do their best in return, we’re better for having given our best. We are more whole if we give generously to others. Jesus says, “The portion you give will be the portion you receive.”

“Love your enemies; Do good; Bless; Pray for those who aren’t good to you; Offer your coat and your shirt. Give freely. Be compassionate. Don’t Judge; Forgive; Give a good portion.” These are all the things Jesus tells us will fill our own lives to overflowing.

 

Last week I shared the definition of Grace as a verb. What does it mean to Grace someone? To grace another is to honor, dignify and bless that person.
I think Jesus is telling us the most inviting thing we can do as Christians is to Grow in Grace. The more gracious we become the more people will notice the good, the light and the kindness. Others will draw near. Grace is – shining so others can see (Jesus) though you.

 


Let others know they can count on you. Let others know you’ll be there when they reach out. Lend support when needed without judgment. Make it clear to someone you see in church, that if they ever need anything, you’re available for them outside of church. Let anyone outside of church know you’re there for them—no judgment, just grace. We may find, in time, that person will want to be with us in church.

 

Grace another’s life. And remember God’s promise. The gracious portion you give will be what you receive and more, packed down, firmly shaken and overflowing.

 

So, I believe I have a name for this hiking staff—ready to join me for a walk with its new shoe. What better name than for a strong, non-judgmental, steady support than…”Grace.”

Weekly Devotional Feb 21 2019

I recently saw a picture with some feisty words on it. “When I give you my time, I am giving you a portion of my life I will never get back. So don’t make me regret it.” They are not exactly words of kindness, I suspect they are words born of frustration and disappointment; they are likely meant to be a bit humorous. But, they have their sting. Probably, we have all given our time (and sometimes more) only to feel unappreciated or taken advantage of. Sometimes we are stung and we want to sting back. It is natural.

Truth is, sometimes we have to say, “no” for our own health. Yet, as we take care of ourselves, Jesus has these words, “Love your enemies, do good and lend expecting nothing in return. Be compassionate as God is. Don’t judge and you’ll avoid being judged. Don’t condemn and you won’t be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven. Give, and one day it will be given to you, a good portion…overflowing. The portion you give will determine the portion you receive” (Luke 6:35-38).

As near as I can tell, Jesus is making it clear that generosity is always noticed by God–even if others don’t seem to appreciate it.  Some days we may not have it in us to go the second mile. Occasionally, we may be exhausted and need to generously give ourselves permission to say “No.” But, we don’t need to judge others to take care of ourselves. We don’t need a grudge to take care of ourselves. And, we don’t need to let having been taken advantage of keep us from having a generous spirit.

Imagine a picture with these words: “When I give you my time, I am giving you a portion of my life I will never get back–and that’s OK. When I don’t share my time, I’m not judging you. Sometimes, I need time to recharge.” It sounds a bit more grace-filled than “Don’t make me regret it!” It sounds a lot like Jesus’ challenge to love our neighbors as ourselves.

What are other ways you and I might live more grace-filled lives. This Sunday we’ll linger with Luke 6:27-38 during worship to explore other ways Jesus Invites Us to Grow in Grace.

God’s Peace, Pastor Roger

Weekly Devotional Feb 14 2019

The Dakota’s Methodist Foundation posted the image above with wise words, “Stop looking at yourself negatively for what you’re not; start loving yourself for everything you already are.” It’s an invitation to see the world and ourselves differently. It’s an invitation to focus on the blessings and set aside the limitations.  

In Luke 6:20-21 Jesus says, 

Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.

Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.  

Jesus words invite his followers to see the world differently. He invites us to understand that God sees and acts in the world differently than we might imagine. It’s like Jesus is saying, “even when we may not feel like things are going well, or that things will ever be OK again, trust God is at work bringing blessings into our lives.”  

A few translations use the word “happy” instead of “blessed.” They pick up on the fact that we can sometimes choose how we respond to life. It’s a good point. However, I believe “blessed” is a better word, because it focuses on what God is up to in the world. Blessings are bestowed; that truth is especially important when all the positive-thinking in the world fails. Blessings can be received even in the midst of grief; that is crucial when the tears flow and happy feelings are out of reach. More importantly, you or I can not give anyone happiness. But, we can all share blessings with others.

If Jesus’ words find you in any way poor, hungry or sad, know God notices and will bring blessing into your life. You are not forgotten by the God who made you, loves you and hopes you will remember to love yourself.  

