Hang On To That Boat!

Here is how Eugene Peterson tells a story about Jesus  from the Gospel of Mark, Chapter 4:

Late that day he said to them, “Let’s go across to the other side.”  They took him in the boat as he was.  Other boats came along. A huge storm came up.  Waves poured into the boat, threatening to sink it.  And Jesus was in the stern, head on a pillow, sleeping!They roused him, saying, “Teacher, is it nothing to you that we’re going down?”

Awake now, he told the wind to pipe down and said to the sea, “Quiet! Settle down!” The wind ran out of breath, the sea became smooth as glass. Jesus reprimanded the disciples: “Why are you such cowards? Don’t you have any faith at all?”

They were in absolute awe, staggered.  “Who is this, anyway?” they asked. “Wind and sea at his beck and call!”

The way to find peace is to follow Jesus.  I have been told that during the time of Jesus, fishermen were encouraged not to learn how to swim.  Why wouldn’t you want a fisherman to know how to swim? They are out in the water all day. Wouldn’t you want that to be a requirement? We might not agree, but their answer was “no.” Not learning to swim was considered a survival skill. The reason was this. If someone knew how to swim and a storm came up, they might try to make it on their own. But if they didn’t know how to swim, they would hang on to the boat. And then there was a good chance they would be rescued. (They would also not lose the boat.) They were encouraged to stay with the boat.

This life of faith is not always easy.  It means speaking when we’d rather be quiet.  It means listening when we’d rather talk.  It means forgiving those who hurt us.  Hanging on the boat means living our lives in such a way that faith is at the center.

Hang on because Jesus is in the boat with us. And he will calm the storms, the big ones, the ones inside of us. He is the only one who can do it. Jesus will calm the storms of fear, depression, anger, loneliness, boredom.  How did Jesus still the storm? He told it to be quiet. We need to be quiet. I have learned that when there is a storm inside of me, I should not speak. It only feeds the storm. Our thoughts, our words, our actions, can all be controlled. Set aside angry words, angry deeds, angry deeds and focus, instead, on Jesus. Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life of peace.

I am convinced that everybody is just going into a storm or just coming out of one. We can’t stop the storms of life. But, we can find peace. Stay in the boat. Hang on to Jesus.

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Out with Old, In with the New!

“I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”  John 10:10b

There is always something exciting about starting a new calendar year.  All of us can point to hardships and trouble from 2014 that we are more than happy to leave behind.  Within each of us is a deep desire for a new start.  No matter what transpired during 2015, we seem to have a natural desire to enter 2015 with hope for the best year ever.  Many of the events of 2015 will be out of our control – we will likely be troubled by world events, political and natural.  Hardships will most certainly enter our personal lives as well – illnesses, loss of friends and family, financial stress, mishaps, and misunderstandings.

Here is the Good News – in the face of everything that can and will go wrong in 2015, followers of Jesus can proclaim with absolute certainty that this year will be the best year ever!  In fact, Christians can confidently make this claim every year.  This is not wishful thinking.  Followers of Christ are able to grow daily in hope, peace, and love through intentional faith development.  In other words, our lives become more and more exciting as we grow closer to Christ.

At Weston United Methodist Church, we offer a number of ways for believers to make 2015 the best year ever.  Here are a few suggestions:

  • Develop a plan of study. This might include a daily reading of the Bible or the Upper Room or participating in a Bible study, prayer group, or Sunday school class. Suggest topics for new classes!  Schedule a private retreat. Start a gratitude journal.
  • Develop a plan to serve. Serve as an usher or greeter. Join the Easter choir. Check out the many mission opportunities offered locally and abroad. Buy a mission t-shirt – be a walking billboard for our mission projects! Pray daily that more persons will have their lives changed by following Jesus. Send cards to those who are ill and grieving and also to those who have cause for celebration.
  • Develop a plan to worship. Approach every Sunday as if you are celebrating the Resurrection of Jesus because you are! Sing like you mean it! Attend Sunday services when possible. At other times, review our service online. Every service is important – don’t miss any of them! Invite others to join you.

Together, let’s find abundant life in Christ and make 2015 the best year ever!

