Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Those Pesky Little Questions and Details!

So, this is the time of year in my daily Bible reading, where I have reached Leviticus.  I have to be honest, I tend to skim read this section because it is full of rules and regulations.  If you sin in this certain way, you take this specific animal to the Priest.  The Priest then does this, waves that, sprinkles this, etc. etc and on and on it goes.  My eyes tend to glaze over!  Detail overload!  How can this be important for anyone today?

But I had an “ah-ha” moment as I thought about all of those pesky little details.  I realized that people understood clearly what they had done and what they needed to do in order to correct the sin.  Or, if they wanted to offer a Thanksgiving offering, they clearly understood what was required and how to go about doing it.  Everyone, at all levels of the community, understood what was expected and why it was necessary.  It was clear cut, precise and purposeful.

There is a valuable lesson that we can glean from this detailed account.  If you ask the average person in the pew, why we do what we do, in church or in the community, most individuals could not answer the question.  Maybe they would say it is because it has been done a certain way for as long as they remember.  Or, maybe they would say it is because they heard about some other church doing this and it worked for them.  Is this really the answer that we want to give?

Back in elementary school, we learned about the proper way to evaluate a story.  We had to be able to identify who, what, where, when, how and why.  Who were the main characters?  What was the story about?  Where was the story taking place?  When were these events happening?  How were they going about resolving the story?  Why were they doing what they were doing?  As I thought about this, I realized that these are the types of questions we in the church should be asking.  Then I realized, we’re not asking these questions!  We’re so busy “doing” ministry trying to make something work that we forget to take the time to lay out a plan ahead of time, clearly stating what we are trying to do, why we are doing it and what we hope the outcome will be.  We end up with a hodge-podge of things that sort of work, or don’t work at all and then wonder why we didn’t see any results.

Let’s take food ministry for example.  Who exactly are you trying to reach out to?  Who will be doing the work?  Who is in charge?  What are you planning on doing?  What is the hoped for outcome?  Where will you be doing this?  At church?  Somewhere out in the community?  When will you be doing this?  One time?  On a continual basis?  When you have enough volunteers?  When it is most convenient for the individuals you are trying to reach?  How do you intend to do this?  How will this fulfill a ministry goal?  How do you intend to let people know about this program?  Why are you doing this?  Is it because it is on a checklist?  Is it because you want to fill a need in the community?  There are so many more questions that could be asked, but my point is this-if you can answer these questions then the chances for success increase because you can demonstrate purpose, interest and passion .  There is a clear plan and people fully grasp the details.  If someone asks a question, you can give a reasonably intelligent answer!

We want our members to use their gifts and graces for work in ministry and, particularly, outreach.  Or, to use the word we least like to talk about, we want our members to be active in evangelism.  But we fail to give them the tools to understand why we are doing certain things and why this is important.  Then leadership wonders why things are not happening in our congregations?!

We bemoan the fact that too many of our congregations are “inwardly focused”.  I understand the argument and there is some validity to the statement.  There are individuals who are very comfortable with the idea that going to church is all you need, to be a good Christian.  But, I also know that there are individuals out there who would like to do more, but feel that they are ill equipped to reach out, because they don’t understand some of these things themselves!  They can not answer what Methodists believe or why they believe these things.  They can’t answer why a particular outreach ministry is an important reflection of the values of the church.  And in some cases, we ask individuals to take on tasks that they are not comfortable handling.  Asking an introvert to be a greeter at the front door would be a good example.  There are individuals who are not going to be terribly outgoing but are wonderful at handling behind the scenes details.  Their “evangelism” is going to look very different from an extrovert’s style of evangelism.  If we could focus a little more on the inward development of an individual-helping them to identify their gifts and graces, helping them understand where they could use those gifts and why using those gifts matter, I think we would see their confidence level go up.  We would see them feeling far more comfortable with talking to others and reaching out to others because they understand the details.  They can explain the purpose.  They understand why this is being done, they understand why it has value and is important and, if someone asks a question, they can answer with confidence.

Jesus didn’t just pick twelve guys out of a hat and then send them out into the world.  He worked with them.  He trained them.  He led them by example.  He answered their questions.  He equipped them with the skills that they needed to do effective ministry, then he sent them out!  We see the same pattern in Acts as well.  The Apostles didn’t send just anyone out to do ministry.  They sent out those individuals who they felt were equipped to handle the mission.

Do we want effective ministry?  If we do, then we have to invest in training our members and equipping them with the skills that they need.  And we have to look at our various forms of ministry and ask the questions that provide the details that under gird the “why”.  Until we do both, we will not see long term tangible results.  The mission or outreach will last only as long as someone stays excited about it and then it will collapse and fall by the wayside.  We will comfort ourselves with the thought that we at least tried, but it just didn’t work in this area.

We have to stop doing things just because it was suggested in a book, or someone else did it or it sounds like something interesting to try.  We need to stop with the rah rah speeches or the finger pointing “guilt you into doing it” approach.  We need to start doing ministry because we have a compelling reason to do so and we can explain the reason in great detail.  We need to know that we have the individuals in place who can handle the mission.

It’s time that we started asking those pesky questions.  It’s time to start focusing, first, on those little details.  Those pesky little questions, those little details, can make all the difference!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Security-Comfort-Food and the Golden Rule

Photo by Holly Boucher

One of the “blessings” of fibromyalgia is that once in awhile, you have to literally stop what you’re doing.   Fighting the pain is physically exhausting!  Sometimes, you have to just sit and rest, whether you want to or not!  I am used to having to rest for a day, at times, but this time around, I had to rest for days.  I haven’t had to do that for awhile, but this was one of those bouts where I had to do an extended rest, because my symptoms were not getting better, they were getting worse!  I needed to give my body time to recover.

There is only so much television you can watch and there are only so many rounds of Sodoku you can play before you start going stir crazy!  So, I took advantage of the time and read a few books.  I tried to read a few spiritual books but, there is a mental exhaustion component that goes with this, as well, and I just couldn’t wrap my brain around what I was reading.  So, instead, I read a book that I have wanted to read for awhile, “The Town That Food Saved” by Ben Hewitt.  The appeal, for me, was that it was about a town that I do know about, Hardwick, Vermont.  Hardwick was the “ole stomping grounds” of my parents when they first got married, and they both have very fond memories.  So, I was curious to see just how Mr. Hewitt portrayed the Hardwick of today, against the Hardwick of yesterday.

The basic premise of the book, initially , is how new, food based, entrepreneurial businesses came in to town and saved the community from economic collapse.  Sort of a rags to riches story.  The author had the good sense, though, to delve a little deeper.  On the one hand, yes, these businesses brought a new vitality to the community.  On the other hand, there have been farms and farmers in the area for a very long time quietly doing their own thing without a lot of publicity and fanfare.  So, I appreciate that Mr. Hewitt took the time to point that little factoid out!

For me, it raised a couple of points that I have pondered and wrestled with over the years-food security and proper stewardship.  It also raises the importance of being a part of a community that lives in balance.  Right now, if there was a major catastrophic event, and goods could not be shipped, particularly food, there are a lot of people who would go hungry.  Do you live in a community that could sustain itself, for an extended period of time, without outside assistance?  Most of us, would have to answer no.  I think the area that I live in, would fare better than some other areas of the country but I am not entirely convinced we could sustain ourselves for a long period of time.  I do believe that this is something that we should all take seriously and discuss because stuff does happen.  There are things that are beyond our control and we may face a point in time when we have to depend on our neighbors and our community to work together.

Missouri just wilted it’s way through the second worst heat wave on record.  We broke record high temperatures that had been set back in the 1930’s, during the depression and the era of the dustbowl.  There was no rain hardly to speak of.  There were cracks in people’s yards that looked like an earthquake had hit, but it was no earthquake, the ground was literally baking in the sun.  This is the type of weather we expect to get towards the end of July, into August.  This was not something that you would normally see in the month of June.  Because of this, there is some concern about the corn crops and the amount of damage that this heat wave/drought did to the crop.  Lower yields means higher commodity prices.  Higher commodity prices, mean higher prices at the supermarket.  It’s a viscous cycle that we created, when we chose to get away from growing or raising our own food and depending on someone else to do it for us.    Here’s a shocking statistic from the book-the amount of the United States population that live on farms is 0.7%.  In the United States, 140 people eat what 1 person grows.  If that system fails, what happens?

