New Seasons of Life
Yes, I’m a church nerd, but I always look forward to the season of Easter.  I look forward to a great Easter Sunday morning at church, yes,  but, then, I enjoy reveling in the ‘afterglow’ of the next few weeks.  I spend those weeks looking for signs of new life, reflecting on the experience of the cross, and expecting resurrection, not just because of old stories found in the Bible, but I expect signs of resurrection in the world around me.  I suppose signs of new life are always present, but I get excited about the season of Easter because it helps me to pay attention to the amazing things God is doing in this world.  This year, though, Easter wasn’t the season I expected it to be.
This year, I found myself tired as I came to Easter because I was doing a mandated (by the United Methodist Church) internship at BroMenn Regional Medical Center along with my full-time job.  Because of my exhaustion, I didn’t really take in Easter the way I ought to have, perhaps.  More devastating, however, was the abrupt end to our pregnancy after Carrie and I suffered a miscarriage.  A season that was supposed to draw my attention to new life became a season of loss and exhaustion.
Today, as I look toward Pentecost (this Sunday) and a new church season, I realize something, suddenly:  Even though I had a difficult season…there is hope.  I have an opportunity to let go of the troubled weeks of Eastertide and celebrate the hope of a new season in my own life.
You see, professionally, as I plan worship, I will set aside the themes and scriptures of Easter and I will prepare for a new season of different scriptures, songs, and worship themes.  I guess, in my personal life, I would do well to set aside the difficulties of these past weeks and months, in a similar way, and allow myself to focus on a new season and find hope for better weeks ahead!
For me, the hope that comes in a new season is:
  • the possibility of getting pregnant, again;
  • welcoming a new pastor to my church and fostering a new friendship;
  • renewing my own body and spirit this summer with exercise, right eating, and spiritual disciplines;
  • working on my relationship with my wife that the experience of this season would help us to deepen our relationship for the next.
As we leave the Easter season, we don’t leave behind the message of Christ or hope for the future.  Likewise, as we move from one season of life to the next we should never lose sight the experiences we have had, yet we have an opportunity to look for new life and experience resurrection.  Over these next weeks, I pray that we will continue to experience Christ’s resurrection and I pray that it will draw our attention to the resurrection all around us and help us to find renewal in our own lives!
blessings,
New Life
babycarnes

My wife and I have been wanting to get pregnant since late last summer.  It was frustrating month after month without the results for which we yearned.  One morning in February my wife woke me up with the exclamation that she was pregnant.  I was glad, but it didn’t seem real.  The only indication was a stick with a symbol on it.  I waited for it to ‘feel real,’ but the feeling didn’t come, at least right away.  I went with my wife to see our OB doctor a few weeks later but wasn’t expecting too much.  I had seen many people post those black and white sonogram pictures on Facebook and I have never been able to make out anything that resembles a life-form.  My lack of excitement had been a let-down and I expected to be equally underwhelmed by that visit.

My experience at the doctor’s office was very different from what I expected.  As the baby became visible on the screen, I was mesmerized.  I could actually see the little heart beating!  My heart leapt.  The doctor put the heartbeat on speaker while she measured it.  I could hear and see the incredibly fast thumping of that little heart.  My eyes were glued to that screen and when the doctor told us that our baby looked very healthy, so far, and that its heartbeat was very strong, I felt pride and joy all at once: It flooded over me in a totally unexpected way.

New life comes to us in very unexpected ways and seldom on our terms.  When we open ourselves to the Holy Spirit we can experience a newness of life: we can experience God in all new ways.  But it can be frustrating when it doesn’t happen right away:  there have been times that I prayed…fervently…yet I didn’t feel God in the way I expected.  But, experiencing God requires us to learn about ourselves and practice faith.  Much like those months of trying to become pregnant, It can take some time to experience God more closely way, but, once we are open enough to God it will just happen.  And when it happens, you will feel it.

