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Mixed Bag – Dr. Jekyl…

The Pharisee and the Tax CollectorKey Bible Verse:  If we say we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and refusing to accept the truth.  – 1 John 1:8

Bonus Reading:  Luke 18:9-14

Do you ever feel like a pretty good person? I do sometimes.  I’m usually nice to my students, treat my colleagues fairly, deeply love my family, pay my taxes, provide psychological help to pastors in crisis, go to church and tithe.  I don’t steal, commit adultery, use illegal drugs, or swear.  And I floss regularly.

Then I remember the religious leader in the temple (see Luke 18:9-14).  He had the same list.  His prayer is the formula for self-absorbed disappointment and disillusionment. When we see ourselves as “pretty good,” we misunderstand the gravity of sin and our desperate need for grace. We place ourselves above others, become their judges, and give them the power to disappoint us.

A physicist friend uses this analogy: Each of us is like a light bulb. One shines with 50 watts of holiness, another has only 25 watts. Maybe the most stellar Christians are 200 watts. But these comparisons become trite in the presence of the sun. In the face of God, our different levels of piety are puny and meaningless. It makes no sense to compare ourselves with one another because we are all much more alike than we are different.

—Mark McMinn in Why Sin Matters

My Response:  Do I rate myself more like the Pharisee (Luke 18:9-14) or the tax collector?

Thought to Apply: One of the first things for which we have to pray is a true insight into our condition.—Olive Wyon (writer)

Adapted from Why Sin Matters (Tyndale, 2004)

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, help me to stop kidding myself about what I’m really like. Thank You for loving me even though You know the worst.

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Mixed Bag – Corruption Fighters

Martin Luther King and BussesKey Bible Verse:  The human heart is most deceitful and desperately wicked.  Who really knows how bad it is? Jeremiah 17:9

Bonus Reading:  Isaiah 64:5-9

The subject of sin is full of ironies, and surprises.  During the Montgomery bus boycott of 1955, Martin Luther King Jr. and the Montgomery Improvement Association led thousands of blacks through months of hardship and to bring down city walls of injustice and break municipal bus segregation.

Many black citizens supported the boycott with a spirit of mutual help and accountability. They rode bicycles, trudged miles to and from work, and formed car pools that local police regularly harassed. They stopped and interrogated drivers, making them demonstrate their wipers and lights, and writing them up for tiny, often bogus, violations. Drivers adapted. According to historian Taylor Branch, they “crept along the road and gave exaggerated turn signals, like novices in driving school.”

Remarkably, a number of blacks also figured out ways to defraud their own movement. By submitting phony reimbursement claims, they hustled the Montgomery Improvement Association for “oceans of gasoline and truckloads of imaginary spare tires.” The MIA, says Branch, was constantly trying to deal with the corruption within and “plug the holes in the reimbursement system.”

—Neal Plantinga in Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be

My Response: Have I undermined a virtue I believe in? If so, how?

Adapted from Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be (Eerdmans, 1995)

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, help me to stop kidding myself about what I’m really like.  Thank You for loving me even though You know the worst.

Mixed Bag – Light and Shadow

School After EarthquakeWho Said It…Donald McCullough

Two earthquakes mark Donald’s life.  As San Francisco Theological Seminary’s president, he led a successful capital campaign to repair the school’s buildings, damaged by the 1989 quake.

Then in 2000 he experienced a personal quake when earlier marital infidelity was uncovered by his presbytery.  His ordination was suspended, and he resigned his post.

Donald’s book, The Consolations of Imperfection (Brazos, 2004), shares hard lessons he’s learned about himself.

What He Said…Light and Shadow

We’re a confusing mixture: loving and selfish, generous and stingy, encouraging and envious, hardworking and lazy, angelic and devilish; we’re both light and shadow.

Who can see into the depths of the shadows?  Who can name all the cantankerous, aggressive troublemakers out of sight and out of mind in the cellar?

