Tag Archives: Rev. Jim Downing

Reading for fun once again

 

Somewhere along the line, I discovered I had lost fun reading in my life.  I know where it started over 11 years ago when I stepped into the Course of Study to be better equipped to serve as a local pastor.

 

At that time, I was working full time in a public school alternative program, trying to take the required courses, preparing for Sunday worship services, and so forth.  Time to read?  Only for the course work or the sermon.

 

Reading opened the world to me as an elementary student.  Raised in a small rural school setting, the books available usually lined a couple of shelves in the classroom.  Going to the library helped, but one book led to another book.  At that time, teachers expected us to read and to make book reports. I did.

 

I could not get enough. I read everything I could from my classroom’s library.  In the summers I read from the local library.  And I learned so much.

 

Thank goodness Mom and Dad approved, in fact I learned that if I had a book report to do, the chores took a back seat—now if that did not encourage me to read.

 

Quite a memory, I know, but when I left fun reading about a decade ago, I left out an important piece of my learning.  Therefore, I am reading again:  fun reading; not required for a class or a sermon.

 

I had picked up a book several years ago, The Yada Yada Prayer Groupby Neta Jackson.  I thought it sounded like fun to read with my college girlfriends—and it was on sale.  But I did not get it read.

 

Over the next few years, I found the book had spun out into a series, so I started collecting them—always on sale.  After reading the book, Talking with God, I knew I needed to read.

 

The first book I picked up was The Yada Yada Prayer Group Gets Rolling.  I thought it was number one, but in reality it turned out to be number 6.

 

The point I am making is that I read.  And the reading is still connected to my faith journey.  The books share all the real life experiences that the members of the diverse prayer group deal with and how the prayer group keeps the focus on God.  I needed that reminder.

 

Therefore I am fun reading with a recharged sense of faith.  The inner thoughts of the main character sound terribly familiar.  The experiences of the women are just the same as so many I have experienced or know of others who have experienced them somewhere along their lives.

 

The amazing thing, though, is that through scripture, shared prayer, and worship—especially praise worship, one grows in faith.  I know that John Wesley struggled to understand whether or not he had enough faith, but I remember that his brother Charles told him to live like he did.

 

Sometimes we make Christian living sound so difficult, but in reality it is simple.  Love one another in the same way you want to be loved. Accept that bad things happen, but God never leaves your side.

 

Just stay the course (pardon the cliché), because as long as you continue to follow the scriptures, practice, practice, practice living the Golden Rule and praying.

 

Those inner nudges that you hear really are instructions from God.  Listen to them and check them against the scripture you know.  Check them with others in a small group—yes, a small group setting is Wesleyan and is proven to be a key part of one’s spiritual practices.

 

I may be in a season of recharging, but I have to say that reading for fun is fuel for the future. I am finding rest as I sit and read. I am finding confirmation in understanding the Holy Spirit.  I am encouraged that there is so much more to do.

 

Sunday morning’s sermon at Sedalia’s First UMC with Rev. Jim Downing reminded us that Paul told us to put on our armor.  That armor, outlined in Ephesians 6:10-20, may sound old fashioned, but continues to defend us from evil:

 

The Whole Armor of God

10 A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. 12 For we[a] are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.

13 Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. 14 Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. 15 For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared.[b] 16 In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil.[c] 17 Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

18 Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.[d]

19 And pray for me, too. Ask God to give me the right words so I can boldly explain God’s mysterious plan that the Good News is for Jews and Gentiles alike.[e] 20 I am in chains now, still preaching this message as God’s ambassador. So pray that I will keep on speaking boldly for him, as I should. [NLT accessed at biblegateway.com]

 

Thank you to Rev. Downing for reminding us how important it is to read, to pray, and to worship in order to defend ourselves from the challenges of living in our secular world.

 

He provided the following prayer starter for this week:

 

Lord, I want to know what it means to be overtaken by your promises. Grant me the grace to remain obedient and faithful to you, never wavering in my faith in what you have promised.

 

We all need recharging in order to live in a world filled with evil and unexpected challenges or temptations.  We need to read—scripture, yes, but sometimes messages come in other forms such as The Yada Yada Prayer Group.