For me, I didn’t experience the joy of new life when I expected to: at that first moment of finding out about the pregnancy.  No, I experienced overwhelming joy much later in front of an ultrasound machine.  Yes, the joy of new life often catches us unaware.  Week after week and month after month I pray that you will go to scripture, join together with other people of faith, worship God, and be in prayer.  When we become committed to these practices we will eventually and unexpectedly experience a new life for ourselves and grow in faith and with God.

Blessings,

A Season of New Life

Today’s scripture:  1 Corinthians 15:1-11


Brothers and sisters, I want to call your attention to the good news that I preached to you, which you also received and in which you stand. You are being saved through it if you hold on to the message I preached to you, unless somehow you believed it for nothing. I passed on to you as most important what I also received: Christ died for our sins in line with the scriptures, he was buried, and he rose on the third day in line with the scriptures. He appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve, and then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at once—most of them are still alive to this day, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me, as if I were born at the wrong time. I’m the least important of the apostles. I don’t deserve to be called an apostle, because I harassed God’s church. I am what I am by God’s grace, and God’s grace hasn’t been for nothing. In fact, I have worked harder than all the others—that is, it wasn’t me but the grace of God that is with me. So then, whether you heard the message from me or them, this is what we preach and this is what you have believed.

This message of Paul is of Resurrection and New Life.  Paul is talking about Christ’s bodily resurrection, but he is also talking about his own experience of new life.  For Paul, experiencing Christ gave him something deeply personal and connected him with God in an incredible new way.  Most importantly this inward change brought an outward change as well.  He was convicted of the message of Christian-Jews, but he also changed the way in which he lived his daily life.  In fact, he became a wholly different person.

During the Season of Easter which starts on Easter Day (March 31) and runs through Pentecost (May 18) we celebrate the Resurrection of Christ.  What does that mean?  God came to experience humanity, to experience all the facets of human-ness in order to love and be loved in a deeper way.  The experience of Easter is about experiencing God’s love in a personal way and the freeing experience of a new life in Christ.

For the remainder of the Easter Season you will hear stories of Resurrection and New Life from me and my friends through this blog.  Perhaps over the next few weeks you will be impacted in some way by the message of Christ and experience, through these writings, New Life!

Blessings,

Graphic created by Scott Carnes for First United Methodist Church, Normal, IL.  Copyright 2013

Reboot

What does it mean to start over?  When it comes to a cake, you have to trash the whole burnt mess and start with all new ingredients.  Luckily starting fresh in life doesn’t have to be so violent (or messy), but it can be.  Sometimes we have to lose our lives in order to start over.  Jesus said something about that in the Bible, in fact….

For me, starting over wasn’t an obvious thing.  I didn’t even realize it was happening nor did I have that intent.  Yet, over the last few weeks I’ve come to realize that I look at certain things differently.  My worldview has shifted ever-so slightly.

I notice it in things as simple as my sleep schedule.  Over the last few months I’ve been going to bed earlier and getting my day started sooner.  Is it because I look forward to what tomorrow holds?

I notice it in my attentiveness to my wife.  I don’t know if she notices, but I’m a little more aware of what is happening for her, although a new church appointment has kept me from investing more time in my marriage.

I notice it in my outlook on issues and, even, moments of “crisis” around me.  I think the experiences of a brain tumor, two neuro-surgeries, and a near-death experience in my hospital bed have changed my world in ways I didn’t even realize…  somehow for the better.

I don’t think you will notice the changes I have experienced.  I don’t think it is in overt ways, necessarily, but it happened all the same.  As a pastor, I look around at the world and wonder…is that what faith does?  When we begin to see that there is hope and love in this world, does it change us?  I think so.  We don’t always notice the change right away, but when we see the world through the lens of possibility instead of impossibility…when we see that this world is more filled with love than hate…when we recognize that God can give us hope for a brighter tomorrow…I think it changes our world and us a little at a time.