This is more a wading through sorrow than a wallowing in it.  Admission of wrongdoing should have a matter–of–fact quality to it.  It says, “Yes, this is who I am.  It’s not all I am, for I’ve written some good parts to my story, too.  Yet I can’t deny my failure (and my propensity to further failure) any more than I can deny my blue eyes.”

As someone who’s had to do more than his share of this confession, I can testify that it’s liberating.  As we pray for courage to see ourselves as we really are, we find ourselves—somehow, surprisingly—lifted above it.  We’re actually being raised by the updraft of grace.

Adapted from The Consolations of Imperfection (Brazos, 2004)

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, help me to stop kidding myself about what I’m really like.  Thank You for loving me even though You know the worst.

Be a Builder-Upper – Paul in Thessolonica

Paul in ThessolonicaChapters 2 and 3 of 1 Thessalonians form a unique section of Scripture.

Paul is inviting the believers in Thessalonika to reminisce with him about his initial visit to them (recorded in Acts 17:1-10a) and their subsequent contacts.

This “rememberfest” affords us our best window into how Paul went about putting a young congregation on its feet.

Interact with God’s Word

1 Thessalonians 2:7-12

  1. Why isn’t gentleness a valued trait among guys today?
  2. How can we relate gently to our children? … to other men?
  3. What kept Paul from making demands of the Thessalonians?
  4. How good are people at sensing if our love is for real?
  5. What personal characteristics (v. 10) are prerequisite to a ministry of building others up?
  6. What kinds of fatherly treatment (v. 11) do you think Paul had in mind?
  7. How could you put the kinds of interaction recorded in verse 12 to work in your discipling?

Spend Time in Prayer:  Ask God to make you a father who gently challenges not only his own children, but other believers as well.

1 Thessalonians 2:7-12

7 As apostles of Christ we certainly had a right to make some demands of you, but we were as gentle among you as a mother feeding and caring for her own children. 8 We loved you so much that we gave you not only God’s Good News but our own lives, too. 9 Don’t you remember, dear brothers and sisters, how hard we worked among you? Night and day we toiled to earn a living so that our expenses would not be a burden to anyone there as we preached God’s Good News among you.

10 You yourselves are our witnesses—and so is God—that we were pure and honest and faultless toward all of you believers. 11 And you know that we treated each of you as a father treats his own children. 12 We pleaded with you, encouraged you, and urged you to live your lives in a way that God would consider worthy. For he called you into his Kingdom to share his glory.

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, please help me become a motivator of others by the way I affirm, patiently challenge, and encourage them.

Be a Builder-Upper – Chewed Out?

Employee ReviewKey Bible Verse:  And you know we treated each of you as a father treats his own children.  – 1 Thessalonians 2:11

Bonus Reading:  1 Thessalonians 2:7-12

For six summers Jim Slevcove was my supervisor at Forest Home, a Christian conference center in California.  I held a responsible position over junior high and high school kids, but couldn’t pass up a chance to play a prank.  Like the time I passed off a laxative gum as chewing gum to some coworkers.  Word of the rigorous purgative’s effects got back to Jim.

He asked me to come to his office the next day for “a little chat.”  I was still a little defiant when Jim called me in.  There was a long, awkward silence as he leaned back in his chair and looked up at the ceiling.

Were those tears in his eyes?  Then he whispered “Benny” with tender affection.  “Benny,” he repeated twice while he got control of his emotions.

My arguments disappeared like the vapor they were.  I’d gone way over the line of propriety, not to mention compassion.  I owed and paid Jim and my victims an apology.  We talked about my impulsiveness and vindictiveness, the meaning of Christian community, and the responsibilities that go with leadership.  Even in saying the hard thing to me, Jim was always gracious.  His goal was not to tear down but to build up.

