Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Lenten series: Covenant

As we enter the season of Lent, we come again into a time where Christians emphasize their prayer life, fasting, and service. Christians remember the life of Jesus and his ministry of preaching, teaching, healing, and ultimately dying on the cross to save us from our sins and isolation from God. With that said, it is one of the most meaningful seasons of the year for those who follow Jesus.

The season of Lent begins tomorrow with Ash Wednesday (there will be a service here at GMUMC at 7:00). The season of Lent begins with the imposition of ashes on the forehead, and the words: from dust you came, and to dust you will return. We are reminded of our mortality and deepest need for Christ to enter into our hearts, souls, and our world. We come from dirt. We are dirt, and we need to be cleaned by loving mercy of God.

As a child, I loved to play in the dirt. But that kind of goes away as an adult, doesn't it? I no longer enjoy being dirty. I desire to be clean. I want my house clean, the church clean, and the world to be clean. And maybe this doesn't mean that dirt goes away--any productive and fruitful garden needs good dirt. Perhaps Jesus makes the dirt in our life productive. Jesus heals us, and makes us clean (Psalm 51).

As we enter into the season, I want to offer you a great resource for your prayer life. It was produced by my friend and colleague Dan Wunderlich. The 2018 Lent Prayer Calendar (click to download and print) offers a prayer guide for each day during Lent.

Whether you use this, or perhaps sign up for devotionals to be sent to your inbox each day at  #pictureLent (highly recommend, click to sign up), or find other ways to engage with God through prayer, fasting (or adding a spritual practice), and service, I invite you to seek Christ through this period of 40 days.

Here at GMUMC,  we will be focusing on the word "covenant" during Lent. We will explore the promises that God has made to us, what it means to live in a covenant relationship with God, and that ultimately God's love for us is unbreakable/unconditional. This Sunday, we will focus on Genesis 9: 8-17. Go ahead and read it now so that God may begin moving in your heart as you prepare for our time together on Sunday! Ask yourself: How does God's covenant with Noah shape your view of creation? What does this covenant mean for you today?




Happy Lent, folks!

Lent Prayer Calendar 2018

Weekly Theme: Internal

□ Wednesday, February 14 (Ash Wednesday, Lent Day 1) – My sin
Reflect on areas where your thoughts and actions have separated you from God, others, and yourself. Ask God to make you aware of unrealized sin, and accept God’s forgiveness.
□ Thursday, February 15 (Lent Day 2) – My limitations
Reflect on areas where you don’t feel 100% or where you have experienced failure. Turn your limitations over to God who is our strength.
□ Friday, February 16 (Lent Day 3) – My doubts
Admit to God those areas where you struggle with questions and doubt. Don’t worry—God already knows, and God can handle it. Ask God to bring you perspective and peace.
□ Saturday, February 17 (Lent Day 4) – My resources
Give thanks to God for the resources you do have, ask God for provision where you experience lack, and ask God to show you the difference between wants and needs.
□ Sunday, February 18 (Little Easter 1) – My relationship with God
Thank God for initiating a relationship with you, and ask God to continue to shape you into the person God is calling you to be. Ask God to show you areas where you can better connect. 

Weekly Theme: External

□ Monday, February 19 (Lent Day 5) – Friends and family
Give thanks for the people who fill and color your life and bring you joy. Give thanks for the support they give you, and ask God how you can support them in return.
□ Tuesday, February 20 (Lent Day 6) – Enemies
One of the most difficult commands Christ gave us was to pray for our enemies. In the spirit of peace and forgiveness, pray for those individuals, organizations, and even nations that you view as adversaries.
□ Wednesday, February 21 (Lent Day 7) – Those who serve
Say a prayer of thanks for teachers, doctors and nurses, government employees, non-profit organizations, law enforcement officers, first responders, and all those who serve. Ask God to keep them safe, and pray for their relationship to your community.
□ Thursday, February 22 (Lent Day 8) – Those who lead
Pray for wisdom and guidance among those who make decisions and lead in your community and around the world. Pray that they would seek to improve the lives of all people, especially the poor and powerless.
□ Friday, February 23 (Lent Day 9) – Those in need
Remember those who do not have a permanent roof over their head, those who are suffering through illness or injury, those in prison, the poor, and those shackled by systems of prejudice and injustice. Ask for God’s provision, including awareness of ways you can help.
□ Saturday, February 24 (Lent Day 10) – Other local churches
As you look forward to gathering with your church family in worship this weekend, pray for the other churches in your area that do the work of ministry. Pray especially for their work in evangelism, discipleship, and missions.
□ Sunday, February 25 (Little Easter 2) – Those who do not know Christ
Remember in prayer today those who don’t yet know Christ or who struggle with faith. Ask God how you can be the presence of Christ in their lives.

