Sunday, May 27, 2012

Resurrection & New Life: Pentecost



Meet Rev. Dr. Mark Fowler

Dr. Fowler is a professor at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary.  As one of his former students, I can tell you that he is just as much a pastor as teacher and as much a man of deep compassion as he is a mentor and role model.  He is the Murray H. Leiffer Associate Professor of Congregational Leadership and is the Executive Director of the Institute for Transformative Leaders and Communities.  He received his BA from DePauw University, his Master of Divinity from Boston University, and his Doctor of Ministry from Andover Newton Theological School.  Please warmly welcome to my blog, as today's guest blogger, Mark Fowler!






Pentecost

Today's Scripture: Acts 2

I have often thought of Pentecost and the activity of the Holy Spirit as wind and fire, of the birth of the church with thousands of folks swept up in the witness of Peter (although I have been amazed that the church does not utilize the scripture from Joel that Peter used in this “birth” sermon of the church, hmmm!)  It is a dynamic and dramatic experience that is reported at Pentecost.


In an age when we are drawn to the “big show”, the dramatic increase in numbers, the pyrotechnic displays and the moment-by-moment sensory overload so central to our consumer culture, the Pentecost story could be easily exemplified as a reasonable expectation.  Shouldn’t the people of God, using God’s gift of the Holy Spirit, use the craft and expect the results of Pentecost to draw the world?
 

In a time when the traditional church is in traumatic dislocation, loss of privilege, bereft of its traditional social influence and seemingly in disarray.  At the recent United Methodist General Conference, proposals for changing ecclesiastical structures are left on the table, traditional covenants of ministry are tossed aside for a more effective way in which “only the temporally effective pastors are allowed to stay on the bus” (without a similar capacity for assessment being placed on the unassailable Episcopal office) and a casual vote declares a rather sizable number of delegates have put a restraint on the prevenient nature of the grace of God, a distinctive principal of the Methodist movement and a hallmark of its proclamation and effective evangelism. And, we all will move forward to try to capture lightening and wind in a bottle as an assurance of the future survival of the denominations.  

For me this year, Pentecost has been preceded by a delightful bit of weather in Chicago.  It has drawn me to the lakeside to sit and relax, reflect on the future.  I have felt close to the experience of the disciples prior to the amazing events on Pentecost that gave birth to the church, a ten day retreat in the upper room.  My mind flew to John Wesley prior to the Aldersgate Street experience that renovated his soul and was the source of the regeneration of the church through the birth of the Methodist movement.  It came to clear memory that in a difficult turning point in my own ministry, that it was preceded by a time of wilderness in the desert southwest where I experienced the disorienting reality of my own life in the vast and unfamiliar landmarked desert.  


In this anxious time for the church, we cannot fancy ourselves capable of doing the work of the Holy Spirit in the regeneration of the church.  Nor do we exactly know what form it will take or what methods of evangelism and discipleship will be most effective to be embraced in the mission dei  toward the fulfillment of God’s purposes for the creation and the beloved.  We must discipline ourselves to be open to the Holy Spirit’s presence and work among us and in the creation.  We must Sabbath intently and yearn for God and trusting the promise that “in these last days, God will pour out the Spirit on all flesh…and the daughters and sons will prophesy and the old will dream.”  And, the dreams and visions will be of a world re-born and the loving purpose of creation will be fulfilled in our experience!

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Resurrection & New Life: I've Seen It Too Many Times Not To Believe!



Meet Rev. Dr. Victor K. Long

Rev. Victor K. Long is the pastor at First United Methodist Church of Mount Vernon. He is an Elder of the Illinois Great Rivers Conference and previously served an appointment in Marion, IL where we worked together at First United Methodist Church.

He received a Bachelor of Business Administration from McKendree University, a Master of Divinity from Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University, and Doctor of Ministry from Graduate Theological Foundation.


Victor is married to Jennifer, and together they have four children: Ashley, Autumn, Lauren, and Carson.


Victor is a close personal friend and one of the important mentors of my life and ministry.  I hope you will welcome him to my blog today!






...I've seen it too many times not to believe in it!

Today's Scripture: Romans 8:28

    My dad died from a brain tumor at age 55 in 1996 … just six days before my daughter [our first child and my parents’ first grandchild] was born.


