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Becoming a Trusted Leader – Good Shepherd?

Chasing SheepKey Bible Verse:  He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out … he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they recognize his voice. John 10:3-4

Bonus ReadingJohn 10:1-15

My wife and I were listening to a tour guide in Israeli-occupied Palestine describe the ancient shepherd/sheep relationship.  The shepherd, he explained, doesn’t need to drive the sheep.  He can lead them.  That is because he feeds and gently cares for them, causing them to respond to his voice.

He then told how, while giving the same spiel on a previous tour, he suddenly realized he’d lost his audience.  They were staring out the bus windows at a guy chasing a “herd” of sheep—throwing rocks at them, whacking them with a stick, and siccing the sheep dog on them.

The guide told us he was so agitated about having his enchanting narrative torpedoed that he jumped off the bus, ran into the field, and accosted the man, “You’ve just done me in!  I was telling these tourists about the gentle ways of shepherds, and here you are hounding and assaulting these sheep!  What gives?”

The sheep-chaser’s bewildered expression turned to comprehension. “Man, you’ve got me all wrong,” he blurted out. “I’m not a shepherd. I’m a butcher!”  Unwittingly, this poor fellow had just provided a perfect example of what a “good shepherd” is not.

—Lynn Anderson in They Smell Like Sheep

My Response:  What have I done to earn the trust of those I’m to lead?

Thought to Apply: A leader is a person you will follow to a place you wouldn’t go by yourself. —Joel Barker

Adapted from They Smell Like Sheep (Howard, 1997)

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, help me to promote a shared vision and mesh my energies with those of others to achieve it.
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Apple Dumpling Sale!

Apple Dumpling Night!

Making our famous Apple Dumplings!

All hands on deck!

This year, we are making our apple dumplings one night only – This Wednesday, November 1, starting at 6 pm.

All of the supplies that were not contributed have been purchased, and placed with the contributed supplies in the Kitchen, waiting for us on Wednesday.

All of the big, ripe Jonagold apples have been purchased from Peace Valley Orchards and are “keeping their cool” downstairs until we call them into service this week.

Please mark your calendar  to join us on Wednesday at 6 pm for our one and only opportunity to make our delicious apple dumplings this year.

See you on Wednesday!

Wouldn’t you like a delicious Apple Dumpling?

 

Becoming a Trusted Leader – Beyond Controller or Cheerleader

Missionary in Nigeria 2Key Bible Verse:  Some of the members that God has placed in the body of Christ … [include] … those who can get others to work together.  1 Corinthians 12:28

Bonus Reading:  Romans 12:6-8

[Continued from yesterday]  What if both George Wright and Joe Kuhl came to see their views of leadership as inadequate and seriously flawed?

What if George could move beyond seeing the leader as the person who has the responsibility and power to control people?

What if Joe could move beyond seeing the leader as a cheerleader who fills a service function with little or no authority?  What if both realized that good leadership is a spiritual gift?  What if they saw the leader’s job as harmonizing, enhancing, and focusing the spiritual gifts of others toward a common vision of the kingdom of God?  How might this work out?

Both would take the task of the kingdom seriously and assume that the leader will be proactive and take initiative, while also being an encourager and developer of people.

George could get to know Joe and appreciate his spiritual gifts, while helping him fit into the vision of the mission in northern Nigeria.  Joe could begin to grasp the bigger picture and see how he fits with the rest of the team.  George would gladly accept many of Joe’s suggestions for enhancing the language school curriculum, and Joe would see the benefit of studying grammar.

—Jim Plueddemann in World Pulse

My Response: Which side of my leadership needs work?

Adapted from World Pulse (6/27/03)

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, help me to promote a shared vision and mesh my energies with those of others to achieve it.

Becoming a Trusted Leader – Are You Kuhl or Wright?

Missionary in NigeriaWho Said It…Jim Plueddemann

Jim and his wife, Carol, served for 13 years in Nigeria with the large mission organization SIM.  Jim directed the Christian Education department for the Evangelical Church of West Africa.

He then taught at Wheaton College until he was tapped to become SIM’s international director.  After 10 years in that role, he returned to teaching.  Jim chairs the Department of Missions and Intercultural Studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Illinois.

What He Said…Are You Kuhl or Wright?

Even before he went to Africa, Joe Kuhl had a reputation for being a maverick.  After all, it took determination to go against the tide of family expectations to move half way around the world and learn a totally new language.  Joe arrived in northern Nigeria with a clear idea about how to study the Hausa language.  He even brought his own language tapes and conversational textbooks.  But he soon ran into difficulties.

George Wright, the district superintendent, reminded him that the approved language program required that he learn grammar rules and vocabulary.  George felt his task was to direct his district.  This Joe guy hadn’t been on the field two weeks and already wanted to redesign the whole language school.  George expected new recruits to fit into the team of experienced missionaries and the established language school.

Joe, on the other hand, expected leaders to be more encouraging.  Could both views of leadership come up short?  [Continued tomorrow]

Adapted from World Pulse (6/27/03)

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, help me to promote a shared vision and mesh my energies with those of others to achieve it.

Rev. Nightingale Returns to Central as Guest Preacher!

You may recall back in the early 1970’s, Rev. Norman J. Nightingale served as the pastor at Central Church.  For the four-year period from 1969 through 1973 Rev. Nightingale and his wife, Jeanette, along with their children, lived in our parsonage and participated in the daily life of our Church and community.

If your memory is especially sharp, you may also recall that Rev. Nightingale’s pastorate followed Rev. Hellmann (1966-1969) and preceded Rev. Hehman (1973-1980).  (Of course, I remember these dates clearly – with the aid of the “Ministers Who Have Served Central Church” memorial plaque in the back of the Sanctuary, of course!)

Rev. Norman J. Nightingale, Central’s Pastor from 1969-1974, returns after 44 years to preach during our worship service as our Guest Preacher – 10-22-2017

Fast forward to 2017, and it’s been an incredible 44 years since we’ve heard Rev. Nightingale preach or sing, or heard Jeanette play our piano.  Rev. Nightingale is now 89 years old and is living in Wellsboro in eastern Ohio.  He and Jeanette visited one of our feeding ministries recently just to say “Hi” and to walk through the building once again.  While he was here, someone suggested that it might be nice to have him to return to Central Church some Sunday to preach.

Well, that Someday was October 22, 2017 and we really enjoyed hearing Rev. Nightingale (now 89 years old) preach and his wife, Jeanette, accompany his singing on the baby grand piano.  It was truly a a joyous time of worship and fellowship!

Rev. Norman J. Nightingale, Central’s Pastor from 1969-1974, returns as a Guest Preacher – October 22, 2017

 

 

 

 

 

Learning to Give Like God – A Rich Fool

Stewardship - Growing Our Faith Through GenerosityKey Study Passage:  Luke 12:13-21

Generosity is a matter of the heart.  Like with the widow’s offering (Mark 12:41; Luke 21:1-4), it’s not how much you give, but the sacrifice you make through your giving that counts.

Do your actions reflect a heart that is fully surrendered and obedient to God?  Or like the rich fool are you selfishly hoarding what God has provided?

God has given us himself.  Who are we to do less?  Let’s be generous toward each other, not just with our money, but with every aspect of our lives.

  1. What was the rich fool’s sin?
  2. How can you avoid the rich fool’s sin as you enjoy what God has given you?
  3. How do you cultivate a heart of generosity in your daily life?
  4. Consider what giving sacrificially would look like (think beyond just money).
  5. Study other passages on stewardship or generosity. If you don’t know where to look, ask a pastor or trusted friend, or consult a concordance.

Spend Time in Prayer: Ask God to show you areas of your life where you are selfish; ask him to cultivate a heart of generosity within you.

Luke 12:13-21:

Parable of the Rich Fool

13 Then someone called from the crowd, “Teacher, please tell my brother to divide our father’s estate with me.”

14 Jesus replied, “Friend, who made me a judge over you to decide such things as that?” 15 Then he said, “Beware! Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own.”

16 Then he told them a story: “A rich man had a fertile farm that produced fine crops. 17 He said to himself, ‘What should I do? I don’t have room for all my crops.’ 18 Then he said, ‘I know! I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. Then I’ll have room enough to store all my wheat and other goods. 19 And I’ll sit back and say to myself, “My friend, you have enough stored away for years to come. Now take it easy! Eat, drink, and be merry!”‘

20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! You will die this very night. Then who will get everything you worked for?’

21 “Yes, a person is a fool to store up earthly wealth but not have a rich relationship with God.”

Prayer for the Week:  Father, give me the grace to put to death my selfish desires and habits so that I can generously give of myself to others.

Learning to Give Like God – Unconditional Giving

Stewardship - Growing Our Faith Through GenerosityKey Bible Verses:  Always be humble, gentle, and patient, accepting each other in love.  You are joined together with peace through the Spirit, so make every effort to continue together in this way. Ephesians 4:2-3

Dig Deeper:  James 3:13-18

We know in our hearts that God does not want us to be selfish people.  We know that we need to learn how to give.  That means giving beyond what feels natural to us.  It means learning to love unconditionally.

My son once said to me, “Dad, you love me because I love Christ, but you don’t love me when I’m having a difficult time.”  Sadly, he was right.  I had to learn to love my kids unconditionally.  My conditional love was selfish, because I wanted them to do good so I wouldn’t look bad.

If you are going to follow Christ, you have to give up living a selfish life.  Your life absolutely must be about him first, and about others second.  You come in last.

The moment you start giving of yourself, God is going to do a wonderful work in your life.

Maybe today you need to extend a little bit of forgiveness to someone.  Maybe today you need to show a little bit of grace to someone.  Maybe today you need to give a little bit of space to someone.

As you learn to give, God will take your attempts to be a giving person and multiply them.

—Steve Mays in Overcoming

My Response:  Is there anyone in particular I need to work on loving unconditionally?

Thought to Apply:  Let this be thy whole endeavor, this thy prayer, this thy desire—that thou may be stripped of all selfishness, and with entire simplicity follow Jesus only.—Thomas À Kempis (German monk)

Adapted from Overcoming ((Regal, 2012)

Prayer for the Week:  Father, give me the grace to put to death my selfish desires and habits so that I can generously give of myself to others.

Learning to Give Like God – What Jesus Wants

Stewardship - Growing Our Faith Through GenerosityKey Bible Verse: “You fool!  Tonight you will die.  Then who will get what you have stored up?”  – Luke 12:20

Dig Deeper:  James 4:13-5:6

The rich man thought it was time to enjoy life.  But notice God’s response in today’s Key Bible Verse.  This man mistakenly believed that his whole life was ahead of him.  But this man was on the edge of darkness.  Living for himself, he had no knowledge that God was going to require his soul that very night.  He spoke as though he were the master of his life.  Jesus said this man was a fool because he left God out of the equation.

Don’t we do the same thing?  We make decisions that we think are good, but we don’t seek the Lord or look into his Word.  We constantly think about what we need to make us feel better or more comfortable rather than what others might need.  And we’re not alone in that.  All around us we constantly see people living for themselves.

Jesus came to stop that.  He wants you and me to live for the glory of God; he wants us to learn what it means to die to self and put him first.  We need to stop for a moment and ask, What would Jesus want me to do in this situation?  We must bring him into the decisions of  our daily lives.

Steve Mays in Overcoming

My Response:  I will consider whether or not I am seeking God’s will in my daily decisions.

Thought to Apply:  When a man thinks he has got a good deal of strength, and is self-confident, you may look for his downfall.—D. L. Moody (pastor, evangelist)

Adapted from Overcoming ((Regal, 2012)

Prayer for the Week:  Father, give me the grace to put to death my selfish desires and habits so that I can generously give of myself to others.

Nepal Criminalizes Christian Conversion and Evangelism

Here is an article by from today’s online issue of Christianity Today concerning new criminal sanctions in Nepal targeting non-Hindus and foreign missionaries.

Nepal Criminalizes Christian Conversion and Evangelism

Last week, Nepal enacted a law to curb evangelism by criminalizing religious conversion, joining neighboring countries like India and Pakistan, where the region’s small-but-growing Christian minority faces government threats to their faith.

The “Nepali government [has] taken a regressive step as this law severely restricts our freedom of expression and our freedom of religion or belief,” said Tanka Subedi, chair of the national Religious Liberty Forum, to Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW). The pastor is 1 of an estimated 375,000 Christians living in the former Hindu kingdom.

The criminal code bill, which the parliament approved in August and President Bidhya Devi Bhandari signed last Monday, establishes further constitutional protections for Hinduism (which 80% of the population practices) by restricting religious conversion and “hurting of religious sentiment,” or blasphemy.

According to a Nepali Christian site, a section of the new law reads:

  • No one should involve or encourage in conversion of religion.

 

  • No one should convert a person from one religion to another religion or profess them own religion and belief with similar intention by using or not using any means of attraction and by disturbing religion or belief of any ethnic groups or community that being practiced since ancient times.

 

  • If found guilty; there will be punishment of five years of imprisonment and penalty of fifty thousand rupees [approximately $770 USD]. If foreigners are found guilty; they will have to be deported within seven days after completing the imprisonment in third clause.

The amended criminal sanctions come a decade after the longtime Hindu monarchy declared itself a secular state, and two years after it adopted a new constitution.

Article 26 of the constitution stated that, “No one shall attempt to change or convert someone from one religion to another, or disturb/jeopardize the religion of others, and such acts/activities shall be punishable by law.”

At the time, CT reported how religious freedom advocates worried that this line in particular could be used as “groundwork for future restrictions and discrimination.” The fears of Elijah Brown, chief of staff at the 21st Century Wilberforce Initiative, and others have come true.