The statistic sounds daunting, but there is something that can be done on a local level-encourage people to grow at least some of their own food.  Food is far more valuable then the perfectly manicured lawn.  It is also far more healthy than what you find in the supermarket because it is fresh, it hasn’t lost some of the nutrient content due to shipping.    Yes, it is work!  That’s why a lot of people prefer to let someone else take up the task!  But more locally grown food would go a long way towards providing some stability and food security on a local level.  If you are in an area where you can not grow your own, there are some options.  The local farmers market is a good place to start.  Or, look for a community garden when you can have your own little plot of land to grow vegetables.  And for those a little more adventurous, a drive to the country to a “pick your own” operation is a good way to participate.  It is a way to participate in the well being of your community because you are supporting someone local.

Churches can have a positive impact on this as well.  Stewardship is not just about money.  It is also about careful use of finite resources.  And many churches have a bare spot of land that could be used for a community garden.  I know the objections, people don’t take care of their plots, it turns into a weedy ugly mess, etc. etc.  I know, it is a risk that you take when you open up part of the property to the community.  But what is more important, the impeccable landscaping or finding a vital way to be a part of the local community?  Here’s another option, if your community does not have a Farmer’s Market, would you be willing to host one at the church?  Or would you be willing to host workshops about gardening, seed saving, preserving food, etc.?  Would you be willing to let some of your members grow a garden so the produce could be donated to the local food pantry?  Hunger in the United States is real and it happens in every community whether we want to acknowledge it or not.  The church is a wonderful place to help constructively turn the tide, if we are willing to step up and confront the issue.

Can we be better stewards?  Can we help create greater food security in our community?  Can we help create a more sustainable community system?  I think we can.

One point from the book that particularly resonated with me was about the farmers who had been in the community for a long time.  They sold produce off their farm on a “sliding scale” fee.  If someone could afford to pay a certain price, that is what they were charged.  But if there was someone who was in need, they would charge a lower price or not even charge them at all.  They did this without a lot of fanfare or publicity or trying to make a boatload of money.  They did it quietly, consciously, consistently.  They were not out there trying to make a name for themselves, they were doing this to help their neighbor.  To me, it was like watching the gospel lived out in a very real, practical way.  It reminded me a lot of my parents and dad, in particular.  Dad was well known for pulling out a couple of saw horses and a sheet of plywood and setting them up by the road.  Then he would make a sign that said “free” and he would put surplus produce on top of the makeshift plywood table.  Over the years, there were people who come up to me or my siblings and shared their stories about how much they appreciated dad doing that one simple thing.  My parents never made a big deal out of doing it and we grew up believing that it was just something you did.  But there were people out there who were able to “make it through a rough patch” because it gave them something to eat.  I treasure those stories even more, now that dad is gone.  And I hope in some way, I can carry on that simple legacy.

I appreciated reading the stories that Ben Hewitt told in his book and I am grateful that these “agri-preuneurs” are raising awareness about food security and sustainability at the local community level. But I am far more appreciative of the stories about the local farmers who have been doing their part to take care of their community for a very long time!  My guess is, some of those folks are already members of a local church and this is one way that they have chosen to live out the Golden Rule.

As a citizen and a member of your local church, I hope you consider looking at ways to be more involved.  This is your community.  These are your neighbors.  Are you willing to take some risks in order to encourage and support and strengthen your neighborhood, your community?  It is a question that is well worth wrestling with!

Friday, June 22, 2012

American (church) Idols of the 21st Century

I have been re-reading my copy of "An Introduction to Christianity" by Alister E. McGrath, which I picked up many years ago.  It is a wonderful, basic, introduction to how we got here in the first place!  Every couple of years or so, I go back and read it again, as a refresher, because it is just that good!

I just finished the section on The Early Church, to c. 700, and in this section, Mr. McGrath, discusses the evolution of the Celtic church and how very different it was from the Roman-British church that existed at that time.   In reading this section, I was struck by the similar parallel that I see happening today in Methodism.  Let me quote directly from the book, to help you better understand what I’m talking about:
“It is no exaggeration to say that the Irish church was monastic, with the Abbot rather than the Bishop being seen as pre-eminent…The Irish monastic model came to be seen as a threat to the Roman model of the episcopate, in which the government of the church resided firmly in the hands of the Bishops.  None of the Abbots of Iona ever allowed Bishops to ordain formally then, rejecting the need for any such ‘official’ recognition…Abbeys were responsible for the pastoral care of the churches which grew up in their vicinity.  The Roman Episcopal system was thus marginalized.  The Celtic church leaders were openly critical of worldly wealth and status…”
What result did we Methodists clearly see coming out of General Conference?  A lack of trust in our Bishops due to the obsession with numbers and money (metrics).  It is my opinion that the statement  that came out from the New England Conference delegates is a reflection of that reality.  It doesn’t mean that I agree fully with their statement, but it does mean that I can better understand where they are coming from!  We have a group of churches who sincerely believe that they should be able to minister as they see fit, without being impeded by the hierarchy of the church.  But they also expect to receive the support and resources that come from being in a connectional system.

I agree that our system is too top heavy.  I think our Bishops would agree with that as well.  I acknowledge the fact that there are distinct differences between conferences.  But I also believe that there should be an expectation of common beliefs of theology between each conference and each church.  Call it Methodist Ethos, call it common theology, call it whatever you want, but I believe that the message should be consistent.  Just as there are practices in the Catholic church that make it distinctly Catholic, there are also practices in the Methodist church that make it distinctly Methodist.  Being part of this connectional system does not give us the liberty to pick and choose, but that is what some would like to do.  And I think the driving reasons behind this, are because of a lack of trust and an underlying belief that “picking and choosing” will “fix the problems” that we have heard about for so long!

For more years than I care to think about, we have heard nothing but the bemoaning of our denominational decline.  And plan after plan has been put forward to “reverse the trend” of our impending “death tsunami”.  On one end, we have metrics, and vital congregations and elimination of guaranteed appointment.  On the other end, we have the call to allow individual churches to minister as they see fit.  Proponents of the various positions are equally sincere, they truly believe that they have a plan that will work!  They truly believe that this will fix the problem.  But the vast majority of these plans end up being “sound and fury signifying nothing”.  Why?

If I had to put a finger on it, I would have to say that what we are looking at the wrong things.  We have created our own 21st century idols, hoping that they are the answers to all our problems.  Believe me, I am fully aware that this will not be a particularly popular message for people to hear.  I also know that some of you probably think I’ve gone off my rocker-how could I possibly make a leap to that sort of opinion?!  Hear me out, please.  In modern society we tend to think of Idols, as little carved figures made of wood or gold or precious stones, that people bowed down to, and how utterly foolish ancient people were to think that they held power!  But as Wesley pointed out in one of his sermons, sin can be far more subtle.  Idols can be things that we least suspect.  (See John Meunier's post "Giving the Devil His Due)

I was reading in Ezekiel and I saw some things, some idolatry, that the Lord pointed out to the Prophet and I was amazed at how similar they are to things that we do today.   Let’s take a quick tour and hopefully, you will see what I am talking about.  All scripture quotes come from the Wesley Study Bible (NRSV).

Ezekiel 7:19:
“…Their silver and gold cannot save them on the day of the wrath of the Lord…”
Our current thinking is money will save the church.  Or, money will save us from disaster.  Money involves numbers.  Money is neither good nor bad, it is our attitude towards money that turns it into an idol.  How do we use it?  Is it our top priority?  Or is it a tool that we use for good?  There is no doubt that we have to be better stewards of money, but our focus on money (and the related bean counting that goes along with it) has become an idol.  Like it or not, it is a stumbling block and this is something that Wesley warned about strongly in his sermons.

Ezekiel 7:24
“…I will put an end to the arrogance of the strong…”
I am right, and you are wrong.  It’s my way or the highway.  How often have we heard this type of position?  This is not Holy Conferencing, this is posturing for position.  If I say it loudly enough and often enough I may very well wear you down!  As someone watching from the sidelines, let me put it to you this way-you are screaming so loudly that I can’t hear you!  And quite frankly, if you keep screaming at me, I’m going to tune you out completely.  Enough is enough!  It is time to talk with each other rather than at it other.  Arrogance is an idol.  

Ezekiel 8:5
“…in the entrance, was this image of jealousy…”
There’s a doozey!  “The churches overseas are growing, yet we put in all the money.”  “The (insert name here) Jurisdiction has far too much influence.”  “The current church doctrine keeps too many people away and keeps us from effective ministry.”  “Those mega churches are being favored  over all the rest of the other churches in the denomination.”  “Too many churches have become nothing more than Country Clubs concerned with their own well being and that’s why we are not growing.”  Remember these little tidbits of quotations, anyone?  Oh why can’t I do my job and why are we not growing, we say.  It’s because of “those other folks!”  It’s not pretty, and it’s not something we like to admit to, but let’s face it, there is strife and envy in our ranks and jealousy is her name.

