Monday, December 18, 2017

Scriptures Sing of Christmas: An Old Man Sings

Simeon lived with a promise… that before his death his eyes would see the promise of God’s Messiah.  We do not know how long Simeon lived with this promise.  We actually do not know much about him.  Luke tells us only the essentials in the later portion of Chapter 2 of his gospel. 

We do learn that Simeon was expecting, waiting with great hope.  He may have been an old man, but he was not dwelling in the past, but leaning deep into the vision of God’s future.  

Because of his faithfulness and through the prompting of the Holy Spirit, Simeon recognized God at work in a small little peasant family when they entered the temple in Jerusalem.
Simeon’s response to the baby Jesus was a glorious song!  “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2:29-32)

Many churches sing this as a benediction at the close of their evening worship services.  Perhaps there could be no more fitting blessing for the end of the day, “Now let thy servant depart in peace… for I have seen thy salvation.”  As a pastor I wish all worshippers might make such a bold claim as they depart from worship!  I hope each of us might know we are ready to depart, because we have truly taken hold of God’s free gift of Jesus, and are confident in God’s love for each of us. 

But when Simeon spoke these words, they were not just a closing prayer for worship or the end of the day.  This was Simeon’s benediction to his life!!  He was ready to die.  But all he has seen was a baby, you say?!  Well, yes.  God’s Messiah in a vulnerable infant. 

Notice that Simeon did not get a visit from an angel like Mary.  He did not hear an angel chorus like the shepherds.  There was not star for him to follow.  Simeon had a conviction deep in his heart and was prompted by the Holy Spirit.  When he saw the Babe of Bethlehem, he believed.  May we have such conviction as we approach the cradle of our King!

See you at the singing place,

Pastor Michelle

Scriptures Sing of Christmas: Concert in a Field

Consider with me the audience who attended the first Christmas concert out in the fields.  This was not large mass throng.  There are not a VIP room.  No fancy tuxedos.  There may have been furs, but not the kind one would find in a store!  
These were shepherds.  And shepherds were people whose occupation often gave them a bad reputation.  Shepherds were not even allowed to give testimony in a courts of law during those days.  These bad boys were considered that unreliable. 
If today a major one-of-a-kind concert where to be performed for a select, sparse nondescript audience, someone would surely say, “what a waste!”  Artists like to perform for an audience who have the knowledge and capacity to appreciate the finer points of what they perform. 
But the angels who sang in the first Christmas concert for rugged shepherds sang not just to consider a possible “diamond in the rough” among those shepherds.  I think the power of God within this story is that the angels sang for this simple audience to show you and I that every person is a diamond in God’s sight.  God’s angels sang for shepherds, not because one has the latent capacity to appreciate what is happening, but simply because they are human beings.
God’s love and salvation are offered to all persons. That is the gift of Jesus.  Proof of merit is not required.  Evidence for potential future achievements is not requested.  This is what we call grace.  The first Christmas concert came to shepherds who were keeping watch over their flocks by night because God loves them.  And God loves you and I too.

See you at the singing place,

Pastor Michelle

Scriptures Sing of Christmas: Mary's Song

Once upon a time, a teenage girl gave the whole world a song!  Indirectly, she has inspired thousands of songs because poets, composers and artists have been uplifted by her song and her story.  But this teen gave us a simple song. 
Mary, the mother of Jesus.  Sometimes I wish you and I could know her better.  Who was she, really? Was she a shy little thing or a tough, peasant farm girl?  Girlie girl?  There is so much we do not know- but what we do know from Luke’s account is that one day in the middle of her engagement to a carpenter, Mary’s life got interrupted.
A grand and frightening interruption by an angel, no less!  Gabriel announces to Mary that she has been chosen by God to conceive and bear a son, whose name shall be called Jesus.  After the announcement is not the time for her song.  Instead, Mary asks the angel questions, receives some answers, and then she sets out. 
Pay attention to the details, Mary is not a teenage runaway.  She does not run away from this news, but instead runs to a trusted, dear kinswoman in her family.  And a family member who is pregnant too!  I am not sure about you but aunties can be an amazing resource of wisdom and support.  I know that I have been blessed to have a dear friend in my favorite auntie.
When Mary greets Elizabeth, the older woman felt her own baby leap in her womb.  Moved by the Holy Spirit, Elizabeth pronounces a blessing upon young Mary.  “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.” (Luke 1:42).  It was this greeting… this greeting by a trusted family member, someone who recognized and confirmed the working of God in Mary’s young simple life, this greeting… that led to Mary’s song. 
Consider- how being commissioned by God for a special purpose would be exciting and yet also might leave a person feeling alone or uncertain or at least in need of some grounding reassurance.  Elizabeth’s greeting was a familiar family greeting- but also it was a powerful statement of faith. 
When Elizabeth said, “Blessed are you among women,” a song burst free from Mary’s heart!  That was her moment to sing… received both aspects of the call from God; 1) divine intervention and 2) human assurance.
Friends, one day you may be an Elizabeth in someone’s life.  A friend may hear the call of God or receive some sense of holy responsibility, and yet question that feeling.  Confirmation is needed by a person- you- who are sensitive to God’s spirit and presence.  We cannot imagine the power and impact of the right word of affirmation spoken at the right time! 
Someone may be ready to give up- as a parent, or teacher, or community leader, or give up simply as a human being.  Perhaps what they need along with the voice of an angel is your voice.  A reassuring word from another human being.  Don’t rule out the possibility that you can be God’s “Elizabeth” for some uncertain soul.