 

If you are unsure what to read, maybe the reading from this week’s lectionary will help:

  • 2 Samuel 11:1-15 or 2 Kings 4:42-44
  • Psalms 14 or Psalms 145:10-18
  • Ephesians 3:14-21
  • John 6:1-21

 

Whatever you do, find what arms you the best for your spiritual journey.  There is no telling what words God is speaking to you.  Just know that he is with you and wanting to talk to you.

 

Here is my prayer:

 

Dear God, The Word,

Thank you for speaking to me through words

   even when I am reading for fun.

Thank you for all that I can learn through words

   whether in scripture, in studies, or in fun.

Let my words help others in their faith journeys

   so they may experience your words in their lives.

Words of armor, words of guidance, words of fun

   are your words speaking to us.  –Amen

 

P.S.  I finished book one and started book 2 in the series. Sure is fun.

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Susandoodles in print

Good morning, All!  As you can see by the title of this blog, I have found a way to continue ministry in a different format.  I may be out of the pulpit now, but I have some who have no way to be in church.  Therefore, I have been trying to find a way to continue reaching out to them–and they are not on line.  I suddenly realized this morning that I could develop a newsletter format to mail to those who are not on line.  Therefore, I am creating it while adding to my blog.  The change will need refinement, I am sure, but here is the first attempt:

“Recharging,” a friend said

Last week I wrote a blog that stated that in this period of rest I was sensing confusion.  My friend replied to the blog said maybe I should consider this is a time for ‘recharging.’

 

As the week continued on filled with so much to do, I realized rest continues to be evasive.  The fact is that I have always lived with a goal in mind and a process to follow to reach that goal.

 

Therefore, I have thought a great deal about the term recharging and have decided that is the best definition for my current status.  I am recharging.

 

Refueling tends to mean that one has completely run out of fuel, and I just did not feel that was the situation.  I also know that rest was needed because I was locked into a mindset that kept me in a work mode rather than do something for fun (partly because it seems wasteful and selfish).

 

Recharging indicates that the fuel still keeps you running, but it is getting low.  Maybe I was getting low enough that the dash light had come on and those around me noticed it before I did.

 

Therefore, I am going to consider myself ‘recharging’ rather than on a prescribed rest or having to be refueled.  Thank you to my friend for the suggestion, but also thank you to the DS and other friends and family members who noticed that the warning light had lit up and insisted that I needed to recharge.

 

Today, I have suddenly seen a little picture into how I can continue to share thoughts with others who do not have internet access—a written form of Susandoodles.  This will give me an opportunity to stay connected, but also to share faith journeys in different ways.  I pray that this reaches you and it lifts you up.

 

Ephesians prayer for our use

Sunday, another sermon in Rev. Jim Downing’s Masterpieceseries on Ephesians, introduced the prayer that Paul shared for spiritual growth.

 

I find listening to a sermon on a scripture that I have also used creates an eerie feeling—partly that I may have gotten something wrong, but also a sense of relief that those verses speak to others, too.

 

Using Ephesians 3:14-21, Rev. Downing provided a version with blanks in it. When I saw the small handout, I wondered why the blanks.  The instructions at the bottom said, “Consider filling in the blank with the name of a loved one, a friend, a co-worker, neighbor or person from the community, or even a person with whom you have trouble. Pray sincerely for God to do these things in and for their lives.  You can also pray this prayer for yourself.”

 

Here is the prayer:

Lord, I pray that out of Your glorious riches __________ may be strengthened with power through God’s Spirit in __________’s inner being, so that Christ may dwell in __________’s heart through faith.  And I pray that __________, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know that this love that surpasses knowledge—that __________ may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.  Now to God who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to God’s power that is at work within us, to God be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations for ever and ever!  Amen.

 

My prayer is that this tool Rev. Downing provided brings the faithful closer to God, but also heal the wounds in relationships.

 

An extra note on this scripture/prayer

This summer, my daughter and I have joined in a Bible study entitled, #Fruited, which is written by Bonnie Kathryn Hunter and Bethany Fleming, two teachers (ironically one a kindergarten teacher and one a high school English teacher—which matches our teaching careers).

 

The concept is that when one is rooted in scripture, one is able to enjoy the fruits of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23) in all life situations.

 

The experience of working through the study (we are in the last week) has been such a new experience for the two of us, but it keeps intersecting with real life and our philosophy in teaching in surprising ways.