Weekly Theme: The Lord’s Prayer

□ Monday, February 26 (Lent Day 11) – Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name
Think about the holiness of God as you pray today. What does ‘holy’ mean to you? What does it mean to you that a holy God would want to hear your prayers?
□ Tuesday, February 27 (Lent Day 12) – Thy kingdom come
What would it look like in your community if God’s kingdom were fully present? What is one practical thing you can do today to help bring about God’s kingdom?
□ Wednesday, February 28 (Lent Day 13) – Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven
We are saved by faith alone. Yet Scripture, including through the teachings of Jesus, tells us that obedience is a sign of our faith and salvation. Pray for the direction and confidence needed to follow God’s will in your life today.
□ Thursday, March 1 (Lent Day 14) – Give us this day our daily bread
Offer up a prayer of gratitude, recognizing that all you have is a blessing from God. Keep in mind those in your community whose daily needs are not met—whether it is food, shelter, or medical care.
□ Friday, March 2 (Lent Day 15) – Forgives us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us
As you seek forgiveness, offer forgiveness. There may still need to be consequences and/or boundaries, but let go of the power that holding onto wrongs can have over you.
□ Saturday, March 3 (Lent Day 16) – Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil
Ask God for the strength to focus on what God would have you do today. Say a special prayer for those who struggle with addiction.
□ Sunday, March 4 (Little Easter 3) – For thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory forever.
Why do we pray all of these things in the Lord’s Prayer? Because all power and glory belong to God—they always have and always will. Let this truth animate your worship today.

Weekly Theme: The Beatitudes

□ Monday, March 5 (Lent Day 17) – Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
The Beatitudes are so impactful because they turn perspectives upside down. Jesus begins by proclaiming that those who find little hope in the kingdoms of this world will find their place in the heavenly kingdom.
□ Tuesday, March 6 (Lent Day 18) – Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Say a prayer for those in your community who are grieving the loss of loved ones. May God bring them peace.
□ Wednesday, March 7 (Lent Day 19) – Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Say a prayer of thanks for those people in your life who model humility. Consider finding some small way to let them know that you appreciate them.
□ Thursday, March 8 (Lent Day 20) – Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Ask God to make you aware of voices that are calling for justice and righteousness. Pray for the openness to listen and learn from them.
□ Friday, March 9 (Lent Day 21) – Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy… Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Peace is not simply the absence of conflict. Ask God to show you ways that you can be an active force for mercy and peace in your community.
□ Saturday, March 10 (Lent Day 22) – Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Be honest with God about your doubts, your struggles, and the ways in which doing God’s will remains difficult. Ask God to reveal and remove the impurities that hinder your relationship.
□ Sunday, March 11 (Little Easter 4) – Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on [Jesus’] account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.
Ask God for the courage to live a life that reflects your faith in everything you do. Say a prayer for those around the world who face persecution, including violence and even death, for their faith.

Weekly Theme: Fruits of the Spirit

□ Monday, March 12 (Lent Day 23) – Love
Ask God to increase within you the fruit of love.
□ Tuesday, March 13 (Lent Day 24) – Joy
Ask God to increase within you the fruit of joy.
□ Wednesday, March 14 (Lent Day 25) – Peace
Ask God to increase within you the fruit of peace.
□ Thursday, March 15 (Lent Day 26) – Patience
Ask God to increase within you the fruit of patience.
□ Friday, March 16 (Lent Day 27) – Kindness, Generosity
Ask God to increase within you the fruits of kindness and generosity.
□ Saturday, March 17 (Lent Day 28) – Faithfulness, Gentleness
Ask God to increase within you the fruits of faithfulness and gentleness.
□ Sunday, March 18 (Little Easter 5) – Self-Control
Ask God to increase within you the fruit of self-control.

