Representing Jesus through acts of love and kindness

“Through this campaign, we hope to send a united message from the Jewish and Muslim communities that there is no place for this type of hate, desecration, and violence in America.” “We pray that this restores a sense of security and peace to the Jewish-American community who have undoubtedly been shaken by this event.”

Tarek El-Messidi, who created the campaign with fellow activist, Lindo Sarsour, said when he saw the news about the vandalism at Chesed Shel Emeth Society cemetery in the St. Louis suburb of University City, he was reminded of a story about the prophet Muhammad, who stood when a Jewish funeral procession passed. When asked why, he said, “Is it not a human soul?” (Read the entire article HERE)

What you have just read are two paragraphs from a story about a group of Muslim’s who are raising money to care for Jewish head stones damaged by vandals in a St Louis cemetery.  I read this story last night and it brought a deep sense of warmth to my soul!  I hope it does the same for you!!

In contrast to groups like ACT for America an organization that believes “regardless of whether it’s al-Qaeda, or CAIR (Council for Islamic Relations, an organization that promotes Muslim civil rights), or the Islamic State, they just have different methodology for the destruction of Western civilization,” we see these people reaching across this divide to offer love to people hurting and in need.

It is this kind of human activity that will help us move forward in these days of polarization.  And we who represent Jesus, must be on the forefront of this kind of activity.  We must be the ones who stand with all people for the benefit of humanity.  We must be the ones who stand against the lies of fear and bring them into the light.  We must be the ones who live in such a way that glimpses of the Kingdom of God show up on a regular basis.  Like Lindo and Tarek who are working to care for damaged and broken head-stones in a Jewish cemetery, let us surprise the world around us with love.

Peace,
Bill

Heavenly Worship

We were watching the 80’s movie “A Field Of Dreams” the other night.  If you know the movie you may recall the first time shoeless Joe Jackson comes to the field built for him and his “Black Socks” buddies, he asks if the field is heaven?  Ray responds, “No, this is Iowa.”

Now I must confess I have not been to Iowa.  I have flown over it lots of times, but I don’t think I have ever been there on the ground.  I know several people from Iowa including our former Bishop, Bishop Kiesey.  Now I don’t know if Bishop Kiesey considers Iowa heaven or not.  I suspect her sights are a little higher.  But I love the idea that heaven is for one person a great gift, for another even a hint of heaven, may be just ordinary and routine perhaps even, in some cases, distasteful.  All of us have stuff like this, on both ends of the spectrum.  I have friends who call the Upper Peninsula “God’s country.”  I have been there four times and I laughingly tell people, that was three times too many!”

These things happen in all kinds of ways and venues.  Some people like the out of doors, some enjoy the view from the hotel balcony.  Some find images of heaven in travel and meeting all sorts of people from all sorts of places and others bask in the warmth of home all their lives.

The same thing happens in the church.  Everyone has their idea of what ideal worship is like.  I see it all the time.  People tell me all the time what church should be like.  They share what constitutes the perfect worship experience, they share with me their vision of just what the perfect church is according to their wants and desires.  And too often like all these other things I mentioned just about the time they share their vision of what “heavenly” worship is all about another person scowls and proclaims something very different as their supreme image.  Sorting through those differences and trying to address the needs of every person is impossible.  That’s why we have a variety of worship styles and a variety of churches.  And it’s also the source of far too many battles over the “right” way to do and be the church and worship God.

Ultimately though the worship that is actually “heavenly” worship is spelled out pretty clearly in Scripture.  “Those that worship God must worship in Spirit and in Truth.”  You see it has nothing to do with style or content or anything else except our hearts offered faithful to God.  May that always be our “heavenly” worship.

Peace,
Bill

I Believe in Miracles

I gave up about four minutes into the third quarter.  Why not?  The Patriots were down by 25 points and no team, in the fifty-one-year history of the Super Bowl, had ever come back from more than a 10-point deficit.  In my mind it was over and I didn’t care to watch my team go down to their inevitable defeat over the next hour and a half.