—Ben Patterson in He Has Made Me Glad

My Response:  A person who needs affirmation and grace from me today is …

Thought to Apply:  Correction does much, but encouragement does more. Encouragement after censure is as the sun after a shower.—Johann Von Goethe (German poet)

Adapted from He Has Made Me Glad (InterVarsity, 2005)

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, please help me become a motivator of others by the way I affirm, patiently challenge, and encourage them.

Be a Builder-Upper – Puzzling Patron

Diner WaitressKey Bible Verse:  Timothy, I thank God for you. … Night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. 2 Timothy 1:3

Bonus Reading:  Hebrews 10:24

As a teen, I waitressed at a Coco’s restaurant.  Around 9 o’clock one February night, I started feeling sorry for myself.  My friends were at the movies, but I had to work until closing.

That’s when the hostess grabbed my arm. “This is really creepy,” she whispered, “but there’s a man over there who said he wouldn’t eat here unless you were his waitress.”

I swallowed hard.  “Is he a weirdo?”

“See for yourself,” she said.  We peered through the decorative foliage at the mysterious man in the corner.  Slowly he lowered his menu, revealing thick, white hair, silver-blue eyes, and a wide grin beneath his white moustache.  He lifted his hand and waved.

“That’s no weirdo,” I said. “That’s my dad!”

“Coming to see you at work?” the hostess balked.  “Pretty strange, if you ask me.”

I thought it was cool.  But to Dad I acted nonchalant, rattling off the soup of the day and scribbling down his order before anyone could see him squeeze my elbow and say, “Thanks, Honey.”

As he watched me clear tables and refill coffee cups, his unspoken words bounced off the wall: “I’m here.  I support you.  I’m proud of you.  Keep up the good work.  You’re my girl.  I love you.”  It was my best valentine that year.

—Alice Gray in Stories for a Teen’s Heart

My Response:  I’ll plan an “un-card” valentine for a loved one.

Thought to Apply:  Encouragement is oxygen to the soul.—George Adams (Newspaper columnist)

Adapted from Stories for a Teen’s Heart (Multnomah, 1999)

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, please help me become a motivator of others by the way I affirm, patiently challenge, and encourage them.

Be a Builder-Upper – Natural Wonder

Father-Son Grand CanyonKey Bible Verse:   How we thank God for you!  Because of you we have great joy in the presence of God.  – 1 Thessalonians 3:9

Bonus Reading:  Titus 2:6-8

When my son Joel was 12 years old, we hiked into the Grand Canyon with a close friend.  On our last evening we sat on the edge of the canyon munching on summer sausage, cheese, and crackers, and watching the majestic play of changing colors as the sun sank.

Our conversation turned from the arduous hike earlier that day to deeper things—God and creation and the kind of girl Joel ought to marry someday.  I was intensely aware of how much I loved this wonder of a son whose profile was outlined against the glories of canyon and sunset.

Pointing toward the canyon, Joel turned and said, “There’s no place on earth that shows more of God’s glory than this place!”

Ah!  The perfect moment to say what was welling up in my breast.  “There is, Joel,” I said, “something that shows God’s glory even better.”

His eyes flashed, ready to debate the point. “Where, Dad?”

“Right here, buddy,” I said, pointing at him.  “This whole canyon doesn’t add up to you.  There’s no canyon, river, mountain, or ocean that better shows the majesty of God than you, or any other human being.”

—Ben Patterson in He Has Made Me Glad

My Response:  This week I’ll watch for an occasion to affirm my son or daughter.

Thought to Apply:  There is no such whetstone to sharpen a good wit and encourage a will to learning as is praise —Roger Ascham (English scholar)

Adapted from He Has Made Me Glad (InterVarsity, 2005)

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, please help me become a motivator of others by the way I affirm, patiently challenge, and encourage them.