 

The study also keeps running into other scriptures, and one is the Paul’s letter prayer Rev. Downing used and I have used in the past:  three different presentations on the same verse within the last year.

 

As I continue recharging and listening for God’s next call in my own life, the scriptures are the high octane fuel of our lives.  I hope that as I continue to find ways of sharing my faith, my Susandoodles blog or this Susandoodles in print can help others in their faith journey.  May God’s blessings be with you.

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Resting in confusion

Three weeks into a rest period, I find myself in confusion.  I am so used to operating on a schedule and knowing my goals, this pause in that life is very uncomfortable.

I am so fortunate to have family and friends–personal and professional, who know how confusing this time is for me and know that I want to race through rest to the next step.  This set of family and friends just keep telling me to rest.

This morning a second visit to Rev. Jim Downing’s church filled me again.  True it is a 30 mile drive, but going in and feeling comfortable among no one I know is evidence of how the Holy Spirit can make it feel like family.

For the past 10 years, I have organized my life around my work.  First I was a teacher, especially in an alternative setting; but then I added in part time pastoring.  The pressure to maintain all that I needed for both jobs just seemed natural.  Then I retired from the teaching profession.

Now retiring from one’s lifetime career is stressful enough.  I have now realized retirement really means being “really tired.”  I still had the church as a part time job, but I was used to full time work.  I probably used as much time now for the part time job, and worked hard to rest in the evenings.  Not easy

Speeding forward through the past three years, I am now trying to rest.  Not really retired, just working at resting.  And naturally, resting leads one to see all the daily household chores and postponed projects now have no reason to put off.  So, I am finding that rest can still be elusive.

In our Midwestern lifestyle, there seems to be a sense that one must work every day in order to achieve their goals.  I did not grow up knowing how to ‘play.’  Life on the family farm meant there were always chores.  We did stop on Sunday, though, and rest.  Even this concept is lost in our farming culture today–now farming is 24/7.

Rest.  I am learning that to rest, I have to give myself permission to rest.  I have to close off my ears to the internal yelling about all the work there is to do.  I also have to turn off the clock.  I have no reason to rush ahead, but my internal clock says I have such a limited time frame to use for rest even though I have NO time frame at all.

So here I am in week three of my rest, and I am confused.  Thank goodness my family and friends know me well enough to accept my confusion in this time of rest, but also know me well enough to reprimand me when I start tressing out over the timeframe.

One of my personal goals in this time of rest is to figure out how to listen to God.  I must quieten myself enough to recognize his voice.  This week I read a book by Adam Weber, Talking with God.   I started it and could not stop, finishing it in one day.  I separated myself so much from my typical day that I heard God.  I found energy.  I recognized Mom’s voice, too.

Thank you, Adam Weber, for such a clear discussion of talking with God.  I know what it is to be exhausted.  I know what it is to have unconditional love.  I know how hard it is to wait.  Your work spoke to me and speaks for me.  I know God speaks through your words, too.

One of the results of reading this is a driving desire to share this understanding from Adam Weber with others.  I wanted to buy a case of the books and start sending them off to others who I wanted them to know/experience this conversation.

Maybe this is what rest is.  Maybe I need to give myself permission to read–without a highlighter in my hand or note papers to record on.  Maybe I need to share what I read via the blog or Twitter.  This is all part of my process.  Rest in the moment also means being alert to how God can use me in those moments.

I may be assigned a period of rest, but my confusion still needs to be decluttered.  I guess I must remember that there is no timeline other than God’s.  Thank you to Rev. Downing, Rev. Weber, and my family and friends for helping me make my way to refreshment and renewal during this extended, uncertain time of rest.

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Out with the Old. In with the New.

given on Sunday, November 15, 2015

Scripture: Hebrew 10:10-25 (NLT & MSG)

Reflection

Out with the old and in with the new. The phrase echoes in our minds as we clean out a drawer, sort through papers, or weed out the clothes in the closet. All the old, worn out items are purged. This process must be done sooner or later, and the process is slow and difficult because the old items often trigger very strong memories and emotional reactions. Out with the old takes time.

The Message translation of Hebrews 10 begins: “The old plan was only a hint of the good things in the new plan.” Imagine how ancient Israelites heard the Disciples share the “new plan.”