Well, enough rambling for now!

It’s not just WHAT you do, but HOW you do it.

The difference between a foodie and a food snob can be a very fine line.  But I’m going to suggest that “foodies” enjoy gourmet food yet also, hopefully, the experience of eating and the relationships that can grow around that experience.  A food snob allows their experience of food to overshadow relationships.

A foodie will likely send back something that they don’t like…in fact, if asked “Could we improve,” or “What did you not like,” by a server:  A foodie may even offer their opinion, but tastefully, I would hope.

A food snob is more likely to ruin the dining experience for all those around them with comments, sneers and rudeness.

I observed this recently in one of the restaurants on our cruise.  A person found their meal to be less-than-satisfactory and began berating the server and making obvious comments and rudeness.  It doesn’t take an etiquette coach to see that others at the table were not enjoying their meal: not because of the food, but because of the experience.

It wasn’t that this woman returned her food or that she offered her opinion it was the way in which she did it.  It wasn’t a question of what but how.

I think an experience, like this, at a restaurant has implications for other facets of our lives.

  • It is not a question of whether we sit in church and ‘hear’ a sermon.  It is a question of experiencing God and others in worship and in fellowship.
  • It is not a question of whether or not I carry my wife’s purse or help her down a step, it is whether my action is an expression of my love for her and done joyfully.
  • It is not just that my in-laws would invite me above deck to the hot tub as an obligation, but that they are truly extending an invitation that I be a part of the family.

And for all of us:

  • It is not a matter of whether we take time to sit around a common table as a family and eat, but it is a question of whether we allow our time spent together to be a family-enriching experience or not.

I hope that as we spend time with others in our lives, whether ‘family or friend,’ ‘friend or foe,’ we would think not just about what we are doing, but about how we do it!  I pray that we would all strive for life-enriching, relationship-growing, community-renewing attitudes and experiences!

Ephesians 1:3-14 A Call to Love in Troubled Times

 

   
 As I sit at my desk, writing this blog entry; I look out the window to see beautiful clear blue skies and shriveled near dead brown grass. What a shame. The need for rain is at the forefront of most people’s minds with whom I speak. I spoke with a couple people this week who recalled the depression, others with whom I spoke recalled the drought of 1988. This is certainly a troubling summer. The anxiety which this drought is causing is only exaggerated by the uncertainty of the times in which we live. 
Normally in such times, many people have turned to God and their elders; but here we may find ourselves struggling as well. Church membership and attendance is down. At the most recent General Conference it was reported that the average United Methodist is 58 years old. Churches no longer filled with children in Sunday School are filled instead with memories and worry. As we face this fact, we are forced to recognize that the church of yesteryear is no more. We are called by God and add campaigns to “ReThink Church”….but where do we begin?

As a nation, we are grieving as we watch members of what was dubbed by Tom Brokaw “the Greatest Generation” die. These are people who remember the Great Depression, lived through World War II and worked to rebuild the nation into the country that it is today. They have guided us and our parents (or are perhaps our parents). As much as we grieve them individually as they pass, we grieve something else as well: an idea. This generation represents a link to a distant past, a different time. They stand in the American consciousness like a mighty oak: a symbol of strength, wisdom and endurance. When members who were a part of this generation in my church die, I often witness others shaking their heads, asking “What will become of us when this generation is gone”. It is the end of an era.

With all this uncertainty it is no wonder that tensions, in the church and in the nation are high. We are faced with mounting problems. Old solutions aren’t working. So we lash out like a scared and hurt animal- because that is what we are. As we look to the fall and the coming election, I confess I am filled with dread. Yes, I worry deeply about what the results of the election will be when votes are tallied, but I worry as well about the cost of the election- not the financial cost (which will be unimaginably huge) but the psychological and spiritual cost of the fighting which has already begun. 

