A Partner in Ministry All Along The Way

I won’t be writing a Castings article the next two weeks.  My wife Robin and I are going to Mexico next Tuesday for 10 days!  On May 7 we will be celebrating 40 years of marriage; I can hardly believe it has been that long.  It just seems like yesterday that we were moving our things into married student housing at Eastern Michigan University! I know not everybody has this blessing and God uses each one of our unique situations in ministry for the work God has given, but I have had the awesome gift of a partner in ministry all along the way.

Robin and I met at a “Mid-Winter” District youth retreat on the Lansing District at age 16.  I first felt called into ministry at age 17, so we have been in this together all along the way.  And Robin has made significant sacrifices along the way in this itinerant system in which we live.  Robin is retired now, but she taught Special Education at various levels for 30 years.  Because of our 4 local church appointments she received, gave up, and earned once again her tenure − three different times!

In the early days, before computers, Robin typed sermons (sometimes on Saturday night!!).  She juggled raising kids, with a husband and father who wasn’t always able to be around in the evening or at critical moments.  She has also used her rich gifts for her own ministry serving as District Youth Coordinator on no less than three districts, singing in choirs and bands, and helping cabins full of girls at camp discover the joys and wonder of God’s grace.  We have walked the road God has given to us and it has been wonderful.

Now…it hasn’t been perfect.  There have been times we have talked with counselors to help us try and sort out issues we struggle with and continue to struggle with.  There have been times our temperaments and perspectives have brought us to different places in decision making, but for the most part, it has been a delightful journey.  And I am so humbled and thankful for the gift our journey has been and continues to be.

So….I won’t be writing Castings for the next two weeks.  I will be hanging out on a beach with my partner in life and in ministry, thinking back over the past 40 years and looking forward to all God has for us all along the way ahead.

Peace,
Bill

Finding God’s Blessings in Life’s Good Times and Bad

I was thinking about blessings today.  I was thinking about it in terms of the weather.  For while it’s been grey and somewhat dreary this January, every day that I don’t have to drive on snow I count as a gift this time of year, and I celebrate it as one more day closer to summer!

Now I don’t know what blessings you might be experiencing these days.  I don’t know where the places are in your life where you are finding joy and hope and new life, but I hope those things are present for you.

And as I was reflecting again today on the many gifts present in my life, I was also recalling how sometimes I have heard folks approach gifts and blessings with some level of hesitation.  Instead of giving thanks and enjoying the positive elements of life and receiving them as a gift, there is this apprehension that, as some put it, “they are waiting for the other shoe to drop.”  There is this understanding that if things in our lives get going too well, “look out,” there’s trouble around the corner!

I’m not suggesting that life doesn’t have its troubles of course it does.  There are tragic things that come into our lives, there are heartbreaks and griefs that are real and cause us significant pain at times.  But friends there is something wrong with a theology that expects trouble whenever things are going well.  There is something wrong with a theology that struggles to receive and bask in blessing because of the dread of what bad thing is coming down the pike.  There is something wrong with a theology that lives in fear.

Again, I am not suggesting that life is a bed of roses, that there won’t be days when we have to drive in the snow, but for goodness sake, God is good!  God’s blessings are new every morning and even when those troubling days arrive, the blessing of God’s presence is always there.  So, give thanks this week with joy, with celebration, with an overflowing heart for all that God has done and is doing, and don’t fear what’s behind the next door.

Peace,
Bill

Thanksgiving Blessings

I remember as a teenager listening to Arlo Guthrie talking about the comparisons we make with others when we are feeling bad.  For instance, when we say to someone who is having a bad day or a difficult time, “Well, don’t feel so bad, at least you aren’t like so and so who….(you pick the appropriate difficult circumstance).”  While I’m not suggesting this is a very helpful way to comfort a person feeling low.  Arlo took the concept a little further.  He wondered aloud, “But what about the last guy?  Nobody’s got it worse than that guy.  Nobody in the whole world.”  It was kind of a provocative thought for me to take in, (especially at 16!).  Who has it the worst?  Who is the last guy, the last person?

Well at 60, I still don’t know if I could identify Arlo’s “last person.”  I’m not sure who that person might be today.  But the sad reality is that there is no shortage of candidates.  There are millions of children who are hungry, there are millions affected by deadly diseases, and even more tragic, millions more affected by diseases that are treatable, but who find themselves in places or situations where the medicines to help them are simply not available. There are homeless, lonely people all around us.  There are lots of “last” people in need.

At our house this week we with gather with 20 or so family members from a variety of places in the world, to celebrate Thanksgiving.  A wonderful and appropriate thing to do.  We will feast and laugh and have, what I trust will be, a rich time together.  And again, that’s a good thing!  Jesus feasted and celebrated at times, and it is my sincere hope that you will have some opportunity to be together with some special people in your life, sharing some level of feast and thanks giving for the gifts and the blessings of your life.

But as we give thanks, may we do so remembering the needs around us. May we do so with an eye towards those who find themselves, for a variety of reasons, and from a variety of perspectives, in that category of “lasts.”  May we take the opportunity in the days ahead, to find ways, as individuals, as congregations, as people who follow Jesus, to make a difference in the lives of the folks in need around us.  May we choose to engage the needs of those in all our spheres of influence with practical resources and with the love of Jesus Christ.  May we do it all so that our giving thanks tomorrow will not simply be an exercise in celebrating our blessings, but rather a fresh reminder that we are always blessed so that we might be a blessing to others.

Thanksgiving blessings to you all,
Bill

Blessings Abound

I had an article just about finished for this week.  It was a good one too!  It talked about some important stuff that I’ll get back to another time.

What I want to share with you instead this week is the fact that for the past month or so I have been meeting with the pastors and SPRC leaders of our Grand Rapids District and the pastors and SPRC leaders in churches that I am responsible for on the Heartland District.  And I want you to know that we are blessed!  There is good ministry happening among us!  There are important, sometime difficult decisions being made for the sake of the mission that are exciting and significant.

I am blessed by this work and it is great to hear the good things that are happening in so many places.

Now, is everything perfect?  No, of course not.  There are the challenges of finances in churches.  There is the fact of shrinking membership in a significant number of our congregations as well.  And there are places where conflict seems to be filling the agendas at the moment.

But in the midst of it all, I say again I am blessed.  We are blessed!  We have in so many places good pastoral leadership and strong lay folks serving Christ and serving their communities.  I am grateful for that reality.

May we continue to catch a vision of the church that drives us to the mission God has for us in every place.  Thanks for all you do to achieve that goal.

Peace,
Bill