    The afternoon after my father died, I was listening to the radio, reflecting upon the tragedy that was overwhelming my family, and a contemporary Christian song came on the radio, the chorus of which said, “Life is hard, God is good.”  In that moment, I felt God’s presence and the assurance that I/we would make it through this dark and difficult episode.
 

    A few days later, the birth of my daughter, Autumn, provided a much-need burst of joy in the midst of our grieving for my father.  Our joy, however, was quickly displaced by anxiety and fear when we learned that our newborn child had a life-threatening infection, requiring major surgery at three weeks of age.
 

    On the Sunday following her surgery, I sat in her hospital room, rocking her and watching a televised worship service.  That morning, the guest vocalist sang a song which had quickly become familiar to me ... “Life is hard, God is good.”
 

    Church historian Diana Butler Bass tells of overhearing an exchange between a bishop whom she describes as an “octogenarian liberal lion” and a parishioner who was interrogating his beliefs.
 

    “Bishop,” the person asked, “Do you believe in the resurrection?”  Listening in, Butler Bass says, “Frankly, I could not wait to hear the answer — like most of his generation, there was no way that Bishop Corrigan believed in a literal resurrection.”
 

    The old bishop looked at the questioner and said firmly, without pause, “Yes. I believe in the resurrection. I've seen it too many times not to.”
 

    I have to agree.  I’ve witnessed resurrection too many times not to believe in it.  I’ve seen dead souls awakened to new life through the touch of God’s love.  I’ve seen grief transformed into hope, tragedy turned into victory, despair changed into joy.
 

    When “life is hard,” I remember that the God we encounter in Jesus Christ is a great and gracious God whose love is stronger than death, whose goodness overwhelms hatred, whose forgiveness is greater than sin or guilt — a God who can ultimately make “all things work together for good” [Romans 8:28].
 

    Resurrection ... I’ve seen it too many times not to believe in it!
 

–  Victor Long



Title image found at:  http://josephpatterson.wordpress.com/2011/04/26/the-resurrection-of-christ-our-god-and-the-laws-of-physics/

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Resurrection & New Life: Questions are okay!




Meet Rev. Troy Venning

Rev. Troy Venning was a classmate of both my wife and I at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary where he graduated in 2011 with a Master of Divinity.  He is an itinerant Deacon in the African Methodist Episcopal Church serving at Bethel AME Church in Downtown Miami.  He received an MBA from University of Phoenix (Ft. Lauderdale) and received his B.S. in Psychology from Xavier University of Louisiana.  Troy says, "Love is and has always been the key and if we love one another like Christ loved us (to death) then the world will change."  I hope we can agree with him on that and all will welcome him as my newest guest blogger during Eastertide!



Questions are really ok...I promise

Today's Scripture: John 20:19-29
When I was in Junior High School, I remember my English teacher. She was a very serious lady, especially in the classroom. Of all the things that I remember about her besides her glasses with the chain on them, the two things that stick out most are this t-shirt that she would occasionally wear and this mug that she drank coffee out of. The message on both the shirt and the mug were very similar but expressed in different ways…That message…”because I said so!” Deep right…but doesn’t that speak volumes to the position that adult takes towards children most times? Children are to seen and not heard…right?
 Oh, I forgot that is just me…
However, if we dared to be honest, we would admit that most believe that children should stay in their place, and they dare not ask questions. That is, they should not ask an adult a question. I would assert that the church is like that. This is so because we have been taught that when it comes to one’s relationship with God; that we must remain like a child who better not ask a question.
Quiet often (not everywhere) the church teaches people of God that as life comes and you experience the ups and downs, the ebbs and flows of life that we are just supposed to take whatever life throws us, not have an opinion and not question God one iota. But I mean is that really possible? Is it possible to be alive and not have questions about one’s daily experiences?  Life continues to happen and if you keep living, you will have questions. Sickness, poverty, death, failure, heartbreak, injustice, racism, hatred, classism, sexism, I could go on and on…but the fact of the matter is, that in life all of these things will come.
Thus I write today to remind you that when they come, that God is big enough to handle and is ok with any question that you may have. I know this because of Jesus posture and position Jesus to when addressing Thomas and the disciples after his death and resurrection. The disciples had questions; they had just experienced excruciating pain as they watched their leader get executed. They were afraid; for them all had been lost and because of that reason, I can attest that they had questions. The disciples all had questions, each one of them. Thomas and the others all had questions and Jesus new that. The difference with “doubting” Thomas and the others; he was bold enough to verbalize his questions. Whereas the others, simply operated in fear unable to say what was troubling them.
Maybe today as you are reading, you have unanswered questions that you are afraid to ask; know today that no matter how big or small…God is big enough to answer every one of your questions.  The Good news for you and me is that no matter your question, God will meet you right where you are. How do I know? Look at the way God reacts to our questions. What is Jesus’s response in the story of doubting Thomas? He sends the disciples a word that should set them at ease, when it didn’t, he went looking for them. When he found them he granted them peace and he gave them (the disciples as a group and Thomas individually) a tailor made response. Beloved God knows that you have questions even when they are unspoken like the disciples. Maybe you are bold like Thomas, guess what God is big enough to handle your questions…still not convinced that questions are ok…ask Abraham, Moses, Gideon, Elijah Jeremiah, Job, David and then there was Jesus and the ultimate question…My God, my God…why has thou forsaken me?
Beloved, know that questions are fine. In fact the ability to question is a gift from God. Read your bible, you will find out that you are not the only one that has questions. In fact, the beauty of the cross is relationship and restoration…at the end of the day God would much rather being in dialogue with you than for to be engaged in a monologue…Ask away, trust me God is big enough to handle all of your questions…In fact, God is waiting and ready to answer because God loves you.