If Jesus’ words find you watching someone in the midst of struggle, wishing you could bring happiness, or change the situation in someone’s life, be reassured you can offer the reminder God is a caring and blessing God. You are made in God’s image–your style of being you is just what God needs to speak a blessing to someone. Pray God will show you the person you need to bless.

God’s Peace, Pastor Roger

Weekly Devotional Feb 8 2019

Wednesday, before the winter storm and blizzard started in earnest, I went to put on my winter boots only to discover one had split in several places the last time I blew snow. I guess they didn’t like going out in -30. I searched for my gorilla tape. No luck. I thought about using CA glue, then paused after opening the bottle. “What if…?” I wondered. There’s a Bible passage where some fishermen are having terrible luck. But, Jesus, suggested to them that they go out further to drop their nets. They might have said, “No.” Instead, they responded, “What if…he is right?” Their nets were filled to overflowing. 

“What if…I take my boots back to Scheels where I bought them two or three years ago?” They say they pride themselves on customer service. So, I carried my boots into Scheels hoping they might be able to send them in somewhere to be fixed. I shared they were 2 or 3 years old but mostly worn for snow blowing. Within moments, I was being handed a gift card for new snow boots. I was stunned. They’ve made me a fan and I’m willing to say good words about them. The fishermen’s nets were overflowing. It made them a fan of Jesus–so much so that they were willing to drop everything to follow him and become “fishers of people” (Luke 5:1-11).
How many times has Jesus exceeded our expectations: answered our prayers with more than we thought possible, carried us through what we thought might crush us, cared for someone we love when we ourselves could do no more? Jesus invites us to share those stories, too. In fact, when we follow Jesus we are encouraged to extend kindness and understanding beyond what people expect. We are called to be generous beyond what is customary. I think that’s part of what Jesus means when he calls his followers to fish for people. Going above and beyond in caring for others can be one way we invite others to know God cares and understands. (This seems a good time to share the reminder that coats, boots and gloves are being collected for the homeless. They can be brought to Grace and we will get them to Jillian Gould – director at the Gladys Ray shelter).
Who do we know that might need some extra care? How might we show that person or family, that we care and God cares? This week I invite us to pray God will show us how to show others Jesus loves them deeply. I invite us to pray about ways we people might experience the surprisingly generous love and care of Jesus at Grace Church.
We’ll explore caring and other ways of inviting people to know Jesus’ love this Sunday at Grace with our theme: “Jesus Invites Us – Grow in Purpose.” Hope to see you there.
Blessings, Pastor Roger

Weekly Devotional Jan 31 2019

One of my childhood lessons was “never steady a BB gun by resting the barrel on an electric fence.” All was well, until I completed the circuit by touching my finger to the metal trigger. My elbow kicked like a mule and my brain has never forgotten.

All of us have our moments–and if we survive we become cautious. For some people cautiousness kicks in when they near a church. A bad experience with church or even no experience with church is enough to lead a those who is seek a connection with God to be cautious when it comes to church. As congregations our job is to build inviting paths rather than set up electric fences. Truth is, we’re usually really good at opening the gate for those who feel comfortable within a church. But, the some of the simplest things can jolt those new to church.

Familiar words to us can be jolting to others. “Narthex, Fellowship Hall, Chancel Area” are church-words that can leave a non-churched person feeling out of place. My theology professor and adviser in seminary warned, “those who get As in theology often don’t do well as pastors.” He reminded us everyday theology words like Heilsgeschicte and Eschatology can be barriers even for people steeped in the life of the church. He challenged us to know what such words meant so well that we would not have to use them. He pushed us to find ways of paraphrasing even their English translations: “Salvation History” and “the Ultimate Destiny of the Soul(s) of Humanity.”

Our February focus at Grace Church is “Jesus’ Invitations to Us.” It turns out Jesus’ invitations to us are often invitations to be more inviting. How do we live life so we’re not the jolting electric fence but the beautiful gateway to a life-giving relationship with God? Each week we’ll take at a part of the arts of welcome and invitation. The Bible tells of God speaking to a boy named Jeremiah. “God touched his mouth and said, ‘I am putting my words in your mouth. This day I appoint you…to dig up and pull down, to destroy and demolish, to build and plant.'” (Jeremiah 1:9-10) I think those words mean God sent Jeremiah to dig up and pull down barriers that keep people from knowing God; I think God called Jeremiah and still calls to church to build andplant the foundations for bridges and paths that lead people into meaningful relationships with the God who made us and loves us.

How will you and I speak inviting, bridge-building words today?  

Blessings, Pastor Roger