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

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.

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