Ezekiel 8:12
“…Mortal, have you seen what the elders of the house of Israel are doing in the dark, each in his room of images?”
Ezekiel 8:16
“….between the porch and the altar, were about twenty-five men, with their back to the temple of the Lord, and their faces toward the east, prostrating themselves to the sun toward the east.”

These two scriptures, in my mind, go together.  Instead of following the ordinances that God commanded, they instead started following the ordinances of the nations around them.  Or, in other words, they started catering to the world in their worship.  As Christians, we are called to be peculiar-different and distinct, just as Israel was in their day.  We are called to worship the Creator, not the created.  We are expected to be different.  Yet, we tend to try to do the opposite.  Instead of being different, we try to be just like them.  Why would someone come to our church if we look just like the rest of the world?  Where is our good news message?  Sin is real, so is hope.  Hope, faith and love-do we offer that to the world at large?  Or do we offer much of what can be found in the world because we are busy trying to be like the rest of the world?

It breaks my heart because I honestly feel that we are no different than Israel at the time of their judgment.  Not only do we distrust each other, we distrust the message that we are commanded to share.  We distrust God and his spirit to guide us and see us through.  From top to bottom we are acting no differently then they did.  We can see the sad results of that level of distrust when the Lord said to Ezekiel in chapter 7, verse 27:
“According to their way I will deal with them; according to their own judgments I will judge them.”

If that was the end of the story, it would be a sad story, indeed!  But there is hope!  Why were the Prophets sent by God?  As an act of mercy, to give people the chance to repent.  That opportunity is still available to us today, if we will choose to accept it.  Will we repent of our idols of numbers and money, of arrogance and jealousy and trying to be like the world?  Will we repent together, as one body, top to bottom, recognizing that we all played a part in arriving at this point?  Will we work together as one body with many parts or will we choose to go our separate ways?  Time will tell.  But understand, whatever choice we make, we will be judged accordingly.    Lord, have mercy!  Forgive us our corporate and individual sins and show us your way!  Help us to let go of, and move beyond, our 21st century idols.  This I sincerely pray.  Amen.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Sermon Notes for A Service of Jubilee

Last, but not least, the sermon notes.  When  I preach, I do not go word for word based on what I've written.  The notes do, however, keep me on track so I don't wander too far afield!

 The Importance of Jubilee

Leviticus chapter 25 devotes almost the entire chapter to discussing the Year of Jubilee.  Leviticus states that every seventh year was intended to be a Sabbath year for the land.  No crops were supposed to be planted, the ground was to be given a year of rest.  After seven cycles,  a Year of Jubilee was to be declared.  Verse 10  in the NIV Bible says “you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants.”  Liberty.  Freedom.  Two very important words.  Why does this matter?  Why should we care?  It matters because Jubilee was not only meant to be a celebration, it was also meant to be a release from past burdens.  It was meant to be a way of letting go of the past, in order to move on to the future.  More importantly, this was God wanted for his chosen people-liberty!  The idea of Jubilee is woven throughout the Bible.  The when and how are not as important as WHY.  Why did God put forth the idea of Jubilee?  It all goes back to the idea of being free by letting go of old things in order to move forward.

A wise New Testament writer by the name of Paul discovered the importance of this idea.  In Philippians 3 verse 13, in the NIV Bible Paul says “…But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has call me heavenward in Christ Jesus”

Goal?  Prize?  What is he talking about?  Jeremiah makes the point a little more clearly in chapter 29 of the NIV Bible as he shares with the exiles what the Lord was trying to tell them.

“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.  Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.  I will be found by you…”

God has a plan for you.  He has a plan to prosper you.  He has a plan to give you a future full of hope. Prosperity is so much more than wealth!  Prosperity involves the heart, the soul, your health and the path that you are following.  Prosperity is about your entire well being!  Listen to what John writes as a greeting in his letter to Gaius.  In Third John verse 2  from the Amplified Bible he says this:
“Beloved, I pray that you may prosper in every way and that your body may keep well even as I know your soul keeps well and prospers.”  True prosperity is not is not simply inward or simply outward, it is both!  Everything in  your life “prospers” as your soul prospers.  In the old Methodist tradition, one of the questions that was asked was “how is it with your soul?”  In other words, what is really going on in that deepest part of your being?  Is there something holding you back from following God’s plan for you?  Are you carrying a burden that you need to let go?  Understand that the burden you carry isn’t always about the past or even the present.  Sometimes that burden can be a dream for the future-an unspoken hope, that we‘re not even sure we want to admit.  Even the good things can sometimes be a burden if we hold on to them too tightly!

Now let’s get back to the overall idea of Jubilee.  God sent his only son, his beloved son, in to the world to do what?  To save the world from sin.  To reconcile us to God.  To offer us liberty from the heavy burden of sin and death and all the other things that we needlessly carry around with us in our soul.  Jesus was, and still is, the ultimate Jubilee!  God has proclaimed liberty for all who believe!  He sent that liberty into the world in the form of his son, Jesus, as an offering, a gift.  We simply have to choose to receive this gift!  We have to trust that this gift is meant for us, personally.  And what does that gift give us?  Forgiveness for ourselves.  Permission to let things go.  Hope for better things to come.  All those past hurts, all the mistakes and failures, we can let them go!  The things that we fear today.  Our worries about the future.  Past, present, future-it’s all covered!  We have that heavenly confessor and intercessor, in Jesus.  We can pray and unload all those things that shackle our very souls-the positive and the negative.  We have permission to bring them ALL before the Lord!  

To bring everything to the Lord means we have to trust that the message is not just for the world, it is for you and me personally.  That means we have to understand how God truly sees us, individually.  God is a God of the one, as well as of the many.    How does God see us?  In Genesis, when God created man, he didn’t say just that his creation was good.  He said it was “very good”.  Each one of us is the apple of God’s eye.  To be the “apple of the eye” means that you are very near and dear to God and he treasures you so much that he closely guards and protects you!  You are precious!  You are the apple of his eye!  Deuteronomy 32, in the NIV Bible, contains the song of Moses.  In verses 10 and 11 it says “…He shielded him and cared for him; he guarded him as the apple of his eye.  Like an eagle that stirs up its nest and hovers over its young, that spreads it wings to catch them and carries them on its pinions.  The Lord alone led him…”   In Psalm 17, verse 8 in the NIV Bible, David says “Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings.”  We see in the very first chapter of Jeremiah how well God knows us and how we are the apple of his eye.  In verse 5, the Lord tells Jeremiah “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you…”  and in chapter 31 verse 3, the Lord tells Jeremiah “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.”  David describes the closeness of God beautifully in Psalm 139.  He says, “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me.  You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.  You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.  Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord.  You hem me in-behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me.  Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.  Where can I go from your Spirit?  Where can I flee from your presence?  If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.  If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.  If I say surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me, even the darkness will not be dark to you; there night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.  For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made…”  Does that sound like a distant and far off God to you?  This is a God who treasures you!  He sees you as the apple of his eye and he wants a close relationship with you.

God’s intent from the very beginning was relationship!  A close, loving, trusting relationship.  That’s why he created Jubilee.  That’s why he sent Jesus.  That’s why he sent the Holy Spirit to be with us today.  He wants you, his precious child, to be free!  He wants you, the apple of his eye, to be the very best that you can be!  He wants his church to be the very essence of Jubilee.  Trusting God fully doesn’t mean that your problems will magically disappear.  What it does mean is that he is here, truly here, now, today!  He was with you in the past and he will be right there with you in the future, if you’ll let him.  But the choice is yours.  Jesus said in Matthew 11:28 “come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”  Are you willing to do that?  Are you willing to let go of the hurts of the past?  Are you willing to let go of the worries of today?  Are you willing to lift up your hopes for the future?  That is what this service is meant to do today.  Individually each of us will write down, all the things from the past that we need to let go of.  Individually we will write down our worries of today.  Individually each of us will write down all of our hopes for the future.  They can be things from your private life.  They can be things from your public life.  And some of them may be things from church.  Whatever they may be, today is the day to release all, ALL to God!  Today is the day that we take hold of, and proclaim our very own Jubilee at First United Methodist!  We will gather them up and then together we will pray over them.  Then we release them to God by burning them.  We will let these things go!  And together we will praise God for this season of Jubilee!