See you at the singing place,  

Pastor Michelle

Monday, October 23, 2017

What if...We Do Something Extraordinary?

On Sunday October 15, Ridge UMC family heard a powerful testimony from John and Sue Molenaar about how God has moved through their lives and marriage in an extraordinary way.  Thank you John & Sue, for being amazing servants!
As Jesus wants to do something extraordinary in your life and mine, Jesus needs to grow our hearts and thus enlarge your capacity; making us a new creation. Capacity not only is about having a bigger heart to love more… but capacity is also about having a greater power to accomplish loving others.  
Jesus grows our capacity to love.  How are you giving Jesus your heart to grow your love capacity? Holding your heart back.  Feeling shy, or bruised or timid.  Extend even your broken heart for Jesus to mend and then wait and see how he will grow into back into your heart with an even greater capacity. 
We are also challenged to stretch our commitment to God in Jesus.  If we stretch our commitment to Jesus and his ways, then our deeper commitment will reap deeper investment.  If we hold back, or limit our investment, we will gain only a little.  
The same can be said about generosity.  Generosity begets generosity.  Over the past month as we have watched one hurricane after another impact, Texas, Florida, the keys, and Puerto Rico- you have responded generously.  We delivered over a dozen health kits, a flood bucket, four boxes of cleaning supplies, and that is all over and above the $4,542.00 we have sent onto UMCOR!  Wow- talk about stretching our commitment to be people of generosity… and we did that while giving to our ministries and our Thrive campaign!  WOW, well done, Ridge.
We are encouraged to expand our influence in the lives of others as our God blesses us with an expanding notion of family and friendships. As Jesus wants to do something extraordinary in your life and mine, Jesus expands who our neighbors are and thus grows the next ripple or ring in our sphere of influence.  Who is Jesus nudging you to mentor? Invite to coffee? Invest life or spiritual advice into?  Pour life into?  Don’t think you’re too old or too young or too anything… Jesus has someone in mind for you.
 Enlarging capacity, stretching commitment, expanding influence- imagine what God could do through you, through me, through us- when we trust Jesus with what we’ve been blessed with.  What if… what if you and I both did something extraordinary for Jesus? – this is our what if challenge as we lean into planning and preparing for our ministries in 2018! 

See you at Jesus’ possibility place,

Pastor Michelle

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

What if...We Seek God First?

Our challenge on Sunday at the conclusion of the message was to SEEK GOD in our checkbooks, calendars, and use of our talents/abilities.  Seeking God in everyone and everything means that you and I use God’s values as a priority means we consider our stuff. 

Giving a portion of our time, talent and treasure as a return to God is not a tax – imposed by some far off faceless deity (Luke 18:9-14). Being generous does not look like giving God’s kingdom the leftovers in your calendar or wallet (Malachi 1:8 (NLT); Numbers 18:29 (NLT)).  Contributing to the building or creation of God’s realm on earth through ministry and mission is not a bribe to gain good favor with God or earn a place in heaven or even get attention. 

Moreover, giving a tithe or 10% of your income is not a fundraiser for the Church.  Leave that for a bake sale or auction.  Tithing is about faith-raising.  When we set aside what we will give to God’s purposes, we demonstrate in a tangible way our trust in God’s providing care.  Finally, we read in Deuteronomy 14:22-23(NLT) that tithing is not an option.  It is a SOP (standard operating procedure) for the people of God to be about God’s business in the world. (See Matthew 23:23 (NLT).

I have learned over the years that if you don’t have the money thing right; you won’t have the heart thing right.  If you don’t have the heart thing right, you won’t have the money thing right either.  Seeking God as a priority by being generous is simple and easy.  We are giving to God as we comprehend the vision of what we do together and why it matters. 