Be a Builder-Upper – Moving Moment

Father-Son HugKey Bible Verse:  I have the highest confidence in you, and my pride in you is great.  – 2 Corinthians 7:4

Bonus Reading:  Colossians 2:1-5

When my oldest son was 11, we built a 3′ x 4′ bookcase to put his stereo and junk on.  I’m a doofus at woodworking, but we measured, drew up plans, bought the wood, pulled out the tools, and got busy.

The result sat next to his bed for six years.  Unbeknownst to him, I’d written on the bottom: “Troy: You and I built this together on August 11, 1996.  This note is to remind you that I’ll always love you more than my life and be your biggest fan.  Never forget that. Love, Dad.”

In 2002, Troy moved into his own place, taking everything that’s his.  He hadn’t noticed anything as he wedged the bookcase into his Subaru Outback for the one-hour drive to Denver.  When we arrived at his place, we began unloading.  His roommate noticed the writing on the bottom of the bookcase as he carried it into the house. “What’s this?” he asked.

Troy came over. “What’s what?”

“This writing.”  He began to read it out loud.  I stopped in the hallway and watched Troy as he read it silently.  The roommate filled the silence.  “Uh-oh, Father-son hug moment.”  Troy smiled sheepishly as I walked over.  His hug and that look were worth the wait.

—Greg Johnson in Dad’s Everything Book for Sons

My Response:  Something tangible from me to a child of mine could be …

Thought to Apply:  I don’t care how great, how famous or successful a man or woman may be, each hungers for applause. —George Adams (Newspaper columnist)

Adapted from Dad’s Everything Book for Sons (Zondervan, 2003)

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, please help me become a motivator of others by the way I affirm, patiently challenge, and encourage them.

Be a Builder-Upper – Boos or Bouquets?

Happy BirthdayKey Bible Verse:  Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement. Ephesians 4:29

Bonus Reading:  Proverbs 15:23; 16:24

When Jacques Plante, the great National Hockey League goalie, retired, someone asked him how he had liked being a goalie.  He quipped, “How would you like a job where if you make a mistake, a big red light goes on and 18,000 people boo?”

Families, and churches, can be like that.

We have a family birthday tradition I really love—a kind of “rite of affirmation.”  The way it works is simple.  We bombard the birthday person with compliments.

If it’s my daughter, Mary, being celebrated, I tell her I love the way she laughs so hard that tears squirt out her eyes like little saline projectiles. I let her know what a thoughtful, interesting person she is, how I love her kindness, and what a pleasure it is to take a walk with her.

Her mother, brothers, and friends also speak their appreciation. She grows quiet and warm and even more beautiful. And her eyes show how hungrily her heart drinks it in.

She’s enlarged in her soul, made deeper and stronger. Although she and her brothers are now young adults, they still respond the same way. So does my wife. So do I. This kind of grace evokes joyful gratitude in all who hear.

—Ben Patterson in He Has Made Me Glad

My Response:  I’ll tell one family member what I admire and love about him or her.

Adapted from He Has Made Me Glad (InterVarsity, 2005)

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, please help me become a motivator of others by the way I affirm, patiently challenge, and encourage them.

Be a Builder-Upper – Call Forth the Best

Professor in ClassWho Said It…Ben Patterson

Ben used to be an avid wrestler and weightlifter.  Now he focuses on a different kind of building up.  He disciples students. He is currently the campus pastor at Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California.

He previously served in the same role at Hope College in Holland, Michigan. Ben has written a number of books.  He’s also pastored churches on the east and west coasts.

What He Said…Call Forth the Best

Gracious words build up and strengthen others, calling forth their best.

I read of a professor at a small New England college who year after year was voted by his colleagues and students as the school’s outstanding instructor.  When he retired, the college held a banquet in his honor and asked him to give a speech explaining the secret of his success as a teacher.

The professor blushed as he began and said, “Well, I guess I can say it now that I’m leaving.  At the beginning of every semester, in every class I taught, I would identify the student who seemed most likely to fail.  On the first exam, I gave this person a far better grade than he or she deserved.