Last year, courts dropped charges against Christians accused of evangelizing to students in the aftermath of the devastating earthquake in Kathmandu, but the case was enough to raise concerns over the “forcible conversion” law.

CSW founder Mervyn Thomas noted that anti-conversion laws tend to target religious minorities and worsen religious tensions. He stated in a press release:

We urge the Nepali government to repeal this unjust law and amend Article 26 (3) of the constitution as they both curtail the right to freedom of religion or belief and undermine Nepal’s commitments under international law, a contradiction made even more striking as Nepal assumes its seat on the Human Rights Council.

Some Christian commentators on the criminal code bill initially declared it a worse threat to minority faiths than living under the officially Hindu state in the years before. The bill proposed “five years of imprisonment and a penalty of 50,000 rupees for anyone found guilty of converting a person from one religion to another.”

A Catholic human rights activist in Nepal wrote last year:

If the bill is passed, it’s feared that it will result in a situation worse than Pakistan’s blasphemy law — a type of bill that can be misinterpreted and misused by anyone wanting to make a false accusation against anyone else.

More locally, this bill would mean Nepal would revert to a worse state of affairs than the previous Panchayat System (1960-1990), which resulted in minority religious groups being persecuted by the state.

As CT previously reported, Christians were banned from living in Nepal prior to 1960. Over the following decades, “Christianity grew by 10 to 20 percent annually, especially among Dalits at the bottom of Hindu society, making Nepal one of Asia’s most stunning church growth stories.”

Despite the legal threats in recent years, Nepal has seen its Christian population triple over the past decade or so due to conversions. Popular folk singer Raju Pariyar joined the faith and was baptized in 2015. But Christians still make up just 1.4 percent of the 29 million residents.

The US State Department flagged anti-conversion and blasphemy laws as one of its biggest concerns for religious freedom globally, stating in 2012 that “such laws often violate freedoms of religion and expression and often are applied in a discriminatory manner.”

All Saints Day – November 5, 2017

“All-Saints” 15th century. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Historically, the Church has confessed a belief in the “communion of the saints,” which includes not only all living believers, but also all who have gone before us.

When we celebrate Holy Communion, we experience the communion of saints, feasting with believers past, present and future. The author of Hebrews 12 reminds us that these saints, a “great cloud of witnesses,” surrounds us and cheers us on.

On All Saints Day, United Methodists publicly remember and honor those who have passed away. Celebrated on the first Sunday in November, many congregations light candles, ring bells of remembrance, and call the names of those lost in the previous year as a way of honoring the impact their lives have had on us.

This year, on All Saints Day. Central Church is inviting our folks to bring a flower or two in memory of a saint in their lives who has passed.  We will combine our flowers into a large vase in front of our Sanctuary as we remember the lives of those who have preceded us.

A Prayer Meditation for All Saints Day

by Safiyah Fosua

We give you thanks, O God, for all the saints who ever worshiped you
Whether in brush arbors or cathedrals,
Weathered wooden churches or crumbling cement meeting houses
Where your name was lifted and adored.

We give you thanks, O God, for hands lifted in praise:
Manicured hands and hands stained with grease or soil,
Strong hands and those gnarled with age
Holy hands
Used as wave offerings across the land.

We thank you, God, for hardworking saints;
Whether hard-hatted or steel-booted,
Head ragged or aproned,
Blue-collared or three-piece-suited
They left their mark on the earth for you, for us, for our children to come.

Thank you, God, for the tremendous sacrifices made by those who have gone before us.
Bless the memories of your saints, God.
May we learn how to walk wisely from their examples of faith, dedication, worship, and love.

Learning to Give Like God – Portrait of a Fool

Stewardship - Growing Our Faith Through GenerosityKey Bible Verse:  And I’ll sit back and say to myself, “My friend, you have enough stored away for years to come.  Now take it easy!  Eat, drink, and be merry!” Luke 12:19

Dig Deeper:  Luke 12:13-21

A parable in Luke 12 describes a man who chose to live his life for himself, and we read that he was foolish in his ownership.  His thoughts are revealing in verse 17: “What shall I do?” And then he thinks: “I have no room” and finally, “my crops.”  Verse 18 continues this selfish thinking: “I will do this: I will pull down” and “I will store.”  Then he says, “my crops and my goods.”  In verse 19, he says, “I will say to my soul … eat, drink, and be merry.”

His language reveals that there was no concept of God. It was all about him.

A selfish man does not bring God into the decisions of life.

Sometimes we leave God out of our marriage. Sometimes we leave him out of our business decisions, or we leave him out of our daily personal lives and bring him in only on Sunday morning.

God desires that we give him preeminence in all of life. The Lord requires that we surrender our lives to his authority. Too often, we are fearful that whatever we give to God, he will take away. But if it is taken away, that is ultimately good, because God knows it is dangerous to our hearts.

—Steve Mays in Overcoming

My Response:  What do my possessions, financial priorities, and spending habits reveal about my heart?

Thought to Apply:  None are so empty as those who are full of themselves.—Benjamin Whichcote (British philosopher, theologian)

Adapted from Overcoming (Regal, 2012)

Prayer for the Week:  Father, give me the grace to put to death my selfish desires and habits so that I can generously give of myself to others.

Learning to Give Like God – Eyes off Yourself

Stewardship - Growing Our Faith Through GenerosityKey Bible Verse:  In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus. Philippians 2:5

Dig Deeper:  Philippians 2:3-8

The Word of God repeatedly stresses that we are to live a Christlike life. We are to pattern our lives after Jesus Christ, who gave himself for the sake of others, willing to die so that we might live.

Paul said: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me”  (Galatians 2:20).

So we are to die to who we are so that we can begin to live for the glory of God.

Why is selfishness such a dangerous issue?  A selfish person looks on himself as the ultimate answer and the ultimate point of concern.  Yet the Bible says that we are not to look upon our own interests and needs; rather, we are to look upon the interests of others (see Phil. 2:4).

We’re not to be concerned about our own lives; God will take care of all that (see Matt. 6:25-34).  Instead, we are to be gracious.  We are to be the givers, not takers.  We are to be understanding and extend that gift of life to others.

—Steve Mays in Overcoming

My Response:  In what area of my life am I most tempted to be selfish?

Thought to Apply:  Human history is the sad result of each one looking out for himself.—Julio Cortazar (Belgian writer)

Adapted from Overcoming (Regal, 2012)

Prayer for the Week:  Father, give me the grace to put to death my selfish desires and habits so that I can generously give of myself to others.

Learning to Give Like God – A Change of Heart

Stewardship - Growing Our Faith Through GenerosityKey Bible Verse:  When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Romans 5:6

Dig Deeper:  Romans 5:6-11

Throughout the Bible we find countless examples of men and women who desired to make their own choices counter to God’s expressed will.  And that’s the danger of selfishness—we make decisions thinking that we know better than God, or we disagree with God and desire to live a certain lifestyle.

God says that he is the Lord of all.  He is always to have preeminence over our lives. He made us; he bought us; we belong to him.  Selfishness will breed contempt for others and for God’s authority, destroy a marriage, chase the children out of the home, destroy a business, and ultimately destroy a person’s life.  A truly better path is dying to self and living for Jesus Christ.

What should really spur our hearts toward selfless living is the commitment of our Lord Jesus Christ to us.  God gave his very best when he gave us his own Son.  And he gave Christ to us when we were alienated from God.  Each of us was living in sin and on our way to hell when God reached out and gave us the gift of forgiveness of our sins and eternal life with him.

If we want to overcome a selfish life, we need to learn to give like God.

—Steve Mays in Overcoming

My Response: I will reflect on God’s gift of his only son.

Adapted from Overcoming (Regal, 2012)

Prayer for the Week:  Father, give me the grace to put to death my selfish desires and habits so that I can generously give of myself to others.

All Saints Day: A holy day John Wesley loved

“All-Saints” 15th century. Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

November 1 is All Saints Day, a sometimes-overlooked holy day in United Methodist congregations. It is not nearly as well known as the day before, All Hallows’ (Saints’) Eve, better known as Halloween, but is far more important in the life of the church.

John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement, enjoyed and celebrated All Saints Day. In a journal entry from November 1, 1767, Wesley calls it “a festival I truly love.” On the same day in 1788, he writes, “I always find this a comfortable day.” The following year he calls it “a day that I peculiarly love.”

This may sound odd. United Methodists don’t believe in saints. Right?

Well, yes… and no.

Wesley cautioned against holding saints in too high regard. The Articles of Religion that he sent to the Methodists in America in 1784, include a statement against “invocation of saints” (Article XIV—Of Purgatory, Book of Discipline ¶104). Wesley did not see biblical evidence for the practice and discouraged Methodists from participating.

However, he also advised against disregarding the saints altogether.

John Wesley, founder of Methodist movement, celebrated All Saints Day, calling it a “festival I truly love.” TWEET THISTWEET THIS

Tradition: A Theological Guideline

In studying John Wesley’s theological method, scholars have found four, inter-related theological guidelines: Scripture, tradition, experience, and reason. These are the sources of our understanding of our faith.

By tradition we mean all that has gone before us in the Christian church. We are part of a long history that goes back through John Wesley, to the early days of the Church, and the apostles of Jesus. When we think theologically we need to keep in mind the creeds, prayers, sermons, books, music, and all other ways Christians have understood the work of God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit in their lives.

In an All Saints Day journal entry dated Monday, November 1, 1756, Wesley writes, “How superstitious are they who scruple giving God solemn thanks for the lives and deaths of his saints!” If your 18th century English is as rusty as mine, it might help to know that the word scruple means, “to be unwilling to do something because you think it is improper, morally wrong, etc.” (Merriam-Webster.com).

Those to glory gone

All Saints Day is an opportunity to give thanks for all those who have gone before us in the faith. It is a time to celebrate our history, what United Methodists call the tradition of the church.

From the early days of Christianity, there is a sense that the Church consists of not only all living believers, but also all who have gone before us. For example, in Hebrews 12 the author encourages Christians to remember that a “great cloud of witnesses” surrounds us encouraging us, cheering us on.

Charles Wesley, John’s brother, picks up on this theme in his hymn that appears in our United Methodist Hymnal as “Come, Let Us Join our Friends Above,” #709. In the first verse, he offers a wonderful image of the Church through the ages:

Let saints on earth unite to sing, with those to glory gone,
for all the servants of our King in earth and heaven, are one.

On All Saints Day we remember all those—famous or obscure—who are part of the “communion of saints” we confess whenever we recite The Apostles’ Creed. We tell the stories of the saints “to glory gone.”

Charles Wesley wrote hymns that express his theology.

Charles Wesley wrote hymns that express his theology. “Charles-Wesley-preaching” by William Gush, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Alongside the likes of Paul from the New Testament, Augustine, Martin Luther, and John and Charles Wesley, we tell stories of the grandmother who took us to church every Sunday. We remember the pastor who prayed with us in the hospital, and the neighbor who changed the oil in the family car. We give thanks for the youth leader who told us Jesus loved us, the kindergarten Sunday school teacher who showered us with that love, and the woman in the church who bought us groceries when we were out of work.

Retelling these stories grounds us in our history. These memories teach us how God has provided for us through the generosity and sacrifice of those who have come before us. The stories of the saints encourage us to be all God has created us to be.

Saints on earth

Charles Wesley’s hymn tells us those “to glory gone” are joined by the “saints on earth,” whom we also celebrate on All Saints Day. We think of the inspirational people with whom we worship on Sunday, and those across the world we will never meet. We celebrate fellow United Methodists who inspire us, and those of other denominations whose lives encourage us. We give thanks for those with whom we agree, as well as those whose views we do not share.

Additionally, we remember and pray for our sisters and brothers in Christ who faithfully follow Jesus in places where being labeled a Christian puts them in harm’s way.

One song

On All Saints Day, we recognize that we are part of a giant choir singing the same song. It is the song Jesus taught his disciples; a tune that has resonated for more than 2,000 years; a melody sung in glory and on the earth. Our great privilege is to add our voices to this chorus.

The last verse of “Come, Let Us Join our Friends Above” encourages us to sing faithfully while on earth, so we might join the heavenly chorus one day.

Our spirits too shall quickly join, like theirs with glory crowned,
and shout to see our Captain’s sign, to hear His trumpet sound.

O that we now might grasp our Guide! O that the word were given!
Come, Lord of Hosts, the waves divide, and land us all in heaven.

On All Saints Day, let us give thanks for both the saints in glory and those on earth, who have led us to Jesus. As they have shared the gospel with us, may we add our voices so someone else may hear about the grace and love of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Thanks be to God for the lives of his saints.

*Joe Iovino works for UMC.org at United Methodist Communications. Contact him by email or at 615-312-3733.

Learning to Give Like God – Flint, Sponge, or Honeycomb?

Stewardship - Growing Our Faith Through GenerosityKey Study Passage:  Luke 12:13-21

The Parable of the Rich Fool

13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

14 Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” 15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”

16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

Who Said It … Steve Mays

Steve Mays is a former biker gang member turned senior pastor of Calvary Chapel South Bay in Gardena, California.  He holds a master’s degree in theology from Azusa Pacific University.

He is a well-known conference speaker and radio personality through the Light of the Word broadcast, and the author of Overcoming—the book from which this week’s readings are adapted.  Steve has been married to his wife, Gail, for 40 years.  They have two grown children and four grandchildren.

What he Said … Flint, Sponge, or Honeycomb?

