Broken Trees - Broken Lives

In the past month and a half there have been two summer thunderstorms that brought strong winds to the Mitchell area.  Both storms produced a lot of lightening, thunder, and rain.  But the damage that was caused by these storms was from the strong wind that accompanied the storms.  Both times, wow did it blow. 

 The mornings after these storms had passed by, the damage they caused was revealed.  Here in Mitchell the main damage was to trees; uprooted, snapped off, and broken tree limbs.  It saddened me to see some beautiful mature trees that were broken off and destroyed by the power of the storm.  

 One of the things I noticed is that some of the trees that had limbs broken off or that were damaged by the wind, had pre-existing issues that were brought to light by the storm.  With some trees it was clear to see, with others you had to look closely, but still, it was apparent where the break took place that there was an underlying issue, mainly that the tree had either died already or that the particular limb that had broken off had disease, or was rotten on the inside, or the tree roots had not developed or gone deep.  From the outside or from the surface, the tree or limb looked fine, but on the inside or on a deeper level, there was weakness because of disease or decay or some other unseen unhealthiness.

 After the July storm that caused significant damage, I was talking to an individual who knows more about trees than I do.  One of the comments made in our conversation was that storms can be mother natures way of pruning trees; revealing where unhealthiness is located and then removing it. 

 That statement has stuck with me, but not just from a “tree” perspective.  There is also truth in that statement as it relates to our spiritual and faith lives.  You see, when the storms of life hit, or when the pressure is on, it tends to reveal what is on the inside of the person.   When a person feels threatened, insecure, or strong emotional pressure, it is often then that anger, fear, worry, cynicism, addictions, rage, blame, bitterness, and such things begin to be displayed in one’s behaviors.  On the surface things can look pretty good in our lives…but when a storm comes crashing down upon us, that is when the hidden unhealthiness is often revealed and shows the brokenness in our lives. 

 One of the ways to discover where such dis-ease or unhealthiness is in our lives is to take notice of our behaviors when we get irritated.  When you’re stuck behind by a slow driver or just stuck in traffic, when something unexpected or unwanted happens to you, what is your first reaction? When something doesn’t go your way, when someone says something that rubs you wrong, or when your patience is stretched thin, what is your first thought?  Another way to discover the unhealthy points in your life is to pray a very simple prayer, “Lord, show me the points of unhealthiness or brokenness in my life.”

 I pray that no storms come upon any of us.  However, I know the reality of life is this…storms are coming for each and every one of us.  So, let’s get prepared.  As followers of Jesus, may we each look to Jesus to point out the brokenness that needs healing.  May we allow him to show us the pruning that needs to be done.  Doing this hard work sooner, rather than later, can prepare us for the storms to come in life and lessen the impact when they do strike.  If you want to know more about why pruning is important…Read John 15!

 Serving Together,

Pastor Keith

Climbing the Hill

Last week Nancy and I were on vacation in north central Minnesota at Lake Belle Taine.  We go to an area that Nancy’s family has been camping in for 50+ years.  In fact, you might say that part of our honeymoon was spent at Camper’s Paradise on Lake Belle Taine.  So, almost every year we spend about a week at this same campground – a somewhat rustic and heavily wooded island that is a nothing but a campground. 

 One of the things I like about this area we go to is that there are a couple of great biking trails close by.  One is the Heartland Trail.  The other is the Paul Bunyan Trail.  Both are former railroad lines that have been converted to paved hiking and biking trails.  They are really nice and I love to bike on them. 

 Well, last Saturday I decided to do a major ride on a section of the Paul Bunyan Trail that I’ve never ridden before.  My daughter, Melissa, decided to join me for the adventure and our goal was to cover about 35 miles.  It was a beautiful day, the scenery was wonderful, the company was fantastic, and the riding was great. 

 Now the Heartland Trail, at least the section that I have ridden previously, is really pretty flat.  There might be a slight incline and decline in the grade of the trail, but really, it’s quite flat.  However, after riding for a bit on the Paul Bunyan Trail, we came upon a sign that said, “Sections of this trail are not suitable for roller-bladders, people in wheelchairs, or inexperienced bicyclers.”   Looking at a map told us there were sections of the trail ahead with up to an 8% grade, meaning we were going to be doing some hill climbing or downhill coasting. 