Weekly Theme: Spiritual Disciplines

□ Monday, March 19 (Lent Day 29) – My prayer life
Ask God to bring you assurance that your prayers are heard and valued.
□ Tuesday, March 20 (Lent Day 30) – My reading of Scripture
Ask God to bring the Word of God alive for you today.
□ Wednesday, March 21 (Lent Day 31) – My practice of celebration/gratitude
Ask God to make you someone who remembers to celebrate and give thanks often.
□ Thursday, March 22 (Lent Day 32) – My practice of giving/simplicity
Ask God to show you how you can simplify your life. Dedicate or donate any time, resources, or tangible things you no longer need or use to someone or some organization that needs it.
□ Friday, March 23 (Lent Day 33) – My practice of service/missions
Ask God to place on your heart a person or group, a problem, or an organization to whom or through which you can be the hands and feet of Christ.
□ Saturday, March 24 (Lent Day 34) – My practice of Sabbath/silence/solitude
Ask God to help you find spaces in your life where you can be still and rest in God’s presence.
□ Sunday, March 25 (Palm Sunday, Little Easter 6) – My practice of worship
Ask God to reignite your passion for worship, especially as you come to church today.

Weekly Theme: Life of Jesus

□ Monday, March 26 (Lent Day 35) – The birth/baptism of Jesus
Think about how much of a sacrifice and how great a gift it was that the infinite God chose to take on human flesh. Remember and give thanks for the gift of baptism.
□ Tuesday, March 27 (Lent Day 36) – The teachings of Jesus
Reflect on the teachings of Jesus that have had the greatest impact on your life. Notice too how Jesus often chooses to teach through stories. Ask God how you can use your story.
□ Wednesday, March 28 (Lent Day 37) – The miracles of Jesus
Remember the ways in which Christ did the work of God through miracles. Give thanks for the modern-day miracles that we take for granted all the time.
□ Thursday, March 29 (Maundy Thursday, Lent Day 38) – The institution of communion
As we mark the night of the Last Supper, remember that Jesus called them to unity. Remember also that Jesus took an ordinary meal, bread and wine, and made it extraordinary.
□ Friday, March 30 (Good Friday, Lent Day 39) – The crucifixion of Jesus
Remember the pain and suffering that Christ took upon himself, even though he did not deserve it, so that our sins could be forgiven.
□ Saturday, March 31 (Holy Saturday, Lent Day 40) – The defeat of sin and death
Remember that as the world waited in silence, Jesus continued to reveal God’s power and love for us by defeating the powers of sin and death. Ask God to defeat them in your life today.
□ Sunday, April 1 (Easter Sunday) – The resurrection
Remember the most amazing gift of all—Christ rose from the dead! In doing so, he made a way for us to be reconciled to God and to be in relationship with God for eternity.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Commit: Witness

"Witnessing" is a loaded term in Christianity. For me, in conjures up images of an over-aggressive person trying to convince me that Jesus saves and I must follow Jesus in order to receive salvation. It is not exactly appealing, even if I believe that Jesus does save. The term may also drum up images in my mind of a well-meaning Christian harassing someone, asking them "if you died tomorrow, do you know where you'd end up??"


In Luke 24:48, Jesus appears to the disciples after he has risen from the dead, and encourages them: "you are witnesses to these things," of the suffering, death, and resurrection of the savior, and the forgiveness of sins. Jesus tells them to proclaim that this has happened "to all nations."

In 2 Timothy 4, the author urges followers of Christ to "proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching."

It is pretty clear through Scripture, God wants the gospel to be shared through the voices of the followers of Jesus. I admit that I struggle with this. I believe that actions speak louder than words; that "they will know we are Christians by our love," as the song goes. Truth be told, I am probably more comfortable with the mindset that my actions are enough, that I don't need to say why I am a Christian.