Someone once said that there are three types of givers in life.  One type is a flint, another is a sponge, and the third is a honeycomb.  To get anything out of the flint, it must be hammered; even then, all that results are chips and sparks.  To get anything out of the sponge, it must be continually squeezed and put under pressure.  Finally, there is the honeycomb, just overflowing with its own sweetness.

We can apply this analogy to our hearts.  Sometimes, like the flint, God needs to work in our hearts in a difficult way in order for us to receive his goodness and then give it out.  Sometimes, like a sponge, God needs to squeeze us and put pressure on us to bring forth any life from our hearts.  Other times, like the honeycomb, we come to understand the goodness and grace of God, and love for other people overflows from our full hearts.

Adapted from Overcoming (Regal, 2012)

Prayer for the Week:  Father, give me the grace to put to death my selfish desires and habits so that I can generously give of myself to others.

Living the Good News of Reconciliation – Responding to Injustice and Inequality

Racial Tensions in Schools“Of all the prophets who wrote after the exile, Zechariah is my favorite,” says John Perkins, a leader in a ministry to marginalized people. ”

He understands the problems of my neighborhood.  And he says God is going to fix the mess we’re in.  All I have to do is join up and be a part of what God is doing.”

This week’s study draws from John’s insights found in chapter six of Welcoming Justice .

Key Study Passage:

Zechariah 8

1.      What does verse 2 tell us about God’s relationship with Jerusalem?  How can this be applied to his relationship to the church? (See Ephesians 5:25-29.)

 

2.      What did Zechariah mean when he said Jerusalem “will be called the Faithful City” (v. 3)?  How had Jerusalem been unfaithful?  (See  Isaiah 1:21-23.)  In what ways has the church been unfaithful?

 

3.      In verses 4 through 15, what do we learn about God’s desire for Israel?  How do the truths in these verses apply to the church?

 

4.      According to verses 16 through 19, how should God’s people act?

 

 

5.      What happens when God’s people live in the way they’re supposed to? (See vv. 20-23; Matthew 5:14-15.)

 

Spend Time in Prayer: Ask God to show you how to respond to the injustice and inequality you see around you; spend time interceding specifically for the poor and disenfranchised who live in your .

 

 

Zechariah 8

Promised Blessings for Jerusalem

1 Then another message came to me from the LORD of Heaven’s Armies: 2 “This is what the LORD of Heaven’s Armies says: My love for Mount Zion is passionate and strong; I am consumed with passion for Jerusalem!

3 “And now the LORD says: I am returning to Mount Zion, and I will live in Jerusalem. Then Jerusalem will be called the Faithful City; the mountain of the LORD of Heaven’s Armies will be called the Holy Mountain.

4 “This is what the LORD of Heaven’s Armies says: Once again old men and women will walk Jerusalem’s streets with their canes and will sit together in the city squares. 5 And the streets of the city will be filled with boys and girls at play.

6 “This is what the LORD of Heaven’s Armies says: All this may seem impossible to you now, a small remnant of God’s people. But is it impossible for me? says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies.

7 “This is what the LORD of Heaven’s Armies says: You can be sure that I will rescue my people from the east and from the west. 8 I will bring them home again to live safely in Jerusalem. They will be my people, and I will be faithful and just toward them as their God.

9 “This is what the LORD of Heaven’s Armies says: Be strong and finish the task! Ever since the laying of the foundation of the Temple of the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, you have heard what the prophets have been saying about completing the building. 10 Before the work on the Temple began, there were no jobs and no money to hire people or animals. No traveler was safe from the enemy, for there were enemies on all sides. I had turned everyone against each other.

11 “But now I will not treat the remnant of my people as I treated them before, says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. 12 For I am planting seeds of peace and prosperity among you. The grapevines will be heavy with fruit. The earth will produce its crops, and the heavens will release the dew. Once more I will cause the remnant in Judah and Israel to inherit these blessings. 13 Among the other nations, Judah and Israel became symbols of a cursed nation. But no longer! Now I will rescue you and make you both a symbol and a source of blessing. So don’t be afraid. Be strong, and get on with rebuilding the Temple!

14 “For this is what the LORD of Heaven’s Armies says: I was determined to punish you when your ancestors angered me, and I did not change my mind, says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. 15 But now I am determined to bless Jerusalem and the people of Judah. So don’t be afraid. 16 But this is what you must do: Tell the truth to each other. Render verdicts in your courts that are just and that lead to peace. 17 Don’t scheme against each other. Stop your love of telling lies that you swear are the truth. I hate all these things, says the LORD.”

18 Here is another message that came to me from the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. 19 “This is what the LORD of Heaven’s Armies says: The traditional fasts and times of mourning you have kept in early summer, midsummer, autumn, and winter are now ended. They will become festivals of joy and celebration for the people of Judah. So love truth and peace.

20 “This is what the LORD of Heaven’s Armies says: People from nations and cities around the world will travel to Jerusalem. 21 The people of one city will say to the people of another, ‘Come with us to Jerusalem to ask the LORD to bless us. Let’s worship the LORD of Heaven’s Armies. I’m determined to go.’ 22 Many peoples and powerful nations will come to Jerusalem to seek the LORD of Heaven’s Armies and to ask for his blessing.

23 “This is what the LORD of Heaven’s Armies says: In those days ten men from different nations and languages of the world will clutch at the sleeve of one Jew. And they will say, ‘Please let us walk with you, for we have heard that God is with you.'”

Prayer for the Week:   Heavenly Father, show me what it means to have authentic relationships within your diverse body of believers; give me deeper insights into my prejudices; make me a catalyst for peace and reconciliation.

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Living the Good News of Reconciliation – Refusing to Be Quiet

Love Your Enemies 3Key Bible Verse:  How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity!  Psalm 133:1, NIV

Dig Deeper:  John 17:23; 1 Corinthians 1:10

(continued from yesterday)  That first Friday, a racially mixed group of 25 uncomfortable teenagers gathered in the assigned classroom, with the three original boy,s the only ones actually looking like they wanted to be there.

But something began to happen that day.  One of the three boys started the conversation by confessing his own hurt and bias.  Voice after voice followed.  Sometimes it was confession, sometimes confrontation, but honesty ruled that hour.

The following week, 50 high-schoolers piled into that classroom, and the conversation began to migrate from confession and confrontation to reconciliation.  There were even times when students would get up, walk across the room, and embrace one another.

The third week, the gathering had to be held in the auditorium.  It had become positively uncool not to be there.

These three are not teenagers anymore.  They have grown up and moved on, but their legacy remains.  That school is more racially unified than it would have ever been otherwise, and it is only because three mostly unremarkable teenage boys would not remain passive.

They rejected the unbiblical status quo, and refused to be quiet about it.  Just three regular teenage boys, but they left something beautiful behind.

—Paul Tripp in Broken-Down House

 

My Response: In what ways have I accepted the “unbiblical status quo”?  What steps could I take to change that?

 

Thought to Apply: Men’s hearts ought not to be set against one another, but set with one another, and all against evil only.—Thomas Carlyle (Scottish essayist)

Adapted from Broken-Down House (Shepherd Press, 2009)

Prayer for the Week:   Heavenly Father, show me what it means to have authentic relationships within your diverse body of believers; give me deeper insights into my prejudices; make me a catalyst for peace and reconciliation.

Living the Good News of Reconciliation – Just Three Boys…

Love Your Enemies 3Key Bible Verse:  “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.”  – John 13:35

Dig Deeper:  John13:34; Leviticus 19:18

Three 13-year-old boys were attending a large and well-known Christian school.  But there were problems.  Tensions between black kids and white kids only seemed to grow each week.  There hadn’t been any violence, at least not yet.  And much of the racism was covert.  But it was there, and real, and undeniable.

This was not acceptable to the boys.  Theirs was a Christian school.  It was supposed to be known for its love.  Yet the culture of this school had become defined by worldly stereotypes and division.  They were just three teenage boys and not even recognized as student leaders.  But they decided to do something.

There in his office, having a conversation he never could have imagined that day, the headmaster found their idea a little scary, but the boys were politely not taking no for an answer.  He realized it could all go wrong.  Yet, they were right: the racism was real and growing worse.

So he allowed them to try holding a weekly Friday-afternoon discussion on race relations in the school.  He directed them to get two teachers to give oversight to the gatherings.  And, as they had asked, he arranged for information to be included in each Friday’s morning announcements, broadcast to the homerooms. [continued  tomorrow]

—Paul Tripp in Broken-Down House

 

My Response:  What can I do to become more in tune with the subtle racism around me?

 

Thought to Apply:  I will not let any man make me lower myself by hating him.—Booker T. Washington (educator, writer, orator, political leader)

Adapted from Broken-Down House (Shepherd Press, 2009)

Prayer for the Week:   Heavenly Father, show me what it means to have authentic relationships within your diverse body of believers; give me deeper insights into my prejudices; make me a catalyst for peace and reconciliation.

Living the Good News of Reconciliation – Inviting Jesus In

Love Your Enemies 2Key Bible Verse:  Always be humble and gentle.  Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.  Ephesians 4:2

Dig Deeper:  Ephesians 4:1-4

When Rick was 12, he and his brother were attacked by an angry black youth.  After several swings, the fight broke up, but Rick began to hold a fear in his heart about young black men.

Later, as Rick grew in his commitment to reconciliation and justice, he knew that he had to deal with the memory of his fight and the stereotype of young black men that it enforced.  So during a special prayer time, Rick invited Jesus into his memory.

In his mind’s eye, Rick saw Jesus enter the baseball field where the fight happened, break it up, look at the young black man and speak words of tenderness to break through his defenses.

As Rick watched Jesus, he began to feel immense woundedness in the young man that had resulted in rage, and Rick began to feel compassion.   As a result, Rick was empowered by Jesus to extend forgiveness out of a new understanding, to pray for the young man, and to ask for God’s forgiveness for himself.

Jesus cleansed Rick that day and freed him to make a commitment to work for a world where people of color will not have so many reasons for rage.

—Brenda Salter McNeil and Rick Richardson in The Heart of Racial Justice

 

My Response:  In what ways have I bought into harmful stereotypes and destructive prejudices?  I need to invite Jesus into this bad memory that’s fueled by fear and/or anger: …

 

Thought to Apply:  The number one problem in our world is alienation, rich versus poor, black versus white, labor versus management, conservative versus liberal, East versus West .… But Christ came to bring about reconciliation and peace.—Billy Graham (evangelist)

Adapted from The Heart of Racial Justice (IVP, 2004)

Prayer for the Week:   Heavenly Father, show me what it means to have authentic relationships within your diverse body of believers; give me deeper insights into my prejudices; make me a catalyst for peace and reconciliation.

Chinese House Church Leaders and Toddler Arrested After Singing in Public Park

The Communist country proves that it is serious about its newest religious restrictions.  Here is an article from today’s Christianity Today by

Chinese House Church Leaders and Toddler Arrested After Singing in Public Park

Chinese officials warned Xu Shizhen in August that publicly sharing her faith puts her in violation of the government policy. It wasn’t her first run-in with authorities; five years before, her previous church was forcibly seized by officials and given to China’s official Three-Self Patriotic Movement church, according to ChinaAid.

After that, she started Zion Church. By singing, dancing, and preaching in the parks and public spaces of Xianning, Hubei province, Xu’s ministry broke the new law, which confines most faith activities to the walls of registered churches.

Last month, Xu, her daughter Xu Yuqing, and her three-year-old grandson Xu Shouwang were arrested; the two women were transferred to other facilities while the boy was held at the station. Christian advocates in China report that their exact whereabouts remain unknown.

Their detention came just two weeks after China toughened up its restrictions on religious activities.

“The new religion regulations are sweeping in scope and, if fully enforced, could mean major changes for China’s unregistered church, not only in its worship and meeting practices, but also engagement in areas such as Christian education, media, and interaction with the global church,” wrote ChinaSource president Brent Fulton.

“Yet the nature of these activities and, indeed, of much religious practice throughout China, makes enforcement extremely problematic.”

It appears enforcement, at least in Xu’s Xianan district of Xianning, is going to be strict. The regulations—which include prohibitions against publishing religious materials without approval, accepting donations without approval, or renting space an unregistered church—don’t even officially go into effect until February 2018.

Other provinces have been coming down especially hard on religious education for children. In Zhejiang province—where hundreds of crosses were torn off churches over the past several years—elementary and middle school children weren’t allowed to attend church or Sunday school this summer.

In Wenzhou, a coastal city in Zhejiang province nicknamed “China’s Jerusalem,” officials warned more than 100 churches to keep their teens home from summer camps or Sunday schools.

North of Zhejiang, officials in Henan province also forbid church summer camps, claiming the hot summer temperatures would be unhealthy for youth.

China’s young Christians drew international attention over the summer when two were killed by ISIS in Pakistan. Meng Li Si, 26, and Li Xinheng, 24, were teaching in a private school in Quetta when they were kidnapped and murdered.

Their deaths prompted scrutiny from both China and Pakistan, where interior minister Chaundhry Nisar called for a tightening of the process that issues visas to Chinese nationals.

Meng and Li were in Pakistan on business visas, two among the thousands of Chinese sent west to help build infrastructure and trade routes as part of China’s “One Belt, One Road” trade push. The initiative has already been identified by China’s Christians—who want to send out thousands of missionaries—as a natural avenue for the gospel.