Thoughts on Changes to Missouri United Methodist Camping and Retreat Ministry

Recently, there was an announcement from our Conference office concerning the future of the camping and retreat program of the United Methodist churches in Missouri. The Camping Board has decided that summer camps for 2015 will not continue at our four traditional camp sites.  Instead, they are proposing that some of our camps be held at Central Methodist University in Fayette, MO.  In addition, day camps will bring camp experiences to local church communities.  Each unit will come with trained staff to facilitate dramas, dynamic worship and engaging activities including a rock wall, water slides, archery, and bungee jump as a way to strengthen discipleship efforts of the local church.

This announcement, which was meant to be good news, was not received favorably by many of those who have been involved with the four traditional camp sites. I was one who did not initially respond well to this announcement of a new direction.  Like so many others, I wondered why I had not heard any mention of this at Annual Conference.  And I was angry.  Two of those sites, Galilee and Wilderness have meant a great deal to me.  It was at Galilee, as a camp counselor, that I clearly understood for the first time that I was a beloved child of God.  As I continued to serve as camp counselor for a number of years at Galilee and at Wilderness, I saw many young lives changed as they discovered the power of Christ to renew, heal, and save.  It was at Wilderness Camp that I received confirmation of my call to pastoral ministry.

I have deep emotional ties to the campers and counselors and directors that I have worked with over the years. I also feel deep emotional ties to the campgrounds themselves.  As I have reflected on this announcement of this new direction, I have felt a heaviness of heart, a grief that I can’t quite put into words.  Although camp is only for one week, the memories of what happen during those few days nurture and sustain the campers (and counselors) throughout the year until the next year’s camp.  To have this spiritual lifeline so abruptly interrupted is, indeed, quite painful.

As I have prayed about this and examined my own heart, I now find myself ready to embrace the changes. One factor that helped me was to remember the fantastic experiences I had directing junior high canoe camps at the NRO campground along the Niangua River.  These were conference-sponsored camps held on property that did not belong to the conference.  We slept in tents, prepared our own meals, canoed down the river and stopped to play on the mud slides.  Each night the campers led amazing, grace-filled worship services.  These memories have reminded me that great camping experiences can happen anywhere because God is everywhere.  I can easily envision students having a rewarding experience at Central Methodist University.  Also, I am intrigued by the idea of a team bringing the camp experience to my community.  I think we, in Weston, could get very excited about inviting everyone we know to the day camp activities outlined in the announcement.  Just as Wesley took his preaching to the people, I am eager to offer camping and retreat experiences here in Weston.

I look forward to receiving more details of these new programs. Our camping and retreat programs are not going away, but they are being changed.  Like any new endeavor, I am sure there will be elements that will need to be re-evaluated and adjusted.  I pray that Missouri United Methodists will continue to transform lives through dynamic camping and retreat ministries.  May God strengthen and bless those who design our new programs and may we see record numbers of persons of all ages discover and deepen their relationship to Christ!

Daily Prayer

Scripture:  “You show me the path of life.  In your presence there is fullness of joy; in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”  Psalm 16: 11 (NRSV)
My family loves animals.  When I was a child, we had many pets including lizards, turtles, fish, snakes, hamsters, dogs, cats, and birds, including a Half Moon Conure named Pete. Our bonds with some of the animals were stronger than others.  Pete imitated a number of noises including crying babies, machines, and sirens, but Pete did not talk.  The general consensus was that Pete lacked the intelligence to speak.   I was not convinced.  As a young child with little else to do, I began to spend many hours each day coaching Pete. One day he responded with a gravelly, but distinct “hello.”  Pete and I went on to develop a special relationship that brought me much joy.

So often in our faith lives we forget that developing a deep relationship with God requires time and effort. Learning to hear God’s voice requires daily prayer.  The rewards of such a life are peace and joy.

Prayer:  We long to hear from you, O Lord.  Grant us patience and persistence as we seek your guidance.  Amen

Prayer focus:  those who yearn for God’s guidance

 

 

God as Artist

Scripture:  Then God said, “Let there be a space between the waters, to separate the waters of the heavens from the waters of the earth.”