The faith these earliest Christians knew was the Old Law, the Law of Moses that was thousands of years old. The Torah, now the first five books of the Old Testament, provided the Jewish people the very structure of daily life and the spiritual practices that created the very culture in which they lived.

Of course the earliest Christians were not all Jewish, still the new way suggested a new way of thinking. Even if the new plan was simpler, making a shift in ones engrained way of life is extremely difficult.

Think about cleaning out the catch-all drawer or the closet. How long has this item or that been sitting there? Is that item used even once in the last month? What about the last year? Out with the old and in with the new.

God cleaned out the old way with the birth, life and death of Jesus. The new way had to replace the extremely complex and rigid Law of Moses. Jesus was able to demonstrate the new way during his brief ministry in a compelling manner that drew crowds along the roads and outside the doors of new believers.

The message shared was one filled with hope.   Love God above all others; and love one another as you want to be loved. Simple, direct and manageable: the new way allows room for differences.

The new Christians carried the message beyond the villages and soon the New Law extended around the Mediterranean Sea. The new way was accepted by those who knew the Old Covenant and by the non-Jewish people—even the pagans heard the news. The new way changed lives, changed cultures, and changed history.

The world is rushing at us and we are all discovering that keeping up with the changes is difficult. The chant “out with the old and in with the new” becomes overwhelming and may seem too demanding of us personally.

When my grandmother died in 1995, she was just shy of her 97th birthday. Born in 1898, our conversation during the visitation and funeral was to consider what she witnessed during her lifetime:

  • electricity,
  • telephone communication,
  • World War I, WWII, Korea—where two of her sons served, Vietnam, and even Desert Storm
  • prohibition and even participated in active protests against drinking
  • the Great Depression,
  • the Dust Bowl,
  • the installation of president after president including death of FDR, JFK’s assassination, the resignation of Nixon, and
  • the Civil Rights movement.

She witnessed “out with the old and in with the new” in so many different contexts. Yet, these changes are minor compared to that God made from the Old Covenant to the New Covenant.

The old ways were cumbersome and difficult to follow. The faithful had thousands of years to hear God, to follow God, and to correct the behaviors, but they continued to fail. God saw the problem and created a new way sending the Messiah to share the good news: out with the Old Way and in with the New Way:

19-21 So, friends, we can now—without hesitation—walk right up to God, into “the Holy Place.” Jesus has cleared the way by the blood of his sacrifice, acting as our priest before God. The “curtain” into God’s presence is his body. (The Message)

The Old Covenant, the old way, had to change. God’s decision was to simplify the Jewish Law or Torah. The New Way transformed the lives of the ancient Jews but also our lives even today in the 21st century.

This morning, November 15, the world is reeling from another vicious attack in Paris, France. The ancient world’s old ways interrupted today’s world in the city traditionally known as the “City of Love.” How easy it would be to shout, “Love one another as you want to be loved.” The New Way takes work.

Nothing we do here in our community can cure the pain in France, but we can do our part in the worldly culture right here, right now. We must commit to the one mission God asks of us. We are to find the best way that we can to share the good news of Christ and make new Christians:

22-25 So let’s do it—full of belief, confident that we’re presentable inside and out. Let’s keep a firm grip on the promises that keep us going. He always keeps his word. Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big Day approaching. (The Message)

Out with the old and in with the new ways of sharing the God’s good news. The task of cleaning out the old is not easy, nor will it be easy to find the best way to share the new, especially in the smaller congregations.

Yet with the confidence of those earliest disciples, we can bring in the new. In the Abingdon theological commentary for this week’s lectionary (Year B) and after the violence in Paris, the need for the Good News is essential:

“. . . [the last portion of Hebrews 10 is] the reminder that the need for endurance is still very present. . . . this side of September 11, 2001 and the financial crisis, people are full of fear—not of the living God, but rather for their future security. For others this is because, in the midst of a secular culture, they don’t really know what it means to trust in a living God who acts redemptively in our world. For still others it is because, even if Jesus still attracts, the church itself seems lifeless and irrelevant—not really the body of Christ for the sake of the world. . . . (p. 321).

If any one of us or any group, regardless of denomination, feels called to carry out a mission that can provide a means of grace for others, then the church’s responsibility is to “just say yes.” (Bishop Schnase’s latest book title is Just Say Yes borrowed from Sedalia’s First UMC pastor Jim Downing’s mission.)