Living the Good News of Reconciliation – Transfusion of Hope

Love Your EnemiesKey Bible Verse:  “But I say, love your enemies!  Pray for those who persecute you!”  Matthew 5:44

Dig Deeper:  Matthew 5:38-47

John Perkins played a key role in my own enlightenment on racial issues.  In 1974, ten years after the landmark Civil Rights Bill, I accepted his invitation to visit the small town of Mendenhall, just south of Jackson.

As a black minister, Perkins had lived through the worst nightmares of the Civil Rights movement.  I heard the stories of his own encounters with violent sheriffs and the Ku Klux Klan during the week I spent in Mississippi.

After one horrific night of torture in jail, Perkins underwent a crisis of faith:

“It was time for me to decide if I really did believe what I’d so often professed, that only in the love of Christ, not in power of violence, is there any hope for me or the world. I began to see how hate could destroy me. In the end, I had to agree with Dr. King that God wanted us to return good for evil, not evil for evil. ‘Love your enemy,’ Jesus said. And I determined to do it. It’s a profound, mysterious truth, Jesus’ concept of love overpowering hate. I may not see it in my lifetime. But I know it’s true. Because on that bed, full of bruises and stitches, God made it true in me. I got a transfusion of hope.”

—Philip Yancey in Welcoming Justice

 

My Response:  A time when I have actually seen love overpower hate was …

 

Thought to Apply:  Love is redemptive, and this is why Jesus says love.  There’s something about love that builds up and is creative.  There is something about hate that tears down and is destructive.  So love your enemies.—Martin Luther King Jr. (clergyman, civil rights leader)

Adapted from Welcoming Justice (IVP, 2009)

Prayer for the Week:   Heavenly Father, show me what it means to have authentic relationships within your diverse body of believers; give me deeper insights into my prejudices; make me a catalyst for peace and reconciliation.

Living the Good News of Reconciliation – Restored Relationships

Reconciliation 2Key Bible Verse:  For Christ himself has brought peace to us.  He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us.  Ephesians 2:14

Dig Deeper:  Ephesians 2:11-22

We’ve been so dehumanized by this world’s system that we think it’s natural to live for ourselves alone.  But it’s not.

God wants to restore us to the authentic relationships we were made for.  That’s what reconciliation is all about.

We’ve got a Father who loves us and who created us for real relationship.  But sin has separated us from authentic relationships.  It has put up these walls around us; it keeps us from knowing God and from being known by other people.

The Good News, though, is that Jesus has broken down the walls. (See the Key Bible Verse.)  The Bible says that God’s whole purpose in Jesus was to create a new community “and in one body to reconcile … us to God through the cross” (Ephesians 2:16, TNIV).

God reconciles us to himself as he restores us to authentic relationship with our neighbors and enemies through the cross.

If the gospel is going to connect with the deep yearning of this generation, we’re going to have to learn how to invite people into authentic relationships . Thankfully, that’s what a lot of the Bible is about.

—John Perkins in Welcoming Justice

 

My Response:  I will reflect on how today’s Key Bible Verse applies to the way I relate to others from different races, cultures, and social/economic backgrounds.

Adapted from Welcoming Justice (IVP, 2009)

Prayer for the Week:   Heavenly Father, show me what it means to have authentic relationships within your diverse body of believers; give me deeper insights into my prejudices; make me a catalyst for peace and reconciliation.

Living the Good News of Reconciliation – Let’s Rebuild the Church

Church ReconciliationWho Said It … John Perkins

John Perkins was born in 1930 in the Deep South.  The object of violent racism, he was beaten nearly to death in 1970 in a Mississippi jail.  He had every reason to respond with bitterness and rage. Instead, he responded with love and forgiveness.

A much sought-after speaker on issues related to race and reconciliation, John has ministered among the poor for nearly 50 years. He is the author of several books including his recently released autobiography Love Is the Final Fight.

 

What He Said … Let’s Rebuild the Church

The church has been captivated by a church-growth strategy that says people are more likely to come to a church where most of the other people are like them.  So pastors in the suburbs catered their services and programs to middle class “seekers.”  Which means the poor aren’t members of our big churches.

If the gospel of reconciliation is going to interrupt the brokenness in society, our churches are going to have to rethink their strategy.  When I read the Bible, I always bring the problems of my community to God and ask when in history God’s people have had to face a similar challenge.  As I look at our situation today and the problems we face, I hear God speaking to the church in the words that he spoke through his prophets after the exile.  Coming out of our cultural captivity, I hear God saying that this is a time for rebuilding the church and remembering what it really means to be Christ’s body in the world.

 

This Week’s Key Study Passage:  Zechariah 8

          Adapted from Welcoming Justice (IVP, 2009).   

 

Prayer for the Week:  Heavenly Father, show me what it means to have authentic relationships within your diverse body of believers; give me deeper insights into my prejudices; make me a catalyst for peace and reconciliation.

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Contagious Faith – When the Light Turns Green

Truck Driving at NightQ. How do you decide when to share your faith?

A.  Even those whom we peg as least apt to need God most likely will welcome meaningful spiritual conversation at some point in their lives.  Our job is not to force that intersection but to be ready for the opportunity.

Q. How do productive spiritual conversations come about?

A. Three factors must be in place: example, timing and content.

Q. Tell us about the right example.

A. Our actions must match our words. We do not have to be perfect, but we do have to be genuine and credible. There must be unmistakable evidence that we are attempting to practice the very message we are proclaiming. the old saying rings true: We are the only Bible some people will ever read.

Q. What about the right timing?

A. According to Proverbs 27:14: “If a man loudly blesses his neighbor early in the morning, it will be taken as a curse.”  The right words at the wrong time sabotage effectiveness.  Sharing faith requires a combination of patience and boldness: We need to hold our tongue until the light turns green, but then we don’t need to be shy about stepping on the accelerator.

Q. And the right content?

A. Launching into an analysis of the Trinity when our coworker is having trouble simply understanding God’s love probably will yield nothing more significant than a blank stare. “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity,” counsels the Apostle Paul in Colossians 4:5.

Example, timing and content are all Holy Spirit issues.  We will not drive them on our own.  But when He directs our spiritual conversation with colleagues, it is like cruising down a highway with no other traffic.  If it works in the tractor cab of an 18-wheeler in the middle of the night, it ought to work anywhere.

—- Thomas Addington and Stephen Graves are founding editors of The Life@Work Journal.

Adapted from Life@Work (7-8/99)

Prayer:  God, help me to live my life to shine as a light for You.

Contagious Faith – Trucker to Trucker

Truck Driving at NightKey Bible Verse:  For since the creation of the world, God’s invisible qualities—, his eternal power and divine nature— have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made. Romans 1:20a

Bonus Reading:  Romans 1:16-21

My employer required tractor-trailer drivers to run 24 hours a day as two-man teams in five-hour shifts.  Spending that much time every week in the close confines of a tractor cab allowed for lengthy discussions.

Most of the drivers knew I was a follower of Jesus.  Some were quietly unhappy about it.  So our conversations focused instead on issues truck drivers often discuss – —their families, the unpredictable behavior of “four-wheelers,” incompetent dispatchers and unfair state troopers.

But somewhere between 10 p.m. and 2 a.m. the mood would become reflective—, almost meditative.  There was something about that time of the day, combined with the majesty of creation so evident in places like the Great Smoky Mountains— with the moon out on a cloudless night —that inevitably directed talk toward spiritual things.

They brought God up; I never had to.  Tough men became pliable, hardened hearts opened, and trivial conversation turned eternal.

We all have a void inside that can filled only by a relationship with Jesus.

—- Thomas Addington in Life@Work

Personal Challenge:   When people look at you, what attracts them to Jesus?

Thought to Apply:  Our task as laymen is to live our personal communion with Christ with such intensity as to make it contagious.  – —Paul Tournier (Late Swiss Psychiatrist)

Adapted from Life@Work (7-8/99)

Prayer:  God, help me to live my life to shine as a light for You.

Contagious Faith – Bathrobe Performance

Man in BathrobeKey Bible Verse:  Be prepared in season and out of season … keep your head in all situations.  – 2 Timothy 4:2b, 5a

Bonus Reading:  2 Timothy 4:1-5

I woke up to the familiar sound of the 6:00 news.  That day it was particularly depressing.  A woman had shot her boyfriend, a man admitted poisoning his wife, political campaigns were growing more negative.  Jim Scott, the usually upbeat deejay, said, “Won’t somebody call in with some good news?”

As I lay there in bed, still half asleep, I thought, “That’s a 50,000-watt station.  Somebody needs to grab this chance to say something positive for Christ!”  Then it struck me: I am somebody.  I dialed the number.  A few minutes later, Jim Scott put me on the air.

Thinking quickly, I told how my church had recently purchased an old church building in a center-city neighborhood.  I shared my excitement about how university students and community residents were pooling their resources and working hard to refurbish an old building to use as a place of worship and an activity center for youth.  After a few minutes, the deejay thanked me for calling, and I hung up.

Standing there in my bathrobe, I laughed out loud as I thought, “I must be dreaming!  I think I just spoke on the radio to hundreds of thousands of people!”

—- David Faust in Faith Under Fire

Personal Challenge:  What would you say to someone who asked you to share some good news?

Thought to Apply: When the heart is on fire, sparks will fly out of the mouth. – Anonymous

Adapted from— Faith Under Fire (Standard, 1997)

Prayer:  God, help me to live my life to shine as a light for You.

How to hear a sermon for all it’s worth

When we listen to a sermon, there are things we can do to hear God speaking to us. Photo by Ben White, courtesy ChristianPics.co.

  •  A UMC.org Feature by the Rev. Larry Buxton*

According to a recent Gallup survey, three out of four churchgoers say the sermon is a major factor in why we attend. Yet, we have all experienced moments when the message seems to pass by us. Sometimes we catch our minds wandering during the sermon. Other times we cannot recall the main point of the message on Monday morning. A few tips can enable us to listen more effectively.

There’s a grammar to a good sermon. In his book The Four Pages of the Sermon, author and professor Paul Scott Wilson teaches preachers the “parts of speech” that help bring out the deepest meaning of the message. Listening for them helps us engage the sermon more fully.

Drilling without novocaine

A good sermon needs to confront fearlessly the brokenness in or behind the Bible passage. A friend once described this part of the sermon as “drilling without novocaine.”

1. Trouble in the Text. Listen for the painful problem. Every strong sermon will want us to grasp the brokenness or suffering that’s going on in the Bible passage being preached. A good preacher will explore and make vivid the trouble caused by a dangerous ruler, a devastating famine, an unhealed disease, a selfish neighbor, or an unjust society.

Retired United Methodist pastor Larry Buxton shares tips on ways to more effectively hear a sermon.

Retired United Methodist pastor the Rev. Larry Buxton shares tips on how to listen to sermons more effectively. Photo courtesy the Rev. Larry Buxton.

I once heard a sermon on Joseph from Matthew 1:18-25, for example, which explained the abuse Joseph faced by choosing to stand by Mary. He not only met ridicule for a pregnant fiancée that he hadn’t touched, he also defied the Scriptural commandment to have Mary stoned. His was a difficult road too. Study plus imagination can help you, the hearer, grasp this.
One of the four major components of a good sermon is this naming the painful underside of the passage. Listen for it.

2. Trouble in Our World. Listen for how the preacher links that ancient problem to today. The sermon isn’t a lecture about 2000 year-old dilemmas and historical crises. It should link the Biblical world with our own, so that we will be confronted with our identical faithlessness, trouble and injustice. The gospel won’t feel like Good News to us if we’re unaware of any bad news among us, or within us.

That Joseph sermon brought Joseph’s dilemma into today. In hearing that sermon I was reminded of the ways I teased long-ago classmates because of their skin condition, speech problems, and reputation. The preacher convicted me that I was complicit in the bad news of human sinfulness. Making that connection is important.

Surprise!

In the rest of the sermon, listen for the reversal of the “bad news.” After announcing the trouble, the pastor will proclaim the unexpected good news of Jesus in the Bible passage and for our world.

3. Good News in the Text. Almost every sermon includes the announcement of God’s power acting in our world. Your preacher should name what God (or Jesus, or the Holy Spirit) actually did: healed, forgave, created, united, strengthened. Listen for the turnaround, the surprising pivot from trouble to grace, in the sermon.

This is obviously the most important section to listen for, the heart of every sermon. Without it, we’re left either with an analysis of society or a pep talk: “Go out there and try harder!” With it, you’re hearing grace-filled God-given news.

When we hear to a sermon, we listen for the word of God spoken to us.

When we hear a sermon, we listen for the word of God spoken to us. File photo by Mike DuBose, United Methodist Communications.

In a sermon on Joseph, the preacher might say, “But God gave Joseph the courage to endure ridicule,” or “God helped Joseph remain faithful to his call.” This is Good News—that God strengthened his faithful but beleaguered servant to stand for kindness, faithfulness and integrity.

4. Good News in our World. The final listening challenge is to hear how God is still acting in the world today. God (or Jesus or the Spirit) didn’t stop doing this holy work 2000 years ago. The preacher can inspire hope by showing us ways that God is still working in our society today.

This is often best done in stories. In the Joseph sermon I recall, we were told of a man who was being cajoled into being a “team player” and participating in a scheme to bilk his company. The pressure was strong. But he replied, “Guys, I just can’t do that. I’m a Baptist.” That took courage—God-given courage.

Many good sermons omit a component of “sermon grammar” and still convey powerful meaning. But if you listen for how these aspects are (or are not) included in the message, you might hear clearer declarations of the awesome Word of God.

*The Rev. Larry Buxton is a retired elder in the Virginia Conference of the United Methodist Church, the Faculty Director of the Course of Study at Wesley Theological Seminar, and a clergy coach.
Media Contact: Joe Iovino, United Methodist Communications. Contact him by email or at 615-312-3733.