 Sure enough, the trail started getting a bit hilly.  There were points we were downshifting on our bikes and pedaling hard to make it to the top of the hill, and then there were other points we were cruising effortlessly down the hill following the twists and turns of the trail.  That part was a blast!!!! 

 During one of our rest stops, Melissa and I were talking about how much fun the coasting downhill was.  But as we talked, we also realized that in order to have the fun and ease of the downhill ride it meant we also had to the uphill climbing and work.  “Oh, if we could only coast all the way.” was our thought, but we both knew that wasn’t the reality of our situation. 

 Some would say that the “Church” has been experiencing the downhill ride for a while, meaning work has been minimal, the ride has mostly been fun and for the most part, rather easy.  However, in recent years things have been changing.  Church is no longer the center of society, it’s no longer the only thing to do on Sunday.  Today’s culture tends to downplay the importance of religion.  Faith and spirituality is often pressed into a different place in our society and even in our own lives by everything else going on during a weekend.  In other words, the Church is having to work to show its relevance in the world.  The Church is having to consider new ways of being “the Church,” and even what it means to be “the Church” in our world.  This is hard work!  It feels like we’re pedaling uphill…because we are. 

 Even in our local church, we’re having to consider doing some things in different or new ways.  It’s not always easy, but the benefit of making the uphill climb is knowing that at some point, there will be the joy of the ride when one gets to experience the benefit of the hard work.  God is up to something and is at work in our world…and even in our church.  That is what keeps me going, especially when the pedaling gets hard. 

Serving Together,

Pastor Keith

Follow the Voice Inside

I did something a little out of my comfort zone today…I talked to someone in the cemetery.  Now, that’s not uncommon, since in my profession I’m actually in the cemetery a fair amount.  Yet this encounter and conversation was a bit different.  Let me explain.

 While I was checking our garden in the Community Garden plots, I noticed a car pull into the Servicemen’s Cemetery right by the garden.  The driver, who appeared to be an older woman, stopped right by what appeared to be a recently dug grave – the soil was dark without any grass growing on it yet.  She didn’t get out of the car…she just sat there.  When I left the gardens, five minutes later, she was still there.  I got into my pickup and spoke a quiet prayer for her and whatever her situation was.  I was driving around the outer edge of the cemetery, making my way back to the main driveway and an interesting thought popped into my mind; “Go talk to her.” 

 No, I thought…I don’t know her.  Usually when I talk to people in the cemetery I’m there in an official capacity.  I usually have a connection with the family.  I don’t know this woman.  She hasn’t invited me into this moment in her life.  Yet, there it was again, “Go talk to her.”

I was now at the point of either needing to turn right to head to the cemetery entrance or turn left and pull into the parking area by the Servicemen’s Cemetery.  I turned left.  “This is crazy.” I thought to myself.  I pulled over and stopped my vehicle.  I walked over to where the woman was still sitting in her car.  I walked up beside the car – a little distance away, so not to appear threatening.  Then I raised a hand a waved to her.  She rolled down her window.

 “Hello, are you OK, ma’am?  Are you here visiting the grave of a loved one?” I asked.
“Yes I am,” she said.  “My Husband.”   

“I’m so sorry.”  I replied.  “It appears that he must have died just recently.” 

“Well, no, it was actually a year and a half ago.  That’s a new grave just beyond my husbands.  But you know, I miss him every day.”

“How many years were you married?” I asked.

 “52 years.”

“That’s a lot of good memories.”

“Yes, it is.” She answered.

 We talked a bit longer.  I found out her husband was a Highway Patrol Officer.  They had lived in Sturgis for a while (so had I), then they moved to Mitchell (I did too).  She told me some great stories of their life and love.  She shared that she came to the cemetery a couple times a day.  She said, “I miss him every day.  Some people say I should forget him and move on.”

