Glimpses of Heaven

Let me share with you the train of thought that brought me to this topic. Our church will be having our annual Homecoming service on September 26th, so I was thinking about that day. In twenty years of preaching, I have come to a pretty good understanding of homecoming services.  Although, the details vary slightly, the day is set up pretty much the same no matter where you are.

Homecoming is a time to remember the past. On special homecomings (big anniversary’s like 100, etc) lot’s of old preachers will be invited back. Letters will be sent to as many people who are or ever were part of the church. These letters pretty much say “come back and remember with us the good ole days at ________ church”  There will be lots and lots of food (remember to keep your fork!) and there usually is some form of special music. All in all a good day!

Okay, so what makes it a good day? Why do we go back for homecoming? Why do we rearrange our schedule so that we can be there on that day? The music, the food, the preacher are all a part of it, but I would venture to say it is the relationships that draw us back. We are there to celebrate with our current friends certainly, but I think the chance to reaffirm relationships & joint experiences from the past is the big drawing card.

Let me explain it  this way. One way to define heaven is through our relationship with God. Heaven is being totally with God; being totally in His presence.  So to have a relationship or a shared experience that is in line with God’s will is to have a “Glimpse of Heaven.”

I believe that in our life as a church, we are given many such glimpses and it is these memories that draw us back.  Let me give you a few examples of what I am talking about. Standing in the creek and watching the face of one who has just been baptized was a “glimpse of heaven”  Seeing one of our young people acolyte for the very first time and feeling how the whole congregation watched was a “glimpse of heaven.” Watching as members of the church gather around a new member is a “glimpse of heaven.” Hearing someone say, ‘preacher, your message really spoke to me today’ is a “glimpse of heaven.”

Do you see why I call these memories, these experiences “glimpses of heaven.”  It is when God draws near to us and enters into our relationships and experiences. We can be a part of a church for many years, but it will be these moments – baptisms, weddings, testimonies, special songs, funerals, the conversations or even the unplanned moments – that will be the things we remember. It is these “glimpses of heaven” that makes this church “our church.”

Okay, now it’s your turn.  I want to invite you to share your own “glimpses of heaven” Tell me stories of times when you felt the presence of God in our church (or any church). Tell me stories of when Immanuel (God is with us) entered your relationships.

Faith – time to dust it off and put it to work

James 1:22-25″ But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like.  But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act – they will be blessed in their doing.” NRSV

Have you ever walked into a room and forgotten why you went there in the first place? It’s frustrating and a little embarrassing, isn’t it? Some people say it’s a sign of getting old. Others will state that it means that you have too much on your mind or even that your mind is dwelling on something else. Whatever the reason, I think we understand what James is getting at here. If you look in the mirror and forget what you saw, if you walk into a room and forget what you are looking for, if you listen to the Word of God and don’t do anything with it, then what good is it? In a very real sense, you have simply wasted your time.

What does it mean to be doers of the Word? James, in chapter 2, goes on to say “Faith without works is dead” and “I by my works will show you my faith.” If your faith is true and real and meaningful to you, then your faith will work itself out through your actions. Faith takes on a whole new meaning when it is put to work. We can read the scriptures all day long, listen to great sermons, watch worship on TV, but if we don’t do anything with what we have learned, what good is it?  Besides that, when you do put your faith to work, your faith becomes more meaningful to you.

One of the promises made in the Bible is that each one of us has spiritual gifts, given by God, that are to be used for the building up of the church and for the glory of God. Every one of us has a place to serve. Every one of us can be used by God. What is exciting to me is to see this happen in others. The dozens of volunteers who come every week to pack Saturday Sacks. The volunteers who come each day to feed the children during the summer. The excitement of the youth after only one week on the mission field. A small group working together to share the hospitality of Christ with his children. On and on and on.

When we put our faith into action, we begin to see the world through the eyes of God. Even when we are shy, afraid, busy, uncertain, scared, grieving, depressed – when we do something for God and for others we will receive a blessing. If you are not doing anything with your faith, I want to challenge you to find a way to do something for God. If you don’t know what to do, ask a friend who is a mature Christian or ask me. You will discover the joy of putting your faith to work!

A week in the life of a UM pastor

Some thoughts on life as a UM pastor. This week has been a microcosm of what you have to deal with as a pastor. My wife (best friend, partner in ministry) is at home recovering from surgery on her foot last Thursday. I’m trying to do my best to be a compassionate caregiver while her foot is immobilized. My daughter begins a new school in less than a week and my son’s car is in the shop -of course the problem is not covered by the warranty! (Was that a little too much sarcasm?)