Because of our three year commitments to THRIVE@Ridge, our congregation has had a game changer. No longer will we merely survive, but your generosity and faithfulness to God have turned us around to thrive in new and amazing ways.  As we move forward into 2018’s ministry together, please add to your prayer list these areas of ministry priority within our 2018 fiscal budget:
·        Missional activities and outreach to families with children
·        Connection and outreach events with youth in our community
·        Sharing the story of Jesus & Ridge UMC with others (marketing/publicity)
·        Care & visitation to our infirmed, homebound, &/or elderly
·        Leadership engagement through training & equipping of our members to be missional

This Sunday, October 15, you have the blessed opportunity to participate in something bigger, stronger, wider and larger than yourself and your household.  You have the opportunity to impact lives with Jesus’ hope, unconditional love, and meaning for life.  I am in prayer for you this week as you pause to consider how you will SEEK GOD in everyone and everything. 

See you at the seeking place,

Pastor Michelle

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

What if...we humble ourselves and pray?

We began our conversation on Sunday October 1, a day which will now also be remembered by a horrifying act of senseless violence and evil.  Often asking "what if...?" brings fear into our hearts and minds as we consider all the things that could go wrong in our world.  The mass shooting in Las Vegas is, sadly, just the most recent example of the 'wrongs' which are a part of our daily living.  But, Jesus does not want us to live in fear, aniexty, worry or panic.

Jesus Christ is the Light of the World, Hope in Darkness, and Life in Death.  Because of who he is and how we loves us, you and I are blessed with a different way to consider 'what if...".  What if, what if...?, becomes a question about possibility out of impossibility?  

Cindy Regnier's testimony of how God responded to her prayers during seemingly impossible times in her life lbeautifully illustrated this.  If you missed her sharing, please reach out to her to listen to her powerful personal story.  Thank you Cindy, for your vulnerability and willingness to trust God in impossibility.  

Moreover, what if asking the question of 'what if...?' shifts the conversation?  What if, what if..?, becomes a moment to trust God, who can do far more than we can imagine or give?

Reverend Linda Lawler helped us shift the conversation by challenging us on Sunday morning to turn from our wicked evil ways and thus re-orient ourselves back to God in Jesus.  Facing the beautiful loving face of God focuses us on the Holy Spirit's light, hope, and peace.  Because of how immense and amazing our God is, the eyes of our hearts have no more room for fear, aniexty, worry or panic.  Thus, we are invited to:

1) Humble ourselves and pray- Proverbs 22:4a; John 3:27-28, 30; 2 Chronicles 33:10-13; Matthew 6:5-8a

2) See God's Face- 1 Corinthians 13:12; 1 Chronicales 22:19; Colossians 3:1-2

3) Turn from our wicked ways- Psalm 10:4; Ezekiel 33:10-17

On Tuesday morning of this week I spent time in our Ridge sanctuary.  I knelt at our altar rail holding our Ridge UMC church directory in my hands.  As best as I could I held you and offered you into God's amazing light of hope in prayer.  

May each of us humbly turn, turn, turn to gaze deep into the loving, healing eyes of our Savior Jesus.  May our gaze remain upon Him " the things of this world grow strangely dim... in the light of his glory and grace."(UMHymnal #349 Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus).

See you at the turning place,

Pastor Michelle

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Fruitfulness of Thrive@Ridge

"For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s[d]will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God."(Colossians 1:9-10)

I have read these words from Paul many times, but the truth within these words resonates differently since Ridge UMC responded to our Thrive@Ridge First Fruits Sunday & Confirmation Sunday!  My prayers at 7:19am and 7:19pm have not yet ceased although we passed our 40 days a few days back.  One reason I have not stopped praying is because I am so grateful.  The other reason for my unceasing prayers is that I can see the 'fruits' of our campaign even though reducing debt is an 'invisible task'.

I see the fruits of our good work when I talk with leaders who are even more excited about what God is doing at Ridge.  Fruits of confidence in God are now more abundant.

Fruits are noticed in the changed mindset of our leaders and staff whose mindsets have left the survive mindset behind and are now willing to wrestle with new and lofty goals for the future!

We witnessed the fruits of ministry together on Sunday as we welcomed our newest and youngest members, our 2017 Confirmation class.  They are ready to do ministry with us!

We see the fruits when we celebrate that 57 families from Ridge have now pledged $535,212.00 to our debt reduction campaign over the next three years!

Finally, the tangible fruits filled our offering plates this past Sunday.  Ridge received her largest offering (in the history of the church) on Sunday May 21, 2017 as over $95,000.00 was given to our Thrive@Ridge debt reduction campaign (not counting our offerings/tithes for operating budget and missions).  Thanks be to God!

This is why I am not done saying, "Thank you" to you or to God!  Please join me in an attitude of gratitude as we bear the fruits of generosity, gratitude, hope, joy, and peace while we THRIVE@Ridge.

See you at the fruitfulness place,

Pastor Michelle