So, I went upstairs and settled into the show my wife was watching in our bedroom.  Thankfully, I turned on my laptop after about hour later. Because when I did I discovered that while I had given up, the Patriots hadn’t!  There were two minutes left in the game, the Patriots had the ball and they were just 8 points down.  I rushed downstairs to turn the game back on!  And I watched as Brady led them down the field, and after a pass interference penalty took the ball to the one yard line.  White scored on the next play with fifty some seconds to go.  But they needed a two point conversion to tie.  No problem, with three receivers lined up to the right Brady threw back to the left and Danny Amendola caught the ball and broke the plane of the goal line for the tie.  After winning the coin toss for the overtime period the Patriots, once again methodically went down the field and won the game on another two-yard run from White.  It was far and away the greatest comeback win in football history and it won’t be topped soon if ever … and I almost missed it!

There are probably a hundred, maybe a thousand applications to what I just shared with you.  There are stories of congregations that were down to seven people in worship that came back and became thriving centers of ministry again because of a decision that was made, or a leader who had new vision.  There are stories of people with significant illness where all seemed lost, and then inexplicably a new treatment is introduced ─ as a last-ditch effort ─ prayer is offered and the illness responds to treatment and health is restored.  There are stories of individuals whose lives are a mess.  They have burned every bridge and their families are well beyond tough love efforts to help them.  And one day they show up at the door cleaned up and whole.  There are a hundred exceptions to the regular story and this Sunday’s game brings us to the remembrance again that just because it has never happened doesn’t mean it can’t.

The caution of course is that most of the time it doesn’t.  A miracle is a miracle because it is not the norm.  So most of the time when teams are down by 25 points in the big game they lose…usually by 35!  Most of the time when churches have dropped down to an unsustainable place in worship attendance, they close.  Most of the time when the doctor tells us we have a terminal illness, we die.  And my faith is such that it does not insist on God performing miracles in order to be God.  I am so grateful for the ways that God works in the midst of the normal course of events unfolding.  I am so grateful that God is a God who leads us through the trials, the deaths, the losses with grace and love, and the ability to move through the most painful experiences of life not so much around them.  I believe in miracles, I have seen miracles, but I don’t require God to act in miraculous ways for me to be a person of faith.  My faith is in the presence of God and the grace of God, the incarnation of God into every circumstance, AND in resurrection, the reality of God’s love that wins no matter what!

I’m glad I didn’t miss the end of the game Sunday.  I’m happy I got to see that amazing comeback and win for my team.  I celebrate those extraordinary moments in life when miracles occur, but more than that, more than any of that, I am so thankful that God is consistently love and forever grace in every moment and experience of life.

Peace,
Bill

Trusting in God’s Goodness at 4:00 A. M.

I wake up almost every morning between 4:00 and 4:30. I wish I could say I did that with purpose.  I wish I could say I did this to exercise or to spend specific hours for various devotional practices.  But, that’s not the case.  I usually wake up with my mind racing.  I wake up with my mind running from one place to another.  And while on some mornings productive things do occur during that process, too often, if I’m honest, I spin my wheels.  It’s not that I don’t pray when I wake up with my work before me, I do.  The problem is, I believe I’m awake because I am not trusting as I need to.  What I mean by that is, I believe if I were trusting God as I ought to, I would sleep beyond 4:00am!  Instead many a morning as I glance over at the red glow telling me I’m awake early again, I chastise myself for my lack of faith.

I don’t know if I’m alone in this place, and if so, just ignore my post this week!  But my guess is, I’m not.  My guess is, too many of us ─ as clergy and as laity alike ─ have points in our life when we wake up early in the morning with concerns running through our minds.  And we struggle with letting go and trusting that God knows our needs, is concerned about our needs and will lead us forward through our needs, all the way to the end.

