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!
For eager children waiting for Christmas morning, they may tell you December 24th has to be the longest night. However; the calendar puts the longest night as December 21st. That is because it is the shortest day of the year, making it darker just a little while longer. Many churches have started doing a "Blue Christmas" Service on or around that date. You may have heard the famous Elvis Presley version of "Blue Christmas" blasted through the radio at some point during this season. While the Service is not named after the Elvis song, it does help express that Christmas can be a lonely time. For some, Christmas has come as a reminder that our lives are not as picturesque as that new Hallmark film, or Thomas Kincade greeting card. You may miss a dear loved one who has recently passed, have broken relationships, struggle with health problems or be financially overwhelmed. If you read that and say "That's me!" know that you are not alone. We all are going through something.
"I heard the Bells on Christmas Day" was originally a poem written by William Wadsworth. Wadsworth wrote the poem on Christmas morning after losing his beloved wife and nursing his wounded soldier son back to health. He was prompted to write what he was truly feeling at the time when the world was at war, and his own life falling apart.
"And in despair I bowed my head;
There is no peace on earth," I said:
For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"
We remember the longest night as a way to say yes, we all have darkness in our lives. But we also have hope. We will soon rejoice in the coming of Jesus. He was born of the flesh and understands our pain. A savior who will free us from sadness and worry. As Isaiah 9: 2,6 says "The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light. And they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined. For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and his name shall be called wonderful, counselor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace."
Like the carol, "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" the poem ends with,
"Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!"
Wadsworth wrote this ending after realizing God watches over us and peace will come again. Just as it will for us in our lives.
If you're feeling down this Christmas or just overwhelmed, I encourage you to attend our Blue Christmas service this Thursday, December 19th at 6:30 pm as Pastor Nathan gives us a message of hope.
"Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, 'I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life'". John 8:12
On the first Sunday of Advent, there were more than the normal activities happening during the Traditional Service here at JFUMC. Prior to the Service starting, everyone was given Chrismon ornaments to be placed on the Chrismon tree. The first candle was lit on the Advent wreath, we had a baptism, and we celebrated communion. Those additional activities on their own could have filled an hour of our time.
During Children's Time, Pastor Nathan had the children gather near the Chrismon tree. After explaining Hanging of the Green and presenting a short message, the lights on the Chrismon tree were illuminated. All of the children were very excited and looking in wonder at the lights. One child in particular, Walker Hejny, turned around assumably looking at this family. The look on his face was epic. He gasped, his mouth was open wide and his eyes were the size of saucers. He was truly awestruck and amazed at the lights and ornaments on the tree.
You see, Walker was excited and awestruck even though we had so much going on that Sunday. The innocence of a child didn't realize we would be sitting in the pews a bit longer than normal. There was much more to go.
The reason I tell this story is to emphasize the importance of remembering the Light of our Lord and Savior, especially during this season. We are in a season of expectant waiting and preparation for both the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas and the return of Jesus at the second coming. We will all be busy during this season meeting family and friends and work obligations, as well as supporting our Church.
During this time of celebration, I pray that each of us can view this time just as Walker Hejny viewed the Chrismon tree; one of innocence and wonder, remaining focused on the reason for the season: The Light of the world, the Light of life.