 “Why would you want to ‘forget’ someone you loved and shared life with?  You’ll never forget him.  He’ll always be a part of you and your life.”  I said.

 “That’s the way I feel too.” She replied. 

 We talked a bit longer.  I told her I was a pastor in Mitchell and that I just wanted to make sure she was OK.  I told her I didn’t want to take any more of her time.  She thanked me for stopping by and visiting.

 Nothing obviously miraculous, deep, or profound happened in that moment.  No life-changing words were spoken, that I was aware of.  But maybe the whole point of the moment was what I sensed in my heart, “Go talk to her.”  Maybe I was just there to let someone talk about the love of her life.  Maybe I was supposed to share in a moment of her life and to let her know it’s OK to still be grieving. Maybe she just needed a friend.  Or maybe I was the one that needed to hear a dear soul reflect on a life of faith-filled/love-filled living. 

 I’m not sure why that moment happened…but I’m glad it did.  If nothing else, it touched my heart.  God bless all of you / us – who live with ongoing grief and loss.  God is with you…even in the hurt and pain.

 Serving Together,

Pastor Keith

Each Is a Part

“Now you are the Body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”

 Last week I mentioned the famous “Lunar Landing” that took place 50 years ago this past Saturday.  I mentioned what an incredible accomplishment it was, and really still is.  I also shared that the “journey to the moon” began seven years earlier when the President of the United States, John F. Kennedy, made the challenge to our nation that we would have a “man on the moon” by the end of the decade, which we accomplished with just 5 months to spare. 

 In last weeks article I also mentioned the giant banner I saw at Cape Canaveral ten years ago that showed the famous footprint on the moon along with the words in large bold letters, “What’s our next big step?!”  That was a sign intended to inspire and keep people looking forward, striving for new accomplishments and not just settling for has already been achieved.  I still find those words and that image inspiring.

 Today I want to mention something new I learned about Apollo 11 and the lunar landing.  I read this bit of information in a recent article looking back on the lunar landing and the Apollo 11 mission.  In the article Buzz Aldrin, the 2nd astronaut to walk on the moon on that mission, stated that it took 400,000 people from different parts of the world to bring the Apollo 11 mission to reality, making the lunar landing possible.

 400,000 people!  That’s a lot of people involved.  It took architects, engineers, scientists, computer specialists, mechanics, factory workers, heavy equipment operators, mathematicians, etc. etc.  It took a lot of different people and a lot of different skills and expertise to do what needed to be done, but they worked together, each using their ability, and together they accomplished the incredible.

 I’m reminded of the words Paul wrote in his first letter to the church at Corinth.   In chapter 12 he writes about the different gifts that God’s Spirit gives to Jesus’ followers.  Paul goes on to say that no gift is more important than any other and that all gifts are needed for the body to be complete and effective.  At the beginning of this article I quote Paul’s words, “Now you are the Body of Christ, and each of you is a part of it.”  Each part is needed…each part is important…each part is necessary!

 Just as it took a lot of different people and a lot of different abilities in order to send a person to the moon, so it is in the Body of Christ, or the Church yet today.  The Church is not just about a few people doing some projects, the Church is about everyone doing their part, living out their giftedness to make the Kingdom of God more and more real here on earth…right here in our community.  In other words, you are needed, you are vital to the mission of the Church (local and universal), you, and your gifts, are essential for the church to accomplish what might seem to be impossible.  Our God is in the business of making the impossible possible!!

 It takes a team to accomplish God’s mighty and loving work in this world.  Thank you for being a part of the team, the Body of Christ.  Stay tuned, I’ll soon be announcing a workshop to help our church family learn more about how God has uniquely gifted each of us for ministry.

Serving Together,

Pastor Keith

Big Challenges

Do you know where you were and what you were doing 50 years ago?  I do, at least for a very specific moment in time.  The date was July 20, 1969 – I was 9 years old at the time (yes, now you know my age.) The moment I’m thinking of was when we, the United States, landed a manned spacecraft on the moon. 

