Monday Meditation – Change Is Hard

Changes Ahead

All of us have probably gone through or are going through a change.  Some we hate, some we enjoy, some we fear, others we don’t know what to feel or think about.  It is in these times of change that we see who we are and not just who we say we are. We have a chance to ask some critical questions in the midst of change. Who are you during these times?  What is your attitude?  What are your values?  What is your faith?

The UMC is going through changes.

Has been for a couple of decades.  But that is to be expected.  As new generations come through our doors, they bring their own influences and sensibilities.  A grandmother listens to the preacher, assuming he’s telling the truth to the best of his knowledge.  Her grandson is checking out what the pastor is saying on his tablet or cellphone, making sure of the minister’s accuracy through online resources.  He also maybe looking up opposing arguments.

What is the change we want to see in our denomination?  What does God want to change about us?  What is God already changing in UM churches all over the world?

Jesus knew exactly who he was and went about being the change he wanted to see, the Kingdom of God here among his people. Mark 1:15

He wasn’t like Grumpy Cat in this picture.  “There’s only 2 things I don’t like.  Change and the way things are.” says Grumpy.  Jesus was the change He wanted done on earth as it is in heaven.

Grumpy Cat

Dear God, Show us how to change into what we are to be next.  Help us recognize and live faithfully as nothing stays the same.  Change is inevitable but need not be unenviable.  Turn our hearts toward you and your ministry here on earth. Amen.

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 – Outside Our Comfort Zone

Comfort Zone

Sometimes we are called upon by God to do things that are outside our comfort zone.  Nowadays almost anything God asks us to do will tend to fall outside of what we usually do.

It is how our faith grows.  We come to trust in the Lord as we walk into unchartered territories.

Opposition

Our faith is truly tested when opposition comes up against us as we walk in a new thing.  Rarely are there no troubles when it comes to doing something difficult.

The angel’s words to the women at the tomb who were about to embark on a journey none of them had ever taken before, rings ever truer today in an age of skepticism, fear, anger and hate.

“Do not be afraid.” Matthew 28:5 (NIV)

Let us take to heart the angel’s admonition as we begin to walk out in faith on the new things God is doing in the Church and in the world.  There will be many changes in the coming months and years.  Let us remain true to our God and have the courage to face the opposition that may come against us as we try to do God’s work in this Church and this creation we have been given.

Dear God, Holding fast to what endures – Your love, Your grace and Your justice – and letting go of what is but mere chaff, grant us the courage to live faithfully beyond our comfort zone.  Amen.

Monday Meditation – Giving

Giving

It is the heart that does the giving; the fingers only let go. – Nigeria proverb

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:21 NIV

All giving is from the heart.  Giving is first an inner choice before being an outward action.

We must ask ourselves several questions as we give.  It will help strengthen our hearts toward generosity and away from selfishness.

  1. What am I giving? Finances, time, gifts?
  2. Why am I giving? Conscience, habit, guilt, love?
  3. What does God think of my giving?

As Christians we realize that what we have is a blessing.  Being good stewards of the things we’ve been given should be a priority.

A friend of mine had stopped giving to her local church because the congregation seemed to be on a theological course she did not appreciate.  She had been giving money and time to the church but had stopped both.  She continued to attend church because she had been a member there for over fifteen years.  Even though she entertained thoughts of leaving the church, she didn’t.  She still loved the people there.

God pricked her conscience and asked her why she wasn’t giving anymore to the church.  One reason was to “punish” the church for doing what she believed to be wrong.

God asked her if “punishing” the church was an acceptable form of protest.  She struggled with the question because it seemed like a conventional way to get her point across.

However, was that really the case?  She finally concluded that her “punishing” the church was really her attempt to “control” the church. But this is God’s church and that action was unacceptable.

If things were wrong, she needed to make her case.  She needed to show she was invested in the church community.  Withholding her giving was not doing either of these actions.

As a result, she went back to teaching bible study and giving financially.  Within weeks, a ministry opportunity came up that was near and dear to her heart and the church took it on.  Now her tithe and offerings support not only the church but also this new ministry.

We must get our hearts right with God before we start trying to use our giving as a vehicle of protest against the Church.  In some cases, it may be appropriate.  In some cases, it may not.

However, we must all seek God’s guidance so that our generosity is never stunted for our own personal agenda.  Keeping in mind all those that we, as a Church in connection, can help by our generosity begs us to give and give generously.

Dear God reveal to us our innermost feelings and thoughts.  Show us how to give joyously and generously to your ministries here on earth.  Let us put away our foolish intentions and look for your guidance.  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