This Sunday, many churches which follow the Revised Common Lectionary will begin a study of Ephesians. As I reviewed and studied “Ephesians”, I was struck by the ways this ancient text sympathizes with and speaks to our troubled times. This letter, which most likely circulated amongst a number of churches was written after the fall of the temple in 70 AD. The destruction of the temple forced many religious communities to re-think the ways they practiced their faith, and who held religious authority. They were plunged into confusion and uncertainty. Compounding the struggle with a changing religious life was the death of a generation. At the time that this letter was written and circulated, Paul had most likely been executed. The other apostles, those followers of Jesus who walked, talked and learned with him; and who subsequently founded many of the first churches were dying. Faced with new questions and problems, the early church struggled to know where to turn. All too often they chose to turn against one another. 

Confronted with all of the frustrations of their day, the author of Ephesians opens with magnificent praise for the God of heaven and earth. We, the readers are assured that we have a God who is not removed from our problems but who instead is at work for us. Before the beginning of time, God made a plan. That plan is not broken economies, destroyed temples, failed crops or oppression. The writer explains, “This is what God planned for the climax of all times: to bring all things together in Christ, the things in heaven along with the things on earth.” (Ephesians 1:3-14 Common English Bible). This is a plan rooted in love and advanced through grace. God has set aside an inheritance for us. 
Inheritance is given based on who a person is not what they do, we are given this inheritance not because we have always made good choices but because we are a part of God’s creation, because we are God’s children and because we are loved. God has planned this inheritance, saving it and setting it aside for each one of us. Though it is given to us it is not ours, for it was first God’s. We, as God’s benefactors have a choice: we can squander that inheritance or we can use it to honor God by participating in God’s plan. 

The writer explains that God’s design for creation is not something simply of another, heavenly realm. God’s has plans this world, this earth. God plans to see this world reconciled with one another and with God. Because of this, as we approach this election we are called to care for all God’s people and all of the issues that effect them. We are invited to labor in love and make wise decisions based not in malice but in the love God has for each of us. I know that as we near the election, my blood will at times boil. I will be filled with indignation and anger. But as hard as it may be somedays, I am not the only inheritor of God’s love and grace. I am not the only person that God blessed, chose and adopted. Indeed all of us, rich or poor, republican or democrat, of every race, gender, sexual orientation and nationality have been blessed, chosen and adopted by God. So let us then go forth endeavoring to treat one another through our words and  actions with the respect due to a child of God.

 
The Greatest Independence Day, Yet!

My first summer as a pastor in Pontiac, I saw a sight that just tore me into pieces.  A local church had a float in the parade with soldiers holding weapons and a cross painted as or wrapped in the flag.  Why was that troubling?  Well, in my opinion, too much nationalism can be a dangerous thing when it obscures God’s message or when it is put above God’s Word.

I am a patriot.  Absolutely.  I love that I live in this country and I want the best for this country and everyone in it…but I firmly believe that we can not let that obscure that God is above any flag and loves the people under every flag!

God is above any flag and loves the people under every flag!

The message that I read in scripture is that God loves the world and wants the best for everyone in it, not just the United States.  In fact, in history it is the times when nationalism is put above the Word of God that people are hurt.  When the Hebrew people came into the land of Caanan with more nationalism and sense of entitlement than grace of God they slaughtered everyone and took the land by force.  When Europeans put nationalism and a sense of entitlement before God’s grace a native people were ravaged, their people killed, and cultures nearly wiped out.  When Medieval religious zealots put nationalism and a sense of entitlement before God’s grace a long terrible series of “Holy” Crusades tore apart Palestine and Europe and destroyed Muslim, Christian, and Jew, alike.  If you haven’t put it together on your own, let me point out what I see:  In each of these cases (and there are many more examples) religious rhetoric was used to mask what was clearly done out of a sense of selfishness, greed, and national/cultural/ethno-centrism.  Put another way?  Nationalism and a sense of entitlement were put above God’s Word and God’s apparent desires!