 As I remember it, in the late afternoon of July 20, mom and dad herded all us kids into the car and we drove to the home of Wesley and Jean DeHaai.  A bunch of mom and dad’s friends had gathered there to watch TV and share in this historic moment.  There were other kids present from the various families assembled, many of them were playing outside.  However, I was fascinated with “space” and the idea that we were actually sending a human to the moon, so I was glued to that TV.  I remember watching a sweating and anxious Walter Cronkite as he talked America through what was going on.  There was relief and even joy when the words came from the surface of the moon, “The Eagle has landed.”  meaning the spacecraft, named the Eagle, had successfully landed on the moon.

 As we were leaving later that evening, I remember looking up at the moon and thinking… “Wow, there’s a person up there now!”  For me that moment brought the realization that something that seems impossible to accomplish is likely quite do-able when enough effort, energy, and determination is applied. 

 The journey toward this great accomplishment didn’t begin just days earlier when Apollo 11 blasted off from Cape Canaveral.  It didn’t even begin the year or two earlier when the parts for the rocket and spacecraft were being designed, created and assembled.  No really, the great accomplishment of putting a man on the moon began with President Kennedy stating the challenge that America would put a person on the moon by the end of the decade – and it was 1962 when President Kennedy gave that speech. 

 A famous line from the “Moon” speech is “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy but because they are hard.” And indeed, the challenge, the difficulty, the opportunity seemed to bring the nation together to accomplish an incredible goal.  And we did it!

 Today we live in a world and nation filled with many challenges.  There are many difficulties facing the Church and even our local church.  The number of people not attending a worship service on any given weekend is growing.  The percentage of people who don’t have ANY knowledge or experience with a church is growing.  The number of people who are turned-off by what they see in the church in our nation is growing.  All of this can be so despairing…or it can be a point of realizing there is an opportunity before us as a church to do something hard, but something that will impact this world for God’s Kingdom.  What’s the “hard” thing we are being called to reach for?  What’s our next big step?

This question I just asked comes from a huge ten-foot banner I saw at NASA a few years back.  The picture was of the famous “footprint on the Moon” and the caption on the banner said, “What’s our next big step?”  This banner was intended to keep the people looking to the next challenge, even BIG challenge, and not just settle for what they’ve already accomplished. 

 So, my question is, for us as a church what is our next big step to keep us reaching beyond the walls of our church to share the love of Jesus with the next generation from the heart of downtown?  We have a mission to accomplish!  It might even seem impossible…but so did putting a person on the moon to a nine-year-old boy 50 years ago.

 I was struck just the other day by a Facebook post by friend and fellow pastor Adam Weber of Embrace Church in Sioux Falls.  Adam posted… “If we spend even half of the time and energy we use criticizing other Christians, pastors, and churches…on loving, serving, and pointing others to Jesus instead, we just might change the world.”   Amen!!  These are hard days…but we are drawn toward overcoming hard things!  Yes…let’s change the world!!

ATTITUDE!

 ATTITUDE IS EVERYTHING!!  No, I’m really not shouting at you through the printed page (all caps and bolded letters is akin to shouting in the texting or messaging world).  It’s just that I want to emphasize what most of us know to be true.  Attitude is really a very powerful force that we can control.  Truly, attitude is everything!!

 I felt this truth lived out in my life not too long ago.  I was having a “Crabby Pastor” kind of day which was coloring my outlook on things.  I walked into a store to do some business.  The salesclerk greeted me, but by the expression on her face I sensed that she wasn’t having the best of days either.  I told her what I was there to pick up.  She found the order and rang it up.  The total cost was more than what I expected.  I questioned it, she had a response.  I felt like two potentially crabby people were staring at each other and both on the verge of taking their crabbiness up on notch.  Nope, we didn’t want to go down that road.  I paid the bill and moved on, hoping that each of our days would go better.

For my next purchase I decided to do something a bit different.  I thought I’d try changing my attitude and see if that would change the overall experience that I had with the sales staff.  So, I picked up my items to purchase and went to the checkout station.  The clerk was rushing around trying to stock shelves in between caring for customers.  I was interrupting her progress with getting things on the shelf.  I recognized a potential crabby moment approaching. 