God has great plans for each of us!  God has great plans for us as a church, working together.  Today is the day that we leave behind those things that burden us and walk forward, by God‘s grace, in liberty!  Today is the day that we wipe the slate clean and step in to a future filled with hope, peace, love and joy!  Today begins our season of Jubilee!  Let us proclaim our liberty!  Let us claim our Jubilee!  Thanks be to God!  Amen

Service Format for A Service of Jubilee

A couple of notes:  first service is considered to be our "Contemporary" service.  Second service is considered to be our "Traditional" service.  We did switch out a song for first service-instead of using Victory Chant, we used Trading My Sorrows.  At second service, our fantastic Pianist played an instrumental version of Simple Gifts.  A couple of things that were very different for both services, were the congregational affirmations and prayers, something that they do not normally do.  Normally, the only collective prayer that is said together is the Lord's Prayer.  Also, different, the blessing of the children.  Usually the children are asked to say a prayer at the end of Children's moment.  I asked the congregation instead to pray over our children and to offer a blessing for them.

So, without further ado, the service formats:

First Service Format-June 10, 2012  A Celebration of Jubilee

(Based on old Taize greeting)
Leader:  Be reconciled all you who enter here!  Parents and children.  Husbands and wives.  Believers and those who cannot believe.  Christians and their fellow Christians.  O Lord open our lips.

On screen together: ( based on UMH Morning Prayer and Praise Service pg. 876)

We shall declare your praise.  New every morning is your love, great God of light, and all day long you are working for good in the world.  Stir up in us desire to serve you, to live peacefully with our neighbors, and to devote each day to your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ the Lord.

Opening Songs of Celebration:
Victory Chant

Pass the Peace
Children’s moment (after the brief sermonette I will send them back to their families so they can lay hands on them as we pray together:
Prayer of Blessing over the Children On Screen: (based on UMH Baptismal Covenant pg. 41)

Heavenly Father, with your  help we will proclaim the good news and live according to the example of Christ.  We will surround these children with a community of love and forgiveness, that they may grow in their service to others.  We will pray for them, that they may be true disciples who walk in the way that leads to life. Amen

Joys and Concerns
Prayer, Lord’s Prayer
Offering:  Give Thanks

Scripture:  Psalm 139:1-14a
Message:  The Importance of Jubilee
Service of Jubilee:
Opening Prayer:  (based on UMH 489)
Leader:  O Holy God, open unto us light for our darkness, courage for our fear, hope for our despair.  O Loving God open unto us wisdom for our confusion, forgiveness for our sins, love for our hate.  O God of peace open unto us peace for our turmoil, joy for our sorrow, strength for our weakness.  O generous God, open our hearts to receive all your gifts.  Amen

While people are writing down the things that they intend to let go of and the things that they hope for  Praise Band will sing:  Draw Me Close
Towards the end of the song, I will ask the ushers to gather up the papers to be brought forward for prayer.

Prayer of Release (based on UMH 412 and UMH 335)
Leader:  Almighty God, with one accord we make our common supplication to you.  Where two or three are gathered together in your name you will be in their midst.  Be with us and among us.  Come as wind and cleanse us.  Come as fire and burn away the old sin and sorrow and sadness.  Come as dew and refresh us.  Convict, convert and consecrate our hearts and lives.  Fulfill now, O Lord, our desires and petitions as may be best for us.  As we join together as one body Lord, hear our prayer:  (on screen UMH 481 Prayer of St.

Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved, as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.  Amen

(While prayer papers are being carried out to be burned Praise Team leads congregation in singing )
Take My Life (congregation can be seated for this)

I Walk by Faith
Sending Forth:  May the Lord Direct you in all your doings.  May he continually offer you help.  May he guide you in all your work, so that all may glorify his name.  Go forth in Jesus’ name!

Chorus from Shine Jesus Shine

Second service format June 10, 2012 A Service of Jubilee

Gathering, Welcome and announcements
(Based on old Taize greeting)
Leader:  Be reconciled all you who enter here!  Parents and children.  Husbands and wives.  Believers and those who cannot believe.  Christians and their fellow Christians.  O Lord open our lips.

On screen together: (based on UMH Morning Prayer and Praise Service pg. 876)

We shall declare your praise.  New every morning is your love, great God of light, and all day long you are working for good in the world.  Stir up in us desire to serve you,  longing to live peacefully with our neighbors, and to devote each day to your Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ the Lord.

Hymn:  92 For the Beauty of the Earth

Pass the Peace

Children’s Moment (after the brief sermonette, I will send the children back to their families so they can lay hands on them as we pray this together:
Prayer of Blessing over the Children On Screen: (based on UMH Baptismal Covenant pg. 41)

Heavenly Father, with your help we will proclaim the good news and live according to the example of Christ.  We will surround these children with a community of love and forgiveness, that they may grow in their service to others.  We will pray for them, that they may be true disciples who walk in the way that leads to life. Amen

Joys and Concerns
Morning Prayer, Lord’s Prayer
Response:  UMH 70 Glory Be to the Father

Doxology UMH 95

Hymn: 89 Joyful Joyful We Adore Thee

Scripture: Psalm 139:1-14a
Message:  The Importance of Jubilee
Service of Jubilee
Opening Prayer:  (based on UMH 489)
Leader:  O Holy God, open unto us light for our darkness, courage for our fear, hope for our despair.  O Loving God open unto us wisdom for our confusion, forgiveness for our sins, love for our hate.  O God of peace open unto us peace for our turmoil, joy for our sorrow, strength for our weakness.  O generous God, open our hearts to receive all your gifts.  Amen

While people are writing down the things that they intend to let go of and the things that they hope for Special Music played (Lord of the Dance, Simple Gifts, Appalachian Spring) Towards the end of the song, I will ask the ushers to gather up the papers to be brought forward for prayer.

Prayer of Release (based on UMH 412 and UMH 335)
Leader:  Almighty God, with one accord we make our common supplication to you.  Where two or three are gathered together in your name you will be in their midst.  Be with us and among us.  Come as wind and cleanse us.  Come as fire and burn away the old sin and sorrow and sadness.  Come as dew and refresh us.  Convict, convert and consecrate our hearts and lives.  Fulfill now, O Lord, our desires and petitions as may be best for us.  As we join together as one body, Lord, hear our prayer:  (on screen UMH 481 Prayer of St. Francis)

Lord, make me an instrument of thy peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved, as to love;
For it is in giving that we receive,
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.  Amen

While papers are being carried out to be burned, Congregation will be led in singing
Hymn:  399 Take My Life and Let it Be (People can be sitting for this)
Then people will stand for closing hymn
Hymn (not in Hymnal):  In My Heart There Rings a Melody

May the Lord Direct you in all your doings.  May he continually offer you help.  May he guide you in all your work, so that all may glorify his name.  Go forth in Jesus’ name!

389 Freely Freely (verse 1 and chorus)

Background on The Creation of A Service of Jubilee

Hello blog world!  Yes, it’s been awhile since I have posted anything, I know.  Life has been busy!  Between home and church I have kept hopping!  Needless to say the stress-o-meter went full tilt at one point and I ended up in bed for a few days.  If I made it through the day just getting the basics done and taken care of, it was a victory!  The past few months have been, in a word, exhausting.

One of the many items on my list over the past month or so, happened on Sunday.  Here in Missouri, Annual Conference was this past weekend, and those of us who are lay speakers usually cover the services at home.  So I preached this past Sunday-both services.  Actually, I did a little more than that, I created a service from scratch.  I called it a Service of Jubilee or, a Celebration of Jubilee.  I will post the format and my sermon notes in separate blog posts, but for now, let me explain the idea behind this service.

My home church is in a period of transition.  Our current minister is retiring.  Our new minister will be arriving soon.  It’s an interesting time for the congregation because it’s mixed with sadness and joy, fear and excitement and a whole lot of other things that run the gamut.  And sometimes we forget that God is in charge.  So, I thought it might be helpful to give people a safe way to express their fears and their hopes individually and as a congregation.  Long story short, I gave the congregation a chance to write down those fears and hopes on paper, with the understanding that no one else would see them.  We then gathered up the papers, prayed over them and released them to God by burning them.  I asked them to decide what they were willing to let go of, what were they willing to turn over to God?  It could be in their personal life, their professional life and even, their church life.  I used Paul’s exhortation of “forgetting those things that are behind and pressing forward.”  And thus, the Service of Jubilee was born as a way of letting go of things, in order to move on to the future with a “clean slate.”

