- 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.
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.
Today’s scripture: 1 Corinthians 15:1-11
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!
Graphic created by Scott Carnes for First United Methodist Church, Normal, IL. Copyright 2013
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!
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!
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!
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!
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
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!
Today’s Scripture: Luke 24:45-49
**top image found at: http://imlivinginadream.wordpress.com/2011/06/13/on-101-goals/
**image of Andrew Mortonson found on his Facebook.
Scripture: Isaiah 43: 18-19 (Common English Bible)