And then I somehow made it known to the rest of the class, in the student’s hearing, how well the student had done.  In 40 years of teaching, it never failed to produce the desired result. Every student rose to a higher level.”

Adapted from He Has Made Me Glad (InterVarsity, 2005)

Prayer for the Week:  Lord, please help me become a motivator of others by the way I affirm, patiently challenge, and encourage them.

Unboxing God – Feeling Like Job

Job and His FriendsAfter Eliphaz, one of the suffering Job’s critical “comforters,” has lectured him to stop quarreling with God and clean up his life (Job chapter 22), Job makes his rebuttal (chapter 23).

He puts into words the frustration that you—and a host of other believers—have felt at one time or another in seeking to relate to the Almighty.  But it’s a frustration that avoids despair by hanging on to faith.

Interact with God’s Word

Job 23:1-10

  1. What does Job feel about the “sentence” he’s been served (v. 2)?
  2. What qualities of his divine Judge does he remain confident about (vv. 6-7)?
  3. What frustrates Job about God’s immaterial nature (vv. 3, 8-9)?
  4. But does God have any trouble locating him (v. 10)?
  5. Have you felt God to be elusive when you’ve attempted contact?
  6. What does Job feel about communicating with God (vv.3-5)?
  7. How can you listen for God’s voice and understand what it’s conveying to you?

Spend Time in Prayer: Ask God to overwhelm you with His greatness. And ask Him to make His spirit—presence as real to you as the flesh-and-blood world you touch and hear.

Job 23:1-10

1Then Job spoke again:

2 “My complaint today is still a bitter one, and I try hard not to groan aloud.

3 If only I knew where to find God, I would go to his throne and talk with him there.

4 I would lay out my case and present my arguments.

5 Then I would listen to his reply and understand what he says to me.

6 Would he merely argue with me in his greatness? No, he would give me a fair hearing.

7 Fair and honest people can reason with him, so I would be acquitted by my Judge.

8 “I go east, but he is not there. I go west, but I cannot find him.

9 I do not see him in the north, for he is hidden. I turn to the south, but I cannot find him.

10 But he knows where I am going. And when he has tested me like gold in a fire, he will pronounce me innocent.

Prayer for the Week:   Although You are beyond my comprehension, Lord, I long to know You better.  Give me a closer glimpse of Your glory.

Unboxing God – Speechless

SilenceKey Bible Verses:  O God, don’t sit idly by, silent and inactive!  – Psalm 83:1

Bonus Reading:  Isaiah 64:1-12

Chess master and mentor Bruce Pandolfini discussed, in a Fast Company magazine article, how he works with his students.  “My lessons consist of a lot of silence.  I listen to other teachers, and they’re always talking. … I let my students think.

If I do ask a question and I don’t get the right answer, I’ll rephrase the question—and wait.  I never give the answer.  Most of us really don’t appreciate the power of silence.  Some of the most effective communication—between student and teacher, between master players—takes place during silent periods.”

Could this be how God mentors us?  Is God’s apparent silence the method of a Master Teacher?

When I go through seasons when God’s answers don’t come quickly or on the surface of things—but the way God interacts with my prayers draws me into deeper trust, dependence, and obedience—the answers I find radically transcend what I initially sought to find.

  1. I get introduced to sin that I need to confront.
  2. I recognize patterns of behavior I need to break.
  3. I gain insights into who I am that I didn’t have before.
  4. I discover a depth of relationship with God that I’ve never before experienced.

—James Emery White in Embracing the Mysterious God

My Response:  Which numbered sentence fits where God’s silence is pointing me now?

Thought to Apply:  Sometimes Thou dost withdraw Thyself from us that we might know the sweetness of Thy presence.—Thomas À Kempis (Dutch monastic)

Adapted from Embracing the Mysterious God (InterVarsity, 2003)

Prayer for the Week:  Although You are beyond my comprehension, Lord, I long to know You better.  Give me a closer glimpse of Your glory.