I will tell you that I used some very traditional things in this service and I make no apologies for doing so!  Traditional things used wisely can have a powerful impact!  The prayers that the congregation said together are variations or actual word for word prayers that are found in the United Methodist Hymnal.  I also picked songs and hymns that went along with the theme, some quiet, but some really joyous because Jubilee is meant to be a time of celebration.  And, I believe in the importance of symbolism.  The papers were taken outside to be burned  so we didn’t set off the smoke alarms in church, but I lit a candle off of one of the altar candles to be carried outside….symbolic of the light of Christ, being carried out and used to cleanse and to lift the prayers skyward…Holy Smoke.  Symbols can be very powerful, as well.

One thing that, I think, would have made the service even better, is if we could have had Communion as well.  Something to think about if you decide to use this at your church.

The scriptures that I refer to, for the most part, come from the NIV Bible translation.  There was one exception, I used the Amplified Bible for one verse in particular because I thought that it more clearly emphasized the point I was trying to make.

If you are looking to do something different at your church, and you like the idea, feel free to use it.  At the very least, this idea may inspire you to create your own unique service that fills a need in your congregation.
Leading this service was a joy for me personally and I hope, that by sharing it with you, it will lead you to your own divine inspiration!  Be blessed!

Monday, May 14, 2012

Showing some "Good Sense"

Some thoughts from Paul in Second Corinthians chapter 10 verses 12-13, 15, 18 (Wesley Study Bible NRSV):
“We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves.  But when they measure themselves by one another, and compare themselves with one another, they do not show good sense.  We, however, will not boast beyond limits, but will keep with the field that God has assigned to us, to reach out even as far as you…our hope is that, as your faith increases, our sphere of action among you may be greatly enlarged,…For it is not those who commend themselves that are approved, but those whom the Lord commends.”
Now maybe, these words really struck me because I had just finished reading about John the Baptist, in the beginning of Luke, and it was very clear that his calling was to be the one who prepared the way, even though there were others who wondered.  Maybe it’s because of all of the buzz that has gone on since General Conference.  Either way, this became a real “ah-ha” moment for me this morning!  Classifying and comparing with those who hold themselves up as the standard.  Measuring and comparing ourselves with one another.  These things were going on, even in Paul’s time, and his conclusion on the matter was “they do not show good sense.”

Isn’t that what we just attempted to legislate at General Conference?  Oops!  Yet, God in his goodness, managed to work through mere imperfect mortals and stop it dead in its tracks!  Thank you Lord for saying NO!

So where do we go from here?  Paul actually gives us a blueprint for how to proceed.  He gives us the proper perspective on how to look at things.  Do not “boast beyond limits.”  “Keep with the field that God has assigned to each of us.”  The outcome being “as a (congregation’s) faith increases, (the) sphere of action…may be greatly enlarged.”  Ta da!  Simple, concise, straight forward.  Ya gotta love Paul, for stating the obvious plainly enough, that even today, people can grasp what he was trying to say!  Bottom line, it’s not going to work unless it is what “the Lord commends”, not what we choose to commend!

Where is your  field-your “sphere of action”?  Your local community.  Your friends, your family, your co-workers, your neighbors.  Is it urban, suburban or rural?  Although there are similarities, each one is unique and different.  Different stresses, different focus, different interactions.  What might work in a city is not necessarily going to work in the country and vice versa.  That’s reality.  What works in one community may not work over in the next town.  My field may not look exactly the same as your field.  So, for me to tell you to do things exactly the same way that I did would be crazy!  There are  differences or “limits” and we should respect that!  I do not know your community the same way you do.   I know my community and I need to do what is best for it, instead of worrying about what someone else is doing.    

That doesn’t mean that we do not share ideas, thoughts and suggestions.  Try the things that seem reasonable and leave the rest!  It doesn’t mean that we do not strive for some consistency on our message or worship.  There are certain things that make us Methodist and we need to be crystal clear on those particular points.  But the actual job of ministry in our community- the way that we grow the faith of  those around us,  must be unique and appropriate for our community!  One size can not and should not be expected to fit all!

God has assigned each of us a field.  We are not meant to make them all look exactly the same.  We are meant to know the field, put in what is best and nurture it so it will grow.  Anyone who has ever attempted to garden understands the wisdom in this approach.

Let each of us commit to adapting an approach that actually shows good sense!

Saturday, May 12, 2012

More Mothers Day Thoughts From My Sister

My sister, Holly, has her own blog and wrote a follow up piece to my blog post from yesterday.  Since I haven't introduced you to her blog yet, I thought now would be the perfect time!  Holly's follow up to "Mommy Badges" To All the Moms Out There


Friday, May 11, 2012

Mommy Badges

Me and some of my children who helped make this blog post possible!

This Sunday is Mothers Day.  There will be many wonderful and moving tributes written in honor of mothers.  This is not one of them!  I’ll leave the “waxing eloquent” to others.  No, I write this piece for all of the mothers out there who will read this with wise eyes, a sense of humor and know exactly what I’m talking about!  I write this for new mothers who feel that they have lost their minds and gotten in way over their heads!  Fear not young mothers!  Take heart!  These things that you are experiencing are not lapses into insanity or flukes of nature.  No, darling young mothers, you have simply begun the process of earning your numerous Mommy Badges!  Read on and allow me to introduce you to some of the various badges that you have just begun to earn!  This list is not all inclusive, there are many ways to earn various Mommy Badges.  Just know that you are made of sturdy stuff and yes, this too shall pass, and you will be all the better for having gone through it!

1)  The first one that you are likely to encounter is the “lack of sleep yet still need to function” badge.  This really kicks in about the same time that your child starts teething, although it can also happen before.  You discover that you suddenly have a knack for multi-tasking, such as folding laundry one handed while rocking the baby.  You also discover that you have done certain things and don’t actually remember doing them.  Along with this you may experience “don’t know what day it is let alone time of day” unless you actually look at a calendar or a clock and even then it may not actually register.  Basically, you could care less what day it is!  Your great triumph is the fact that you remembered to brush your teeth.  Congratulations, you have just earned your first Mommy Badge!

2)  The next badge that you are likely to encounter is the “spit up stain on every outfit” badge.  This occurs because you have earned the “lack of sleep” badge and you have forgotten to take off your “good outfit”.  Or, this occurs when you are out of the house for a special occasion such as a family reunion or a church service.  Somehow, in some way the spit up rags did not make it into the diaper bag.  Your darling little angel deposits some lunch upon your shoulder which you then try to clean off as best you can.  Eventually, every outfit you own has some sort of stain and the task then becomes to pick the one that is the least stained.  Yes, darling young mother, this does happen and you will have earned this second badge.   Wear it proud, sister soldier!  Wear it proud!

3)  Closely related to the previous badge is the “nothing can disgust you now” badge.  This occurs around the time that your precious darling starts on solid food.  At first, you think that you can not possibly toughen up and tolerate this, but eventually you develop a supernatural immunity to smell and begin ranking such odors on a rating scale.  You will know that you have fully earned this badge when you start using phrases such as “whew!  That’s a good one!”   This ability will come in handy for a badge that I will mention further down the list.

4)  This next one occurs about the time your child becomes mobile.  It is the coveted “I thought I baby-proofed everything” badge.  As a good responsible parent you have diligently followed all of the advice in the expert baby books, however, your child is turning into Houdini!  Completion of this badge occurs when you have to take your child to the doctor in order to get assistance in removing the object that your child managed to stuff up his or her nose!

5)  Number five follows closely on the heels of number four.  It is the “it’s too quiet” badge.  As a mother, you will soon learn the difference between blissful peace and quiet and the “it’s too quiet, what is my child up to?”  type of quiet that comes with earning this badge.  Usually, the result of this type of quiet is new artwork on the wall using the latest tube of lipstick you bought (but don‘t remember buying-refer back to badge one on the list), or the new haircut that has occurred with the childproof scissors!  Take pictures because this will provide you with a wonderful story to share with your future son or daughter in law in the years to come, particularly after your son or daughter has children of their own!

6)  Next on the list is the “child translator” badge.  This occurs around the time that your child starts speaking.  You can understand his or her conversation perfectly.  Other adults are not so adept and you suddenly find yourself having to “translate” for Great Aunt Mimi so she can understand the conversation that your child is trying to carry on with her.  Congratulations!  You have become multi-lingual!

7)  You’ve mastered the art of parenting!  You have chosen to have another child.  You have thrown out the expert baby books and have adopted the three second rule for items dropped on the floor.  The next badge on the list is the “3:00 in the morning laundry run” which occurs when you have two children ill at the same time, vomiting in stereo.  This is the moment when you appreciate having earned the first and third badges on the list!