Contagious Faith – When Curt Broke

A Broken LifeKey Bible Verse: Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. 1 Peter 2:12

Bonus Reading:  Philippians 2:14-16

Richard is a developer of condominiums.  His partner, Curt, enjoyed working with him because he knew Richard could be trusted.  But in spite of Richard’s faith, character and strong family relationships, Curt was not interested in spiritual matters.

Richard knew better than to force the issue.  For nine years he just continued to live the life and pray for Curt.  Finally, on a business trip out west, Curt turned to Richard and blurted out, “I became a Christian.”

Curt’s family had been slowly spiraling toward disaster for years.  When he was forced to hospitalize his son for an addiction, he broke.  But throughout the breaking process he had watched Richard and his family.  Now he knew his best option was to ask God for help.

Today Curt and his family are making huge strides towards putting things back together.  Curt never misses church and reads everything Richard puts into his hands.  His son is out of the hospital.  He and his wife are rebuilding their marriage.

– —Andy Stanley in Visioneering

Personal Challenge:  Make time to maintain relationships with work colleagues; they may be what gives your career divine potential.

Thought to Apply:  What other people think of me is becoming less and less important; what they think of Jesus because of me is critical.  – Cliff Richard (English Pop Singer)

Adapted from— Visioneering (Multonomah, 1999)

Prayer:  God, help me to live my life to shine as a light for You.

10 ways to improve your prayer life

Listening for God is central to prayer, according to the great saints. It's so critical that St. Benedict began his famous Rule with this command for monks:

Photo by Ronny Perry, UMNS

Listening for God is central to prayer, according to the great saints. It’s so critical that St. Benedict began his famous Rule with this command for monks: “Listen with the ear of your heart.”

People who've established prayer routines have much to teach those wanting to draw closer to God. Seek out those who can help guide and encourage your prayer life. Photo by Ronny Perry, UMNS.

Photo by Ronny Perry, UMNS

People who’ve established prayer routines have much to teach those wanting to draw closer to God. Seek out those who can help guide and encourage your prayer life.

By Susan Hogan*

Moses went to a mountaintop to hear God. Jesus fled to the desert.

But for many Christians, their most regular place for praying is whatever pew they sit in on Sundays. Work, children, chores and other duties make stopping for prayer seem a luxury.

In today’s culture, some even joke that that Charles Wesley’s quote “pray and never faint,” refers to passing out from an overloaded schedule.

“We forget to intentionally make space for prayer,” said Betty Kay Hudson of First United Methodist Church in Lancaster, S.C.

That’s not the way it’s supposed to be. Souls, like vines, tend to grow wild and weak when untended.

No matter the season on the church calendar – Advent, Lent, Easter, Pentecost — or all of the times in between, prayer is the gasoline that fuels Christians.

“Prayer is the catalyst,” says the Rev. Jeffrey Kersey, a United Methodist minister in Lexington, S.C.

Prayer, like tennis, takes practice to become accomplished. Spiritual guides and sages, pastors and other church members are filled with advice and counsel.

Here’s some of that wisdom condensed into 10 tips about prayer:

You are worthy.

Do not feel guilty about the quality of your prayer life, or fall victim to doubts and despair about your worthiness to talk to God. Each of us has a spiritual gift. So remember John Wesley’s words: “In Christ we gain more than in Adam we lost.”

The more you pray, the richer your prayers become.

To deepen your prayer life, don’t be a slacker. Like anything in life, to become good at prayer you must be disciplined. Just as running is an exercise in physical fitness, prayer is a spiritual discpline.

Prayer is active.

Prayer involves action; namely being attentive to God’s voice in your life. Listening for God means stopping and sitting still. It means paying attention to what God may be saying to you at any point in your life.

Prayer should not be an afterthought.

Prayer was the backbone of Jesus’ ministry. Often, he broke away from his disciples to spend time with God. In the same way, prayer is essential to individual lives and to the life of the church. Break away from your daily routine for quiet time in prayer.

Surround yourself with people who are seasoned at praying.

People who’ve established prayer routines have much to teach those wanting to draw closer to God. Seek out those who can help guide and encourage your prayer life.

God doesn’t require eloquence.

Don’t worry if you fumble for words when you pray. God is not looking for Toastmaster’s graduates, but sincerity (not that you can’t have both at once). If the words won’t come, God still knows what’s in your heart. Lift up that desire.

Prayer need not involve words.

The great Christian saints all write of prayer as a time of sitting quietly with God. Jesus even went off for 40 days of prayerful solitude. Take a deep breath. Exhale. Follow the breath as it flows in and out of your body. Think of it as the spirit of God breathing life into you.

Prayer is a time for conversation with a friend: God.

Whether you see that friend routinely or just every once in awhile, know that whenever you turn to God, you’re turning to someone who loves you.

Ask God for help if you get stuck.

Maybe you’ve hit a dry spell. There’s no shame in asking God to guide you to pray in a new way.

The three Ls of prayer: Listen, listen, listen.

Listening for God is central to prayer, according to the great saints. It’s so critical that St. Benedict began his famous Rule with this command for monks: “Listen with the ear of your heart.”

And remember, prayer can happen anywhere — it doesn’t have to take place in a church.

*Hogan is a freelance writer based in Chicago. Emily Cooper and Jan Surratt of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate did reporting for this story.  This story was originally published in 2009.

News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

“You did it for me”: Serving others in times of tragedy

Photo illustration of prayer by the Rev. Harriet Bryan. Courtesy Gisela Merkuur, Pixabay.com.

  • A UMC.org Feature by Joe Iovino*

In the midst of tragedy like the mass shooting in Las Vegas, United Methodists long to participate in God’s work in the world. We pray, worship, and offer well wishes. We also serve, lend a hand, and meet a need.

Through our service, we often find healing for ourselves as the Holy Spirit moves in and through us.

A great guide for finding ways to minister to our neighbors is Jesus’s story of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25:31-46. Jesus tells the helpers that they served him by serving those in the greatest need.

I was hungry

“I was hungry, and you gave me food to eat,” Jesus tells us.

  • Provide a meal. Many churches have ministries that provide meals for those who are recovering from surgery, mourning the loss of a loved one, or otherwise in need of a hot meal. You can also do something similar on your own. Take a meal to one who is hurting. Provide food to those living on the street. Buy the meal for the person behind you in the drive-thru line.
United Methodist Committee on Relief coordinates ways we help offer food, water, and other supplies to those in need.

The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) coordinates ways to give food, water, and other supplies to those in need. File photo by Bridget Sloane, United Methodist Communications.

  • Give to the local foodbank. Hungry people are everywhere, even in places you might least suspect. Foodbanks do wonderful work providing meals for men, women, and children who cannot afford to feed themselves. Donate food. Volunteer. Support Heifer International or another organization that helps feed people around the world. Help feed those who are hungry.

I was thirsty

“I was thirsty,” Jesus tells the servants, “and you gave me a drink.”

  • Donate water. Water is a critical supply in times of disaster. We need clean, safe water to survive. Natural disasters like floods and mudslides often contaminate aquafers, limiting people’s supply of water. Donations of water to a local disaster relief center, to first responders, or to your church mission team heading off to do cleanup, are important.
  • Give to well ministries. Tragedy reminds us that some live without clean, safe water every day. Donate to ministries that help provide wells like the UMCOR WASH program.
  • Conserve. The water you save helps someone else have enough. Learn more here.

I was a stranger

Jesus continues, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.”

  • Embrace love. In our daily living, we can see others as a bother. The difficult people at work. The teacher that doesn’t understand. The other drivers clogging the roads on the way to work. We can make a huge difference in the lives of many, and ourselves, by deciding to lead with love.
  • Spend time with kids and youth. Volunteer to read at a nursery school. Get involved in the tutoring program at an elementary school. Intentionally listen to your children and their friends. Play with your grandchildren and their friends. Go to the high school football or basketball game in town. Support the young people in your community.
  • Care for the elderly. Find out how you can help at a nursing home. Ask your pastor about becoming a visitor to those in your church who no longer get out very often. Drive a neighbor to a doctor’s appointment or help them grocery shop.
  • Do no harm on social media. One of John Wesley’s General Rules for the Methodist societies was to do no harm. Today, we need to take care that our social media posts are loving, do not spread rumors, and do nothing to hurt others.

I was naked

“I was naked and you gave me clothes to wear,” Jesus praises.

  • Give money during tragedy. One of the tricky things during a tragedy is that the agencies don’t have the resources to sort through clothing donations. They much prefer monetary donations that help them buy the needed clothing. Support UMCOR and other agencies that meet these needs with cash donations.
  • Donate clothing to proper agencies. There are those who are always in need of clothes. Give to your local coat drive, shoe drive, clothing drive. The agencies asking for those donations are prepared to process them and use them to clothe those with nothing to wear.
  • Join a building project. To protect them from the elements, people need clothes and shelter. Join a local Habitat for Humanity build, a mission team, or another organization providing housing to the many who live out in the elements. Make a trip with United Methodist Volunteers in Mission to use your skills to help someone in need.

I was sick

“I was sick,” Jesus tells the surprised servants, “and you took care of me.”

United Methodists are always ready to respond to need.

United Methodist are always ready to use their talents and resources to help those in need. File photo by Mike DuBose, United Methodist Communications.

  • Give blood. The American Red Cross is always in need of blood donations to care for the sick and wounded. Make a donation. (Las Vegas is reporting no blood is needed right now due to overwhelming response.)
  • Appreciate first responders. Show your love and appreciation for those who run into harm’s way to care for another. A visit, a meal, baked goods, cards, letters, and donations are welcome support.
  • Share your thoughts. Not only can your thoughts, fears, doubts, and insights be a value to you, they can help others as you work through a tragedy together.
  • Care for your neighbors. There are many kinds of illness, and as many ways to care for those who are suffering. It starts by knowing the people around you. Share your life with your neighbors. Get to know their joy and sorrow. Find out ways you can pray for and serve them.

I was in prison

Finally Jesus says, “I was in prison and you visited me.”

  • Learn about prison ministry. Most communities have a prison ministry. Learn more about yours and find ways that you can support those in prison, and those recently re-entering society.
  • Support addiction and abuse ministries. Alcoholism, drug addiction, and domestic violence imprison many in our communities. Support recovery ministries. If you are a recovering addict or survivor, your struggle can be an encouragement to others.
  • Work for justice. Learn what you can do about gun violence.

*Joe Iovino works for UMC.org at United Methodist Communications. Contact him by email or at 615-312-3733

Contagious Faith – Panic at 30,000 Feet

Panic in AirplaneKey Bible Verse:  Have no fear of sudden disaster or of the ruin that overtakes the wicked, for the Lord will be your confidence. Proverbs 3:25-26a

Bonus Reading:  Psalm 91

For several summers during the mid-1990s, Dave Wolter, head women’s basketball coach for Concordia University in Irvine, California, flew to Asia and put on basketball clinics for both players and coaches.

On one flight, his plane experienced mechanical trouble at 30,000 feet.  Panic broke out.  People were screaming, crying and standing up in the aisles.

Wolter, on the other hand, sat calmly and prayed.  When a woman sitting next to him saw how different his demeanor was to the rest of the passengers, she shouted in Wolter’s face, “Why aren’t you hysterical?”

Fortunately, the crew was able to correct the problem, and nervous tranquility was restored in the cabin.  For the rest of the flight, Dave answered the woman’s question as she and several others listened intently to how his faith in Christ Jesus enables him to face death with confidence.

Witnessing takes place not only through our words, but also through our actions.  Stated another way, the fish symbol on the rear bumper of your car definitely makes a statement, but people will probably pay more attention to how you drive.

—- Steven B. Borst in Men in the Church

Personal Challenge:  How would your life be different if it was characterized by the “peace … which transcends all understanding”?

Thought to Apply:  Where one man reads the Bible, a hundred read you and me. – —Dwight L. Moody (Evangelist, 19th Century)

Prayer:  God, help me to live my life to shine as a light for You.

Too busy to pray? See tips to find more time

Members of Luz del Pueblo pray together. Photo courtesy of the Rev. Olinda Salazar-Veliz.

Photo courtesy of the Rev. Olinda Salazar-Veliz

Members of Luz del Pueblo stand and pray together.

A UMC.org feature by Joe Iovino*

Many people wish they could spend more time in prayer but are concerned about squeezing it in to an already crowded calendar. This advice from United Methodist pastors and church leaders will help you move toward a deeper prayer life.

Make prayer a priority

Those hoping to find time for prayer will likely fail. You have to make time. “I like to compare it to exercise,” said Jan Reed, leader of the Centering Prayer Group at University United Methodist Church in Austin, Texas. “We need exercise to keep our bodies healthy,” she continued. “We need prayer to keep our souls healthy.”

Those hoping to find time for prayer will likely fail. You have to make time. #UMC #prayerTWEET THISTWEET THIS

Reed recently asked her prayer group “what they would suggest for newcomers to prayer, and most of them said, ‘Just do it!,’” a slogan of a brand of apparel one might wear while exercising. The connection to our health may be stronger than we know.

Make an appointment with God

Set aside a specific time to pray. It may be first thing in the morning, in the evening, during your lunch break, your commute, or time spent waiting for the kids. Be creative. Then put the appointment in your calendar and keep it.

The Rev. Joseph Kim

The Rev. Joseph Kim welcomes a new member into the congregation of Manlius United Methodist Church. Photo courtesy of the Rev. Joseph Kim.