Unboxing God – Hide-and-Seek

Hide and SeekKey Bible Verse:  Truly you are a God who hides himself, O God and Savior of Israel.  Isaiah 45:15

Bonus Reading:  Job 19:7-12, 23-27; 23:1-10

When my children were small, I’d come home from work, kiss my wife and children hello, and, when their backs were turned, quickly hide in our linen closet. 

Why would I do such a thing?  The kids swiftly discerned that Dad was initiating a game of hide-and-seek.

They’d look everywhere for me, except that linen closet.  After a little while, when the kids were searching some other part of the house, I’d slip out and sit at the table, drinking coffee with my wife.  The kids would see me, do a double take and say, “Where were you?”  I wouldn’t tell them my secret hiding place.

One day I kissed my family hello, vanished into my linen closet and heard the kids scampering around trying to find me.  After a few minutes, the house became silent. When I came out of hiding, I found them downstairs playing with Legos.  They’d lost interest in finding Dad!

Does God ever hide from us?  Yes.  Sometimes God hides Himself from us because of our sin.  Perhaps at other times He hides Himself so that His people might seek Him on a deeper and more intimate level.

Don’t assume that because God knows all things He has no desire to be known Himself.

—Larry Dixon in DocDevos

My Response:  Am I willing to keep looking when God “hides”?

Thought to Apply:  Ever since the days of Adam, man has been hiding from God and saying, “God is hard to find.” —Fulton Sheen (Roman Catholic bishop, broadcaster)

Adapted from DocDevos (Christian Publications, 2002)

Prayer for the Week:  Although You are beyond my comprehension, Lord, I long to know You better.  Give me a closer glimpse of Your glory.

18 ways to be more United Methodist in 2018

When making New Year’s resolutions for 2018, we hope you will consider joining us in participating in several of these very United Methodist activities in the months ahead.

1. Visit historic sites

As you plan the route of your spring break and summer road trips, include visits to historic United Methodist sites. We’ve compiled a couple of lists of some of our favorites (one | two), and United Methodist Archives and History has a comprehensive list. In certain areas, you may be able to plan a vacation that includes a visit to a historic United Methodist site every day.

2. Read

John Wesley may have considered himself “a person of one book,” but he was also a prolific writer and voracious reader. Grow your faith by reading good books, Wesley’s sermons, classics, histories, theologies, or whatever feeds your spirit. (You could also subscribe to an awesome podcast!)

3. Ride a horse

John Wesley, Francis Asbury, and every circuit-riding preacher in the early days of Methodism, traveled thousands of miles by horseback. Many were skilled enough to read and write while riding. Don’t emulate them while driving your car! Wesley even had a chamber horse—a riding simulator—in his London home to use when the weather was bad.

4. Serve somebody

Wesley encouraged Methodists to practice acts of compassion by serving someone. Go on a mission trip, volunteer at the local food bank, meet the needs of your neighbor, and reach out to someone you pass on the street. Serve Jesus by serving your neighbor (see Matthew 25).

5. Join a small group

Small groups are at the heart of United Methodism. The Methodist movement began not as a church, but as a collection of connected societies, classes, and bands (oh my!). These gatherings were places where Christians would “watch over one another in love.”

6. Enjoy a shared meal

Few things are more United Methodist than a shared meal, sometimes called a potluck supper or covered dish dinner. If you grew up in the church, you know the joy of sampling from a table filled with Crock-Pots and casserole dishes, then enjoying these favorite family recipes with your church friends. Consider hosting a shared meal in your home!

7. Stick to a budget

John Wesley gave some amazing advice for how we should handle our money: (1) make all you can, (2) save all you can, (3) give all you can. Make this the year you take control of your money, simplify, and live generously.

8. Stand up for another

Loving our neighbors includes working to right social wrongs that oppress them. Go to a rally. Write your government officials. Attend school board and town council meetings. Get involved in working for justice in your community, region, nation, and world.

