No Longer Strangers in the Holy Land

No Longer Strangers

I recently had the opportunity to visit the Holy Land on an Educational Opportunities (EO) Tour.  With everything going on in our country and the world, my family and friends were a little leery about me taking this trip.  Of all the travels I have had, I must admit that even I was a little apprehensive about this particular one.  But as I thought more about it, I realized it was not every day that you get to visit the historical sites of our Lord and Savior, and at the same time witness firsthand a country in the midst of conflict. Visiting the birth and death place of Jesus was a memory I will never forget.  However, the most memorable time during this trip was my dinner with the Al Kassis family in Beit Jala.

Beit Jalal is a Palestinian Christian town in the West Bank, located near Aida Camp, which is home to 5,000 Palestinian refugees.  Hanan Al Kassis picked up my group at the hotel and we became immediate friends. Her mother, Suhaila, gave me the biggest “mom” hug when we entered her home.  It was very welcoming to receive this kind of greeting when travelling far away from home. Being able to connect with another family after mere minutes is so special.

We spent some time discussing life as a Christian in a Muslim nation, as well as the current crisis in the refugee camps.

The most interesting comment from Hanan was that among the Palestinian families there is peace despite their religion. Many of the local schools like Hope Secondary School of Beit Jala have Christian based curriculum.  Forty percent of the 130 students are of the Muslim faith.  The goal of Hope School is to teach love and compassion to everyone.

My thought going into this evening with the Al Kassis family was that I would learn how hard it was to be Christian in a Muslim country.  I left understanding that it is not hard at all, because they showed me that being Christian means showing love and compassion to everyone.

The beautiful sound of the Muslim call to prayer played through the speakers of the city as we prayed over our meal. We shared laughs and showed family and travel pictures to each other from our phones.

Scripture reminds us of what showing love means.

Acts 2:46-47 says “Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” We were not the first dinner guests invited to their home and we are definitely not be the last.   The Al Kassis family invites guests to their table on a weekly basis; sometimes twice a week they break bread with people from all over the world who come to visit the Holy Land. I feel I have a forever home in Palestine and for that, I am grateful.

To donate to the Hope School through the Advance Fund, please visit here:  http://www.umcmission.org/Give-to-Mission/Search-for-Projects/Projects/12018A

Blessings,

Natalie Schuette, Executive Assistant to the General Secretary at GCFA

Monday Meditation – Lent : Indignation

Indignation

Jesus had a full emotional life, which we get glimpses of in the gospels, especially in Mark.  During the Lenten season we get a hint at Jesus’ emotional life and what it meant for him to be indignant, angry, compassionate, fearful and loving and what that means for us today.

Almost from the beginning of his public ministry in Mark, Jesus is not an unemotional Savior.  In fact, he is a very feeling human being as well as God.

In Mark 1:40-45 when the leper approaches Jesus asking him if he dares to declare him clean, Jesus “snorting with indignation,” answers in the affirmative.

Is Jesus indignant with this man who dares to come to him with this outrageous request?  No he is irate with those whom the leper has just come from, those whom Jesus has him return to in order to show his cleansing as a testimony “against” (in the original Greek) their refusal to cleanse him, probably due to a lack of appropriate payment.

Should we be no less indignant at the systems that keep the poverty-stricken from full inclusion into mainstream society?  Low wage jobs, lack of health care and affordable housing, are but some of the impediments that the poor face every day in order to live in a self-sustaining way.

Dear God help us to understand how systems of oppression exist to trod down upon your people.  Help us to not partake in them and help us to bring them down much like your son preached and taught.  Let us never forget our righteous anger against a system that would marginalize people because they do not have enough to pay the toll.  Amen.

Monday Meditation – Still Small Voice

Still Small Voice

And after the earthquake a fire; but the Lord was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.

And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah?  (I Kings 19: 12-13 KJV)

A lady running errands has gone viral.  Why?  Listen to her testimony.

This woman went to the grocery store and saw a homeless man trying to keep warm near the entrance.  When she saw the man, she heard the voice of Jesus telling her that the homeless man liked bananas.  She should buy some bananas for him.

The woman figured on her own that he would also need some protein so she bought him a couple of small nonperishable items as well.  She also wanted to buy him some fried chicken so that he could have some warm food in his belly.

Jesus told her not to buy the fried chicken that the man needed something for later.

The woman persisted in asking why she couldn’t get him some fried chicken.

Jesus said, “I don’t want you to get him fried chicken.”

Well the woman let it go and went to go pay for her groceries.  She separated out the things she had bought for him and took it to him, wishing him a “Merry Christmas and God bless you.”

A lady came up from behind her and said “This is your lucky day.  Here’s some fried chicken for you.” She then hands him the warm meal.

Lesson:  Listen to that still small voice pricking your soul.  Even when the Spirit says no, there’s a good reason.