Pray for me and I will pray for you that together we might grow in our trust, that we might rest, let me say that again…that we might rest in the Lord and trust in God’s goodness.

I’m not suggesting that there are not many important things which ought to draw our attention.  I’m not suggesting that we ought to take lightly the responsibilities and struggles of our lives, and the lives of those around us.  I am suggesting that God has promised to guide us and be with us in the midst of whatever important stuff is happening in our lives.  In stressful times, it’s far too easy to forget that God is with us and to trust in that goodness.  I know it far too well…at 4:00 in the morning.

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

A Birthday and an Innauguration: Two Significant Occasions

This week marks two significant occasions: the celebration of the birthday, and the work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the inauguration of Donald Trump as President of the United States.  As I reflect on that reality, I am drawn to the ministry and prophetic words of Dr. King.  Dr. King dreamt of a nation and a world where all people were valued and respected.  He looked to a day when diversity and difference were celebrated and all people experienced life with justice and equality.  Dr. King inspired and continues to inspire millions of people with a hope for a day, a day still yet to come, when privilege would give way to balance and opportunity for everyone equally.  Dr. King had a dream for a different world than the one he lived in and in which he had grown up.  He had a vision for America and for the world that looked to a future filled with promise for all.

President Elect Donald Trump has named a “dream” if you will as well.  He has called us as a nation to “Make America Great, Again.” President Elect Trump believes that we need to return to something he believes we have lost, and in that return we will experience a greatness again.

My prayer is, as we walk through the events of this week and move into the future that is before us, that the attempt to return to a perceived past greatness will not roll back, damage, or stop any progress that has been made in moving in the direction of Dr. King’s dream for us all.  For genuine greatness is never seen in power, wealth, might or privilege. Jesus spelled it out pretty clearly, if you want to be first you must be the servant of all.

Peace,
Bill

A View Ahead

As we begin a new year rather than being philosophical, theological, or particularly inspirational, I want to invite you to some of the upcoming events that are occurring on our District.  This information is and has been in our “Connection” for months, but I want to share it here in hopes that I make certain these events get on your calendars!

The first event I want to highlight is our upcoming District Conference and Local Church Leadership event.  This will take place on Saturday, January 21st from 9:00 A.M. until noon at Rockford UMC (late registration opens at 8:30 A.M.).  I have had requests from churches throughout the GR District asking that we provide basic leadership training for church leaders and this event is in response to that request! Specific information regarding workshops as well as the schedule for the day is located in the link below.  Please note that while there is no cost for this event, we are asking everyone to register and sign up for their workshop.  Please also note that all pastors and leaders are expected to attend the GR District Conference.

The next event I want to point out to you to is the “Redesigning Worship & Redesigning Church Workshops” with Kim Miller.  This event is Saturday, March 25th from 9:00 A.M. to 3:00 P.M. (late registration opens at 8:30 A.M.).  Our District leadership team has been, for the past several years, focusing our work around helping local congregations engage and grow in their experience of the “Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations.”  Two years ago we brought Bob Farr (now Bishop Bob Farr!) to our District to give an overview.  Last year we brought Jim Ozier to call us to next steps in Radical Hospitality.  And this year Kim Miller from Ginghamsburg UMC, author of Redesigning Worship and Redesigning Churches is with us to help us grow in our commitment to and implementation of Passionate Worship.

For our clergy we have several upcoming forums and gatherings.  On Tuesday, January 24th Alex Fernandez, pastor at Cornerstone’s Heritage Hill Campus will be leading us in looking at the work they have done at Campus Elementary School one of the poorest elementary schools in Grand Rapids.  We will have opportunity to learn and share with one another about the opportunities for ministry in schools.  This forum will take place at the Heritage Hill Campus building on Lafayette.

