This past Sunday kicked off our annual Stewardship campaign. For many, the stewardship campaign is their least favorite time of year. Mainly because a stewardship campaign asks us to look at our lives and examine how we are responding to God's grace with our time, talent, and resources. Some come away from it with a sense of guilt. And yet, stewardship is an opportunity to reflect first on the grace and mercy of God operative in our lives. Each year, for me, it gives me a chance to look over the last year and consider what God has been doing in my life and name the ways Jesus has been at work in me and through me. Such always inspires me. To know God takes interest in me, even me, and loves me is astounding. I couldn't imagine not saying thank you to God. The generosity of our time, talent, and money is predicated upon God's generosity toward us. To bless God in return is an act of worship.
In their book, Practicing the King's Economy, Michael Rhodes and Robby Holt remind us that practicing this type of giving shapes our hearts to reflect our King. We each have been created in God's image as we hear in the book of Genesis. In other words, we are made to be a reflection of God's person. We can never be a full representative of God. Only Jesus can be this. However, our character and actions are a testimony to our God. We see and experience in God an unfathomable generosity. God continues to bless us and the rest of creation. As agents of God, those created to mirror such generosity, when we practice being generous with our entire selves, (physical, spiritual, financial, and more); we not only honor God, but reflect God's character in the world.
I find it both unnerving as well as an honor to be given the job of reflecting God's character in the world. Obviously I feel deficient in this job. And yet, what an honor God would say I am worthy to reflect God's generosity. Consider this week the honor it is to reflect God's character, particularly God's generosity. Moreover, how is your heart being shaped by your generosity? Lastly, know in the endeavor to reflect God's generosity, God will give you what you need, including God's Spirit, to fulfill this calling!
All Saints Day, otherwise known as All Hallows' Day, is a day Christians honor all the saints from our history. This festival comes from a conviction that there is a spiritual connection between those who have gone before us in Heaven and those of us on Earth. All Saints Day is a national holiday relating to giving God earnest gratitude for the lives and deaths of His saints and remembering those who were well-known and those who were not. Those individuals throughout Christian history are celebrated on All Saints Day, such as Peter the Apostle and Charles Wesley. Those individuals who have personally guided Christians to their faith in Jesus, such as a relative or a friend are also celebrated.
Would it surprise you to know that Halloween started as a Christian celebration? Hallow, in Old English, means "holy" or "sacred." So, Halloween simply means the evening of holy persons. It refers to the night before All Saints Day. This would be a night families would prepare to celebrate and honor those who had died.
All Saints Day started when the Roman Empire persecuted Christians. So many martyrs died for their faith that the Church set aside special days to honor them. The pope removed statues of Jupiter and the pagan gods and consecrated the Pantheon to "all saints" who had died from Roman persecution in the first 300 years after Christ. There were too many martyrs for each to be given their own day so they were lumped together into one day. All Saints Day was changed by Pope Gregory III to November 1st.
In the 10th century, Abbot Odela of the Cluny monastery added November 2nd as All Souls Day not only to honor the martyrs but all Christians who had died. Who are your favorite heroes in Christian history? Can you think of any whose example has inspired you? Why not use All Saints Day to think of and give thanks for as many Christians from the past as you can remember, whether they are famous or not, especially if their lives and teaching contributed something to yours.
The 1662 Book of Common Prayer says that All Saints Day stands for "the unity of Christians of all ages, countries, and races in Christ, and the perfection of that unity in heaven." The Bible doesn't tell us to pray to the saints or through the saints, instead, we think of our connectedness to past saints and find inspiration in their stories of God's faithfulness. Hebrews 11 gives examples of the great cloud of witnesses whose lives tell of God's unfailing love and grace. These saints speak from the past and are whispering at this moment, "God is faithful."
The hymn, "For All the Saints" encourages us to look back through the years of Christian history and think of the millions now enjoying rest and salvation in the presence of God. It's also meant to provide encouragement to believers here and now to press on, looking forward to the glorious day.
Join us this Sunday as we celebrate "our saints" who have gone on before us.
Christian Education Coordinator
The church is a many-layered concept; each containing its own special qualities. Each is a fundamental piece of God's great plan to help us find our way to a relationship with Him.
When used in common parlance, "I'm going to church", "turn left at the church" we picture a building. It can be a modest little country church with an offset fellowship hall and a three room parsonage; a gothic, multi-spired cathedral with stunning statuary and thrilling acoustics; or an imposing "mega-church" that looks like a cross between a football stadium and the Mall of America. No matter the size or architecture, this church is a place where saints and sinners alike can come together to offer worship, seek understanding, and grow in community.
Every Sunday in our building, the congregation at Jacksonville First United Methodist professes its belief in "the holy catholic church". This church is a foundational idea that is a key to the development of our faith. We believe the teaching of the Book of Romans that, "Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved" (Rom. 10:3), and we believe that everyone means everyone. It doesn't matter if they are in Methodist buildings, Presbyterian buildings, Eastern Orthodox buildings, or buildings that don't even have a formal affiliation. The catholic church-the church universal-is what binds all believers through Christ and in the Holy Spirit to all other believers in the great salvation that is at the heart of Christianity.
This brings us to the third church, the people. They gather in the buildings, they share a common belief. Being human, they may disagree about lots of silly things (that they refuse to believe are silly). But, at the core, they believe that God is the Creator of all things; that Jesus was God made flesh who offered Himself up as a perfect sacrifice to atone for our miserable human bent to sin; that this sacrifice allows us an opportunity to live in communion with God through the Holy Spirit. And, if we accept the amazing grace offered us, we can be a part of the life everlasting. The people that believe this, then, become unified in a Royal Priesthood (1 Peter 2:9). We have the opportunity (actually the responsibility) to share with each other and with people who don't know how great our God is; and that He is working in us and in the world to bring about a new world-a perfect world-that we can live in with Him forever.
