“Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow, they neither toil nor spin…” ~ Matthew 6:28

Thank you, my beloved congregation for the privilege of my renewal leave these past two months. Thank you, Pastor Mar and the leadership team, for leading and nurturing the people of Fields while I was away.  During the time away, I visited several churches for worship, spoke to numerous people along the way, prayed for every person of Fields by name daily, spent more time with family, read more than I have been able to do for years, caught up on chores around the house, and most importantly, learned how to “consider.” For so long I have been in a rush, often times sojourning with doing little more than offering a passing glance to those I “passed by;” I had things to do and places to go after all! Yet God had other ideas, reminding me what is truly good and wonderful, fulfilling and awe-inspiring. In other words, I took the time to truly “consider” what God has offered to me and the people of God; I was awe-struck by what I found! I “considered” my calling to preach the Good News with the confidence of a child of God; I “considered” my calling to walk with those in need and the blessings bestowed and received; I “considered” my calling to family, transitioning Dad to a new chapter of his life, moving Abby to her first apartment,  celebrating what was and what is to come and even more deeply fell in love with my beloved Laurie, Kelly, Abby, and even our wild puppy Tucker; I “considered” my calling to offer grace in every circumstance and to every person regardless of my personal opinion; I “considered” my calling and what it means to be ordained within the United Methodist Church and the charge the Bishop gave me twenty three years ago to “take authority” within the charge to which I am appointed. I “considered” our shared calling to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” When Jesus calls us to “consider,” it is a calling to look to all things created with the eyes of a child, in awe, wonder, and thanksgiving. To “consider” is to have fun in life, to actively choose to celebrate all that is good rather than dwell on what was or the negativity which at times rears its ugly head.  In God-speak, “considering” is focusing “solely” on God and recognizing each of our calling to fully live out our faith in love, hope, grace, and joy. As we begin our 9th year in ministry together, let us fulfill our shared calling by what-ever means necessary, with the same joy that Jesus shared with all people. Let us together even more deeply fall in love with God. God is incredibly good, all the time. I am excited, I am pumped, I am ready, I am committed to sharing the Good (no the amazing) news of Jesus Christ to our community, nation and world.

 

Pastor Tom

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The Day of Rest Deuteronomy 5:12

“Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the Lord your God commanded you.” (Deuteronomy 5:12, NRSV)

Then he said to them, “The sabbath day was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath; so the Son of Man is Lord even of the sabbath.” (Mark 2:27-28, NRSV)

How regularly do we take our commanded day of rest? We run through life at a breakneck pace. We utilize every moment available to its fullest extent, striving to do as much as possible with the 168 hours in each week. As we pat ourselves on the back for such extraordinary, superhuman productivity, we must ask ourselves about the cost to our physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. God commanded that we take a day of rest, not for the sake of God, but for our sake: “The sabbath day was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath” (Mark 2:27). God knows that we have limits, and in order to live the whole and abundant lives that God desires for us, we must take regular opportunities to refresh and recharge not only our physical batteries, but our spiritual ones as well. God rested on the seventh day, and so should we – unlike God, we actually need that rest. On this designated day of rest, there should be no “work” of any kind – this is a day to commune with God, to “take time to be holy,” as the song says. This day should be devoted to growing closer to God: read scripture, go on a nature walk, spend time with family and friends, pray, or simply sit in the silence with God. Many of us are unable to take our sabbath on Sundays – we live in a time in which Sunday has become just another day of the week to the secular world – and, if this is the case, choose a different day; the commandment is to rest on one day out of every seven, whatever day that happens to be. In the gospels, Jesus is frequently seen taking time away from the people and the crowds to take his sabbath, to be alone with God, to sit and bask in the presence and peace of God, to be with his friends. Take note, then, that even the Son of God observed a day of rest. This requirement to rest regularly, and to keep this day of rest holy, is yet another example of the fierce love of a God who knows us inside and out – the God who knows that if this day of rest was not commanded, we would not take it. God wants us to love ourselves, even as we are commanded to love our neighbors, and this begins with taking our rest. God gives us explicit permission to rest, even requiring it of us, because God knows we need it to thrive.