 The clerk noticed what I was purchasing (OK, it happened to be two large bags of mint M&M’s).  She kind of grunted.  I said, “These are my favorites.”  She said, “They are the best!”   I said, “I know, and these are the last two bags, I didn’t leave any for you!”  The clerk laughed and proceeded to tell me about her favorite Christmas brownie recipe using mint M&M’s.  After her mouth-watering description, I said, “I’m coming by next Christmas.  I want to try those.”  She laughed and said, “Come on by, I love to bake.” 

 And just like that, my purchase was rung up, cash was exchanged, my items were bagged, and it was time to move on so the next customer could be cared for.  We both exchanged, “You have a great rest of the day!”  We both left that moment feeling good, with genuine smiles.  I can even say the “crabby pastor” feeling was pushed way back into the deep recesses of my mind, all because of a brief one-minute conversation. 

 I walked out of that store feeling more positive and light-hearted than I had when I walked in, all because of a shift from focusing on the troubles of my day to that of considering how to connect with another person experiencing the journey of life with me.  Attitude is everything! 

 It seems that our world is filled with tension, anxiety, and psychological or emotional darkness.  What the world needs is more light.  Thank goodness, as Jesus followers, we know someone who said, “I am the light of the world.”  Today, let’s each focus on bringing the light to the world.  Think of all the lives we can touch and maybe even impact for the better.  Attitude is everything!!  This little light of mine…I’m gonna let it shine!

Serving Together,

Pastor Keith

"When"

Words can be so important!  How we use them…how we say them…how we understand them.  Words can be so important!  Just this morning as I was taking some time to connect with God by reading in the Bible, I was reminded of how one word can change, or at least effect the understanding of a verse.

 During my quiet time this morning I was reading from Isaiah 43.  Specifically, I was reading the first couple verses of Isaiah 43, and even though these are verses that I’ve read numerous times in the past year (it was a used with VBS last year, it was often referred to in a study I led recently, etc.) in my reading this morning a specific word jumped out at me.  That word… “when.” Here is the specific passage I was reading;

 “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior;”

 I’ve added the bold and underlining just so we all notice the number of times the word “when” is used.  The passage is saying that difficulties and challenging situations will come our way in this world and in our life.  To help show this perspective, below is The Message version of Isaiah 43:2.  I really like the way it puts it.

 When you’re in over your head, I’ll be there with you.  

When you’re in rough waters, you will not go down.
When you’re between a rock and a hard place, it won’t be a dead end—

This passage is wanting us to get in touch with those moments in our own life when life is difficult, when we’re feeling all alone, when we’re unsure what the way out is, when we are unsure if we can make it through, when we’re feeling discouraged and helpless.  Wow, that hits me where I live, as they say.  I’ve had those moments!

 This morning the word “when” really hit me.  You see, I believe that at times the word we tend to hear is “if.”  If you pass through the waters, if you pass through the rivers, if you walk through the fire…  “If” conveys these situations, or these struggles might not happen.  All too often I find that I read the word “when,” but my mind thinks “if.”  It’s easy to do.  At times the thought process is, “Well, I go to church, so bad things won’t happen to me.”  “Well, I live in this part of the community so bad things won’t happen to me.”  “Well, I live in this great country, so bad things won’t happen to me.”  Or “I’m from such and such family, so bad things won’t happen to me.”  Have you ever sensed one of those lines popping up in your mind?  I have. 

 What Isaiah is saying is, it’s just a matter of time – it will happen.  Darkness, hurts and struggles are a reality of life.  But WHEN struggles come your way, just remember that God is with you.  We do not have to be defeated or overwhelmed by the circumstance of life…God will be with us.  That is what Isaiah wants us to know!

 It seems there are so many struggles that fill the world.  So many difficulties touch our lives.  Today, Isaiah 43:1-2 are words that I am going to hang on to…  In the midst of the struggles of life, in the midst of the hurts and challenges, another short little word is so important to remember, “will.”  God says, “I will be with you.”