Genesis 1:6 (NLT)

I have discovered that making brick size mosaic stepping stones is not only relaxing, but therapeutic.  I usually begin with several squares of opaque glass in colors that suit my mood.  Using a tile cutter, I score the glass into small sections.  I understand that most people use tools to break the glass into chunks, but I do not because I enjoy the sensation of snapping the glass apart with my bare hands.  These irregular pieces are then strung out on a table in no particular order, waiting to see what they will become.  Most often, I begin the construction process with no particular design in mind, only a mood and a color scheme.  Certain pieces seem to choose their place as a pattern or picture emerges. The grout background solidifies the creation.  As I gaze upon the finished brick, I wonder how God felt in separating the waters from the sky and then separating the waters on earth to reveal dry ground.  As those who were created in God’s image, we find healing anytime we channel our imagination into creating crafts and projects.  The mosaic reminds me that when we feel broken, God is using the brokenness to reveal a new, glorious reality.

Prayer focus:  those who create arts and crafts

Prayer:  Lord, thank you for the gift of imagination.  May our projects remind us that when we feel broken, You are about to reveal a new and glorious aspect of our lives.  Amen.

God as Dance Leader

“Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths; guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long.”  Psalm 25:4-5 (NIV)

A lot of what I have learned about faith has happened in ballroom dance class.  As one who had studied jazz, tap, and ballet, I was excited when my husband Scott signed us up for lessons.  I was certain that I would quickly learn the patterns.  On the first lesson, however, I received a rude awakening.  We were informed that there is a strict rule in ballroom proclaiming that the leader is in charge.  I was horrified.  “You mean I can only move when he says so?  And I can only turn when he decides?”  As the one who had studied dance, it didn’t seem fair.  For awhile, it wasn’t much fun. Once, he waltzed me into a pole because he had not yet learned how to turn.   Many other times, the dance fell apart because I couldn’t/ wouldn’t/ didn’t want to follow.

Now, years later, I find joy in being a follower. I have discovered a certain freedom within the following.  I have discovered that I can follow in my own unique way.  There are interesting things I can do with my hands; I can even syncopate the steps.   I am not burdened with the stress of planning patterns, but my job is to pay attention and be ready to walk, slide, spin, or swivel. Magic happens when the leading and following are synched together.

This idea of the leading and following has helped me think about my faith life.  God is the perfect leader who always knows what’s ahead.  God is in charge of the universe whether I like it or not.  Anytime and every time I try to lead my own life, following my own will instead of God’s, I become tired, and stressed. What a joy to discover that God wants to lead all of us to abundant life!  My job, then, as a follower of Christ, is to pay attention to the leading of God’s Spirit through prayer, study, worship, and service.  Let us celebrate the dance of eternal life!

Prayer focus:  dancers

Prayer:  Lord, help me to seek your will and not my own.  Open my heart and mind to ways that I might follow you in every aspect of my life.

God the Divine Mechanic

 

“O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you have healed me.”  Psalm 30:1 (NRSV)

                                                           

For a number of years, I have been driving a very old car that has many miles, dents, and scratches.  One day I took the car to a local mechanic because it was making a disturbing noise. I feared that the car was beyond repair.   I was delighted when the smiling mechanic returned my keys a few moments later, explaining that the car was fine.  I inquired about the noise.  He said, “You mean this noise?”  Then he mimicked the sound from somewhere deep within his throat and explained that it was a hose that he had easily repaired. 

On the way home, I reflected on the fact that I had driven the car for so long and yet knew so little about its internal workings.   Yet, this mechanic knew every part of the car. He understood its inner workings.  He heard its cry and healed its brokenness.  It occurred to me that God is like a Divine Mechanic who knows us better than we know ourselves and desires for us to be whole.  When we pray in times of distress, God the Creator, who put us together, hears our cries of brokenness and offers healing. 

Prayer focus:  those who feel broken.

Prayer:  Lord, we pray that you will hear our cries and heal the brokenness in our lives.  We pray for healing of our hearts and healing of our broken relationships.  Amen