Through this struggle, I want to challenge myself to match my actions with my words. In my studying so far of the Luke 24 passage, this comment caught my attention in the Interpreter's Bible:

"Still there is always some devout or earnest person to chant: 'Deeds, not words! Quit talking about, and live the right kind of life!' It is somewhat difficult to believe that the way we behave day in and day out can be so utterly startling and radiant that everybody we run into must perforce be mesmerized by it into crossing [themselves] and muttering the Creed. They must have deeds to match, but it is words that burn their way into human life and leave the only indelible marks it wears."

Anyone who has been bullied and verbally abused, or encouraged through what someone says to them, knows that words have power in our lives. The old adage I learned in school as a kid "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me" is just not true. I believe what Ghandi said was true:



Words portray what we believe and reflect the kind of person that we are. So scripture encourages followers of Christ to say what they believe! This is not only for the benefit of the people who interact with Christians, surely folks who hear the good news can be changed by them.Speaking the good news also benefits the one who utters it. Hearing the good news, and speaking the good news, that "for it is by grace that you have been saved through faith in Jesus Christ" can change someones life, even yours. Say it, hear it, live it. May your words match your actions, and your actions your words.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Commit to Serve


Jesus washing his disciples' feet in the upper room is one of the most vivid depictions of servant leadership in all of the gospels. John 13 tells the story, go ahead and read it!


This is another episode in the gospels where I notice Peter's faith and understanding. Peter is a wavering disciple throughout the gospels. Sometimes, he has enough faith and understanding of who Jesus is to say "surely this is the messiah, the savior." Other times, he denies being a follower of Jesus. Here, he exclaims after he has washed some of the disciples' feet: "You will never wash my feet.” Peter did not understand, at first, what Jesus was doing. So Jesus told him and the rest of the disciples: "Unless I wash you, you have no share with me... Do you know what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord—and you are right, for that is what I am. So if I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you. "

Jesus was modeling servant leadership to folks that only knew leadership from those in power. Jesus sets an example of an alternative way of looking at the world. Matthew 20: 27 says "and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave." This is an interesting point, because slaves would have been the ones that were supposed to wash the feet of the family they lived with and their guests. This upper room was a guest room in a wealthy family's home. We don't know why this family did not have a servant or slave for the household; we only know that Jesus took on this role by washing their feet.

Washing people's feet could be a disgusting endeavor. Folks in those days walked everywhere, there were no paved roads, and the disciples did not exactly live a lavish lifestyle. They would have been very dirty, it is safe to assume. Jesus did not pick some trivial opportunity to serve; he picked the most significant and the one that took a great sacrifice. It would have taken a while to wash all 24 of those feet. Enough time for them to watch him and listen to him say that he has come to serve, so his followers can do the same.

In grade school, I loved to play basketball. Whenever I knew that we were going to get to play in gym class, I made sure to wear my good shoes and show up ready. We usually got to once a week, so it was something I could count on and get excited for. I was the type of player who dove for lose balls, ran as hard as I could, and really gave it my all because I loved to play. Well, with this way of playing, injuries and accidents are inevitable. Most commonly, I would leave class with elbow and knee scrapes. One day, though, I had a really bad scare. I went up for a layup and the defender knocked me down while I was in the air, and I landed and hit the side of my head. I couldn't move, my ears were ringing, and I felt blood next to my face. One of the older kids picked me up, and carried me to the nurse, who was already busy with other students. He wiped my head clean, and did what he could to clean me up. I had always seen him as some sort of hot-shot jock who thought himself better than everyone else. But what he showed me that day is that the surest way to influence others is to serve them.

The invitation to serve by Jesus is a call to discipleship, to follow him. Jesus invites us to use the love we have for him to turn into love for our neighbor. If you are like me, every now and then you need some encouragement that your actions can actually mean something for someone else; that you are capable of love and service. Here is a hymn, "You are the Seed," (United Methodist Hymnal, 583) that encourages me, and I hope it encourages you.

You are the seed that will grow a new sprout;
you’re a star that will shine in the night;
you are the yeast and a small grain of salt,
a beacon to glow in the dark. . . .