Serving Together,

Pastor Keith

Breakthrough Prayer

Lord, use me for your breakthrough Kingdom purposes, in our church, in our community, and in our world. Amen

 It’s been a couple weeks since I’ve written a Friday Pastor’s Reflection.  So, I’ll give it a try this week and see if I can still remember how!   

 We have a new Breakthrough Prayer for our church family to be praying together.  I’ve already heard several people say they really like this prayer.  It’s short, it’s simple, and it has a laser like focus on what is important…God using each of us for God’s Kingdom Purposes wherever we are needed. I hope you will be using this prayer daily.    

 I’ve had people ask me why we keep repeating the breakthrough prayer?  Why do we come up with a new one every so often?  Or another way I’ve had it put to me is… “What’s with this breakthrough prayer thing…?”

 As a refresher for us all, our church family was introduced to the Breakthrough Prayer Initiative as a part of the MCCI training process.  The leader of this process, Rev. Sue Nilson Kibbey, believes (and just so you know, I totally agree with her) that everything in the church needs to begin and be surrounded in prayer.  So, as we seek to be a witness for God’s Kingdom, as we strive to be servants of God in this community, as we yearn to do ministry that touches lives with the Love of Jesus, it all needs to begin with prayer!!

 This really goes hand in hand with my message from Sunday about the coming of the Holy Spirit.  Remember what I said about the phrase from Acts 1:8, “You will receive power…”  Part of the meaning behind that phrase is “to take a hold of.” Remember the demonstration I did in worship – handing a bottle of pop to someone.  But really, I didn’t just hand it to them, I made each person lean forward and reach for the bottle.  In other words, they had to “take ahold of” the bottle.  They had to be involved in the process of receiving it.  So, it is with the power of the Holy Spirit.  It’s there waiting for us; we just need to take a hold of it. 

 This is exactly where I believe prayer comes in.  Prayer isn’t just about us giving God a “to do” or “I want” list.  Prayer is about being open to the voice and Spirit of God guiding and empowering us to do the work, the Kingdom Work, that God wants done here on earth. 

 We are continuing with our MCCI process.  The work is not done.  Actually, it is just beginning.  This is why our continued praying of the breakthrough prayer is so important.  Please join me in praying this prayer every day…and then be open to God’s Holy Spirit using each of us for God’s Breakthrough Kingdom Purposes…wherever it may lead!

 Serving Together,

Pastor Keith

 Lord, use me for your breakthrough Kingdom purposes, in our church, in our community, and in our world. Amen.

Learning Never Stops

This is the season of graduations.  Over the past three weeks I’ve seen the pictures of the graduating seniors for all the area high schools.  I’ve attended several graduation parties.  I’ve seen pictures on Facebook of everything from preschool graduations to graduate degree graduations.  This is truly a time for recognizing accomplishments and achievements in learning. 

 So, the question I want to ask today is this, “What have you learned this past year?”  Or another way to put it, “What new degree could or should you receive, or what accomplishment do you need to recognize in your own life?”  Now understand, I’m not talking about a “participation trophy” for just being in an event or making it through a situation.  I’m asking what have you learned?  How have you grown this past year that is making you a better person today than you were six months ago? 

 Now, just so you know, I get it.  Once many of us get out of “school” we’re tired of it and we want to get on with our lives.  When I graduated from seminary back in 1986, I calculated that I had been in school of one type or another for 20 years of my 26 year life…and that’s not counting Mrs. Sorenson and Kindergarten.  When I graduated from seminary, I said, “I’m done” with school. 

 But the truth is, even though I did complete my formal education back in 1986, I have continued to learn new things year after year since then.  It’s just that I generally haven’t gotten a degree or certificate (diploma) to go along with my learning.  For instance, this past year, actually, just the past 3 months, I’ve been working with an executive coach.  In just the short time we’ve been working together I have already learned some new things about myself and how I can be more effective in ministry.  (By the way, in case you’re wondering, an Executive Coach is intended to help me learn to be a better leader and to be more effective as a Lead Pastor.) 