Find a sacred place

The Rev. Joseph Kim of Manlius United Methodist Church in New York encourages us to have a place to pray as well. “My closet,” as Kim calls his prayer space, “is the front of the altar in the sanctuary.” But not all of us have daily access to our church buildings. “Wherever this would be,” Kim continued, “whether it is home, work, or in the car, finding your closet and time are important to deepen your prayer life.”

Turn off the television

Remove distractions and pray. Reed reminds us, “We often spend at least 20 min a day doing insignificant things – checking emails, puttering around the house, watching TV, surfing the internet, etc.”  We could instead invest that 20 minutes in deep communion with God.

The Reverend Olinda Salazar-Veliz, Pastor of Hispanic Ministries at White Plains United Methodist Church and pastor of Luz del Pueblo in Cary, North Carolina, encourages us to pray through this struggle. She offers this example, “I want to grow more to follow you in better ways… Please, forgive my distractions, putting as excuses my daily chores. Allow me to approach more actively in your teachings and in the practice of them.”

Be sure to add the alt. text

The Rev. Olinda Salazar-Veliz (holding chalice) assists in serving communion to children in the community during Vacation Bible School in Raleigh, NC. Photo courtesy of the Rev. Olinda Salazar-Veliz.

Pray with a group

Being part of a group may help motivate you to pray. Hixson United Methodist Church in Tennessee saw a group of moms come together to pray for their school-age children and the schools they attended. Years later, though most of their children have graduated, the moms still pray together every Friday morning. If you cannot find a group to join, start one by inviting some friends to pray with you.

Pray as a family

Another group to pray with is your family. Send the children off to school with a moment of prayer. Give God thanks in the evening for all the blessings of the day. Pray with your spouse as you read the morning paper over breakfast. Pause to pray as you watch the evening news.

Keep your Bible and prayer journal handy

Many people miss exercise classes because they cannot find their yoga mat or car keys in time. We can also significantly cut into our prayer time while looking for what we need. Keep your Bible, journal, and other tools where you can quickly locate them.

Keep the conversation going all day

The Rev. Ginger Pudenz, Associate Pastor at Platte Woods United Methodist Church in Missouri, encourages people to pray throughout the day with Twitter prayers. “I occasionally use Twitter to send a reminder to pray,” she reports. “A few faithful followers have shared that it is a pleasant interruption to see that tweet and know that they are being called to pray with others in real time.” Short prayers throughout the day are a great way to increase your prayer life.

Pray your calendar

If you are concerned about having time, pray for it. Pray through what the day ahead will bring – your meetings, children’s events, doctor’s appointments, and the like. A few moments in prayer may be just the right medicine to still your spirit despite a hectic schedule.

Use resources

Getting a time of prayer started can be challenging. The Upper Room provides helpful resources like their wonderful daily devotions , an online Living Prayer Center, and print resources on prayer.

J.D. Walt who writes a daily devotional called The Daily Text for Asbury Theological Seminary’s Seedbed.com says his daily posts are a “way of sowing the seeds of Scripture into the people of God in ways that are sprouting up into all sorts of creative prayer and work in the Kingdom.” Experiment with some helps to find what works for you.

Experiment with different methods

There is no right way to pray, as there is no right way to have a conversation with your best friend. The Upper Room Living Prayer Center offers examples of several different methods. Experiment with fresh ways to connect with God.

Enjoy it

Kim warns against viewing prayer time as just another box to check on a spiritual to-do list. “When you approach prayer as your Christian duty, you would not enjoy its time,” he said. “You need to see prayer life as special time for dating with God.” He continued, “God who loves you dearly wants to spend time with you and to hear everything about your life.” Change your mindset from having to spend time with God, toward getting to.

#UMC pastor, “God who loves you dearly wants to spend time with you and to hear everything about your life.”TWEET THISTWEET THIS

Jan Reed and her Centering Prayer Group

Jan Reed leads the Centering Prayer Group, one of the fastest growing groups at University United Methodist Church. Photo courtesy of Jan Reed.

Keep going

Change takes time. There will be days when you will fall short. When that happens, forgive yourself and keep going. Remember the benefits of the deeper prayer life you seek. As Reed pondered her prayer group she said, “I think [its popularity] reflects the need for us in our hectic and busy society, to slow down, let go of frustrations, anxieties, and any of the crises we might be facing in our lives, and reconnect to God.”

Setting aside more time for prayer will change every other part of our day.

*Joe Iovino works for UMC.org at United Methodist Communications. He may be reached at jiovino@umcom.org or 615.312.3733. 

 

Contagious Faith – Pete Was Watching

Blessings 2Key Bible Verse:  You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Matthew 5:15

Bonus Reading:  Matthew 5:13-16

Pete’s family moved to the United States from the former Soviet Union when he was 12.  His parents were agnostic and therefore had never encouraged Pete to explore anything that had to do with religion.

When I met Pete he was full of questions about Christianity.  I told him I would be happy to answer as many questions as I could.  We began having lunch together every week or so.  During our first meeting together I asked Pete why he was so interested in the gospel.

This is what he said:  “I am in business with several families who have the kind of marriage I want to have some day.  All of them are Christians.  I know their families are the way they are because of their Christianity.”

After ten months of Bible study and debate, Pete prayed to receive Christ.  Why?  Because several couples conducted their marriages and business in a manner different from the norm.

Upon close examination Pete caught a glimpse of something divine.  Their lives birthed a vision in Pete of what could be true of his own marriage someday.  They lived lives worth watching, and unbeknownst to them, Pete was watching.

— – in Visioneering

Personal Challenge: What unbelievers do you know? When’s the last time you had them over for dinner?

Thought to Apply:  The world is far more ready to receive the gospel than Christians are to hand it out.  – George W. Peters

Prayer:  God, help me to live my life to shine as a light for You.

We can pray anywhere. Where’s your favorite place?

We can pray anywhere, but some spots are special. Photo illustration by Kathleen Barry, United Methodist Communications.

Photo illustration by Kathleen Barry, United Methodist Communications

Finding a special place to pray can be a great addition to your spiritual journey.

A UMC.org Feature by Joe Iovino*

We know God hears us wherever we pray, but some United Methodists find special places where they most like to spend time with Jesus.

We recently asked followers of The United Methodist Church Facebook page to share their favorite places to pray. The beautiful, personal responses affirm that wherever we are, God hears us when we pray.

Many like to pray surrounded by nature.

Many United Methodists like to pray surrounded by the beauty of Creation. File photo by Kathleen Barry, United Methodist Communications.

At home

Many return to a room in their house. Brenda Grundrum, for example, prays in her den. “That is my turf,” she shares, “Me and my Lord’s space.”

Some like Fran Wheeler are a bit more specific. “A particular chair in a particular room,” is her special spot for prayer. “It seems to have been sanctified over years of use.”

Others have special pieces of outdoor furniture where they enjoy time with God. “I pray and chat with Jesus on my swing in our backyard,” Simone Sutter shares. “All I see is nature. All I hear is birdies and frogs… I feel so very close to Him there.”

While active

Melody Daily also pauses for prayer in her backyard, but she doesn’t sit still. Melody prays while working in her garden. “There’s not much that’s as holy as that to me,” she writes. “God is right there in the earth and the sounds of the birds and crickets and the breeze rustling up some little patch of dust.”

Similarly, Lee Cole prays, “While riding the farm tractor while mowing or plowing.”

Robin Hamm prays while walking her dog, and Lisa Hughes and her husband “pray together as we walk in our neighborhood park every morning before work.”

“Deep in the woods while hiking,” is a special place for William White, and Rhiannon-John Thomas prays while running. “Clearing the mind and focusing on the Word while I run,” Thomas explains, “helps immensely in my faith walk.”

In nature

Whether active or still, nature is an important element of many special prayer spots.

Charlotte Johnson Bennardo has a meditation garden that sounds like a wonderful place for prayer. “No one bothers me there,” she writes, “and I have as long a chat with God as I need. The beauty of the flowers, trees, birds and such, calms me.”

Lilia Mopas beautifully describes “quiet places where I can feel the presence of the Lord every time I want to talk to Him. In those places where you can see the beauty and amazing creation of God.”

Pat McClain Thomas looks for “private, quiet, tranquil surroundings,” and Verlyn de la Cruz says it “doesn’t matter where I am as long as I’m alone and without any noise.”

Bodies of water are also popular nature spots for prayer. Lakes, beaches, and oceans were mentioned by several. Jan Coulbourne likes to pray while walking on the beach, adding, “I’m sure Jesus tucked a few pieces of sea glass in his robe pockets too.”

Paul Sebastian Gomez’s special spot to pray.

“This little spot,” Paul Sebastian Gómez shares, “has become a safe place where I know God has called me to be.” Photo courtesy Paul Sebastian Gómez.

Some like Paul Sebastian Gómez have specific spots to which they return. Gómez found his special place when he was 15 years old and his father became pastor of Red Mountain United Methodist Church in Mesa, Arizona. “I remember taking a short drive on the Bush Highway just a few miles north of the church, and seeing these cliffs. It was the most comforting thing to see in a completely new world. Throughout the years, this little spot has become a safe place where I know God has called me to be.”

While driving

Praying behind the wheel is another popular spot among respondents. The quiet alone-time makes the car a substitute “prayer room,” as Dena Kea Jackson describes it.

Lenna Mullins pauses for prayer at the end of her driveway in the morning. “It faces east. The sun is rising. Birds are singing. The air is fresh. We get to start the day with a clean slate.”

Sandra Elaine Pyles Parker prays during her commute. “I like to pray in my car while headed to my teaching job in the mornings. I feel God’s presence as I call out to Him. It makes my day!”

Deb Overdahl likes “to pull over by a peaceful lake or pretty scenery,” to pause and “thank God for such a beautiful site.”

In churches and chapels

Others drive to a church or a camp for special times of prayer.

Skippi Posey travels to Dooly Campground in Vienna, Georgia, where, “I went to Emmaus and worked many walks… When I drive on the grounds I can feel the presence of our God.”

Other United Methodist camps like Lakeview in Palestine, Texas, and Sky Lake in Windsor, New York, were mentioned as favorite prayer spots by those who had been campers as children.

Churches are also favorite places to pray. Small chapels and empty sanctuaries are favorites, but others like Alex Byrd find smaller, nearly secret spots. “There’s a hidden hallway behind our stage for access to the baptistery. The way it’s laid out and the feeling I get from praying there is like the holy of holies.”

United Methodist camps are also favorite places to pray.

United Methodist camps are great places for quiet moments with God. File photo of Cross Point Camp Ampitheater by Ken Long.

In bed

After a full day, many take time to close their day with prayer in their favorite spot… bed.

“Every night, I get on my knees, by my bed, and humble myself before my Lord,” Sharon Gilbert says. “I can’t crawl into bed, no matter how tired I am, without my time with Him!”

Cynthia Fuller, who gave us her age to assure us she wasn’t “a little kid,” was more descriptive. “I meet with my father in my bed. I sit in the middle with the covers over my head and we have a wonderful time. I pray. I talk. The wonder and the richness of Him being there with me is amazing.” She then rhetorically asks, “When you think of spending most of your life there… Where oh where would you want His Presence more?”

Special places are wonderful additions to our prayer lives, reminding us that God is ready to hear us wherever we pause to pray.

“The Lord is close to everyone who calls out to him,
    to all who call out to him sincerely.” (Psalm 145:18 CEB)

*Joe Iovino works for UMC.org at United Methodist Communications. Contact him by email or at 615-312-3733.

Contagious Faith – Fueled by God’s Blessings

God's BlessingsKey Study Passage: Isaiah 12

Today’s study passage is a celebration of the salvation of God.  He has always been about the business of restoring our relationship with him and unleashing blessing upon his children.  As we “drink deeply from the fountain of salvation” (v. 3), that blessing can’t help but overflow to others.

The writer of this passage is so overjoyed that God has come to the rescue of his people that he exhorts them to tell the nations all about what God has done. And we have seen even more fully the glory of God’s salvation in Christ.  How can we not do the same?

  1. What are some instances in the Bible of God rescuing his people?
  2. What are some times in your own life when God has rescued you from trouble?
  3. How does reflecting on rescue stories help you to be thankful for God’s salvation in your own life?
  4. Why do you think God allows his people to get into trouble in the first place?
  5. Spend some time worshiping God for his blessings and salvation. Think of ways you can make that joyful worship contagious to those around you.

Spend Time in Prayer: Thank God for the ways that he has blessed you, and ask him to help you spread those blessings to everyone you meet.

Isaiah 12

Songs of Praise

12 In that day you will say:

“I will praise you, Lord.
Although you were angry with me,
your anger has turned away
and you have comforted me.
2 Surely God is my salvation;
I will trust and not be afraid.
The Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength and my defense;
he has become my salvation.”
3 With joy you will draw water
from the wells of salvation.

4 In that day you will say:

“Give praise to the Lord, proclaim his name;
make known among the nations what he has done,
and proclaim that his name is exalted.
5 Sing to the Lord, for he has done glorious things;
let this be known to all the world.
6 Shout aloud and sing for joy, people of Zion,
for great is the Holy One of Israel among you.”

 

Re-energize your prayer life with a new practice

“Lord, teach us to pray,” the disciples request of Jesus (Luke 11:1 CEB). Many of us who lack confidence in our prayer lives ask the same of our pastors and others who seem to have a better handle on that spiritual discipline.

As United Methodists we know the value of works of piety like prayer. The third of John Wesley’s three rules for the Methodist Church was to continue “attending upon all the ordinances of God.” The list of examples he offered with this rule included “Family and private prayer.”

