Tuesday, January 10, 2017

A Mid-Week Update from Pastor Carol Myers

Dear Friends,

We who follow Christ talk freely about loving one another, loving God and loving neighbor. We even speak of loving our enemies. But what does that really mean? How do we actually love?

One of the most challenging sermons I have preached in a long time wrestled with that question. Jesus loved passionately while he walked this earth. Jesus reveals to us that God is love. Love is the foundation of the church. Love is at the center of what it means to follow Jesus. At the very core of God, the very core of the Trinity, is a relationship of love. All of that seems so esoteric, so unattainable. Where to begin?

It helps me to begin with a picture. Rublev’s Trinity is an icon that pictures that relationship, that love, between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. (See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trinity_(Andrei_Rublev) See how each Person is turned toward the other. See the communion cup on the table, love outpoured, flowing into all of creation. God in Three Persons is unity, communion, turning toward one another. This is love. This is how God loves us and all of creation. This is what it means to be made in the image of God. This is how we love. We turn toward God. We turn toward others.

But then what? As the article says, the secret to love is just kindness. (See http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/06/happily-ever-after/372573/) We turn toward the other and offer kindness.

We can be angry. We can disagree. We can be honest and real. We love by turning toward the other and listening, rather than turning away and being mean. We think the best of the other, their intentions and motivations. Those individuals and groups that we deem different? We turn toward them and offer kindness. Those people who are suffering and struggling? We turn toward them and offer kindness. Those people who have hurt us? We turn toward them and offer kindness. Strangers? We turn toward them and offer kindness.

This requires a radical unlearning of the ways of power, greed, ego and violence. We learn patterns of love in the faith community. The waters of our baptism are the sign: We are drenched in God’s love and given the fire of the Holy Spirit in order to be love in the world.

So go love. Turn toward God and neighbor and offer kindness. It is that simple – and that radical.

On the journey with you,

P.S. We look to Jesus, Word made flesh, who experienced all the emotions that we do – and who invites us into what it means to be fully human. We need not run from our emotions and we need not let our emotions run us. To follow the Way of Jesus is to move ever deeper into authenticity and our true selves, the people God created us to be, in order to fully serve God.
One of the books I am using in this series is The Passionate Jesus by Peter Wallace. If you are interested in additional reading, here are some of the others I will be utilizing:
To Pray and to Love, Roberta Bondi
Soul Making, Allen Jones
Yearnings, Rabbi Irwin Kula
Healing Life’s Hurts, Dennis Linn & Matthew Linn
Care of the Soul, Thomas Moore
Learning to Walk in the Dark, Barbara Brown Taylor
The Broken Way, Ann Voskamp
Jeff and I will be offering enneagram classes, a personality discernment tool that helps in becoming aware of our default modes and aware of what we need to do to become more emotionally and spiritually healthy. The first class will be Wednesday, January 25, at 6:30 p.m. in the conference room. We will determine the content and the number of times we meet in conversation with those who are present.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Spiritual decluttering: A fresh start for a new year

A UMC.org Feature by Joe Iovino

One of the wonderful things about each new year is that it brings with it a sense of a new beginning, 365 days of promise and possibility.
Some use this time to bring freshness to their lives. They may decide to declutter the junk drawer, attic, or garage. It may also mean removing many of the sugars, fats, and carbohydrates from our diets.
A pew plaque
Do you worship in the same pew each Sunday? Consider a new seat for the new year. Photo by Jtesla16, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
As a United Methodist church member, parting with some things for a season, may help declutter your spiritual life. Doing so helps make room for a new movement of the Holy Spirit in the months to come. What might you set aside in the next year?

Your pew

Pastors often know where each member of their congregation sits each Sunday. Some of us worship from the very same pew every week. More of us tend to gravitate toward the same general area, like somewhere in the last two rows on the right.
Choosing to worship from a new seat for a season will give you a new perspective—literally. You will see the service from a different point of view, but more than that, it may also change the people around you each Sunday, the usher with whom you interact, the members of the choir or praise team you can see, and more. All of this can help you stay more focused on the worship service as you see things a little differently.


John Wesley instructed his pastors to “Never trifle away time” (2012 Discipline 330.5.d.19.a). Instead, they were to be engaged in the practice of ministry or the development of their spiritual lives. While we may not want to get rid of all time-wasters since we need times of rest, there are diversions we could remove and replace with something more beneficial.
Consider finding ways to free up time to volunteer at a local food bank or other mission, to make regular calls to old friends and church members you no longer see, or join a class or small group at your church.
Screenshot of a Bible app.
There are several apps and websites where one can find multiple versions of the Bible. Screenshot of YouVersion Bible app by Joe Iovino, United Methodist Communications.