9. Hold family devotions

John and Charles Wesley’s mom Susanna made special time for her children each week to mentor them spiritually. Some of John Wesley’s very first class meetings met on Thursday evenings, which was his time with Susanna as a child. Coincidence?

10. Join a committee

As United Methodists, we’re addicted to committees. Our congregations even have committees to form committees. While we joke about it, these are some of the best ways to get involved in your congregation, district, annual conference, and beyond. Serve your church by joining a committee.

11. Give to UMCOR

The United Methodist Church offers great opportunities to participate in ministries that serve people around the corner and around the world. Give to the United Methodist Committee on Relief on UMCOR Sunday (March 11, 2018) or anytime to help with their relief work.

12. Deepen your devotional life

Wesley said that two means of grace every Methodist should practice are “searching the Scriptures” and prayer. Find some helps from the Upper Room, Cokesbury, or elsewhere, to assist you as you listen for the Holy Spirit to speak to you through the Scriptures, and in prayer.

13. Eat spicy food

We cannot force an experience like the one John Wesley had near Aldersgate Street on May 24, 1738. The best we can do is simulate it with a good, spicy meal that will give us a different kind of heartwarming sensation.

14. Tell your mom you love her

Although his dad was the pastor, John Wesley’s mom was probably the biggest influence in his life. Her spiritual leadership taught him to encourage women and men to lead in the Methodist movement. John often sought his mother’s advice. Other times, it was unsolicited—like her encouragement to use lay preachers—and her son followed anyway.

15. Write a hymn

Charles Wesley, John’s brother, wrote over 6,000 hymns in his lifetime! Surely, you and I can write one. Change the words to favorite tune to reflect a spiritual truth. It may not be publishable, but it can be something just between you and God.

16. Follow the rules

Following in the footsteps of John Wesley, we United Methodist like to follow rules. The very first societies were given three simple rules that we sometimes summarize as (1) do good, (2) do no harm, and (3) stay in love with God. It seems best if rules come in threes (see “Stick to a budget” above).

17. Attend worship every Sunday

Hearing the Bible read, joining our voice in song, hearing a sermon, receiving communion, and praying with others, are important ways we grow individually and together. Never miss an opportunity to worship.

18. Enjoy some coffee

Although John Wesley might disagree—he knew water was the healthiest drink—we United Methodists are known for our coffee consumption. Use the Sunday morning fellowship time before and after worship (even if you’re not a fan of coffee) to greet your neighbors and connect with your church family.

And if you are searching for a group of United Methodists to join you in trying these tips, you can always try the Find-A-Church tool. Have a terrific new year!

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

Unboxing God – Security Check

Line at Immigration CheckpointKey Bible Verse:   How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his methods! Romans 11:33

Bonus Reading:  Isaiah 40:13-14; 27-29

God isn’t limited by us, nor our predicaments.

I met a Hong Kong resident who’d arranged to take some Scriptures—contraband at the time—into China.  They were for pastors in a northern province who’d arranged to meet him in the southern city of Guangzhou.  He discreetly packed just over 100 Bibles into his suitcases.

But at the border, customs officials searched his bags.  They discovered and confiscated the Bibles but allowed him to proceed.  He checked into his Guangzhou hotel, discouraged at the prospect of the next day having to face pastors who’d traveled for several days to obtain these Scriptures.

That evening there was a knock on his door.  He opened to a European couple who told him they were Christians who’d been behind him at the customs checkpoint.  It so happened that they’d filled their bags with Bibles too, but the officials hadn’t searched them. 

Checking into their hotel, they received a message that the person for whom their Bibles were intended was unable to come.  While having dinner in the hotel restaurant, they’d spotted my Hong Kong acquaintance and followed him to his room. 

Could he use the 200 Bibles in their suitcases?