 

Pastor Mar

Love is Patient…

“Love is Patient…”

“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7, NRSV)

 

Love – the greatest commandment, the most beautiful commandment, and yes, the hardest of commandments. Often, I get asked to qualify and delineate the concept of this “neighbor” that we are called to love. The simplest answer to this is to think about whom Jesus loved; he loved… everyone! Therefore, everyone is your neighbor. Even the ones who test your patience, your faith, your very sanity. Even the ones with whom you cannot sit in the same space. Even the ones with whom you vehemently disagree on almost everything. Especially the ones who you would rather not have included in the idea of “neighbor.” Jesus never really made things easy for us, did he? Sometimes we wish there were an exception clause or two, a loophole. But there are none – we are called to love EVERYONE! Clearly, the apostle Paul must have had similar questions around the idea of loving neighbor from the churches, and in the passages for this week, Romans 12:9-13 and 1 Corinthians 13:1-7, he expands on what this commandment to love one’s neighbor entails. The answer is essentially the same in both passages: we are to love others as God loves them. Sincerely, with genuine devotion to their well-being, not seeking to place ourselves over them. Loving them into their best selves, even when we feel we have no more love to give. For we know that when we love God and know God’s love, we will never run out of love to give to others. Paul goes on to describe what love is and what love is not in the passage quoted above. He tells us to be patient with one another, be kind, be humble, meet people where they are, and really listen with interest and attention to what they might have to say. Love them as Jesus loves them. Love them as Jesus loves you. It may not be easy, but we also know that Jesus promised joy to those who follow his commandment to love one another as he has loved us (John 15:9-12). It is a joyful thing both to love and to be loved. Practice the patient and kind love of neighbor in your daily life, and may your joy be full!

Pastor Mar

. “What God is talking about”

“This is how God showed his love for us: God sent his only Son into the world so we might live through him.”

I John 4:9 (The Message)

Throughout history, God sent all kinds of people to witness how much God loves us; God sent “judges,” “kings,” and “prophets,” but the message was difficult to understand. It would seem the challenge is that we try to go about life believing we can be just fine on our own. Yet the longer we live out that attitude, the further away we drift from the One who is the author of all that is good and true. It almost seems like a self-fulfilling prophecy; the more we think and act in such a way that puts us in charge the more we get into trouble. The love of God sees us for who we are and accepts us where we find ourselves, but God loves us too much to allow us to remain out of touch with our Savior and Redeemer. Imagine the love that is shared with us through our Risen Savior Jesus Christ. It’s not about who we are, it is about whose we are.  God loves us so much that he gave us his only Son so we may “live through him.” In other words, if we accept Jesus as the One who will break down the walls we have built around ourselves and God (sin) and will fill us to the max with grace that has no end, then we will be blessed beyond our wildest dreams.  The blessings do not come in the form financial reward or stuff but rather with the confidence that we are never alone, not only in this life but in the life to come. Living “through” Jesus is nothing more than living in the joy that was intended for us by God from the beginning of time. The trouble has been that time was spent running away from God rather than accepting the love of God. When Jesus came in the flesh, our story changed and became his story; a story of hope, peace, joy, and the pure love of God. So what is God talking about? As Jesus told inquiring disciples, “come and see.” Thank you Jesus for being who you are.

“I Must…” John 10:19

“You need to know that I have other sheep in addition to those in this pen. I need to gather and bring them also.” (John 10:16, “The Message.”)

 

There is nobody that God doesn’t love; “amazing grace how sweet the sound.”  In a world of barriers, fences, exclusive stories, and private parties, Jesus offers an alternative. The church of Jesus Christ is open to everybody, and if some people are not welcome then the church hasn’t heard and digested the saving grace of our Lord Jesus the Christ.  Humanity values ownership and with ownership comes control. Yet faith in Jesus Christ means that we give up control to God, which for many is a hard thing to do. When we believe we have an exclusive on Jesus, then God intervenes and says “all are welcome in my house, in fact I am going to make sure to bring even more people in that you probably do not even know!” Imagine that; Jesus does not care if we think our table is full because in his eyes there is always room for one more. The church is not a country club reserved for a precious few; it is a community set on a hill that rises above exclusivity and welcomes all people, and all means all!  Jesus welcomes all who seek him, and all who do not. The Word of God is available to everybody and as soon as the church closes its doors to people that may not look quite the same, act quite the same or think quite the same, it fails to be the church of Jesus Christ and is nothing more than a social club with a sign that says, “members only.” Thank you Jesus, that you accept “even a wretch like me!”  You are loved, and you are welcome, whoever you are to the Lord’s house; you are sought out by God!

