Monday Meditation – Touch

Touch

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
    because the Lord has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
    to proclaim freedom for the captives
    and release from darkness for the prisoners, (Isaiah 61:1  NIV)

Jesus healed the sick by touching them and restoring them to their communities. The priests only wanted money for sacrifices to be made in order for one to be allowed to rejoin one’s family and community.  They wanted to be paid in order to make one ritually “pure” again.

Miracles

Big miracles like the virgin birth and the resurrection just don’t happen in my life with too much frequency.  But many miracles Jesus performed every day, like touching someone in need, often those who no one would touch.  I’ve seen such love, I know it can happen.  I just don’t see it enough.  Touch is an incredible miracle.  Because without it none of the others would matter.  Even one’s weak faith did not disqualify you from receiving Jesus’ touch.

A touch.  The compassion of one man willing to break all the rules to touch you at your lowest.  It doesn’t have to be physical, it can be spiritually.  But both together are so powerful.

Dear Lord, Your Son came to touch and heal us.  Let us follow His lead and reach out to those nobody wants to touch.  Grant us courage to do so.  Amen.

Monday Meditation – Father’s Day

Father's Day

You know what just makes me cry as soon as I see it?  Those commercials where service members who are fathers surprise their kids when they come back from war.  The kids are so happy and excited.  Both the 2 legged and 4 legged variety.  In one commercial, a man in fatigues crouches down to the level of this 4 year old.  The little one throws herself into his arms and says, “Ohhh, daddy.”

Daddy.  Dad.  Father.  Pa.  Papa. They are known by many words in every society.

Where mothers are the everyday rudders, we look to for direction, fathers sometimes can seem larger than life.  To a son he can be a role model.

For a daughter, Daddy can be her first boyfriend.  The one she measures all others against.

There are many fathers in the bible.

Good men who were  after God’s own heart.  They are considered righteous.  And yet each one fails his children in some way.

Adam the first father, who had no role model before him, no example to follow.  He clearly is not aware of the feud between his two sons that gets out of control.

Lot was given the chance to leave Sodom and Gomorrah before they were swept away.  He is saved by God.  He was a decent guy.  Where was Lot’s sense of decency when his daughters get him drunk and he gets them pregnant?

Abraham was a father to an entire nation.  But tossed out Hagar and his son Ishmael into the desert.

David was said to be a man after God’s own heart.  God blessed him.  Where was David when his son Amnon raped his daughter Tamar?  Absalom, another son of David, is the one to mete out punishment to his brother.

All these despicable acts perpetrated or at the very least, not stopped by the righteous fathers, against their children.  Yet all were considered men who loved God, and whom God loved as well.  God even considered a few friends.

How?  What made this possible?

Grace.

It was grace that saved them.  That didn’t mean they didn’t have to deal with the consequences of their actions or inactions.  As we all must.  Grace and justice go hand in hand with God.

Father’s Day is a celebration of dads.  Of tough ones and gentle ones.  Tall ones and short ones.  Fat ones and skinny ones.  Fathers with long hair, fathers with bald heads or dreadlocks.  Woman who are father figures.  Young fathers.  Old fathers.  Men who are like fathers to those without.  First time and second time fathers.  It is a celebration of fathers who get it right and all of them that get it wrong sometimes.

Let us pray continued grace for all of them.  Amen.

Monday Meditation – Blasphemy of the Holy Spirit

Blasphemy

It seems one can blaspheme the Holy Spirit and commit an eternal sin, one that will never be forgiven.

What is this unforgivable sin?

Juan Luis Segundo writes, “What is not pardonable is using theology to turn real human liberation into something odious.” (1979, Frontiers of Theology in Latin America, p 240ff.)

In other words, calling the work of the Holy Spirit evil.

The context of this sin is within the story of the Pharisees addressing Jesus as possessed by Beelzebub.  They were saying that in fact, Jesus was driving out demons by the power of Satan.