Copyrights © 2012 by Troy K. Venning. All rights reserved. No part of this document may be copied or reproduced without the written permission of the author. To contact the writer go to troyvenningmba@aol.com

title image found at:  http://alirog.files.wordpress.com/2010/06/raised-hands11.jpg

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Resurrection & New Life: The Waiting Game



Meet Rev. Cynthia Wilson

Rev. Cynthia Wilson is the Dean of Students at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. The Rev.Wilson is a native of New Orleans, LA. She is an Ordained Deacon in The United Methodist Church, a graduate of Dillard University and Southern Methodist University Perkins School of Theology and studied Liturgical Studies at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary.  She is a sought-after worship leader, gammy-nominated musician, and preacher and I am honored (and humbled) to have her share with us, here on my blog this Easter season!





The Waiting Game
In the workplace, from Monday through Thursday, most employees anticipate the weekend. Then finally, TGIF!! Thank God it’s Friday!! Yet, for Jesus’ followers, Friday brought with it a sense of utter dismay, rejection, abandonment and hopelessness. Jesus had promised to be with them always. Later, he would announce his departure…but had given no indication that he would be murdered… lynched! So what was so “Good” about this Friday?  And then there was Saturday! How would they get through this in-between day? Would Sunday EVER come?
According to John’s gospel (14:18), Jesus had already promised to send help in his absence; a Comforter/ Mediator, the Paraclete. However, after his departure, the disciples were to do one thing and one thing only: WAIT! Have you ever been put on hold? How do you respond when asked to hang on, holdup, take pause, be patient? It is a grueling period of time; a delay when one is expected to be on the lookout for something or someone to arrive. The disciples are instructed to wait for the Promise. What was this promise? “John was baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.”(Acts 1:4)
In retrospect, we know that from Crucifixion Friday to Resurrection Sunday, the disciples stood on the threshold of a new harvest. Yet, they still had to play the waiting game. It would be 50 days after Jesus was killed at the hands of the so-called powerful elite that his followers would truly recognize how good Friday had really been, and how Saturday had actually served as a bridge to a whole new dispensation. However, THIS time there would not only be the Feast of Firstfruits: Passover. Additionally, the Promise would yield a harvest providing power for those whom Jesus had called to help establish the Christian Church. This power would help produce the ultimate crop! In conjunction with the Feast of Passover, the Feast of Pentecost would call for a new table where “creators of justice and joy” could sit together irrespective of culture, creed, race, gender, economic status, doctrine, creed, pedigree, or political persuasion. This power would radically transform the world.
The disciples finally discovered how absence and presence are intricately woven together in God’s kin-dom. It is in the waiting game that God’s conspicuous absence efficaciously reveals God’s Divine Presence in our lives.
Let’s call an eyewitness to testify: “….we also have the Firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. For we are saved in this hope, but hope that is seen is not hope; for why does one still hope for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we eagerly wait for it with perseverance.” Rom. 8:23b-25
I don’t mind waiting……how about you?
…………to be continued!