 

Pastor Tom

“My Lord and my God!” John 20:19-29

“Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

John 20:29

 

It is as if Jesus knows when our faith is weak, when our belief only can be made real by being face to face. Maybe we only need a simple reminder, or maybe it is that our belief is made manifest by our Risen Savior especially when we are searching for relief from life’s twists and turns.   Faith is interesting, when we need it the most our doubt seems magnified.  It was once said that when we think God is far away, that is when God is so near.  But we are human, we need proof, we need affirmation, we need to see the boat coming to rescue us rather than just the promise that it will arrive in time for us to be saved.  Maybe that is why Jesus is so adamant about relationship, both with him and with each other.  We were created to be part of a community, and a community that is set upon a hill for all to see, for all to be reminded, and for all to believe even what they have not seen.  When we spend so much time trying to prove God’s presence, we miss the opportunity to see God face to face; maybe that is why those who believe are blessed, even though they have no proof of the presence of God.  It is time that we accept the gift of our Risen Savior as a given, a blessing that will see us through our most challenging times though we may only see “through a mirror dimly.” The miracle of Easter is the affirmation of the presence of God, who promises to be with us, “even to the end of the age.”  When Jesus told Thomas “do not doubt but believe,” maybe it was less about chastising him for the doubts he may have had and more about being relieved from the burden of proof.   Thank you Jesus for the precious gift of faith.

Pastor Tom

An Easter Prayer John 20:1-18

Amazing God, thank you for the eternal gift we have received through the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Help us to fully understand the length, and width and depth of the grace we have received this day. Open the eyes of our soul to the new reality that this Easter event has opened for us, a reality not of hate and judgment, death and dying, but of hope, joy, peace, and everlasting life that can only come from you. You have given this gift so we may be a blessing to others, no matter who they are and what they may believe. In the world that surrounds us, our witness is even more important today.  Living a life of grace empowered by your Holy Spirit does not mean that we are any better than anybody else but rather we have been entrusted with a precious gift that needs to be offered; it is your Word that is the cure for the sin-sick soul, the salve for the wounds and bitter crosses that seem sometimes to be overwhelming. We pray for those whose heart is hardened towards you, that their heart of stone may be transformed into a heart that pumps the blood of new life empowered by your Spirit. Help us to use the same power that resurrected Jesus from the dead to be a beacon of hope rather than a hammer of judgment. Cast our eyes to the hills of your never-ending love; as you hold us precious in your sight, may we also hold precious the lives you have created. Lord, our creator and redeemer, you are the answer to every trial and tribulation. May our Easter celebration never end; may our alleluias be ever upon our lips. May our prayer this day include a transformation of how we react to the events of the day and to those around us; you being the agent of change within us that sets us free from the bonds that hinder us from fully accepting you as our salvation and being in relationship with others, those with whom we agree and those that have different viewpoints than our own.  If ever the world needs you, it is now.  The empty tomb testifies to all who mourn that life truly continues to all who believes, as you said to Martha and is affirmed this day; “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”  May our celebration be translated into outstretched hands that reach beyond ourselves to heal the sick, feed the hungry, quench the thirsty, welcome the stranger, cloth the naked, care for the sick, and visit those in prison. Thank you Jesus for the gift of your resurrection; Alleluia Amen!

Pastor Tom

Clueless Pandemonium Mark 11:1-11

“Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!”