So, when I come to each Fourth of July I do feel pride in our nation and I do feel patriotism…but it also reminds me that we are one nation among many and we cannot forget our place and our greatness.  Our greatness stands under God’s and our needs and desires, while important, are not more important than others.  So we can and should love our nation and support our olympians, teams, and troops…but we should do so remembering that we do not have to diminish others or God in order to feel love for our own nation and our actions as a country are not necessarily righteous.

I write this blog out of a love for this nation and because I truly hope for greatness from our country.  I believe there are great things about this country and I believe greater things are possible for us and by us…if we can focus on the sacred worth of all people and ensure that the dignity of all people is upheld…if we look to the ‘least of these’ to provide love, health, hospitality, witness, and safety…if we find creative new ways to work toward peace and God’s-justice in the world!

I am a patriot, but some of the patriotic rhetoric and imagery that confuses nationalism with religion frightens me.  Let us consider, this Fourth of July, the greatness of this nation, but also God’s work we must accomplish to make it ever greater and more grace-filled.  On this Fourth of July let us remember that our forefathers were working to find new forms of freedom and find a more perfect government…and that work, in the history of America, is an unfolding one!!!  May this be the greatest Independence Day yet as we imagine not just an already-great nation, but an even greater nation under God.

blessings this Fourth of July!

Resurrection & New Life:  Every Moment Counts! (Video)

Scripture:  Luke 22:63-65, 23:32-38

If this was the only moment that defined Jesus Christ, we wouldn’t have any hope, but his life was not defined only by his lowest moments, but also by the high moments of his birth, life, ministry and, later, resurrection!  Christ shows us that we can look forward to new life, even in our most traumatic moments!!!

Title Image found at:  http://www.wolfiewolfgang.com/2010/11/cartwheeling-back-to-health-and.html

Resurrection & New Life: God At Work


Meet Andrew Mortonson





My guest blogger, today, is Andrew Mortonson.  He is a member of First United Methodist Church in Green Bay, Wisconsin and is active at the Wesley Foundation at the University of Illinois in Urbana/Champaign (UIUC) where he will (in August) finish his Masters degree in Aerospace Engineering.  …And I am really proud of Andrew’s most recent announcement:  He has already gotten a job with Rolls-Royce as an Engineering Associate after graduation!






Beginning to See God at Work



Today’s Scripture:  Luke 24:45-49


There was always a plan – a reason, a goal for tomorrow. I had always known the next step in life and was always fully prepared to take it. I had a stable family, good education, and a loving church home. I knew where I would go to college since before I started high school, and there was never really any question I would get in. I was blessed in many ways as a child. 


I grew up in the church, and for a large part, my faith was always laid out before me. Unlike many of the other kids my age at church, I learned and grew in my faith and continued being an active participant after confirmation. Being an active Christian wasn’t necessarily the cool thing to do, but in a Christian community like Green Bay, you never are really challenged in your faith. I often found myself in more discussions with other denominations, especially Catholics. 

When I went to college, I moved into a fraternity, and most of my influences were anything but Godly. I continued to succeed in school, but I felt incomplete and often alone. The summer after my freshman year, people from my home church asked me if I had found a new church to serve at school. When I admitted I hadn’t, they often encouraged me too look, or gave suggestions. I agreed that I would look at the Wesley foundation on campus, partly just to keep people off my back. I fortunately found a new home and gained many new supportive friends.

For the next two years, I felt like I knew where I belonged. While I occasionally struggled with friends and classes, I knew that God was providing for me. However, in my senior year, that feeling began to fade. I thought I had lost God’s call; I wasn’t really sure what my future path should be. I graduated college with Honors, but like far too many people that year, I had no job, and returned to live at home. Once again, I felt very much alone. Even though I was living with my family and had many loving people around me, I was completely lost.

I can understand what the Disciples must have felt around the crucifixion. Only a week before, they entered with Jesus triumphantly into Jerusalem. Going to serve with Jesus was not easy, but I’m sure after a while, they all felt like they were where they belonged. Only a few days later, they were lost, and felt very much alone. 