 The reason this coaching is important is because with only having one pastor on staff at Downtown Mitchell First UMC, namely me, I am going to have to learn to do things differently.  I am going to have to learn to be more effective and diligent in giving ministry away to the people of our church, because my time and ability will not allow me to do what Jerry and I have been doing together. 

 Actually, this is the way that ministry is most effective.  This is what Jesus modeled with the disciples.  He was continually equipping and sending the disciples (lay people) to do the work of ministry in the communities in the Jerusalem and Galilee areas, the places where Jesus spent most of his time. 

 So, today I’m going to take a piece of paper and write on it the things I’ve learned this past year.  I’m going to roll it up and tie a ribbon around it.  After all, if you do a Google Image Search of “graduation diploma” a common image you’ll see is a rolled-up piece of paper with a ribbon around it.  I’m going to hand it to myself, congratulate myself, and then challenge myself to keep on learning.  You see, God isn’t done with me yet…and there’s always more to learn.  I would also challenge you to do the same thing.  Write down the things you’ve learned this past year.  Take a moment to celebrate what you’ve achieved.  And then, jump back in, keep on learning and growing, because God isn’t done with you yet either.  Here’s to all the graduates of 2019… including each of us!!!

 Serving Together,

Pastor Keith

Mission Work

There are many things about this church family that makes me proud to be the pastor here at Downtown Mitchel First UMC, but one of the main reasons is how we do missions.  The mission emphasis that our church has and that our church members carry out is really quite significant for our community.  

 Of course, Love Feast is one of the main mission focuses we have, which also entails the backpack/school supply give-away in the fall.  As I type these words, a blood drive is taking place here at our church.  That’s another way we are in mission.  There’s our support of the Mitchell Food Pantry, Meals on Wheels, etc.  Yesterday evening a number of our High School Youth Group delivered flowers and Mother’s Day Cards to some of the women of our church who are shut-ins at home or are in one of the care facilities in our community, because they wanted these individuals to know we remember them and that we care. 

 A percentage of our offerings go to various mission projects our Church’s Missions Team has identified for us.  There’s the “Kits,” a team in our church assembles these faithfully.  The prayer shawls, and quilting ministry.  There’s the United Methodist Women and United Methodist Men who quietly do mission work that most of us never hear about.  If we identified the number of organizations, the hours our church family dedicates to various causes, and dollars given in support of these ministries and programs, it would truly be amazing. 

 So, the question becomes, “Why?”  Why do we do all this mission work?  There are a number of valid answers to that question; we want to make a difference in our community, we want to help people, our faith calls us to serve.  These are all possible answers.  But another answer might be, because it is “life giving” for those involved in the work. 

 Recently in my personal quiet time, I read a passage from the Book of Psalms.  It was Psalms 52 to be exact.  In this Psalm the writer is showing the difference between the life of one who follows the path of godliness and the one who follows the path of evil.  Part of the imagery in the Psalm says the person who follows the evil path will be uprooted.  Another passage says, “God will break you down.”  The visual image is that the person who focuses on evil in this world will cut off and eventually wither away. 

 After our recent late spring snow storm, I’ve been amazed at the number of limbs that were broken off trees.  In fact, I’ve seen an entire tree toppled by the wind and the snow.  It is slowly dying.  That’s the image the Psalmist wants us to have – those who chose to live apart from God will slowly die off and fade away.  But then the writer also goes on to say that he is a “green olive tree” in the house of God.  In other words, he’s saying he finds “life” and “bears fruit” because of the steadfast connection to God. 

 Missions is not the only way to stay connected to God, but it is a great way to live the values of God.  It is a great way to be the hands and feet of God.  It is a great way to know that one is making a difference in the world for at least one other person.  If you see someone with a bit of a bounce in their step and a gleam of life in their eyes, chances are they are involved in mission work in some way.  Are you feeling disconnected, cut off from people or from God?  It isn’t a magic answer…but you might give some type of mission work a try.  You too can be like a “green olive tree in the house of God.”  You too can find life!

 Serving Together,

Pastor Keith