Mark 11:9

 

There was a positive vibe the morning Jesus entered Jerusalem; the streets were full of cheering people there to see this person they have heard so much about that will free them from the world that has been persecuting them for so long.  On Palm Sunday the Christian church celebrates the triumphal entry of Jesus into the holy city of Jerusalem and marks the beginning of Holy Week. It seems odd that there was so much cheering, so much pandemonium, about somebody they apparently knew very little about. They cheered for the “one who comes in the name of the Lord,” yet Jesus was Lord, affirmed by his ultimate resurrection not many days from the time he entered the city. With all that Jesus witnessed over the past year, they should have known…   So what if the people really knew Jesus as Lord and Savior, would there be such celebration?  One would think if the people knew Jesus was the Son of God and that his empty tomb represented an eternal gift and indescribable joy then maybe the cheers would be more like, “blessed IS the Lord” who has freed us from our sin and has offered eternal life to all who believes.  Well, we need to offer grace to those who cheered Jesus along, they had no clue what was to come in the upcoming week. They had no clue that Jesus came among them to free them not from political oppression but from the burden of sin.  The folks who lined the streets had great expectations for the wrong thing. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “the peace of Jesus Christ is the cross.” Faith is not built on our expectations of Jesus but on the reality of who Jesus is; the Son of God.   Today when we cheer, lets cheer the One who is our salvation, who has freed us from all that burdens our souls, the one, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross.  Therefore, God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ IS Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:6-11) Amen and amen.

Pastor Tom

 

“For Your Sake” John 10:7-10

“I came so that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

John 10:10

 

There is a bumper sticker that proudly exclaims, “He who dies with the most stuff wins.” The more stuff we have the happier we become, right? Happiness lies with the next coupon that saves us 20%.   Life can feel like a hamster on a wheel at times; always moving but never quite reaching any particular destination.  The abundant life that Jesus offers is one that takes us off the never-ending wheel and guides us on a path that includes hope, joy, peace, and the love of Christ that has no end. Consider all that we have in this life; some have a lot of stuff, others have very little.  Still other people are just working endlessly to keep pace with those around them.  A life of faith refocuses attention from the accumulation of stuff to the reality of living in God’s eternal presence.  Stuff is ok, having good, clean fun is wonderful, but knowing that what God, through our living Savior Jesus Christ offers is not only here and now but eternal. Are you tired, “are you weak, and are you worn?” If so, maybe it is time to reconnect and refocus on the One who offers life in abundance. Celebrate the One who calls all “who are weary and carrying heavy burdens” to have relief and rest from a life that could just suck us dry if we are not careful.  Sometimes we just need to let go and allow God in to guide our steps, to take us off the “hamster wheel of life” and celebrate a life that is new, alive, hope-filled, and joyous. Jesus offers each of us life, in abundance and rest for our weary souls.

Pastor Tom

 

“The solution to violence in the world” I Peter 1:22-25

“Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart.”

I Peter 1:22

 

As our nation racks its brain over the senseless violence that we have recently experienced, as we consider options that could lessen its probability, the answer has been with us from the beginning of time. This answer has been ridiculed, marginalized and even banned in the very places that are seeing the loss of young lives.  We look to government leaders and gun control to solve growing violent behavior, and yes we as a nation need to address our current laws but gun control will not solve the epidemic if hearts and minds are not transformed by the saving grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. So what if we prayed, not just at the time of tragedy but all the time? What if the Christian church, whose basis is the grace of God, were taken more seriously not only by our nation but by those of us who profess faith in Jesus Christ? Some ridicule our Christian faith as a mental illness, but at what cost; abandoning the very solution to the problem that needs to be seriously addressed. A few people are offended by Christian prayer and so even the church backs off in the name of inclusivity and “sensitivity” to the belief or nonbelief of others.   The truth is and the fact is the Body of Christ, the church, is the solution if we take this message to the street, a message of hope and “genuine mutual love.”  A heart transformed by the Love of God will not incite nor inflict violence because its obedience is to something far greater than itself. A heart transformed by grace celebrates the sanctity of all life and respects the lives of others.   How do we as a church and as a nation begin the healing and saving process? We “love the Lord [our] God with all of [our] heart, and with all of [our] soul, and with all of [our] might, and love [our] neighbor as [ourselves].” (Jesus) And most importantly, “keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise. Bind them as a sign on your hand, fix them as an emblem on your forehead, and write them on the doorposts of your house and your gates.” (God, from Deuteronomy 6:4-9) Do not be ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, for in it is the revelation of God’s love in Jesus that is meant to be witnessed, especially in times such as these.  May the church return to being a “thermostat” that transforms society rather than a “thermometer” that simply reacts to the challenges and whims of culture. (M.L King) “Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with [us].” (#431UMH)

Pastor Tom