Go, my friends, go to the world,
proclaiming love to all,
messengers of my forgiving peace, eternal love.
Be, my friends, a loyal witness,
from the dead I arose;
“Lo, I’ll be with you forever,
till the end of the world.”

In Christ,

Jack

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Commit: Using your Gifts





We commit to being faithful followers of Jesus through the local church by commuting to its ministries by our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service, and our witness. This week, we dive into what it means to commit  to using our gifts!

1st Corinthians 12:1-11, 2nd Corinthians 8:1-12 and 9:6-10 describe what that means...go ahead and read it....

Now, let's read from Dan Dick, director of connectional ministries for the Wisconsin Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church: 


Spiritual Gifts — Primacy, Not Priority


By Dan R. Dick*

A few years ago I received a letter from the lay leader of a congregation working on the discovery and development of spiritual gifts. One line stood out as I read the inquiry: "We are lacking in the greater gifts, but have an abundance of the lesser gifts." I phoned the author of the letter and asked her to explain more fully what she meant.

"In First Corinthians (12:27-31) Paul writes that the gifts God gives are first apostleship, second prophecy, then teaching, and on down the line. We have lots of administrators and helpers, but no prophets, apostles, or teachers. We are really depressed that we don't have any of the really important gifts."

This comment reflects one of the most common mistakes we make in our thinking about spiritual gifts. All gifts are important, and each may be the most important gift in any given situation. All gifts are necessary; and in different combinations, all gifts have the power to transform lives and glorify God. Paul does not write to prioritize spiritual gifts, but to explain the order in which they were revealed and employed in the church at Corinth. A gardening metaphor may help illustrate.

First, apostles entered to break up and plow the soil. Prophets then followed to plant seed in the tilled earth. Teachers fed and watered the new growth. Miracle workers shone life-giving sun, while healers weeded and hoed. Helpers and servants harvested, administrators organized and packed, and those with the gift of tongues delivered the growth to new sources. Paul describes a linear process whereby the gospel grew from barren ground to bounteous fullness to feed starving souls beyond the confines of the established congregation.

Is this the only order in which this wondrous work might happen? Of course not. God's Holy Spirit works in combination with each community of faith to lay a foundation and build upon it with whatever gifts are shared. The important thing to note is that whatever gifts are present, those are the right gifts — each valuable and necessary to the greater will of God.

Paul writes of primacy, not priority, when he helps the Corinthian congregation understand its identity as the body of Christ. Seek ways to better understand how you might use, combine, and grow the gifts God has given your faith community.

*Dan is director of connectional ministries for the Wisconsin Annual Conference. He is the coauthor of Equipped for Every Good Work.

Prayer*

Breathe on me, Breath of God,
fill me with life anew,
that I may love what you love,
and do what you would do.

*Breathe on Me, Breath of God, United Methodist Hymnal, 420, modified for contemporary english

In Christ,

Jack

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Commit to being Present

In the spring of 2016, I was fortunate enough to be a chaplain intern at Tallahassee Memorial Hospital as part of the Clinical Pastoral Education program. One of the most important things I learned was the "ministry of presence." Simply being with someone sometimes makes all the difference in the world. I remember meeting someone who did not receive any visitors besides the medical staff. I met others that had many visitors, but felt that no one would listen to them. Still, I met others who were overwhelmed with love and support. Not feeling alone can make all the difference.


This week, I am focusing on two gospel passages: John 1:1-14 and Luke 10: 25-37. Go ahead and read them....


In John 1 verse 1 and 14, we read that "in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God...and the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth."

Jesus is the Word, he has been here all along since the creation, and he lived among us. God is committed to being present with us! God is with us. God is in us. So we can share can God with others. When we are present with others, we can share God together. Jesus did it first! He came and lived among the people. Jesus experienced everything it means to be a human being--all of the pain and joy and everything in between. So we are never alone. When you are sick, physically, spiritually, emotionally, God is there. When you are healthy, and feel like you can take on the world, Jesus is there. When you are scared, anxious, excited, tired, angry...God is there, offering you the very presence of God.