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Resurrection & New Life: Every Moment Counts! (Video)



Scripture:  Luke 22:63-65, 23:32-38

If this was the only moment that defined Jesus Christ, we wouldn’t have any hope, but his life was not defined only by his lowest moments, but also by the high moments of his birth, life, ministry and, later, resurrection!  Christ shows us that we can look forward to new life, even in our most traumatic moments!!!















Title Image found at:  http://www.wolfiewolfgang.com/2010/11/cartwheeling-back-to-health-and.html

Monday, May 7, 2012

Resurrection & New Life: God At Work



Meet Andrew Mortonson






My guest blogger, today, is Andrew Mortonson.  He is a member of First United Methodist Church in Green Bay, Wisconsin and is active at the Wesley Foundation at the University of Illinois in Urbana/Champaign (UIUC) where he will (in August) finish his Masters degree in Aerospace Engineering.  ...And I am really proud of Andrew's most recent announcement:  He has already gotten a job with Rolls-Royce as an Engineering Associate after graduation!





Beginning to See God at Work


Today's Scripture:  Luke 24:45-49



There was always a plan – a reason, a goal for tomorrow. I had always known the next step in life and was always fully prepared to take it. I had a stable family, good education, and a loving church home. I knew where I would go to college since before I started high school, and there was never really any question I would get in. I was blessed in many ways as a child. 

I grew up in the church, and for a large part, my faith was always laid out before me. Unlike many of the other kids my age at church, I learned and grew in my faith and continued being an active participant after confirmation. Being an active Christian wasn’t necessarily the cool thing to do, but in a Christian community like Green Bay, you never are really challenged in your faith. I often found myself in more discussions with other denominations, especially Catholics. 

When I went to college, I moved into a fraternity, and most of my influences were anything but Godly. I continued to succeed in school, but I felt incomplete and often alone. The summer after my freshman year, people from my home church asked me if I had found a new church to serve at school. When I admitted I hadn’t, they often encouraged me too look, or gave suggestions. I agreed that I would look at the Wesley foundation on campus, partly just to keep people off my back. I fortunately found a new home and gained many new supportive friends.

For the next two years, I felt like I knew where I belonged. While I occasionally struggled with friends and classes, I knew that God was providing for me. However, in my senior year, that feeling began to fade. I thought I had lost God’s call; I wasn’t really sure what my future path should be. I graduated college with Honors, but like far too many people that year, I had no job, and returned to live at home. Once again, I felt very much alone. Even though I was living with my family and had many loving people around me, I was completely lost.

I can understand what the Disciples must have felt around the crucifixion. Only a week before, they entered with Jesus triumphantly into Jerusalem. Going to serve with Jesus was not easy, but I’m sure after a while, they all felt like they were where they belonged. Only a few days later, they were lost, and felt very much alone. 

My story did not turn around in just three days, yet I know that even in those times, God was working in my life. I began to get involved in the praise band at my home church, and the other members often helped remind me that I was not alone. But the real point where I began to see God working was when one of the women in the church came up to me and started asking me details about my life. She knew that I had been looking for a job, and she wanted to know what kind of job, and what I was interested in. Then she told me that she needed to know all of this so she could properly pray for me. She prayed with me, and hugged me and promised me that her prayer group would continue to keep me in her prayers. 

It was about this time that things started to turn around. I applied to grad school and began to attend that fall. Through the two years that I have been studying, I only recently was assured funding for the remainder of my program, but I trusted wholly in God. Within a few months of returning to school, I began dating the woman who became my fiancĂ©e, and now within the last week, I was offered a job after graduation. Almost exactly the position I had wanted three years earlier. 

After Jesus arose on Easter, the Disciples went on to spread the gospel throughout the world. But they needed fellowship and support from other believers, and to fully place their trust in Jesus. In the same way, I could not be where I am today without the prayers of family and friends and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Even more, I know that I can impact the lives of others simply through words of prayer and support. At our lowest points, the promise of God’s perfect grace, through the resurrection, allows us to put all of our faith in Him. In Luke 24, Jesus appeared before the disciples who had gathered after the crucifixion. 

“Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, ‘This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.’” Luke 24:45-49 (NIV)




**top image found at:  http://imlivinginadream.wordpress.com/2011/06/13/on-101-goals/
**image of Andrew Mortonson found on his Facebook.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Resurrection & New Life: God's Word Is Yes!