8)  Next is the “I can spell” badge.  This occurs around the time that your children clearly understand what you are saying, so you and your spouse resort to conversations where you have to spell a lot of words, in order to maintain a level of sanity and secrecy.  This type of conversation is used quite frequently around Christmas and birthdays but eventually drifts into everyday conversations.  You will know that you have earned this badge when you hear yourself having a conversation such as “how about we g-o to the p-a-r-k?” or, “did you H-I-D-E the p-r-e-s-e-n-t-s like I told you to?”  Eventually this manner of conversation becomes ineffective so think ahead and develop code words for various items!

9)  Number 9 on the list is the “rule of 3” badge.  You discover that you can not say something just once.  You must say it three times with increasing volume and insistence.  In the younger years it starts out as “let it go” “Let it Go” ‘LET IT GO”.  Later in life, when your child receives his or her newly minted learners permit, you will find yourself in the passenger seat of the family car saying phrases such as “slow down” “Slow Down” “SLOW DOWN” and “brake” “Brake” “BRAKE” or “turn” “Turn” “TURN NOW” all while having to grab hold of the steering wheel from the passenger side of the car in order to avoid running into a tree.  Although this badge is earned in your child’s formative years, it will keep you in good stead as they venture ever closer to adulthood!

10)  When you achieve number 10 on the list, you know that you have arrived in the world of parenting!  Number 10 is the one that you least covet, yet is the one that you will most appreciate with a wry sense of irony!  It is the “I am channeling my parents” badge!  Remember all the things that you swore you would never say to your children?  This badge creeps up on you unawares.  One day, out of nowhere, words will utter forth out of your mouth and you suddenly stop and think “oh my word, I sound just like my mother!”  Now you understand!  Now you truly appreciate what it means to be a parent!  Congratulations!  You have now come full circle!  You have earned the ultimate Mommy Badge!

Happy Mother’s Day!  Enjoy your day-you’ve earned it!

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

An Ounce of Prevention

According to my husband, I am a big sigher.  Apparently I sigh a lot and when I do, I sigh with meaning.  Happy contented sighs.  Or, the “loaded sigh”-they apparently show signs of frustration, discontent and general disapproval.  I am capable of communicating quite a bit of information in the simple act of sighing.  After 12 years of marriage my husband has become an expert sigh reader!

I thought about this as I read Jeremiah 25:3-4.  He starts off by saying “For twenty-three years…”  I wonder if he started off with a loaded sigh before the words ever left his mouth.?  Also, in my head I hear him saying these words in the old Vermonter accent (which is very different from Boston by the way).  It gives his words a sense of wry irony, glum humor and utter disgust that he’s having to tell them the same thing yet AGAIN!  He goes on:
“the word of the Lord has come to me, and I have spoken persistently to you, but you have not listened.  And though the Lord persistently sent you all his servants the prophets, you have neither listened nor inclined your ears to hear…”
It’s a serious message that he’s giving them-turn from your ways so the Lord doesn’t have to punish you.  I can see in my minds eye the members of the royal court, rolling their eyes thinking “here we go again!  The crackpot is back!”  On the other side I can picture Jeremiah thinking “here we go again!  How many times do I have to tell you the same thing???”  I’m thinking that Jeremiah and the other Prophets did a lot of sighing over the years!

Same thing happens today, doesn’t it?  Your children are proposing to do something that you know is going to end in disaster and you try to reason with them and they look at you as if you have suddenly grown three heads!  “Don’t worry” they say “it’s all under control!”  Then, they are stunned when things don’t work out and you, as the parent, are stunned as to why they couldn’t see the obvious!  And you have to hold back the urge to say “I told you so!”  (In all honesty, sometimes we parents don’t hold back on the “I told you so” response but we do try to be diplomatic.)  Our hope is that they learned a valuable lesson from the experience, but there is frustration with the fact that they had to learn the lesson the hard way!

Life is like that.  Sometimes we listen to wise counsel and avert disaster.  Other times, we plunge head long into doing the same things expecting a different result and all we end up with is disaster and frustration on the other end.  The lesson from Jeremiah should be a reminder to all of us!  Whether it is family or friends or church, sometimes we need to stop and truly listen to what another person is saying.  It is too easy to dismiss the words of others, particularly if they do not line up with the scenario that we have hatched in our head!  Granted, there are individuals in the world who criticize anything and everything-they are usually pretty easy to spot.  They are the ones who, on a sunny day, will tell you that it’s only temporary cause clouds will soon be on the way.  Their message is neither helpful nor hopeful, so take what they have to say with a grain of salt.  The people you need to heed are the folks who have your best interest at heart.  They are not out to hurt you and you need to recognize that fact!  God doesn’t always send “whoa wait” messages in flashy symbols, generally he sends the message through people.  If the person is someone who truly cares about you and only wants the best for you then it is important to pause and listen to what they have to say.  Then take it to the Lord and ask for discernment.  Are their words spoken because they are afraid that you will get hurt?  Or, are the words spoken because they are trying to help you avert disaster?  There are points in life when a critic can be your very best friend if you listen carefully and wisely to their words.

The lesson for today is listen now so you don’t have to listen to someone say “I told you so” later on!  Or as the old sage saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Sometimes It's What You Need Not What You Want

Here’s an interesting couple of verses from Isaiah which I think warrant a closer look.  The Prophet says this in chapter 56, verses 6-7 (NRSV-Wesley Study Bible):
“And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, all who keep the Sabbath and do not profane it, and hold fast my covenant-these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.”
First, anyone can join themselves to the Lord.  But there are conditions-ministry, service, Sabbath rest and holding fast to the covenant.  These are the individuals who will be brought to the holy mountain.  They will be joyful in the house of prayer.  Their offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on the altar.

In light of these verses, think about the ministry that Jesus did before he was crucified on the cross.  Did he minister?  Did he serve others?  Did he make time to rest?  Did he hold fast to the covenant promise? Yes.  What was the last thing that he did in Matthew?  He told the Disciples to “go and make disciples of all nations.”  Which they did, which is why you and I share in the Christian faith some 2000 years later.

Everyone is welcome to participate in God‘s plan, but there are conditions.  This is the reminder that I would like to put forth, especially in light of what happened at General Conference this year.  Many view GC as an epic fail.  There’s a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth going on, particularly in blog world!  Granted, I wasn’t there, I had to watch from the sidelines at home so I wasn’t caught up in the frenzy.  Still, I don’t see this as a fail.  I see this as a reminder that we are all human, we make mistakes and sometimes we lose our way.  God still works in the world today and the result of GC is that God intervened and kept the United Methodist Church from making a huge blunder in its ministry to the world! God has a plan and this was not it!  Plain and simple.

Plan UMC was ruled unconstitutional by the Judicial Council.  I have a feeling that Call to Action and Plan B would have met the same fate.  Guaranteed appointments were eliminated, but my understanding is that it is still up in the air, waiting for a ruling from the Judicial Council this fall.  It may also be ruled unconstitutional when it is all said and done.

My point about all of this?  We were barking up the wrong tree.  We focused on systems and procedures and numbers.  We focused on inclusion without condition.  We focused on our plan, our wants.  We wanted change for the wrong reasons.  We wanted change that would make us feel better and feel like we were in control and the reality is, the Holy Spirit is not going to be bridled by what we want!  We acted more like the folks at the tower of Babel, then we did like the believers present at Pentecost.  Some will find that disheartening, but I look at GC as a reminder that we desperately needed.  The Holy Spirit is alive and well in the world today and God’s plan will not be swayed!

Look at what God promised the exiles in Babylon in Jeremiah 29:11-14
“For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.  Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you.  When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all nations and all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.”
God has a plan and it wasn‘t “our plan.”  So where do we go from here?  How do we get beyond feeling like we are in exile or wandering in the wilderness?  We pray, we search, we get back to the basic covenant.  We minister to others, we serve others, we make disciples who can go out in to the world and do the same exact thing.  Jesus summed up the basic covenant “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.”   That’s our job, that is the basic plan.  It hasn’t changed in 2000 some odd years, regardless of what we may think!

Nothing has changed for a reason, because the things that we were looking to change, are not the things that need changing (at least they were not the number one priority).  Our hearts need to change.  That is an inward journey that can not be legislated!    The other changes will come, if they are necessary.  I believe they will become obvious once we find ourselves in line with God’s plan but we‘re not there yet!   This is not the end of the world, or the end of the church.  There is still work to be done, there is still a mission ahead of us.  Instead of lamenting the outcome, let’s focus instead on re-aligning our priorities with God’s priorities.  Since God knows His plan, let’s trust in the Lord and learn how to follow his path instead!   The reminder may have been painful, but I believe the reminder is just exactly what we needed!


Sunday, May 6, 2012

Guess Who Is Still In Charge?

Once upon a time….