That's all well and good, but that's about God! What about us---you and me? It is awesome to feel and know the presence of God. What it means to follow Jesus, though, is to let that assurance lead you to share it with others. That's hard work. That is where Luke 10 comes in, the parable of the Good Samaritan. Here is a story about someone who was beat up, left for dead, sick and alone. Now sometimes we do feel like that person on the road. We feel beat up and sick and alone. My prayer is that someone, it may not be the first or second person, or the person you expect, cares for you.

The great thing about parables is that offer timeless teaching and opportunities to learn, grow, and wonder about them. They do not present all of what may have been going on. So, we know a lot about the person on the road--they were beat up, left for dead, sick, and alone. We hardly know anything about anyone who passed them by except there occupation or status. The one who was beat up, and all of the listeners and readers of the parable, would have expected them to stop and help. We do not know much else about the third passerby except that they were a Samaratin, a foreigner who should not have been there, was an outcast in the society, so was not expected to stop and help. We know nothing of these folks' personality, their hobbies, their intentions, nothing!

What is interesting to wonder about is how the passersby felt about stopping to help or not. One could imagine that the first two felt bad, but we do not know that, the mere fact that they passed by might have meant they had to get back to where they were going fast and were only thinking about that. We could also conclude that the Samaratin felt good about they did to help this person, probably because we know what that is like. We know what it means to truly be present with someone, offering them the love of God.

A great author was once asked about one of the characters in the books he wrote about, and when he was done imagining what was happening behind the text, he concluded "but of course none of this is real, so no one can be right wrong in imagining what happened." A parable does not recall something that actually happened, rather, it is a story illustrating certain situations that provide teachable moments. There is always an audience for stories and parables, always people learning from them. As was the case for Jesus that day, and these days, when someone asked him how to inherit eternal life. After telling this parable, and reflecting on it with the questioner and the crowd, discovering the commandments to "love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself," Jesus concludes: "Go and do likewise.” Be present for your neighbor, offering them the love of God.

*Prayer:

Let there be light,
let there be understanding,
let all the nations gather,
let them be face to face.

Open our lips,
open our minds to ponder,
open the door of concord
opening into grace.

Perish the sword,
perish the angry judgment,
perish the bombs and hunger,
perish the fight for gain.

Hallow our love,
hallow the deaths of martyrs,
hallow their holy freedom,
hallowed be your name.

Your kingdom come,
your Spirit turn to language,
your people speak together,
your Spirit never fade.

Let there be light,
open our hearts to wonder,
perish the way of terror,
hallow the world God made.

Amen

*Let There Be Light, United Methodist Hymnal, 440.

In Christ,

Jack

Monday, January 8, 2018

Commit to Prayer


















Here in Florida I am adept to the feeling that comes after a hurricane passes. The holiday season, even the liturgical seasons that precede the coming of the new year, sometimes feels like a hurricane. You prepare for the storm to come by stalking up on canned foods, making sure you have all the essentials like water, batteries, and the like. This is like Advent, where you anticipate the coming of Christ as Christmas. Then it comes! Bam! The hurricane runs through the town like a bull in a china shop, wrecking and smashing everything in sight. Christmas morning comes, and chaos ensues as family comes, presents are opened, and all you want is a nap and a nice time. All of the recovery and clean up happens by New Year's Eve when you do it all over again....


....and then it's all over. the holidays, the "hurricane," has passed, and you think to yourself, "what just happened...what now?"


United Methodists traditionally mark the coming of the new year with a re-committment to following Christ. We recite a prayer together:



Here at Gray Memorial UMC, we had a service on NYE that offered an opportunity to read this prayer, consider it for own lives, and commit again this year to following Jesus, to trusting God, to loving God and our neighbors.

One of the things I love about being a UM is how we provide ways in which folks can grow in Christ. Offering this prayer is one way, and another is through our membership vows. When someone commits to being a UM, they say yes to the question"

"As members of this congregation, will you faithfully participate in its ministries by your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service, and your witness?"*

That is how United Methodists follow Jesus, trust God, and worship God and neighbor. That is how United Methodists articulate what being a Christian is.