My story did not turn around in just three days, yet I know that even in those times, God was working in my life. I began to get involved in the praise band at my home church, and the other members often helped remind me that I was not alone. But the real point where I began to see God working was when one of the women in the church came up to me and started asking me details about my life. She knew that I had been looking for a job, and she wanted to know what kind of job, and what I was interested in. Then she told me that she needed to know all of this so she could properly pray for me. She prayed with me, and hugged me and promised me that her prayer group would continue to keep me in her prayers. 

It was about this time that things started to turn around. I applied to grad school and began to attend that fall. Through the two years that I have been studying, I only recently was assured funding for the remainder of my program, but I trusted wholly in God. Within a few months of returning to school, I began dating the woman who became my fiancée, and now within the last week, I was offered a job after graduation. Almost exactly the position I had wanted three years earlier. 

After Jesus arose on Easter, the Disciples went on to spread the gospel throughout the world. But they needed fellowship and support from other believers, and to fully place their trust in Jesus. In the same way, I could not be where I am today without the prayers of family and friends and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Even more, I know that I can impact the lives of others simply through words of prayer and support. At our lowest points, the promise of God’s perfect grace, through the resurrection, allows us to put all of our faith in Him. In Luke 24, Jesus appeared before the disciples who had gathered after the crucifixion. 

“Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, ‘This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.’” Luke 24:45-49 (NIV)




**top image found at:  http://imlivinginadream.wordpress.com/2011/06/13/on-101-goals/
**image of Andrew Mortonson found on his Facebook.

Resurrection & New Life: New Life Springs Forth!




Meet RaeAnn Beebe!

Rev. RaeAnn Beebe is the pastor at St. Paul’s United Church of Christ in Oshkosh, Wisconsin.  Her church is related to the Northeast Wisconsin Association of the United Church of Christ.  She is a 2010 graduate of Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois where she was a classmate of mine!  I thank RaeAnn for sharing this devotion and hope that you all enjoy it as much as I did!













New Life Springs Forth!



Scripture: Isaiah 43: 18-19 (Common English Bible)



Do not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old.
I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth,
do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.
(Isaiah 43:18-19)
This year I had a very bad case of Spring Fever. I’m not sure if it was because of the unseasonably warm weather early on or the fact that I love Spring and was excited that it was coming early. Whatever the reason, I found myself wanting to be outside getting my garden planted. Spring is an annual reminder of resurrection for me. Maybe not this year, but normally in Wisconsin winter is long and cold; a time when I just want to stay indoors and hibernate. Just when I think I can’t take it anymore, spring arrives to say that new life is possible. From the barrenness of winter new life springs forth – birds reappear and wake me up with their singing, buds appear on the trees and then begin to open, flowers sprout from the ground slowly and then suddenly burst out of the ground and the garden is full of color. One day winter and the next spring is here. I love it and am reminded of the new life we find in Christ.

We often think of new life encounters with God in just this way – bursting forth suddenly. One day our lives are in shambles, then we have an encounter with God and everything changes dramatically and suddenly. While this can happen, I think more often we experience new life in the ordinary passages of our lives. For me this occurred when my sons grew up and left home to go to college. I wasn’t needed by them in the same way and I found myself in a time of transition. My old way of life was gone and I had to find that new thing that God was calling me too. I had to find the way God had made in the wilderness. It didn’t happen overnight, but eventually, I found the way in the wilderness or the river in the desert that Isaiah talks about. I went to seminary and started on a whole new career path.

We experience many transition times in our lives. Maybe it is when you first move away from home or enter a new relationship or welcome a child to the family or lose someone you love. These times of transition can be very unsettling, but they can also be opportunities to experience new life when we are open to the places God is calling us to. Isaiah says that we should forget about what was and look toward what can be. And that is new life.