In a parallel universe far far away, there existed a planet, that the inhabitants called Earth.  On the planet, were many continents.  On each continent were many countries.  And in many countries there were states and provinces and parishes.  In each place, there were many churches and denominations.  

Then, one day, there appeared in the sky, ships that came from very far away, that carried beings that were alien to the humans that lived on earth.  The aliens were very advanced and capable of wiping out the human race.  However, they were clear, that they had no desire to invade or conquer, but they did have one request.  The leaders of earth were so overjoyed that they gladly agreed to the one request.  The aliens wanted to perform an experiment-one designated area of the world would have to give up the trappings of  their designated denomination.  They wanted to see what would happen and how individuals would react if their denomination suddenly ceased to exist.  So it was decided, that the only fair way to do this was by lottery.   The permanently inhabited continents were placed in a basket and North America was picked.   The countries of North America were placed in a basket, and the United States was picked.  Then the fifty states of the country were placed in a basket and Missouri was picked.  Then all of the various denominations in the state were placed in a basket and Methodist was picked.  On that day, at that time, the United Methodist Church was no longer allowed to exist in that state.  All the churches were closed, the assets sold, and there was no longer an official Methodist presence in the state of Missouri.

At first there was sadness and anger and grief.  Some simply chose to give up.  Some chose to go to other denominations.  But some realized that this might not be such a bad thing.  They could still see their friends and get together with them.  They could still converse on the phone or via the internet using Facebook and Twitter.  They could still gather together-in individual homes, or parks or various other gathering places.  They could still pray for and with each other, they could still sing songs of praise.  They could still study the Bible together and compare thoughts and notes.  They could still teach their children about God and Jesus and the Methodist traditions.  They could still work on projects in the community together.  They could still share their faith and beliefs with others.

 So, small groups of friends started to gather together in their local towns and communities.  They invited their friends, who invited their friends, who in turn invited their friends.  They began to network with friends in other communities and they would gather together at various times as one large group to sing, study, share stories of hope, pray and encourage each other.  The various community groups would work together on big projects, such as building homes or to raise money to send to the churches in other areas around the world to support their efforts.  The only thing these groups could not do was participate in the official United Methodist hierarchy.  There could be no Ministers, Superintendents or Bishops.  They could not have any designated church buildings.  They could not participate in any Methodist designated meetings such as Annual Conference or General Conference.

To the astonishment of the aliens, their faith did not cease to exist!  Rather, their faith grew and became even more effective in changing the lives of others around them!  The aliens discovered what many lifelong Methodists had known for years!  The church is not a building or steeple or resting place.  The church is the people!  The Methodists even had a song that said these very words in their hymnal!  The song, written by Richard K. Avery and Donald S. Marsh was called  “We Are The Church”  and that song had been sung for many years in Sunday School and Vacation Bible School and even in the church buildings themselves.  The “trappings and fixings” of the church may have been taken away, but the faith, the “church universal” carried on!

God in His wonderful love and wisdom proved, once again, that He is still large and in charge!

The End.  For now….

Friday, April 27, 2012

The More Things Change

For those of you who long for the “good-ole-days” allow me to share a little dose of reality with you.  Awhile back, I went to the library and borrowed a copy of E.B. White’s collection of essays called One Man’s Meat.  For those of you who are saying to yourself “the name sounds familiar,” E.B. White is best known as the author of Charlotte’s Web.  He also wrote for the New Yorker magazine for many years.  The essays were written just prior to the start of World War II and they were published in book form in 1942.  Mr. White chronicles the journey of his move to a farmstead in Maine and what life was like, with some observations about the world at large, thrown in for good measure.  Reading through the book, I am reminded, once again, of the old saying “the more things change, the more they stay the same.”

In an essay titled “Sabbath Morn,” written in February, 1939, Mr. White made the following observations:
“In this house we cling to a few relics of religious observance, but there is no heart in it.  If we possess faith (and I guess we do) it is of a secret and unconsecrated sort ill at ease in church….The church sometimes seems painfully unimaginative in its attempt to perpetuate a faith which has been gutted by so many fires.  Whether or not people are essentially less religious than they used to be, I don’t know, but it is obvious that something has happened….I go to church once in a while and sing the hymns very loud; it clears the blood, and I love the gush of holiness when the old bone-shaking anthems ripple up and down my spine and crackle in my larynx.  But for the most part, religion is tucked away in a bottom drawer among things we love but never use.  In two generations there has been a great falling off.  When I was a child, I could feel heaven slipping…By the standards of a hundred years ago, my family to-day is a group of misguided agnostics, seeking after an illusive beauty and fumbling for grace…”
What a familiar tale, I think to myself!  How similar and relevant are Mr. White’s words today?!  The great angst that we possess as the United Methodist Church over decline in attendance is the same thing that was going on back in “the good old days” that we fondly talk about.  The rosy days of “back yonder” were not quite as rosy as we would like to believe.  The reality, the truth of the matter is this-we struggle with the same issues that previous generations struggled with.  That doesn’t mean that we choose to just accept this as a fact of life, we can choose to try to change the outcome.  But if we intend to change, we had better make sure that we have thought things through carefully.  “Change for change sake” is not true change at all.  Learning from the past, taking off the rose colored glasses and seeing things as they really were, rather than how we imagine-that is the lens that we need to use when we decide what to change and how we go about changing things!  Until we can do that, until we can accept the fact that there is nothing new under the sun, all of our best laid plans will be nothing more than just another plan.

Let’s be honest with ourselves and recognize the fact that the more things change-the more they stay the same, if we choose to ignore the truth of the past.  We will not change the course if we do not learn the lessons of yesterday.  In my humble opinion, this is indeed a valuable and timely lesson in light of General Conference.  A voice from the past holds an important reminder, to us all, for today!

Song of Spring

A quick note-I wrote this piece about a month ago and didn't publish at the time.  Health issues and life in general still keep me hopping, but I am hanging tough and will persevere!  I hope you enjoy reading this piece!~ Trudy

Hello, darling readers!  I know, it has been awhile since I have ventured this way!  My only explanation is a few minor health issues, lack of inspiration and need to enjoy the unseasonably warm weather that has ventured over Missouri during the last month!  Today is different, it is the first day in over a month that we will have closer to a “normal average high” temperature.  It also rained quite heavily last night, so rushing to be outside in the mud is not on the agenda!

It’s been a strange spring!  Plants have bloomed much earlier than usual.  Trees are almost fully out in leaf.  My beautiful Lilac bush has just about gone by on the blooming stage.  Normally, it blooms closer to the end of April.  My husband actually did some mowing yesterday evening as well!  Gardeners, such as myself, have been in a rush to get things in the ground.  I did put some early spring plants in the vegetable garden, such as peas, lettuce, broccoli, carrots and radishes.  I took a pass on warmer weather plants, such as tomatoes, because I know that spring weather can be unpredictable.  The risk I take with the early spring crops is that they could bolt to seed if the weather stays unseasonably warm.  But, this is Missouri, and we still face a frost risk, for at least another month.  The cool weather crops can handle a hit of frost.  Tomatoes on the other hand, can not!  Like I said, it has been an unusually warm spring and the plants are doing their thing about a month or so ahead of schedule!

So, I have been outside quite a bit!  We turned off the heat and opened up the windows and let the fresh air in to the house!  I was so upset the other day because it actually got hot and humid enough that we had to close the house back up again and turn on the central air!  I like the fresh air.  I like feeling the breeze blow in through the open windows.  I love hearing the birds sing.  It’s a way for me to still feel connected to the outdoors even when I am doing the things inside that need to be done.  Closing up the house makes me feel disconnected and isolated.  One of the hardest adjustments for me since moving to Missouri has been dealing with air conditioning in the summer time.  In Vermont, summer is a time to be connected with the outdoors!  You open the windows in June, day and night, and they stay open until the end of August!  And if the house gets a little too stuffy, you go outside and sit in the shade, or go swimming at the brook.  That’s a tough thing to do here in Missouri when the temps hit 102 with 100 percent humidity!  Spring has now become my most favorite season here in Missouri, because it is more like the summers that I was used to back home in Vermont!

Being outdoors, especially in the garden, is a form of meditation for me personally.  There is something very satisfying in the experience of planting and weeding and hoping for the future!  If the tiny little seeds germinate, if the small plants survive and thrive, there is a hope for eating something fresh and wonderful from the ground that you have toiled to work!  It requires attention.  Weeds must be pulled.  Beneficial insects encouraged to pollinate.  Pests that would destroy your efforts, swiftly dealt with.  You don’t just simply throw things on the ground and hope that when you come back later, something will have stuck!  In order to be successful, you must engage in the process!