Performed a wedding on Saturday (rehearsal on Friday night) at a beautiful winery north of Dahlonega. Got to see a mother surprise her daughter with a special song near the end of the ceremony! Speaking of weddings – doing some pre-marital counseling this evening for a wedding on the 28th. Performing a renewal of wedding vows on the 21st and just received a phone call from a friend asking me to perform his wedding in December. Talk about joy coming out of sorrow – I preached his wife’s funeral 4 years ago and preached the funeral of his new wife’s former husband as well. To see the joy they have found in each other is pretty cool!

Preached a sermon on what happens when we die. In the middle of the message at our 2nd service, had a member of the congregation raise their hand and ask a question. This was the first time that had ever happened to me. The question did fit the topic and really drew the congregation in. This was one of those occasions when you know everyone was listening.

Attended a funeral on Saturday with a lot of my sermon research in my head and was touched by the words of the deceaseds former pastor. It wasn’t so much his theology that touched me but the depth of their relationship that shone through his words. It made me think a lot about how we know someone affects how we say goodbye to them. As a UM pastor, on many occasions, we only see the last chapter of a long story.

Been to the hospital a couple of times this week and prayed with a family as they watched a loved one go home. Calling upon the name of the Lord is a means of Grace no matter what actual words are used in the prayer. As pastor, one of my main jobs is to serve as a conduit of God’s grace. To be with someone during a time like this is to invite the presence of God into that moment.

Working on my sermon for next Sunday “How can a good God allow evil to happen?”  As I have read multiple sources about “the problem of evil” it makes my brain hurt. This is a question that has plagued the human race since Adam and Eve. Evil is real but so is the grace of God. To know that God gave his son to combat the reality of evil overwhelms me at times. It’s hard to truly comprehend such love.

All sorts of other random things happening this week. Preparing for Revival in September; updating the church website; thinking about insurance; preparing for Bible Study; mailing birthday cards; talking with another church who is starting a Saturday Sack program in their community; trying to clean my desk 🙂   and so much more.

As I think about all of this, I realize how incredibly necessary it is for a Pastor to have people praying for them. If I had to do this all on my own, I would fail miserably. As it is, there are still many times that I fail, but by the grace of God, there are times when God shines through. Thank you, thank you Lord for your mercy, your peace and your love of this child of yours who is trying to be obedient and trusting. Thank you church for your prayers and your support.

I wonder what next week will bring?

Holding on too tight!

Today’s post is for all of you type ‘A’ personalities out there. People (like myself) who have a plan, like to work the plan and don’t want anything outside the plan to interfere with your plan. We know that we should chill out, relax, be more flexible, don’t get so uptight, don’t worry, don’t get anxious, don’t ask for trouble before it gets here, etc.  We really do know these things and we try to integrate them into our lives. Some days are better than others. Some situations we are able to ‘go with the flow’ and some days we ‘hold on too tight.’

How easy is it to get caught up in the everyday busyness and the details of right here and right now. Even if our lives look like smooth sailing on the outside, from the inside we always have something to plan for, struggle with and worry about. And besides that, sometimes when life is too easy, when we think we are in control, that is the time that we forget there is one who is beyond us, one who knows us, one who understands us better than we understand ourselves. When we are getting things done through our own power, we forget to attach ourselves to God’s power.  The image that comes to mind is any electronic devise that runs on a battery.  As long as the battery  is charged, the devise runs like it was designed too, but when the battery runs out the devise shuts down. Until we connect to God, until we plug in to the never ending power source, there is always the danger of shutting down, burning out, blowing up, etc.

So how do we loosen our grip on life? How can we stop holding on so tight? It’s easy for those non- Type ‘A’ folks to say, slow down and just relax. It’s hard to change who you are overnight. Rather than trying to become who we are not, maybe we need to use who we are in a different way. Make a list, like we are so good at doing, only this time, make a list of the priorities that God wants in our lives.  Take the time to do the research into God’s Word and find out what God wants for us. And then fit those priorities to who you are, not who everyone else thinks you ought to be.  For instance, I have a book in my library called “Prayer for those who can’t sit still”  (I’m not joking – when I saw this book, I thought here is an author who understands me!) You don’t have to pray like everyone else. You don’t have to rest like everyone  else. You don’t have to do your devotional time like everyone else. Find a way that fits who you are.  God is a God of incredible diversity. He can meet us in a million different ways.

Shalom is the Hebrew word for peace, but it really means so much more than that. While it is often used as a greeting, it means more like wholeness, completeness, may all the fullness of God be yours today. Shalom/peace is not always calm, slow, still. Shalom can also be active, obedient, fulfilling. When we reside in the Shalom of God, we can truly be the person God created us to be. We don’t have to pretend to be someone else. We can be active. We can be focused. We can be driven. But we will not be the one in control. We will not be the one holding on so tight that we see nothing else. When we reside in the shalom of God, we are connected to the ‘power source’ at all times and we are able to see our life through the eyes of God.

Shalom to you my friends!