—Paul-Gordon Chandler in God’s Global Mosaic

My Response:  A time when God brought deliverance out of an apparent disaster was …

Thought to Apply:  God often takes a course for accomplishing His purposes directly contrary to what our narrow views would prescribe. —John Newton (slave trader, pastor)

Adapted from God’s Global Mosaic (InterVarsity, 1997)

Prayer for the Week:  Although You are beyond my comprehension, Lord, I long to know You better.  Give me a closer glimpse of Your glory.

New Year Prayer

Unboxing God – Beyond Me

Child Praying to GodKey Bible Verse:  “My thoughts are completely different from yours,” says the LORD. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.” Isaiah 55:8

Bonus Reading:  Isaiah 55:9-11

Psychiatrist Robert Coles asked a girl if she thought much about God.  It turned out Meaghan did. 

She reflected on a friend of her father, hospitalized with lung cancer.  She wondered aloud how a “God in heaven” can find the time to take note of each and every “Mr. Boyle” in this world of billions and billions of people.  “How can it be?” she asked Coles.  He admitted that he’d never been able to answer that question.

Well, she reflected, “I guess He’s not one of us!  He was, but then He went back to being God.  I guess if you’re God you know everything, but the way you know everything—it’s different.

In church they say we should pray a lot, and I try to remember … I think of Him, and I try to talk to Him.  I ask Him the same questions, like how He remembers everything.  You know what He says: ‘I just do!'”

Coles concludes, “At only 12 years of age she’d learned of His inscrutability; she’d also learned that ‘His ways are not ours’ …  He lives beyond the eyes and the ears, she told me, beyond the human mind—and she struggled to bridge that infinite distance with her imagined scenes of God in heaven, her provocative questions.”

—Timothy Jones in Nurturing a Child’s Soul

My Response:  Is my inability to fully comprehend God frustrating or reassuring?  Why?

Thought to Apply:  Dear God: Are you really invisible or is that just a trick? —Lucy (in Children’s Letters to God)

Adapted from Nurturing a Child’s Soul (Word, 2000)

Prayer for the Week:  Although You are beyond my comprehension, Lord, I long to know You better.  Give me a closer glimpse of Your glory.

Unboxing God – Sum and Substance

Church OrganistKey Bible Verse:  He lives in light so brilliant that no human can approach him.  No one has ever seen him, nor ever will. 1 Timothy 6:16

Bonus Reading:  Acts 17:22-31

How could anyone possibly know the One who animates galaxies and energizes each atom?  Who are we to think we can comprehend a trillionth of this incredible power?  God is, in Anselm’s words, “That than which no greater can be conceived.”

As a youngster, I attended Bethel Congregational Church, where in every worship service, Mr. Blakeslee, the organist, sat front and center behind a soft burgundy curtain. I could glimpse only the back of his bald head. Somehow with my small eyes and ears watching and listening each week, I came to connect Mr. Blakeslee with God.  God played unseen music with hidden hands and a mysterious face.  Was he smiling or scowling?  I had no clue.  If I had chanced a guess based on the music, he’d be minor-chord prone, majestic, gloomy, and loud.

For many of us who’ve carried similar images into adulthood, God remains inscrutable and distant.  Is a grin playing on the lips, a tear moving, a glint of anger flashing?  We try to discern the face of the player by the music, but all we know is the back of a bald head.  We’re also curious: What is this musician like away from the instrument and the score?  Gentle?  Petty?  Vindictive?  Fun-loving?

—Chris Blake in Searching for a God to Love

My Response:  The mental picture I have of God is …

Adapted from Searching for a God to Love (Word, 2000)

Prayer for the Week: Although You are beyond my comprehension, Lord, I long to know You better.  Give me a closer glimpse of Your glory.

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to everyone from the kind folks of Central Church!

Our doors are always open to you. 

Why not make a New Year’s resolution to join us for worship on Sunday?

Central Church’s doors decorated for Christmas