Yet Jesus is liberating people from not only their demonic oppression but also their spiritual and cultural oppression.  He freed the people from ritual restraints on them in order for them to lead a life outside of the rules and regulations of the Temple priests and pharisaical laws.  Laws which had become vile themselves despite having begun with the best of intentions when handed down to Moses from God.  Laws used to trap people in poverty and outsider status.

What Jesus was doing by calling out the evil done in the name of God was not blasphemy.  But calling what Jesus did as evil was blasphemy.  Jesus’ liberation of people, His freeing of people in the name of God was a true act of the Holy Spirit.  The priests’ and Pharisees’ need to control people through the law was blasphemy.  Not because of order but because it masqueraded as the word of God and restricted people into “pure” and “impure” states according to their ability to pay for the cleansing rituals and sacrifices.  This was not what God intended.

Instead of freeing people, the religious authorities straightjacketed them with the law in order to gain from them financially.

Dear Holy Spirit come and illuminate the world for us.  Help us to see Your movement in the world.  Help us to know Your liberating power in our world.  Expose for us the hypocrisy we live with day in and day out in our lives.  Help us to see what is evil and what is not, and to know the works of our Lord and the works of the Enemy.  Amen.

Monday Meditation – The Ascension

Ascension

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. Acts 1:8-9 (NIV)

Ezekiel ascended leaving Elisha.

Mohammad ascended and then returned.

Jesus ascended leaving the disciples.

But Jesus went one more step.  After his ascension he sent the Holy Spirit.  He prepared a Comforter, the Holy Spirit, to be with us always, through the decades.  God would still be present in the lives of God’s followers even unto this present day and age.

God is still with us even as God’s son has returned to God.  The trinity allows for the spirit of God to remain with us then and now.  Indeed Christ’s leaving opens up a place for the Holy Spirit of God to be present in this world.

Yet Christ and God remain with us as well as part of the Trinity through the presence of the Holy Spirit.  It provides a doorway to the two other but same entities that co-exist within God’s self.

Consider ice, water and steam.  All exist within each other, yet are separate. The Holy Spirit, God and Jesus exist within each other but are at the same time separate from one another.

Let us partake of this presence in order to shore up our faith and guide our lives.

Dear Holy Spirit, come.  Come and enlighten us.  Come and free us.  Come to comfort us.  Come to guide us.  We ask this in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Monday Meditation – After Easter Fear or Joy?

After Easter

The ending of the gospel of Mark is filled with fear.  So much so that it can baffle us with its lack of a happy ending.  Hence why some have tried to add a happy ending to the gospel which was not there in its earliest renditions.

Mark ends abruptly with Jesus’ death and the two women coming to an empty tomb.  We, like the women, can be afraid to accept the testimony of the young man who gives instructions for what it is to follow Jesus now that the tomb is empty.

Our fear can rob us of the greatest joy – seeing Jesus again.  Not in heaven or Jerusalem, but back in Galilee, where it all began, at the beginning of His ministry.

It is there that we can begin our own ministry based on Jesus’ ministry with His presence in our midst.

That alone should fill us with joy not fear!

He is risen!

He is risen indeed!

Hallelujah!

Monday Meditation – Fear in the Garden of Gethsemane

Fear in the garden

Vincent Taylor, author of the Gospel of Mark (1963), surveys several interpreters for the verses in Mark 14 that states in the NIV, “He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,’ he said to them. ‘Stay here and keep watch.’ ”

Here are the various interpretations Taylor found.

“The Greek words depict the utmost degree of unbounded horror and suffering” in this biblical passage

“Suggestive of shuddering awe”

“His [Jesus] first feeling was one of terrified surprise … the distress that follows a great shock”

Jesus is “appalled … agitated”

“It [the biblical passage] describes the confused, restless, half-distracted state which is produced by physical derangement, or by mental distress, a grief, shame, disappointment, etc.”

Jesus faces his destiny with abject terror, like any human being in His place would do.