Learning to pray is like learning to ride a bicycle. What we can learn from a book or class is not enough. Proficiency comes through practice.

Additionally, because prayer is a form of communication, there is no one-size-fits-all technique. Each of us needs to find our unique style.

Spending a day or season invigorating your prayer life is time well spent. Experiment with some new-to-you ways of praying. You might be surprised to find what works best for you.

Praying while holding a candle.

Prayer is placing ourselves in the presence of God. This does not always require words. Photo by Courtney Carmody, courtesy of Flickr.

Be still

You don’t necessarily need words to pray. In Psalm 46 God tells his people who were busy trying to please him, “That’s enough! Now know that I am God!” (Psalm 46:10 CEB). Sometimes we need to stop performing for God and simply “be still.”

This can be hard at first because it is so unfamiliar. Set a timer for 3-5 minutes, or find some relaxing music or sound effects that will mark the time. Then be quiet and rest in the presence of God.

Breath Prayer

Breath prayers are another way to become more aware of God’s presence. The Holy Spirit is as near as the air we breathe.

A common way to practice breath prayer is silently repeating a single-line prayer with each breath. As you inhale address God with something like, “Jesus, Son of God.” Then, as you exhale, express a request to God such as, “be merciful to me, a sinner.” Other examples are, “Creator God, allow me to see your beauty around me,” “Holy Spirit, let me feel your joy,” “O Lord, show me your way,” and “Holy One, heal me.” Repeat the prayer with each breath for several minutes. Listen for God.

Multi-sensory Prayer

Engaging other senses in prayer proves effective for many. Through the centuries, Christians have looked at candles, smelled incense, and held onto beads, crosses, and more as they prayed.

A creative way to do something similar is to pray while working a piece of clay in your hands and contemplating your humanity and sinfulness. The clay reminds us that God is constantly shaping us into vessels of the Holy Spirit. As Jeremiah watched a potter shape and reshape clay, he heard the voice of God, “Like clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in mine” (Jeremiah 18:6 CEB).

A labyrinth marked with candles

A labyrinth like this one marked by tealights, invites us to pray as we walk. Photo by Urmelbeauftragter, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Labyrinth Prayer

A labyrinth is another helpful tool for focusing prayers. A labyrinth is a path marked out in a field, painted in a parking lot, or shown on a carpet that you walk while you pray.

While a labyrinth may look like a maze, it is not. It is a single path leading participants into the center, and back out.

While entering the labyrinth, prayers are focused on confession. Participants then pause in the center to read scripture, sing, or worship another way. On the way out of the labyrinth prayers for others, self, and anything else that occupies the mind are offered.

Since labyrinths are not readily available, a finger labyrinth makes a great substitute. You can pray this three-part prayer while slowly tracing the path with your finger. Print a finger labyrinth and give it a try.

Or, if you would rather walk, pray similarly while strolling around your neighborhood or on a nearby hiking trail.

Praying scripture

Another great source of prayer is the Bible. Praying the scriptures has a long tradition among the faithful.

Hands in prayer over a Bible.

Praying while reading the Bible can expand the topics we lift in prayer. Photo by Lance Cpl. Austin Goacher, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Prayerfully read a passage by stopping every line or so, and praying what comes to mind. This can stretch us to bring before God petitions we might not think of on our own.

Praying the Psalms, for example, calls us to address every emotion. Praying Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55) will lead us in prayer for the poor and oppressed. Many scriptures such as Jesus’ healings and parables, Paul’s letters, and others, may deeply speak to our needs, help us to praise, or remind us of a promise of God.

Pray by checking in with God

You may also pray by simply checking in with God at the end of the day. As you might call a friend or family member just to chat about what is going on in your life, you can have the same conversation with God.

Ignatius of Loyola, a 16th century cleric and theologian, taught what he called the Daily Examen. The Examen asks the believer to share with God that for which you are thankful, moments you recognized God’s presence in the events of the day, your shortcomings, and to ask God to prepare you for the day ahead.

Find your way

As there are many ways to communicate with those closest to us, so too there are numerous ways to pray. This list is not comprehensive, but rather a place to begin exploring prayer methods.

Spend some time developing a richer prayer life by finding what works for you. This will allow you to re-energize your conversations with God.

Spend some time developing a richer prayer life … and re-energize your conversations with God. #UMCTWEET THISTWEET THIS

*Joe Iovino works for UMC.org at United Methodist Communications. He may be reached at jiovino@umcom.org or 615-312-3733.

Rainy Days – Up Close & Personal with Tom Landry

Tom LandryTom Landry led five Dallas Cowboy teams to the Super Bowl during the 1970s.  But in 1989, without a word of consultation, Landry was out of work.  Before he was so much as informed, a new Cowboys owner and head coach were toasting each other in a Dallas restaurant— in front of press cameras.

Q.  How could you cope with such a humiliating end to your brilliant career?

A.  My relationship with Christ gives me a source of power I would not have otherwise. …  The knowledge that my life is in God’s hands helps me to keep my composure or regain it in tough situations.

—Tom Landry coached the Cowboys for 29 seasons.

Adapted from Stephen Arterburn, The Power Book (Nelson, 1996)

Prayer:  Lord, give me a goal big enough to be worthy of You, and love strong enough to stick with it.

A Promise to Pray: Honoring our United Methodist Vow

United Methodists vow to uphold their congregation through their prayers, but it isn't always clear what that means. Photo via Pixabay.com, CC0 Creative Commons

Photo via Pixabay.com, CC0 Creative Commons

United Methodists vow to uphold their congregation through their prayers, but it isn’t always clear what that means.

By Julie Dwyer

As part of The United Methodist Church’s Baptismal Covenant, new members promise to faithfully participate in a local congregation through their prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness. But, how can they go beyond the words they profess to actually living into these vows?

In a special five-part series, we’ll look at each aspect of this membership vow, beginning with prayer, and how United Methodists can answer the call to serve Christ through the local church.

Mary Meyer carried index cards with her wherever she went.

On each was a list of names of people she needed to pray for or other concerns. She would jot down new names and prayer requests as they came to her, and then she’d tuck the cards into her Bible, her purse or even the cushions of her favorite chair.

If she had a free minute, she was praying.

“I think it’s honest to say she was never bored because of her prayer life,” said her grandson, Gilbert C. Hanke, top executive of the Commission on United Methodist Men.

Hanke said after his grandmother’s death, his parents helped clear out the family’s home and found more than a hundred of her prayer cards scattered around in books, drawers and other places.

“It was like seeds that she planted,” Hanke said. “I don’t have much from Grandma, but I do have this memory. Every time I see an index card, that’s what I think of.”

Hanke’s grandfather was a United Methodist pastor and he said both of his grandparents took seriously their membership vows, including the promise to faithfully participate in the church’s ministries through their prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness.

But it was their passion for prayer that stood out for him.

“Grandpa was the best prayer I’ve ever experienced. He prayed all the time. He prayed out loud. … Whether it was a concern about something happening in the world or a personal concern on his health, there was nothing too small or too great for him to pray about,” Hanke said.

Building a solid prayer life can be a struggle for some. While new members vow to uphold their congregation through their prayers, many don’t know what that means.

“We ask people, ‘Will you uphold this church by your prayers, presence, gifts, service and witness?’ That’s great as far as it goes, but the average person has no real clue what they’ve said yes to,” said the Rev. Dan R. Dick, assistant to Bishop Hee-Soo Jung of the Wisconsin Conference. “Are we talking about praying daily, weekly, monthly, 10 minutes a day, 30 minutes a day? I don’t know that there’s a right answer.”

Dick said it’s important for faith communities to help members understand what is expected of them, not only when they join the church but also as they renew their vows. “If we want to hold people accountable to growing in their discipleship, there has to be a standard,” he said.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, Dick analyzed more than 700 United Methodist congregations in his role with the General Board of Discipleship (now Discipleship Ministries). He studied healthy churches that were making an impact in their community, not only growing membership rolls but also helping people grow in their discipleship. The results of the study are published in his book “Vital Signs.”

“When there were clearly defined expectations, it was easier to measure — to say, how well are people fulfilling the vows, fulfilling the promises they made?” he said. “In the church, we pay lip service to how important prayer is, but I really saw that where churches have prayer as a common practice and a regular expectation, people were more engaged.

“It turned things from a negative energy to a positive energy, that these thing weren’t added-on burdens, requirements and obligations, these were wonderfully valuable ways to build relationships, both with God and with other people in the congregation.”

Be sure to add the alt. text

Eggester Jokomo, 82, is a pioneer of the early morning prayer program at St. Mark United Methodist Church in Harare, Zimbabwe. Photo by Eveline Chikwanah, UMNS. 

The power of prayer is evident at St. Mark United Methodist Church in Harare, Zimbabwe. The church hosts early morning prayer services that draw as many as 500 people.

Known as rumuko in the local chiShona language, the prayer gatherings are held from 4 to 6 a.m. each day and are focused on individual prayers. Eggester Jokomo, 82, a pioneer of the St. Mark prayer program, said some people travel more than 20 miles from nearby towns to attend on Saturdays.

“We mainly pray for ourselves, our church and our nation,” Jokomo said. “Early morning prayers are more powerful than those done at any other time of the day. It takes a lot of willpower to rise and leave the comfort of your bed at such an hour,” she said.

For those whose churches don’t offer prayer services or small prayer groups, Dick suggests finding a prayer partner for accountability and making a list of things to pray about regularly.

While index cards weren’t the right fit for Hanke (he prefers Post-it Notes), he has tried to incorporate what he learned from his grandparents into his own prayer life.

“When something comes up, I’ll write it down and stick it in a place where I know where it is. When I’m trying to work through something or I need a break … there’s that reminder of here’s a list of folks you need to be praying for.”

Dick said there’s no wrong way to pray and it’s OK to seek guidance. “The assumption is we’re lifelong Christians, we’ve grown up in the church, we know how to pray. And yet many laity said I don’t know whether I’m doing it right,” Dick said.

Hanke agrees, and said he often struggles with his own prayer life.

“I’ve prayed some prayers that were pretty angry and pretty self-centered and then came back and went, ‘Sorry about that.’ … It’s something that is a work in progress for me. It’s probably a work in progress for everybody.”

Dick urges church leaders to get back to the basics and help members be successful in upholding their membership vows through spiritual disciplines.

“We live in a culture right now where trust is pretty low, where one person’s word or promise is not always valued too highly,” he said. “Calling people to a level of integrity, to say nobody is telling you what you ought to do, but when you say you are going to do something, it’s important that you do that. I love that message.”

Julie Dwyer is a writer and editor for United Methodist Communications. Reach her at jdwyer@umcom.org. Eveline Chikwanah, a communicator of the Zimbabwe East Annual Conference, contributed to this report.

Rainy Days – God Has Rejected Me

Jimmy CarterKey Bible Verse:  Consider it pure joy, my brother, whenever you face trials of many kinds.  – James 1:2

Bonus Reading:  James 1:2-8

In 1966, I ran for governor of Georgia and lost to avowed segregationist Lester Maddox. My sister, Ruth, drove to Plains and listened while I deplored the poor judgment and racist tendencies of my fellow Georgians and vented my anger toward God. Then Ruth quoted today’s Key Bible Verse.

I said, “Ruth, my political life is over!  It’s not my goal just to grow peanuts, sell fertilizer, gin cotton, and build up a bank account.  God has rejected me through the people’s vote.”

Ruth replied, “Jimmy, you have to believe that out of this defeat can come a greater life.”

I responded bitterly, “There is no way I can build on such an embarrassing defeat.”

Patiently, Ruth explained what James was saying.  When we face trials with courage, we learn to endure and pray for wisdom.  Wisdom leads us to depend on things made available to all through God’s love.  Christ gives us courage to take a chance on something new.

Ruth advised me to do something totally unrelated to my business or politics.  Shortly afterward I was asked by the Baptist Brotherhood to go as a lay witness on a mission in Pennsylvania.  I did, and it changed my life.

– —Jimmy Carter in Living Faith

 

Personal Challenge:  Do you agree that “out of this defeat can come a greater life?”

 

Thought to Apply: T he difficulties of life are intended to make us better, not bitter.  – —Anonymous

Prayer:  Lord, give me a goal big enough to be worthy of You, and love strong enough to stick with it.

Rainy Days – Why Would an Eagle Do That?

Mother EagleKey Bible Verse:  You yourselves have seen … how I carried you on eagle’s wings and brought you to myself. Exodus 19:4

Bonus Reading Deuteronomy 32:9-12

An eagle builds its nest on a cliff, hatches its young and feeds them.  But eventually she puts her head up against one and pushes gently.  The eaglet gets closer to the edge. “Mom, what are you doing?”  It says, “You wouldn’t!”

But she does.  That little bird goes flapping down the face of the cliff, surely to its destruction.

Not so!  In one mighty swoop she catches the little one on her wings and brings it up.  She pushes the little ones out of the nest over and over.

Later she picks feathers and leaves from the nest and casts them overboard.  She takes the great sticks with her beak and snaps them in two.  Is she breaking up housekeeping because she doesn’t like her children any more?

No, she understands something they don’t.  They were made to soar.  She destroys the nest to get them to discover who they are and what they can do.

Have you ever had things together and comfortable and suddenly you’re pushed out of the nest?  God intends to mature you.  You’ll be falling, thinking this is the end, God has abandoned you.  It isn’t the end because underneath are those everlasting arms.