On Tuesday, April 18th Chris Mckenna is leading us in a much requested forum on Stewardship.  Chris is an engaging and wise presenter and has shared this topic in several settings.  This forum will take place at Rockford UMC.

In addition to these “forums” we are having two clergy gatherings one on Tuesday, February 28th at Lake Harbor UMC in Muskegon and Tuesday, May 23rd at Byron Center UMC.  These gatherings will provide an opportunity for us to fellowship, worship and share together as District Clergy.  The agenda will be “light” and there will be opportunity to talk together about what’s on your minds. All Clergy Forum and Clergy Gathering events are from 10:00 A.M. – Noon and I look forward to seeing you at these events.  Please RSVP through the link below.

Peace,
Bill

Register for Jan. 21 Lay Leadership Workshops HERE

RSVP for Clergy Forums & Gatherings HERE

Register for Mar. 25 REdesigning Worship & REdesigning Church workshops with Kim Miller HERE

A Snow Day!

Snow Day!!  Oh, I loved those two words when I was a kid.  The opportunity to turn off the alarm, roll over and sleep until I wanted to get up.  It was a wonderful gift.  This past Monday was a snow day for most kids in lower Michigan.  The various school district names scrolled across the TV screen all Sunday night into Monday morning as kids (and teachers too!) got the day off.

Snow Days are a surprise, they are a gift in the middle of the usual routine.  It’s a regular week and then the snow piles up and we get a day off, a break we hadn’t planned on.

As I was watching Monday’s snow day unfold, it got me thinking about Christmas and the coming of Jesus into the world.  I mean think about it, while there was anticipation, while there were indeed prophesies and promises, life was going on pretty much the way it always had.  People went to work, politics were politics and the Temple activity carried on as it always had.  But then, as Luke tells us, one night, into the usual routine of caring for their sheep, some shepherds receive an announcement from angels in the heavens.  A remarkable star shone in the sky and wise ones took time off from their usual routines to follow that star.  And the Good News ─ he had been awaiting for many years ─ came to a devout man named Simeon.

So, what I’m wondering as I enjoy this opportunity to work at home ─ rather than drive to the meetings I would have been attending had they not been cancelled due to this snow day ─ is what Christmas surprises are in store for us this year?  What is it God wants to show us, to help us see, to enable us to experience this Christmas?  My guess is that whatever it is will not show up on the crawler at the bottom of our TV screen!  We will need to look for it.  We will need to pay attention so that we don’t miss it.  But I do believe that God does want us to receive a gift this Christmas.  God wants us to receive the precise gift that God has for us whatever that may be.  And God knows what that gift is.

It may be a fresh vision for our ministry. 
It may be a new awareness, a deep reminder of just how much God loves us. 
It may be the gift of another snow day so we can rest! 

But whatever it is I pray that we will receive it, that we will find in it the gift God intends, and we will be blessed.

Peace,
Bill

P.S.  This will be my last Castings for 2016, so have a blessed Christmas and a wonderful New Year!!

For some, a very difficult Season

I’m grateful for our congregations that offer “Blue Christmas” services.  I am grateful that in our celebrations of Advent and Christmas we remember that this joyful and festive season can be a very difficult season for some.

Too often we in the church struggle with the “not OK.”  Whether it’s grief, depression, even anger, too often we shy away from these places and the people who are in them in favor of trying to make things “nice.”

But if Christmas tells us anything at all, it tells us that God prefers to get God’s hands dirty (so to speak!).  God in Christ came into the world, not because the world was nice and clean and good, but because there was and is mess.  Significant mess!  There are hurts and violence and pain and suffering everywhere, and God doesn’t shy away from any of it.  God gets in there with us and seeks to impact it all with love, understanding and grace.

So, I’m grateful for our congregations that are having Blue Christmas services this season.  I’m grateful for congregations and individuals who get involved in the tough stuff of people’s lives, their communities, and our world.  I think maybe that is what God had in mind that first Christmas.

Peace,
Bill