There’s a metaphor for life!  Engage in the process!  Pay attention to the details!  Prior to the economic crash, there were individuals who were warning that the pestilent swarm of collapse was coming.  Yet, we chose to ignore the sirens and hope for the best.  We threw our seeds on the ground and walked away and hoped that nature would take care of itself.  We called it “market forces” and opted to believe that they would keep the weeds in check and that the locusts would stay at bay.  We have paid a price for that philosophy and hopefully learned a valuable lesson as a country.

We can carry that lesson into our personal lives as well.  I think so many of us struggle because we have literally thrown our creative seed out in the proverbial wind and then wonder why things haven’t turned out the way we hoped they would!  We have hopes and dreams but they seem too big, too impossible to accomplish!  It seems like something is always coming up that either robs us of our energy to carry on, like a weed, or chews away at our confidence, like a locust!  We get tossed to and fro and our dreams shrivel up inside, never to see the light of day because the outcome is too much to hope for!  But let me ask you this-is God a big God?  Do you think God would give you hopes and dreams if HE didn’t already have a way for them to be accomplished?

The first thing to ask yourself is what do you think God wants you to accomplish?  Your first thought might be, I dunno!  But you do!  Think about the things you would like to accomplish.  When you do that, I have found that usually, these can be the seeds of the vision that God has planted inside of you.  It may not always be the case, (sometimes our ego can get in the way) but many times, when you take a good, hard critical look, you can find the seeds of a long term vision.  What do you hope to change?  In other words, what is the outcome that you would like to see?  Some would call it a goal.  I prefer to think of it as God’s vision for my life (once I have taken the time to get my ego out of the way)!  From there, we step back.  What will it take to get there?  This is a great way to come up with individual things that must be done along the way and it helps you identify what needs to be done first!  It forces you to pay attention to the details!  It also provides a way to become engaged in the process.  It becomes a way to engage with God in a very personal way!

This is not a new way of doing things, contrary to what popular culture would have you think!  God has longed to engage in a personal way since time immortal!  Think about it-why send Jesus to suffer on the cross if God was not a God of personal engagement?  Look at anything big that was done in the Bible, such as building the ark or the temple.  When you read about the undertaking, you always find very detailed descriptions of just exactly how the “goal” was accomplished.  First, came the vision.  Then came the details!  Even Jesus was very specific with the Disciples.  Jesus would go on  ahead of them as the Savior.  The Disciples would then share the Good News with all who would listen!  It wouldn’t be easy!  The High Council would dog every step.  Individuals would not receive them.  Sometimes even their own followers would cause them to have to settle disputes.  But their job, their goal would be to share the message and spread the word of God’s love and saving grace, one person, one town at a time!  If they tended the seeds that they planted, eventually the faith would grow and bloom and the bounty would spread!  But it would not happen if they did not take the time to engage in the process and pay attention to the details.  Details matter if you truly want to see the vision through!

Do you feel like you are floundering about, doing a whole lot of things and getting nowhere?  Stuck in the mire of everyday life?  Take some time away by yourself to meditate and listen for God‘s vision.  Your “meditation” may be being out in the garden, or maybe it is turning wrenches on your car project or perhaps it is just sitting quietly at the kitchen table.  Do what helps you think best and ask yourself, what is God’s vision for me?  Perhaps it is becoming a teacher or volunteering to help out a worthy cause or becoming the very best in your field of endeavor so that you can help others.  Whatever it is, get a clear vision of that “end-goal”.  Then take the time to look at the steps necessary to get you to that place.  Don’t be surprised if it takes a little while to come up with a plan because great things take careful consideration!  God is a big God who will show you the way!  Get yourself  spiritually in a position to take that first step!  Once the first step becomes clear, engage!

Psalm 40, verses 1-3 sums it up nicely:
“I waited patiently for the Lord; he inclined to me and heard my cry.  He drew me up from the desolate pit, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.  He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God.  Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the Lord.”

May the God of all creation bless you fully, so you may be a blessing to others!  Amen and Amen!  On your way because your journey begins…today!

Friday, March 23, 2012

Can You Hear Me Now?

Artwork by Izzie, Used with Permission
Remember the cell phone commercial from a few years ago, where the guy is out in the middle of nowhere saying “can you hear me now?”  I was reminded of that little phrase as I read Job 23 this morning.  No, that isn’t exactly what Job said in that chapter but, in essence, it is the question that he was asking.  Job, in conversing with his friends essentially says that if he could just find God then he could argue his case before him.  He says this in verse 6 in the Wesley Study Bible:
“Would he contend with me in the greatness of his power?  No, but he would give heed to me.”
In other words, Job is saying “at least he would hear me!”  How incredibly human is that desire?  Isn’t this something that everyone longs for at some point in time?  Although, you may not agree with me, at the very least, let me know that you hear what I am saying to you!  Each of us longs for someone else to listen to what we have to say!

As a mother, I can remember times, when my children were little, and they would come up to me with a picture, or they might tug on my arm wanting me to come see something that they had built.  Needless to say, sometimes their need to be acknowledged and my schedule didn’t always match!  Sometimes I could stop what I was doing to go look at their creation or listen to their story.  Other times, I would have to say “just a minute” and they would have to wait.  But I always tried to acknowledge their effort, or their point of view.  When they got older, the topics changed and there were a lot of family discussions around the dinner table.  I might not always agree with their position but I took the time to listen and acknowledge their point of view.  That longing to be heard is hard wired into each of us, from a young age and that longing doesn’t change no matter how old we grow!  Each and every one of us has a desire to be heard!

So why is it so hard to be heard?  Because in order to be heard, someone has to take the time to listen.  And listening seems to be in short supply.  It’s like we are all talking past each other rather than talking with each other.  Sometimes we have to stop talking and instead start listening!  That doesn’t mean that you will always be in agreement on a topic, but at least you will have made the effort to hear the other persons point of view.

Now I could use the United States Congress as a prime example of “talking but not listening” but I have another example that I would like to bring up-General Conference.  For those of you who are not Methodist, let me briefly explain what General Conference is about.  Every four years the Methodist church sends delegates from around the world to meet together for “Holy Conferencing” to discuss the state of the church and to debate issues regarding the future direction of global church efforts.  It’s a little more complicated than that but this gives you a rough idea in a nutshell.  This year, is a General Conference year, and we have a new “hot button” issue to add to the list of perennial hot button issues that come up at General Conference time.  The issue is how does the United Methodist Church reverse the membership decline that has plagued so many “mainline“ denominations?  In preparation, our leadership formed yet another committee to do a study, in order to come up with a plan that could be presented at General Conference.  It has a catchy name “Call to Action”.  This group, called in consultants and did various studies and then issued a report with their recommendations.  Since then, there has been a tremendous amount of debate from both sides and lots of ink used to defend various positions.  As we approach General Conference, the rhetoric is starting to pick up in tempo.

As a lay member who will not be at General Conference and has listened to both sides of the debate on restructuring all I have to say is I see a whole lot of talking going on, but I surely do not see a whole lot of listening going on!  If this is our definition of “Holy Conferencing” then we are in trouble!  When you have individuals from Bishops to Delegates writing and essentially saying “this is my position and I don’t care what you have to say” then we have a problem!  Everyone is so busy talking past each other and highlighting “bullet points” and defending turf that we have turned a deaf ear to listening!  This group, will decide the future of my church and expect me to take them seriously, while pounding the war drums of entrenched positions!  Seriously???  Where is the Holy Conferencing?  Where is the prayer, the discernment, and most importantly, the listening to each other, even if you do not agree?  With everything going on in the world this is where we draw battle lines?  How many people are starving in the world?  How many people are dying from preventable diseases?  How many people could use a roof over their head, or clean water, or training that would give them an opportunity to make something better of themselves?  Dear delegates, I am begging you-please stop talking long enough to listen!

I pray that each of you will go to General Conference with a willingness to listen.  I pray that you are filled with a spirit of discernment and an openness to listen to what the Holy Spirit is saying, regardless of whether it lines up with your pre-determined position on a topic.  I don’t care what the consultants recommend, I don’t care what popular culture is expecting, I care about what God is asking us, as a denomination to do!  Be open, be flexible, but most importantly, be willing to listen!  There is so much to be done and we as a denomination will not be able to move on and do the things that need to be done, if we are too busy advancing agendas, instead of listening to what God is calling us to do!  Imagine that the Holy Spirit is the guy, out in the middle of nowhere, holding the cell phone, saying “can you hear me now?”  Be the one who says “yes, I’m listening!”  And may the Lord truly bless our ministry!