Much like we do, when in fear, we go to those closest to us to comfort us, to help us get through the fear.  Seeing that “Abba” (Father) was not going to take away this cup from Him, Jesus goes to his inner circle of disciples leaders and finds them asleep!  Even they couldn’t stay awake long enough to pray for and with Jesus.  Three times Jesus finds them asleep.

Peter who boasted of never denying Jesus, John and James who wanted to be on the right and left of Jesus on the throne, none of them could last one night without sleep.

Yet Jesus, even in fear for his life, returns again and again to God.  He handles His terror with prayer, in the very presence of God.

Let us remember to do as much when we feel scared or lack courage.  Prayer helps us not be unafraid but to have courage in the face of fear.  Much like it did for Jesus.

Dear God, even in our fear, help us to see Your protection and love around us at all times.  Despite what we may be feeling, help us know that You have called us to a purpose to be fulfilled and You are with us every step of the way.  Amen.

Wellness: Mind, Body and Spirit

Wellness

Workplace wellness programs are becoming more and more popular.  These programs identify employee health conditions and encourages employees to make healthier lifestyle choices. Often, they stop there.  At the General Agencies of The United Methodist Church (GAUMC), our goal is to provide holistic wellness programs that address the mind, body and spirit.

The World Health Organization reports that 80% of all premature heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes could be prevented if people:

  1. Eat healthier
  2. Exercise more
  3. Stop using tobacco

At GCFA, we have worked closely with our health care provider to ensure we provide wellness programs that meet the needs of all of the GAUMC employees.  Employee engagement, motivation and support are essential to ensuring a successful program.

Employees are becoming more health conscious today, yet they are finding it difficult to maintain wellness goals.  This can be attributed to stress.  Stress in work-life, family-life and finances can lead to unhealthy behaviors and lifestyle choices.  With Americans working longer hours and more days, it can be difficult for employees to find time to exercise and eat right.

Tips for Wellness Programs

A successful wellness program is strategically planned and includes on-site wellness opportunities for employees. It is important to be intentional about offering programs that address the mind, body and spirit.  The GAUMC offers programs through our healthcare provider that combine education, communication, incentives and physical activity.   Two of them are:

Rally: https://www.uhc.com/individual-and-family/member-resources/health-care-tools/rally

Real Appeal: https://www.uhc.com/news-room/2016-news-release-archive/real-appeal-weight-loss-program

In 2016, GAUMC employees were offered an incentive through the Rally Program, to complete a Wellness Exam.  A Wellness Exam helps identify potential health problems and encourages people to take chart of their health. From 2015 to 2016, there was a 12% increase in the number of individuals that received a Wellness Exam.  For those individuals in the age range, 40 – 64, the increase was almost 15%, which is significant because this age range is more at risk for preventative illnesses.  As we saw an increase with Wellness Exams, we also saw a rise in other preventative exams, such as Breast Cancer and Cervical Cancer Screenings.  The Real Appeal program offers personal coaching and an interactive environment to help participants with weight loss.

Having a strategic wellness program is essential.

Programs that combine long-term and short-term goals are best.  When a person is able to commit mentally, emotionally and socially, progress is possible. While we have seen results in regards to preventative health, to have a holistic wellness program, we must address spiritual wellness as well.  To achieve this goal, the GAUMC also offers a comprehensive Employee Assistance Program, professional development opportunities, continuing education, on-site yoga and massage, etc.  A comprehensive employee wellness program addresses mind, body and spirit. Weekly chapel service at many locations provide that time of reflection and renewal during the week.

A comprehensive program shows that we not only care about our employees being healthy at work, but also having healthy lives.  We are committed to caring for those covered in our plans and living out these efforts supported in scripture to encourage wellness in mind, body and spirit not only in their jobs, but also in the whole of their lives.

3 John 1:2 – I pray that you may enjoy good health and that all may go well with you, even as your soul is getting along well.

Thank you,

Caitlin Congdon, Chief Officer of Human Resources & Professional Development

Monday Meditation – Lent : Love

Love

Who do you love?  What do you love?

