"The function of prayer is not to influence God, but rather to change the nature of the one who prays"
- Søren Kierkegaard
I diligently attempt to start my day with prayer, but I suspect I do it differently than most. Though I probably should, I start my day with prayer later than I typically "start my day". Yes, there are the breath prayers and short petitions, "Lord, help me here"-but it isn't until I get into my office that I usually offer up my start of day prayer. There, in a drawer that I can get into without even looking, is a small hand-held cross that fits in the palm of my hand, and I can wrap my fingers around. The New Horizons Sunday School class gave it to me a few years ago during the Christmas season, and it has been a blessing ever since.
The prayer that I like to start my day with is seldom a litany of my to-do lists. Yes, I do have a written list of people that have asked to be specifically named in prayers. Yes, there are the fears and hopes that weigh heavily on my heart. But most often my prayers are more along the lines of, "Lord, give me the wisdom to know the right things. Lord, give me the courage to make the right decisions. Lord, give me the strength to follow where you send me and the ability to help those whose paths I cross. Lord, help me to be the person you want me to be."
I know this sounds almost Solomonic. It's not supposed to. I'm not really wise enough to have gotten to this point without making a LOT of mistakes and poor decisions. Eventually I achieved the willingness to let go of MY petty wants and focus on what I believe Jesus taught us about going into a private audience with our Creator.
Too many people think that prayer is a great opportunity to win the Heavenly Sweepstakes. "Lord, smite my enemies, reward me for asking, take away the obstacles that I, myself have either created or feel powerless to change...oh, and could you give me the Powerball numbers." After all Jesus told us that if we truly believed and asked, God was waiting to grant our requests. Earlier the Bible says that He will "open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it." (Malachi 3:10 KJV).
I can't help but think we confuse what a blessing really is. It's not a seven-figure investment portfolio (though I wouldn't turn one down): it's a peace that passeth understanding; a confidence that we are children of God redeemed by a Savior that gave Himself for us when He was innocent and blameless. Feeling this in our hearts-in our bones-that's a blessing.
I know that when I start my day asking God to keep me focused; I have better days. I know when I pray for His will and not mine; I'm closer to Him. I know that I DON'T know so many things, but I ask God to help me learn. I ask because I'm told to. He gives because He promised. Praise God.
Peace and Love,
I simply wanted to take a moment and celebrate all the good things I've been seeing here at our Church. I have witnessed God doing some great things. So often we get caught up in the work of the church or in the details of things happening, that we may not see what God is doing. Every now and then I try to take a moment to step back and take a look at what God is doing. So let me share a couple of ways I've seen God's handiwork.
As many of you know, a couple weeks ago, we had an adult baptism and reaffirmation of faith. It was awesome to welcome Chuck Taylor and Kimberly Williams into our congregation. Then, the very next Sunday, we welcomed Lisa Adams and her two daughters, Savannah and Kinsey, into the life of our congregation. Lisa comes also as a reaffirmation of faith. That is three adults who are making commitments to follow Jesus and be part of the church! A number of Methodist churches don't even have a single adult baptism in an entire year. I see God doing amazing things!
Also, we are seeing more faces in worship. Our average worship attendance two years ago had fallen to 164. This was when we had a singular combined service. By the end of this past year we began to see an uptick in worship attendance and began trending upwards. This is mainly because the last six months we've seen more people and more faces. We ended 2019 with 166 averages. This year, we are already averaging 177 in our worship services. All to say, God is working wonders. Last year, we also saw 113 first time guests as I've mentioned. Wow! Numbers don't tell the whole story, but it certainly tells me the Spirit is at work among us.
This past Sunday, the Chancel Choir sang "I Choose Love" and "Lean on Me." My heart was moved. God's Spirit was moving. In the Traditional Service, we witnessed loads of food come in for the "Souper Bowl" pantry blessing. It was amazing to see.
All to say, I already see God doing great things for 2020 with us and through us. Jesus is being worshiped and people are coming to know and follow Jesus, and we are barely are a full month into the year. Let's keep up the good work. Let's witness God's Kingdom grow and expand!
Last evening, we began our second week of our class entitled, "Equip: Bible Study." These classes are focused on practical ways to grow in our discipleship. In particular, we are focused these next seven weeks on how to grow in our reading of Scripture enabling us to feel more confident in understanding the Bible. The Bible can be an intimidating book to read. And yet, with a variety of tools, it can be very accessible. Moreover, therein is a depth of understanding which leads us further into the life of God. With this in mind, I wanted to share a little of what we discussed last evening in hopes it may encourage you to delve deeper into the Scriptures as well as feel confident in reading them. Some of us have been reading the Bible for a long time; yet, a new method may unlock depths to the Scriptures.
The first lesson last evening was discussion on beginning to read the text and how important it is to read the text slowly. The method is simply called survey. Often we read the text quickly in order to get a quick meaning from it. Yet, the slower we read it, the more questions arise which leads us toward deeper discovery. Basically, the first lesson was the art of reading a text slowly and allowing the text to speak for itself. Below is a simple path to follow:
I personally find the last part of the "Survey method" quite helpful. The more questions I ask, the further it pushes me for discovery. Moreover, one of the other things that caught my attention was how I was moved by questions others had. Often when we read in community, people help us see parts of the Scripture we miss. Thus, I would encourage you when you pick up your Bible next time, slow down, read a passage, and simply ask questions of the text. Don't rush through the process. In doing so, it will push you to discover part of the text you might have easily glossed over if going too fast.