So, for the next 5 weeks (that will take us to the beginning of Lent), we will explore each component of these vows. And the thing is, I don't necessarily think that living out these vows are what it takes to be a United Methodist, but a Christian. With that said, this time of reflection and engagement with these vows are not intended to be a time of heralding the UMC over and above following Jesus. It does not take being a UM to follow Jesus. These five practices of prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness are what it takes to follow Jesus.

The first component is prayer. It is not first by accident. Without prayer, this whole "walking with Jesus, growing in Christ, loving God and neighbor" thing might all crumble. Prayer is the backbone of the Christian life. It keeps an ongoing line of communication with God open and alive. It keeps Christians engaging with God. There are so many ways that we are invited to prayer: in solitude, corporately, by asking God to do things, by asking for healing, forgiveness, or God's presence, through singing, dancing, listening, or walking...you can be prayerful in just about everything you do, if it is done for the desire to be heard and known by God, or listen or engage with God..

The following passages are examples of prayers. They also give some reasons prayer can help us engage with God and trust God.  Go ahead and read them, and maybe jot a few notes down or underline some things in the passage that resonate or impact you...

Psalm 86: 1-13

Mark 9:14-29

Matthew 6:5-13

Prayer is a way of life. A way of life that trusts and expects God to engage with you. A way of life that seeks and engages with God and what God is doing. Long gone are those images and ideas that prayer requires locking yourself in your room and using flowery language so that God can hear you and answer you. No, prayer is a way of life.

And when we don't know what to pray, or where to start, we can follow Jesus by praying possibly the most powerful prayer ever, the one he taught his disciples to say:



*United Methodist Hymnal, 38.

In Christ,

Jack

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Coming Soon: Stay Tuned!


Have you ever been watching a great TV show, and suddenly it ends on a cliffhanger? The dual feeling of disappointment that it's over and resolved and the anticipation for what happens next resounds suddenly out of the sound of a gasp or the throwing up of our hands. Our minds begin to wander and wonder about the possibilities of what is to come for the characters, the story, and how we may feel about it.

Or what about the feeling you get after a trailer/preview for a movie? You see the characters on screen again, you remember the plot that surely will tie up loose ends and take the story further. You begin to anticipate the continuation, or the beginning, the end, of a story, a journey, a life...

Sunday is the first Sunday in Advent, the season of the Church in which the birth of Christ is anticipated. The Church does not simply wait to celebrate Christmas, but prepares itself for the breaking in of God in flesh with us in a newborn baby. It is kind of like a movie trailer or preview. Advent provides the means to prepare, to anticipate, to wait...

I love the season of Advent because it is counter-cultural to wait. It seems nowadays, with the world at our fingertips, we have become impatient; we have lost the beauty in preparing, anticipating, for waiting. The season of Advent allows me to build up my excitement for Christmas! The words that we reflect on in the Church--hope, love, joy, peace, Christ--help me to wait well. This kind of waiting does not yield questions (like the ones I used to utter in the car on road trips) "are we there yet?" "why is it taking so long?" "can't you go any faster?" No, Advent yields questions like "what beauty lies in waiting?" "how is God preparing me to receive Christ" or "what will I do once Christ is here?"

The gospel lesson this week is Mark 13:24-37. Take a moment to read it...

The passage talks about the second coming of Christ; when Jesus will come again in all of his power and glory. In a preview scene of the coming of Christ, a fig tree's branch becomes tender and puts forth it leaves, and summer breaks through...

This passage is not about Jesus being born at Christmas, but it is about God coming into this world in a new way. We are waiting for that day, and we can anticipate, prepare, and wait for that day just like we wait for Christmas in Advent. In this way, our life is an Advent as we purposefully wait for Christ to come again. And the best of all is that God is with us...we have this hope.

*Prayer:

Come thou long-expected Jesus,
Born thy people to deliver,
born a child and yet a King,
born to reign in us forever,
now thy gracious kingdom bring.
By thine own eternal spirit
rule in all our hearts alone;
by thine all sufficient merit,
raise us to thy glorious throne.
Amen.

*Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus, United Methodist Hymnal, 196.

In Christ,

Jack