In Mark 10:17-22 we have the only reference in the gospel to Jesus “loving” someone.

What makes this man so special that we learn Jesus “loved” him?  The assumption is not that Jesus loved no one else but we aren’t told in the other stories so explicitly as we are told in this story that Jesus loved someone.  Why are we told that Jesus “loved” this man?

It is in his commands to the rich man that shows us the reader, that Jesus’ love extends to all he has encountered in his ministry – the healed, the called and the oppressed.

One translation for Mark 10:21 is as follow, “Get up, sell that which you have, give it to the poor and you shall have treasure in heaven.  Come, follow me.”

“Get up” is used in “healing” stories.  This is a “healing” story as well.  It is a healing of the soul from the accumulation of stuff and wealth.

The second “sell that which you have” and last commands “Come, follow me” recalls the disciples and others who were asked to give up all they had and follow Jesus.

These two groups, the healed and the disciples, Jesus alludes to also have his love for they already have done what he asked of the rich man.  Even though ultimately the rich man does not do as commanded, Jesus knowing this, still loves him.

The poor are brought front and center with Jesus commanding the rich man to give all he had to the poor.  Jesus loves them enough to tell this rich man to provide for them.

Unfortunately, the man cannot obey and leaves.  While he has kept the commandments he has not acted in the spirit of the commandments.

Dear Lord, let us not just adhere to the letter of the law but the spirit in which you intended it.  Otherwise we run the risk of turning the law into an idol.  The Sabbath was made for man not man for the Sabbath.  Amen.

Monday Meditation – Lent : Compassion

sheep without a shepherd

In Mark 6:30-44 we have Jesus filled with compassion for his people who are like “sheep without a shepherd.”  In the original Greek, literally the word we translate as compassion means “to have one’s guts torn apart.”  What causes this primal compassion Jesus feels for the crowds?  Their ignorance, their lack of knowledge?

He teaches them well into the late hours of the day. Later in the story he had further compassion on them for their physical hunger.  He tells the disciples to feed the people.  He doesn’t ask them to, he tells them to.

The disciples’ lack of compassion for the people makes Jesus’ all the starker.  The disciples balk at having to spend so much to feed so many when they had suggested that the crowds be told to go and buy their own food.  Having just come from the mission fields, the lesson of hospitality has been wasted on them.  While they were to rely on the compassion of others in the mission fields, we find them without compassion for the people following Jesus in desperate need for His teachings.

Jesus cares not solely for His people’s spiritual lives but also their physical well-being.  And He tells us to do the same.

“But he answered and said to them, ‘You give them something to eat.’”  Mark 6:37 NKJV

Dear God, help us to do what you commanded your disciples to do all those years ago – Give your people something to eat, both physically and spiritually.  Amen.

Monday Meditation – Lent : Rage

rage

Continuing with our Lenten series on the emotional life of Jesus, we turn to Mark 3:1-6.

In this passage the Pharisees provoke Jesus’ anger.  After a discussion about what one can or cannot do on the Sabbath, Jesus makes the talk concrete by inviting forward a man with a withered hand.  Jesus asks the Pharisees, is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do evil?  To save life, or to kill it?

The Greek description Mark uses for Jesus’ anger at the Pharisees is unprecedented in its use in the gospels anywhere.  Jesus is enraged because of the Pharisees stubbornness of heart, their lack of compassion for someone on the day made for humans to contemplate not just God but God’s relationship to humanity.

Do we do good when it is convenient for ourselves?  Or do we do it at every opportunity that God presents us with?  Does our own selfishness get in the way of our own compassion for people and do we use rules and regulations to keep ourselves out of the discussion?  How enraged would God be with us on the Sabbath?

Dear God, sometimes we have not been a loving church.  We have sometimes been too obedient to the structure and laws of the church than we have been compassionate to others.  Lord help us to see that the Sabbath was made for us and not us for the Sabbath, an idol that can obscure your face from us.  Help us live to do good when and where we can.  Amen.