This Sunday, we celebrate this third church. We celebrate that we are all part of the Royal Priesthood. We thank God for Pastor Nathan and Bishop Mueller; we're grateful that they have accepted the responsibility that comes with joining the clergy, but we understand that all of us-ALL of us-are called to be active members of this incredible thing we call the church.
As part of my morning devotions, I was reading an excerpt from Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a theologian in the 20th Century most well-known for his book entitled, The Cost of Discipleship. He has a number of other writings including the one I read during the devotion. In the passage, he was reflecting on Psalm 63, particularly 63:3. The Psalmist writes, "Your steadfast love is better than life." It's a beautiful passage. But to some who experience the deepest woes of life, or are in the midst of difficulty, might find these words to be glib or trite.
However, as Bonhoeffer reflects, these words were not written on a day when the weather was nice and all is well. Rather, these words were penned when the "pillars of life had crumbled away. Where the [Psalmist's] hand thought it had firm support it reached out into an empty nothingness." In other words, the author finds himself looking for support only to discover all the things he had counted on are gone. The author's enemies stood at his doorstep lying in wait for him to fall, and he felt alone and helpless. And yet, from the depths of his soul comes the phrase, "Your steadfast love is better than life." Bonhoeffer states, "That is one of the words that does not let you go once you have understood it, a word that seems to shine gently...from the world of the Bible not from our own." All the other pillars on which he had hoped had disappeared, except for those words. Those words held the Psalmist in hope of a new day. And they were words based on God's faithfulness in the past which uphold one in the present.
I'm often reminded of life's difficulties. Life certainly has its many bright spots. It is full of wonder and love. But we are also met in this life with heartache, pain, and difficulty. Such can feel like a lonely endeavor. We may even purposely distance ourselves from the ones we love and cherish. Even God at times may seem at a distance. However, God's steadfast love is better than life. God's love isn't dependent upon us. Rather God's love is dependent upon God. And God remains steadfast and faithful to us. And because of this, God's love is truly better than life. Such a love comes not from our willpower to make it happen, or our ability to earn it; it comes from God's willingness to give it. And God in Jesus Christ throughout history has proven God's faithfulness toward us.
Today you may be struggling in some manner. You may feel alone. You may feel overwhelmed. Or you may know someone who is. Know God's love is better than life. God is indeed faithful. You or they may not feel it. But it's not based on our ability to feel it. It is based on God.
"Trust in the Lord with all your heart. And do not lean on your own understanding." Proverbs 3:5 I don't think that God has ever proven this verse more true to me than He did this summer.
A couple of years ago our previous Children's Director applied for and got a job at the Central District Office of the United Methodist Church as the Central District Administrative Assistant. Even though at that time I was not looking for a job, I remember thinking, "Man, if I had known about the job opening I would have applied. That sounds like an awesome job that I would enjoy." At the time I was volunteering in all aspects of the Youth Department, helping with some of the finances in the Church Office, and was SPRC chair.
Over the past year, this chapter in my family's life had begun to change. All of my children are now teenagers (Lord please help me and keep me in your prayers) and are getting jobs and taking on more responsibility. They can, for the most part, take care of themselves. I started thinking, I don't need to be home for them all the time anymore. So I decided that I wanted to go back to work. Then when I heard this Spring that the very position in the Central District Office that I had thought would be perfect for me was becoming available again, I jumped at the chance to apply. I sent in my cover letter and resume and waited. And waited. And waited. I finally decided to find out if they had started interviewing for the position. Much to my dismay, the position had been filled. I was very disappointed that I didn't even get an interview. I decided to take advantage of the rest of the summer with my girls swimming, going to the library, and resting, and then when my kids started back to school, I would look for a part-time job somewhere in town. My kids and I were enjoying our summer, and one day, while we were home watching a movie, I got a text that read, "Are you still interested in the Administrative Assistant job?" My heart skipped a beat and I texted back, "Yes, definitely!" Then came, "Can you come in tomorrow for an interview at 10:00?" "Yes, I can!" The next day I interviewed and, I would later come to find out, that I had all the right answers to their questions. I got the call while still driving home that they wanted me for the job and could I start the next day! Of course, I could start the next day!
So what does the Administrative Assistant for the Central District do? Well, I do all of the things that you would think an Administrative Assistant would do like answering the phone, composing emails, scheduling appointments, filing, scanning, etc. In addition, I also have the privilege of speaking with and welcoming into our Office our Pastors from central Arkansas. I get to see someone go through the process of answering their call to become a United Methodist pastor. I get to help with pastor assessments, all aspects of the District Charge Conference, and beyond. I have the opportunity to network with not only pastors, but also, church office staff, children and youth ministers, administrators from the other four Arkansas Districts, lay leaders, and many more people from the Arkansas Conference of the United Methodist Church. The United Methodist connection is my favorite part of living and working as a United Methodist. What an amazing opportunity it is to serve God in this way!
The road I took to where I am now was a long one, with a lot of speed bumps in that road. I still don't understand why God let me be disappointed in not being called in for an interview the first time, but He knew that being the Administrative Assistant was what I was supposed to do. And, God has His own timeline for things to happen. I will leave you with this: "I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether living in plenty or want. I can do all this through Him who strengthens me." Philippians 4:12-13