– —Terry Fullam, Florida pastor

Personal Challenge:  Memorize one of the key verses from this week, or post it near you at work.  Pray for God to build your hope.

Thought to Apply:  The only way to learn strong faith is to endure great trials.  – George Mueller (British Orphanage Founder, 19th Cetuary

—

Prayer:  Lord, give me a goal big enough to be worthy of You, and love strong enough to stick with it.

Revision Committee Begins Work on New Version of The United Methodist Hymnal

Work on a groundbreaking revision of The United Methodist Hymnal, designed to be a print/digital contextually adaptable resource for primary use in the United States, begins this fall following the selection of the full Hymnal Revision Committee.

The process for Discipleship Ministries, The United Methodist Publishing House (UMPH), the Council of Bishops, and the Association of United Methodist Theological Schools to select the 15 committee members began in late 2016 and continued through the spring of 2017.

The revised hymnal will be significantly different from the traditional printed hymnal, with a much deeper and broader scope of material and delivery methods that utilize current and future technology.

The current hymnal, published in 1989, includes four major sections with a limited number of hymns, songs, acts of worship, services, and prayers. The 2020 UM hymnal will potentially contain thousands of items in these same categories, gleaned from previously published resources such as the 1989 hymnal, Mil Voces Para Celebrar, Songs of Zion, The Faith We Sing, Zion Still Sings, Worship & Song, and many other collections.

The Hymnal Revision Committee will select from these resources and from other published works of contemporary music and text literature, new and existing hymns, songs and prayers submitted for consideration, and might commission additional works.

New delivery methods will make it possible to include the many additional resources. Rather than one print version of the hymnal that is the same for all churches, each United Methodist congregation will be able to have a customized print version, if that is the delivery method they prefer.

A core of material, which will be present in every print version of the hymnal, can be augmented with selections from a Hymnal Revision Committee-selected and General Conference-approved supplemental body of work.

 

Rainy Days – Dealt a Bad Hand

Presidents Playing CardsKey Bible Verse:  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Hebrews 12:3

Bonus Reading:  Hebrews 12: 4-13

President Dwight Eisenhower described his mother as a smart and saintly lady.  “Often in this job I’ve wished I could consult her.  But she is in heaven.  However, many times I have felt I knew what she would say.”

One night in their farm home, Mrs. Eisenhower was playing a card game with her boys.  “Now, don’t get me wrong,” said the former president, “it was not with those cards that have kings, queens, jacks, and spades on them.  Mother was too straitlaced for that.”  President Eisenhower said the game they were playing was called Flinch.

“Anyway, Mother was the dealer, and she dealt me a very bad hand.  I began to complain.  Mother said, ‘Boys, put down your cards. I want to say something, particularly to Dwight.  You are in a game in your home with your mother and brothers who love you.  But out in the world you will be dealt bad hands without love.

Here is some advice for you boys.  Take those bad hands without complaining and play them out.  Ask God to help you, and you will win the important game called life.”

The president added, “I’ve tried to follow that wise advice always.”

—- Norman Vincent Peale in This Incredible Century

Personal Challenge:   What tempts you to complain? A sk God to help you develop a “trigger response” of gratitude instead of griping.

Thought to Apply:   Those things that hurt, instruct. – Benjamin Franklin (18th Century Statesman, Scientist, Philosopher)

Adapted from— This Incredible Century (Tyndale, 1991)

Prayer:  Lord, give me a goal big enough to be worthy of You, and love strong enough to stick with it.

Rainy Days – Beat into Shape

Cypress Tree in RockKey Bible Verse:  For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  – 2 Corinthians 4:17

Bonus Reading: 1 Peter 1:6-7

In Carmel, California, a weathered, gnarled cypress tree grows out of solid rock on the rugged coast.  The object of photographers worldwide, it is a symbol of tenacity and courage amid the ravages of nature.

If that cypress could talk, it might complain about the coastal storms that have beat against its trunk and branches.  But, wise tree that it is, the cypress would probably say, “I would not have the elegance I manifest today were it not for the pressure of the wind, rain, and storms throughout the years; I have been shaped by their combined forces.

Bruised?  Yes.  But I remain vibrant and strong because I made the decision to grow my roots deeper into the rock, and I weathered the storm.”

And so can you.

The challenges of your life have shaped you.  Some have been wrenching, terrible.  Most of your early experiences were out of your control.  All the greater reason to view them from a fresh perspective and see the past with adult eyes, taking note of your struggles in a light that will enhance your growth, give you hope for your better future, and bring inner healing.

—- Greogry L. Jantz in Becoming Strong Again

Personal Challenge:   Ask God to reveal ways He has and is using your past to bring good.

Thought to Apply:  The gem cannot be polished without friction, nor men perfected without trials. – —Chinese Proverb

Prayer:  Lord, give me a goal big enough to be worthy of You, and love strong enough to stick with it.

3 Ways to Pray for Las Vegas: It’s a Powerful Act for Christians

Here is a thought-provoking article from Christianity Today written just hours after the attack last night in Las Vegas.

_________________________________________________________________________

Prayer is not an empty gesture; it’s how Christians first respond to tragedy.  – Ed Stetzer
3 Ways to Pray for Las Vegas: It’s a Powerful (Not Political) Act for Christians

This morning, most Americans are waking up to news of another mass shooting—this time in Las Vegas—and, this time, the worst in our country’s history.

We will sit in front of the TV, our regular morning routine put on hold as we see the all-too-familiar images of police setting up barricades, victims being evacuated, and a slowly increasing casualty count scrolling across the bottom of the screen. In our shock, we often default to news consumption, waiting on every bit of information:

Who was the shooter and why did he do this?

What about the wounded?

What does this mean moving forward?

What needs to change in our country?

These questions are important questions, but let me propose for Christians that after we have learned of the shooting, we turn away a moment from news consumption and turn towards prayer.

#ThoughtsAndPrayers?

I wrote in response to San Bernardino that prayer is often depicted as “not enough” or, even worse, as political posturing. But Scripture both models and teaches that prayer is central to the Christian life. Regrettably, #ThoughtsAndPrayers was already trending this morning on Twitter, but not in a good way.

Some will criticize politicians for their prayers today, calling them to action. But, I’m not a lawmaker and I think prayer is action. Not the only action needed, but a good one right now in this moment.

I don’t know all the details and I am not in Las Vegas, but I do have a heavenly father who hears my prayers as I cry out to him.

Here are three things you can pray for this morning as you process these news stories.

1. Pray for the Victims

As of this morning there are at least 50 people dead and over 200 injured. As was the case with Orlando, San Bernardino, Newton, and others in recent memory, mass casualty attacks invariably leave a wake of destruction. And, if we are honest, in addition to feeling sadness, we are angry. Indeed, if we look at Scripture, we find that this response is normal.

As those who want to see God’s kingdom come here on earth, our anger is a reflection of how things are not right in this world. In fact, our anger can spur us on to greater love and deeper prayer for God’s healing and shalom to come during times of great tragedy like this.

As we recognize our anger, we then pray with an attitude of confession and expectation. Nehemiah’s prayer in chapter one is an example of one receiving terrible news of devastation far away. He started his prayer and fasting by confessing his own sin. He then gave himself to the task and expected that God would empower him to be a blessing. So can we.

So we pray for healing for the survivors and for their loved ones. We ask God to bring not only physical and emotional healing, but spiritual assistance. This spiritual assistance takes many forms—words of encouragement from believers spoken at the right time and in the right attitude, reminders that we have a God who cares for us and who himself is familiar with great pain, etc.

2. Pray for Our Civic Leaders

In the political division we face, praying for our civic leaders can be difficult for many of us. This past week has been a good example of that.

Of course, people will bring lots of issues to these conversations. But, when a national tragedy occurs, before we begin arguing about who is right and wrong and why this happened and how we can stop it, we first sit in the pain and weep with those who weep.

Indeed, questions of mental health, gun laws, and the source of the hate are, indeed, appropriate questions to ask and discuss. But 1 Timothy 2:1-2 actually commands us to pray in intercession and thanksgiving for “kings and all those in authority.” Leading through crisis is harrowing and can be magnified by everyone looking to you for answers. The president, Congress, and local law enforcement are not only grieving as we are, but are responsible to lead in the aftermath.

Regardless of our political divisions and how personally difficult it is to pray for certain civic officials, our faith demands that we submit ourselves in humility to praying for our leaders. You can join me in praying for Las Vegas sheriff Joseph Lombardo, Las Vegas mayor Carolyn Goodman, Nevada governor Brian Sandoval, and President Trump.

Pray honestly and fervently for their wisdom in navigating the treacherous roads ahead. Pray that they’d make wise choices for the safety of our nation and its people. Pray that they would have wisdom and discernment during the crisis so as to bring unity and leadership to those in need.

3. Pray for Las Vegas Churches

Las Vegas is often known as “sin city,” and (surely) some fool will say this is the judgement of God, forgetting that Bible-belt Houston was just hit with a hurricane. And, of course, some in the media will make that person that no one has ever heard of into a nationally prominent voice.

As Christ-followers, our place is not to judge, but to humble ourselves in unity with our brothers and sisters who are grieving.

We must pray for the churches in Las Vegas to be ministers of the gospel in the midst of this loss. As Paul asked of the early church in Colossians 4:3, we must pray that God would open a window for us to share the love of Christ in the midst of the pain. Just as God’s church has led the response to hurricane relief, pray that it would now again be a light in Las Vegas. They need all of our encouragement and support during this time.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I visited with my friend Vance Pitman of Hope Church in Las Vegas. Their church has been, as their name says, a bearer of hope for many years in Las Vegas, but that word takes on new meaning now.

And many other churches will bear that hope as well. And, we pray they will.

Going Forward on Our Knees

Now, we must do more than pray. Issues, some controversial, must be addressed. But, all of us can agree to pray in this moment.

Let’s pray for comfort for the hurting, echoing the words of Paul speaking of God, “who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (2 Cor. 1:4).

Then, we can pray the words of Jesus: “Thy kingdom come, thy will done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). Clearly, the world is not as Jesus desires it to be, and we pray for him to make all things right. God’s kingdom is one that is holy and right and without pain and suffering. Lord Jesus, this is what we long for today and always.

Maranatha. Come quickly, Lord, and fix this broken world.

For us, #PrayForLasVegas is not a political act. It’s actually a powerful one.

Ed Stetzer holds the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, is executive director of the Billy Graham Center, and publishes church leadership resources through Mission Group.

Las Vegas Shooting

Please remember the victims of the mass shooting in Las Vegas and their families in your thoughts and prayers. 

Rainy Days – Depression U

The Great DepressionKey Bible Verse:  It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees.  – Psalm 119:71

Bonus Reading:  Psalm 107:1-32

“After the stock market crashed in 1929, Dad could no longer find work in his bricklaying trade.  In desperation, he took a job as night watchman for $28 a week.  The Depression taught my family many life-building lessons:

We learned the importance of each family member as we struggled to meet the monthly mortgage payment.  Mother took in washing and ironing.  Brother Bill and I sold magazines door-to-door.  The three boys helped deliver milk.  We all made hat bands for a nearby factory, made and sold paper flowers.

The Depression days also taught us thrift and frugality.  When we used tea bags, we did so again and again.  The phone was used only for emergencies.  One electric light was allowed on per room.  Usually, we all studied and worked in a single room.

We also learned the value of money and the importance of avoiding credit.  Mother used to say, “If your outgo is greater than your income, then your upkeep is headed for a downfall.”

The Great Depression strengthened our faith.  A few years of poverty can do more for spiritual maturity than 10 years of prosperity.  I look back with gratitude for the lessons we learned.

—- George Sweeting in Too Soon to Quit

Personal Challenge:  What values have you learned because of difficulties you’ve had to face?

Thought to Apply:  A man who has not suffered, what does he know? – —Henry Suso (14th Century)

Prayer:  Lord, give me a goal big enough to be worthy of You, and love strong enough to stick with it.

Rainy Days – Audience of One

Small Concert AudienceKey Bible Verse:  Whatever you do, you must do all for the glory of God.  – 1 Corinthians 10:31

Bonus Reading:  Colossians 3:22-24

For a 19 year old from a small Texas town, Festival Hall at North Dakota State University was an impressive auditorium.  Our Wheaton College Concert Band was on the third day of its Spring tour.  We had a good warm-up that cold and rainy night.  But the cavernous arena was almost completely empty except for the 80 performers on stage.

As we gathered off-stage for prayer 10 minutes before the concert, I counted how many were in the audience.  Four!  Widespread grumbling went like this: “We came all this way to play for four people?  You’ve got to be kidding!”

Our director quickly sensed our discontent.  “I won’t tolerate your attitude,” he declared. “I don’t care if the auditorium is empty!  We play our music to the Lord, for His pleasure.”  Humbled by those stinging words, we prayerfully sang our standard pre-concert hymn [below], with fresh meaning.

We made our way back onto the stage and played the best concert of the entire tour—with an audience of 14.

Sometimes, when I find myself feeling unappreciated or not getting all the recognition I think I should, the Spirit of God takes me back more than 35 years to Festival Hall and the concert of a lifetime.

—Stanley Clark in College Faith

My Response:  Which audience am I playing to?

Thought to Apply:  May the love of Jesus fill me / As the waters fill the sea; / Him exalting, self abasing— / This is victory.

—Kate Wilkinson (hymn writer)

Adapted from College Faith: 150 Christian Leaders and Educators Share Faith Stories from Their Student Days (Andrews University Press, 2002)

 

Prayer:  Lord, give me a goal big enough to be worthy of You, and love strong enough to stick with it.