Today’s culture is redefining church. The tools of communication have changed dramatically just like it did when my own grandmother’s world installed the first phone in their homes. Certainly it is difficult to learn or to feel comfortable with the new way, but the outcome will be immeasurable.

Ministries, too, have changed. The closest community is within a few miles radius of the church physically, but many churchgoers will drive as much as an hour to attend church that meets their spiritual and cultural mindset.

Many in the immediate community of a church are struggling with the basic needs in life so that takes a priority over church involvement. Does the church in that community work to meet those needs? Churches that focus on the ministry within the immediate community tend to grow.

Bishop Schnase has asked our churches to “just say yes” to the work God calls us individually or as a church to do. How do we do that? When a member develops a ministry idea, can put together a team to carry it out, and has the funds for the project—just say yes.

Churches of all sizes know that a new idea that is put off week after week, month after month dies before it can even get started. Just saying yes to someone’s project will keep God’s work going. Do you and thus the church say no to the new way or do you say yes?

Today’s churches must let go of the old ways in order to reach people in today’s culture. The new ways may feel uncomfortable, rather like a new pair of shoes; but once the shoe, oops, the new methods are broken in, the effectiveness of the church’s mission improves.

Just say yes to trying new ways. Saying yes does not guarantee that a new way will be successful, but if it is not tried, its purpose or its reach will never succeed. The church does have a financial responsibility, but growth comes only if certain risks are taken.

Any project or program suggested needs manpower and supplies. If our responsibility is to share the Good News and to bring others to know Christ, then we must say yes:

32-39 Remember those early days after you first saw the light? Those were the hard times! Kicked around in public, targets of every kind of abuse—some days it was you, other days your friends. If some friends went to prison, you stuck by them. If some enemies broke in and seized your goods, you let them go with a smile, knowing they couldn’t touch your real treasure. Nothing they did bothered you, nothing set you back. So don’t throw it all away now. You were sure of yourselves then. It’s still a sure thing! But you need to stick it out, staying with God’s plan so you’ll be there for the promised completion. (The Message; emphasis added)

These are the words of the earliest disciples. They said yes to the call to the New Way and we must, too. We must find ways to try and try again, knowing that some things may fail, but new ways will bring others to Christ.

Leading others to know Christ and to see their lives transformed by God’s grace is a worthy goal. The old ways churches have used may not work as well as new ways:

Part of the new way inaugurated by Christ is not only embracing a new way of living for oneself but also of living with others. Churches are called to move beyond individualistic piety to embrace communal practices of witness. . . . Today’s texts [referring to I Samuel 1:4-20 and 2:1-10] bear witness to God’s unexpected life-giving power. (p. 324)

Each of us must search our hearts to know what God asks us to do. If we cannot, then we must ask God how we can say yes so others may carry on the work of the church. Just saying yes also means not saying no to others’ ideas for ministry.

The message in 2 Corinthians 5:16-20 confirms the necessity of just saying yes:

16-20 Because of this decision we don’t evaluate people by what they have or how they look. We looked at the Messiah that way once and got it all wrong, as you know. We certainly don’t look at him that way anymore. Now we look inside, and what we see is that anyone united with the Messiah gets a fresh start, is created new. The old life is gone; a new life burgeons! Look at it! All this comes from the God who settled the relationship between us and him, and then called us to settle our relationships with each other. God put the world square with himself through the Messiah, giving the world a fresh start by offering forgiveness of sins. God has given us the task of telling everyone what he is doing. We’re Christ’s representatives. God uses us to persuade men and women to drop their differences and enter into God’s work of making things right between them. We’re speaking for Christ himself now: Become friends with God; he’s already a friend with you. [The Message; emphasis added]

Closing prayer

Dear patient and loving God,

Saying yes is difficult in a world full of uncertainties,

But we hear your commission to share the good news.

Open our hearts, minds and hands to minister to others.

Speak to us with new ideas, new methods, and new missions.

We can say yes to doing in the best way we can

So those who are weary from life’s demands may find hope.

Show us how to help others with new ways

Even if we feel old ways were better in our lives.

Let us be the vessel for sharing your love

In our own community and even the worldwide community.

May our efforts work on your behalf

So others may be filled with the Holy Spirit today and forever.

In the name of your son, Jesus Christ, amen.

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