Meet Rev. Cindy Watson

Rev. Cindy Watson is the senior pastor at West Heights United Methodist Church in Wichita, Kansas.  She has served in the Kansas West conference for almost 30 years and is a graduate of St. Paul School of Theology.  She is the vice chair of Inter-Faith Ministries in Wichita and I met her as we have served together on the General Commission of Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns of the United Methodist Church.  It is good to call her a friend and welcome her to be my guest blogger today!







God's Word Is Yes!

A few years ago there was slogan, “love is not a feeling, love is a decision”.  The whole push behind the slogan was an understanding that love takes commitment and dedication.   Falling in and out of love was easy, staying in love was a way of life that lead one to stay the course and see what a long term commitment could mean in terms of the depth of one’s relationship and life.
For Christians, Easter is the same thing  Easter is not a feeling on one Sunday a year, it is a commitment to a moment, an experience, a season.  For the early Christians Easter became a moment and a promise the end was near and the reign of God was coming.  As the days turned into weeks, the weeks into months, the months into years and the years into decades, believers had to re-imagine what Easter meant for them and for the life of the Church.
Each person who embraces the Christian faith has to come to terms with Easter.  Christmas is easy.  Who doesn’t understand the birth of a baby.  Easter, though, requires a walk through the deep ugliest humanity offers: betrayal, lies, false arrests and capital punishment.  While it is not hard to admire Jesus facing all that hatred, intolerance  and ugliness with grace, forgiveness and love, Good Friday places him in the tomb and the hope and promise of a new day seems to die with him.
Easter is a testament to God’s unwillingness to allow evil, hatred, death and intolerance to have the last word.  God’s word is Yes.  God’s word is Life!  God’s word is Love.  God’s word is Grace!   Easter can not be celebrated in a day or even a season.  Easter invites a commitment to Christ as a way of life, as a way of loving and a way of affirming that despite everything to the contrary, Good will destroy evil, Love wins over hatred and God in Christ will bring all creation into a time of peace, grace and justice.  Christ is Risen!  Christ is Risen indeed!


** "Christ is Risen" top image from:  http://bromattisafoth.wordpress.com/2012/04/08/let-the-alleluias-ring-christ-has-risen/
**Picture of Cindy Watson taken by Scott Carnes, from his archives

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Resurrection & New Life: New Life Springs Forth!





Meet RaeAnn Beebe!

Rev. RaeAnn Beebe is the pastor at St. Paul's United Church of Christ in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.  Her church is related to the Northeast Wisconsin Association of the United Church of Christ.  She is a 2010 graduate of Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois where she was a classmate of mine!  I thank RaeAnn for sharing this devotion and hope that you all enjoy it as much as I did!













New Life Springs Forth!



Scripture: Isaiah 43: 18-19 (Common English Bible)



Do not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth,
do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.
(Isaiah 43:18-19)
This year I had a very bad case of Spring Fever. I’m not sure if it was because of the unseasonably warm weather early on or the fact that I love Spring and was excited that it was coming early. Whatever the reason, I found myself wanting to be outside getting my garden planted. Spring is an annual reminder of resurrection for me. Maybe not this year, but normally in Wisconsin winter is long and cold; a time when I just want to stay indoors and hibernate. Just when I think I can’t take it anymore, spring arrives to say that new life is possible. From the barrenness of winter new life springs forth – birds reappear and wake me up with their singing, buds appear on the trees and then begin to open, flowers sprout from the ground slowly and then suddenly burst out of the ground and the garden is full of color. One day winter and the next spring is here. I love it and am reminded of the new life we find in Christ.

We often think of new life encounters with God in just this way – bursting forth suddenly. One day our lives are in shambles, then we have an encounter with God and everything changes dramatically and suddenly. While this can happen, I think more often we experience new life in the ordinary passages of our lives. For me this occurred when my sons grew up and left home to go to college. I wasn’t needed by them in the same way and I found myself in a time of transition. My old way of life was gone and I had to find that new thing that God was calling me too. I had to find the way God had made in the wilderness. It didn’t happen overnight, but eventually, I found the way in the wilderness or the river in the desert that Isaiah talks about. I went to seminary and started on a whole new career path.

We experience many transition times in our lives. Maybe it is when you first move away from home or enter a new relationship or welcome a child to the family or lose someone you love. These times of transition can be very unsettling, but they can also be opportunities to experience new life when we are open to the places God is calling us to. Isaiah says that we should forget about what was and look toward what can be. And that is new life.