A version of the Bible

If you have been a Christian for some time, you probably know the Bible fairly well. There are verses you know by heart, and stories that are very familiar. Reading from a different version of the Bible can help bring new life to those passages. A translator’s decision to use one word over another may give you some new insight you hadn’t thought of before.
If you regularly read from a modern version like the Common English Bible, consider a more traditional translation like the New Revised Standard Version. If you gravitate toward the more traditional, try something more modern. Search the web for Bible reading sites and apps (there are many free ones) where you can access a new version of Scripture.   CHECK OUT IFUMC'S APP

A devotional

Devotionals are helpful aids to lead us in Scripture reading and prayer every day, but we can become stuck in a rut with them as well. If you have been using the same book or website for more than a year, you may benefit from trying something different this year. A new devotional resource, like an unfamiliar Bible translation, can bring new life to your time with God.
There are many devotional helps available online and in physical and digital books. The Upper Roomfrom Discipleship Ministries of The United Methodist Church, is a very good source. Try something new.

A favorite author

Many readers have favorite authors. We like the way they turn a phrase, develop a story, or how they put into words what we have thought or felt for some time. Growth, though, often comes from thinking about things from a variety of perspectives. Reading a variety of authors can challenge us to do just that.
When looking for a book to read for spiritual enrichment, from Cokesbury or Abingdon Press, consider something new to you, which may be something old. You might want to read from a theologian whose work you have heard is important but you have never read, a person on the best-seller list whose views you think may be different from yours, or a recommendation from your pastor.
Piles of Christian books.
Reading from a variety of authors can help us grow in our spiritual thinking and practice. Photo by brewbooks, courtesy of Flickr.com.

A class or group

Give yourself permission to take a break from that class or group you have been attending solely out of habit. It’s OK. Try a new class. Join a group that discusses things that interest you.
Be careful with this one though. Connections to other people of faith are vital, so don’t pull away from all groups. If you take a break from one group, make sure you find other Christians with whom you can share and from whom you can learn.


Although we do not like to admit it, there are seasons when many of us can fall into patterns of negativity. Discouraged by the news, the theology of others, policies of our denomination, and practices of our congregation can become sources of stress and fodder for complaining.
Removing negativity from our lives and choosing instead to find things to celebrate can lift your spirits and renew your passion for that which matters most. Find where you see the love of Jesus in the world and celebrate it.

Obligatory church-stuff

Some of us do things in the church that bring us no joy. We’re not really sure how we ever got the job. We don’t really want it. Yet, we are pretty sure that if we don’t do it, it won’t get done. Those types of obligations often lead to church burnout.
After the New Year is underway, schedule a conversation with your pastor. Ask how you can step away from that obligation and into a new way of using your gifts to serve your church or community. That will be a blessing both to you and your congregation.
UMC members may want to declutter their spiritual lives to make room for a movement of the Spirit in the new year.TWEET THISTWEET THIS

New possibilities

The New Year can be one of new experiences in your church and spiritual life. Make room in days ahead for the Holy Spirit to do a new work in you. Then see what happens.
*Joe Iovino works for UMC.org at United Methodist Communications. Contact him by email or at 615-312-3733.
This feature was originally published December 31, 2015.

A Mid-Week Update from Pastor Carol Myers

Dear Friends,

In a 2010 sermon, Bishop Sally Dyck preached a sermon entitled “Awed and Odd”. In that sermon, Dyck pointed out that we are awed whenever we experience God’s presence in our midst. “Awe is when we see God in the world around us. You know its awe; it’s what takes your breath away because it’s a holy moment.” It is a moment that moves us beyond ourselves and our typical self-focus.

I think that may well be why the Christmas season carries such awe-inspiring beauty. We celebrate Emmanuel, God with us. Worship services are filled with light and mystery. People are often kinder and gentler. We catch glimpses of God at church, at home and on our streets.

And as Dyck puts it, “let’s get awed to become odd.”

Adidas had an advertising campaign aimed at runners several years ago: “Runners. Yeah, we’re different.” In that series of ads, runners were shown as being different from other people in a way that created a sense of identity for runners. Their unique attributes, the ads said, made runners distinctive from others and at the same time united them as runners.

Christians in the 21st century tend to look indistinguishable from anyone else in our American culture. We have lost our sense of being odd – of being salt and light and yeast in the world – in a way that makes us both distinctive and united in Christ. The early church was so awed and odd that they caught people’s attention with their generosity and hospitality and the Good News spread like wildfire.