Dear God, Still us enough to hear your voice not only when you say “yes” but also when you say “no.”  Though we know not the reason, let us still trust you and do what you do ask of us.  Amen.

Monday Meditation – Valentine’s Day Gifts

Valentines Day

Valentine’s Day

Some say Valentine’s Day is a made up celebration by the floral and card companies in order to make sale in an otherwise devoid month of any “holidays” or “special occasions.”

I say any excuse to celebrate “love” is worthy.  Now how we choose to do so can be up for discussion.

Gifts

While gifts are one way to show love, they are not the only way or some would even say they are not the best way.  We can celebrate with gifts of all kinds like flowers and candy and cards as gifts for Valentine’s Day.  Even those are given with some thoughtfulness. It is more the thought put into a gift that provokes the most joy.

A handmade gift from my grandson is worth a great deal to me.  The effort and thought put into it by him is what counts as love in my eyes.

But we can combine gifts of cards, flowers or candy with something else.  Whether a purchased or handmade gift, we can also take the time to pray for them and then send a quick email or text letting them know you remembered them in your prayers.  It’s not bragging if done from a heart of servanthood to that person from a place of love.

It will show the other person that you were thinking about them and brought them before God with love and attention.  You shared your love for them with God.  You shared your time with God with them.

That, my friends, is a great gift.

Dear God, who is love, show us how to love more perfectly.  Help us to remember those near to us when we come to you in prayer.  Let our time be about others and not solely about us.  When sometimes thoughts and prayers can seem like empty sentiments, help us to revive the power of prayer. Amen.

Meditation Monday: Opportunity Costs – Investing Our Disposable Income

Opportunity Costs

“So much of what Americans live with is an economic landscape – malls, stores, and movie theaters, ski slopes and theme parks –  in which one’s relationship to place had to do with boredom, undisciplined need, and envy.” Gretel Ehrlich, Sacred Earth

Disposable Income

When you drive around your town, what passes you by?

A big box store? Restaurants? A couple of grocery stores?  Two of the same brand coffee shops? Office buildings? Houses, apartments? A park or soccer field? Schools or churches? Hospitals?

It isn’t any wonder with all these choices that we “invest” our disposable income on things. In 2007, we were exposed to 600 advertisements a day. Now we are exposed to 3,000 advertisements a day; 1.2 million in a year.

Jesus was asked to judge in a dispute between brothers over their inheritance, but he said, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Luke 12:15 (CEB)

In a culture today that depends on consuming goods and services, every activity seems to have a price tag. Everything is for sale. But Jesus warned us that our love of possessions should not overpower our love of those around us.

Opportunity Costs

Rev. Adam Hamilton, in a sermon on money, put forth the idea that for every purchase we make, there is an additional opportunity cost that we must consider.

What would happen if we reconsidered our spending choices according to opportunity costs?  Could we, instead, buy 8,000 mosquito nets for Africa, 1,600 food baskets for Syrian refugees, or make a real impact in the lives of individuals for years to come through one of the many ministries of our local churches and connectional ministries of The United Methodist Church.

Dear God, we are grateful for all that we have when so many go without.  Help us to be generous not only with our finances but with our time and effort as well.  Show us the path you would have us take in the coming days, months and years.  Amen.

Meditation Monday: Growing Pains

In order for a lobster to grow it must first rid itself of its shell. The shell does not grow but is rigid for the protection of the soft crustacean inside.

Growing Pains

As a lobster grows it begins to feel the growing pains of the too small shell it has. Pressure builds up as its body pushes against the old shell. It finds some rocks to hide in. Soon enough, it breaks out of its old shell with a new one already intact.

Just like the lobster, we sometimes have to push through growing pains in order to get rid of the old as we grow. God provides for new “protection” but we must recognize that we need to grow out of where we have been in order to get to where we need to go. The “stress” the lobster feels as it grows against it new shell is a sign to it that it needs to begin the molting process.

As the lobster sheds its old shell it recycles the minerals within it to build the new shell. It continually builds upon what has come before into what is to come.

“No one sews a piece of new, unshrunk cloth on old clothes; otherwise, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and makes a worse tear. No one pours new wine into old leather wineskins; otherwise, the wine would burst the wineskins and the wine would be lost and the wineskins destroyed. But new wine is for new wineskins.” Mark 2:21-22 (CEB)

Dear God, help your church to shed its old shell as it matures and grows. Like the lobster, let us build on what we had in order to get what we need to proclaim and do your love in the world you have set us in. Amen.

Happy New Year

And we begin. Again.

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland”
Isaiah 43:18-19

You see it everywhere. Signs of the new year are all around us. New offers from retailers and car sellers. People making new commitments to “improve” their lives. New year. New start. New beginnings. But it doesn’t really start here. Perhaps it really started with our celebration of just a week ago. It started with the true gift of Love God shared with His people – the birth of the Christ Child.