As the years go by, it is interesting how they affect our thoughts and actions. Just yesterday we welcomed in a new year, 2020. In doing so we entered a new decade. That word struck me as I watched the news, the Rose Bowl Parade, and football. Such is the unspoken tradition of our house on New Years Day. All the anchors and TV personalities kept referring to the new decade beginning. I guess I wasn't quite prepared for that word. I hadn't really thought about this being a new decade. Before yesterday, my thoughts were just about a new year. But the word decade casts a much larger net around time.
For one, the word caused me to think beyond just last year and reminisce about the past 10 years. An entire decade has come to a close. In 2010, I was finishing my first year of ministry in Arkansas and celebrating a year of marriage. I had finished paying off the first car I ever bought on my own. Moreover, throughout the next nine years, much would change in my life. I moved appointments from Asbury UMC Little Rock to Vilonia UMC, and then here to Jacksonville First; all in the span of ten years. I experienced and led a church through a major tornado. We bought our first home. Lynn and I had our first and only child at this point, Eleanor. We lost loved ones. We gained friends. Over the course of the past decade much has happened. Most of which I find myself grateful to God for such gifts. (I could have done without some of the heartache and difficulty, but such is life).
I also look back upon the past decade with some regret. There are dreams that have died and projects left unfinished. There were silly hopes which never materialized as well as unnecessary desires which consumed. There were opportunities ignored and friendships left behind. There were also times to love and restore relationships which have now long past. All to say, here I stand as a result of all these experiences. I am struck with a thought as I enter this new decade. I could let those regrets live on or let them go as well. A new decade allows the opportunity to begin afresh and anew. Those past regrets can become memories of the past rather than constant companions in our hearts. I can choose to learn from them or let them continue to hold me down. We might do well to hear Paul's words from Philippians on the precipice of a new year, "Brothers, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God's heavenly call in Christ Jesus" (Phil 3:13-14).
Moreover, the start of a new decade not only gives us opportunity to let go, but it also gives us the opportunity to set directions. Not simply for a year, but for a much longer span. As individuals, we can look forward to the course of our life in the coming ten years and make decisions as to who we shall be in this decade. We can restart, give ourselves permission, let go, and set a course. Certainly we don't know what shall transpire; but if our course is set at the beginning, we can weather whatever storm may come. As a Church, the same is true. Who shall we be in ten years? Not all of us will see the end of the next decade in this congregation, but many will. And yet, imagine the impact we can make today if we set our direction faithfully for the coming decade. What are the needs of the community in Jacksonville? How might we stand in the gap? What does God require of us in the next ten years? May God open our imagination as we enter this next decade. Most of all, may we be found faithful!
Advent is the season observed by the expectant waiting and preparation of the coming of Jesus, not only at His birth but with His second coming. We have observed this by the lighting of our candles over the last four weeks representing Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. Then on Christmas Eve we light the Christ Candle in remembrance of the birth of Jesus. Jesus was God's present to us and God's presence among us. We continue to receive our Heavenly gifts because Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to be with us to guide us until His second coming.
We celebrate Christmas time as a time of gift exchanging among each other. But what about God? Quid Pro Quo - no way could we ever get even with what we receive. But, what can we give back to God? I found a suggestion by Pastor Greg Laurie: The 3 Things We Can Give to God This Year
As we enter a new year, here is something to remember: When it's all said and done, we have three things we can offer God-our treasure, our talent, and our time. Each of these is given to us by God, and each of them should be given back in generous portions.
First, there is our treasure. I urge you to commit yourself to give faithfully and generously to the Lord in this coming year. Jesus said, "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also" (Matthew 6:21 NKJV). Whenever we put our money into something, we develop a vested interest in it. It makes sense to us that we would place our treasures where our hearts are. If we love reading books, or being entertained, or the latest technology, we spend our treasure on those things. And if our heart's desires change, that changes where we put our treasure. But it works the other way too: Where we put our treasures, our heart will follow. Do you want your heart to be in the things of God? Then put your treasures in the things of God! Develop a vested interest in God's kingdom.
The second thing we can give to God is our talent. God has gifted each believer in different ways. Everyone has something to offer for the work of the kingdom. Romans 12 says, "Just as our bodies have many parts and each part has a special function, so it is with Christ's body. We are all parts of His one body, and each of us different work to do" (NLT).
Finally, there is our time. Let's say that one day your phone rang, and it is the president of the bank that you use. He told you that an anonymous donor who loved you very much had decided to deposit 86,400 pennies into your bank account each and every morning. At first, maybe that didn't seem like a lot. But then you figured out that it was $864 a day. At seven days a week and 52 weeks a year, those pennies add up to almost $315,000 each year! But the bank president added one thing: "The anonymous giver said you must spend all of the money on the day you receive it! No balance will be carried over to the next day. Each evening the bank must cancel whatever sum you failed to use! Remember, what you don't spend is lost."
That may sound like fantasy, but here's the reality: Every morning, someone who loves you very much, deposits into your "bank of time" 86,400 seconds, which represent 1,440 minutes, which, of course, equals 24 hours each and every day. God gives you that much to use each day. Nothing is ever carried over on credit to the next day. There is no such thing as a 27-hour day. It is called time, and you can't escape it. Time is ticking away right now. The Bible tells us to "redeem the time"-to make sacred and wise use of every opportunity.
Offer God your treasure, your talent, and your time. Live this next year as if it were your last, because it could be. Make those minutes count!
Carolyn and I wish you a Happy New Year and remember,
God Loves You and There's Nothing You Can Do About It!