The start of something new beckons us to forget the old – old eating habits, old health routines, old ways of thinking. It would seem quite appropriate in this day and age for United Methodists to remember one thing and renew it: to exhibit the kind of Love for each other that God has given us as an example. When we renew and exhibit that kind of love, we are able to perceive the new things God has in store for us.

What will the New Year bring?

The past year – the old – has been one of many discussions of the problems we face as a denomination. The concerns and comments are valid and bring up points that we must consider as we move forward as believers. You see news articles and blog posts about those concerns for the Church. You hear of ways Church leaders are moving forward to address these issues. The discussions seem like wastelands. At times we feel lost and wandering and wonder where we are headed. But those same conversations offer us some great hope – that while we acknowledge the differences between us, we also exhibit greater love for each other.

So…Happy New Year

So we ended the previous year with hopes of renewal for the new one. May Love be at the center of all we do, hope for, pray for, and work together to achieve among us and throughout the world.

Giving to Support United Methodist Beliefs

Giving

Many of the year-end giving appeals you receive are about increasing tax ramifications for one’s financial gift. These are important and support many great causes. However, as Christians we also realize the spiritual significances of our year-end financial giving to the ministries of our local churches and non-profits.

Year End Giving

Giving is an act of worship. It is an act of faith, of planting what future generations will see grow to fruition.

Our connectional giving provides support to our leaders who face the daunting task of steering the Church towards a common goal of faithfulness, forgiveness and making disciples for Jesus Christ. Connectional giving supports our efforts to minister to a hurting world.

We have organizations within our denomination dedicated to aiding the needy, healing the sick, comforting the stranger and addressing social ills. Our giving helps support these.

The needs are genuine. We are and always have been a connection of believers in need of one another’s generosity.

“For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints— and this, not merely as we expected; they gave themselves first to the Lord and, by the will of God, to us,” 2 Corinthians 8:3-5 NRSV

As United Methodists we are dedicated to these causes. As a denomination we are called to support them.

Investing financially in what God has given us a passion for is one of the ways to participate in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. God gives to us so that we might give. In giving we can fulfill our purpose in life – to love as God loved us.

During this time of gift-giving, let us remember our ministries that mean so much to us. As much as God has given you, provide good stewardship and give!

To learn more about how to give, where to give, and the impact of your donations, visit www.umcgiving.org

Merry Christmas from GCFA

Christmas Love

Merry Christmas

It is with the birth of Jesus that something extraordinary happened in this world. As we go through the rest of the coming year, let us always remember that in Christ’s birth, love came down and took on human flesh, making it impossible for us to ever say, “We humans cannot love.”

In taking on the human form, Jesus made it clear to us that we can love as God loves us – unconditionally. Both our neighbors and our enemies who in the final analysis are both one in the same – our brothers and sisters in God.

This Christmas let us remember the infant born out of love, to love. Let us follow in His footsteps during the coming year and beyond.

God bless you and yours this Christmas season!

Meditation Monday: Dream Big

Dream Big

When Mary his mother was engaged to Joseph, before they were married, she became pregnant by the Holy Spirit. Joseph her husband was a righteous man. Because he didn’t want to humiliate her, he decided to call off their engagement quietly. As he was thinking about this, an angel from the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the child she carries was conceived by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you will call him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Now all of this took place so that what the Lord had spoken through the prophet would be fulfilled:

Look! A virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son,

And they will call him, Emmanuel. (Emmanuel means “God with us.”)

When Joseph woke up, he did just as an angel from God commanded and took Mary as his wife. But he didn’t have sexual relations with her until she gave birth to a son. Joseph called him Jesus. Matthew 1:18-25 (CEB)

Dream Big

As a great miracle approaches for Christians during this Advent season, let us not forget that our God is still in the miracle making business. Let us dream big then…knowing our God can deliver on God’s promises.

Joseph had a dream that showed him how big God’s dreams for him were. Being stepfather to the Messiah was not something Joseph had entertained before. Indeed, it was probably beyond his sense of what his life could be. To think that he would be involved in the raising of a Messiah was the furthest thought from his mind.

Yet God had heard the people’s pleas and answered with a miracle child who would grow up one day to be Savior of the World. God gave Joseph a big dream to bring to life and Joseph did. He chose to do God’s will and became stepfather to a Messiah.

What dream has God given to you? Does it seem impossible? Does it seem too big for you to handle? Then maybe it’s time to let God show you how it’s done?

Dear God, help our unbelief. So much of our failures are failures of vision. We do not allow our faith to expand to the impossible. Yet you are an awesome God, doing both little and big things in the world. Help us to have your vision for our world and the faith to carry it out. Amen.