My prayer is that First UMC is both awed and odd in 2017. I pray that we have eyes to see that God is doing powerful, exciting things in our midst and that we are so awed and odd that we decide to join God in that work. Let’s be so odd that we continue to feed the hungry and give water to the thirsty and clothe the naked. Let’s be odd and welcome the stranger and the strange. Let’s be odd together and visit the sick and do all we can to liberate those who are imprisoned and oppressed.

Let’s be so odd that we start to see people the way that God sees them; so odd that we find the face of Christ in those we call different. Let’s be so odd that the words “those people” are no longer part of our vocabulary. Let’s be so odd that when we see others suffering we do something instead of turning away.

Let’s be so odd that those who see us catch a glimpse of the presence of God in us – and are awed.

On the New Year’s journey with you,


Tuesday, December 20, 2016

A Gift of Light Representing Hope of Peace

In these times of uncertainty, what better gift is there than a Light that represents the hope of peace?  During this time of year, so often fueled by material desires, shiny ornaments and wall-to-wall Christmas carols in every store, Iowa Religious Media Services (IRMS) invites you to accept the Light of Peace, as a visual symbol of hope and expectation.

Again this year, IRMS offers you the ultimate Bethlehem Experience, inviting you to encounter the living flame that has burned continuously in the Grotto of the Nativity in Bethlehem for over 2,000 years.  The Peace Light campaign began in 1986 to raise awareness of the need for peace and understanding.  The journey of the Light begins each year with the Peace Light Child, who travels from Austria to Bethlehem to light lamps from a grotto flame.  After the Light reaches Austria, it is then distributed throughout Europe by Boy and Girl Scouts who are messengers of peace.

By special arrangement, Austrian Air then brings the flame to North America.  This year the flame reached New York’s Kennedy Airport on Saturday, Nov. 26.  Following a brief ecumenical ceremonty celebrating the passing of the Light at Our Lady of the Air chapel, Scouts and Scouters, serving as light-bearers, fanned out across North America to initiate the sharing of the Light of Christmas in churches, police stations, nursing homes, prisons, and private residences.  The Light reached Iowa on November 30 having been carried from Chicago by Plast Ukrainian Scouts.  The Light was then transported to Des Moines by a Central Iowa Scouter.  He, in turn, has shared it with Nebraska and Minnesota.  Since the November 26 arrival in New York, the Bethlehem Peace Light has been spread to over 40 states across the country.

For more information about the Bethlehem Peace Light, including an appropriate vessel to carry the light or any other details, visit http://www.peacelight.org.
As we accept the light, we are encouraged to live out the words,
“We gladly receive this Light as a signof our willingness to be channels of Peace,by our words and actions.” 

Thanks to Regina Harrison and Cindy Nissly for sharing this experience with us!


A Mid-Week Update from Pastor Carol Myers

Dear Friends,

Do you have visions of sugar plums dancing in your heads? Perhaps not. I’m not even sure what a sugar plum is. Most of us, however, have a vision of what Christmas should be. We expend a great deal of time and money to make our Christmas perfect. If it is not, for whatever reason, we feel sad and empty.

In Matthew1:18-25, Joseph isn’t planning the perfect Christmas. He’s planning his life. He was engaged to Mary, a betrothal as binding as marriage in his day. He was envisioning their life together, their home together, their children together – until Mary shows up pregnant. He must have been shattered by her betrayal. The scandal had to feel like failure, a dead end, hopeless.

In a dream, an angel, a messenger from God, speaks to him. “This isn’t what you expected but it is going to be okay.” In the midst of failure and dead ends, God is doing something new. In the midst of hopelessness, there is a glimmer of hope.

Joseph trusts God. Trust looks like taking the next step. Joseph’s next step was to not divorce Mary. When the baby was born, Joseph took another step: He called him Jesus. By naming him, in the understanding of the day, Joseph adopted Jesus as his own.

Note that the angel doesn’t tell Joseph everything. The angel never mentions in the dream that shortly after Jesus’ birth, the Holy Family will be running for their lives from a tyrant who is killing all the boy babies in the area. The angel never talks about the cross or the empty tomb. The angel seems to know that too much information and Joseph would be completely overwhelmed. Instead, the angel gives Joseph enough information that he can take the next step. Trust is that next step, one step at a time, small steps on a journey of faith.

Failure, dead ends, even scandal and humiliation, can lead to unexpected grace and gifts of faith. Things can be born when you least expect it, including hope. As you take one step at a time in faith, watch carefully. Be on the lookout for the ways that hope refuses to die. And do not be afraid. Light is coming into the world and the darkness cannot overcome it. Emmanuel, God is with us.

On the one-step-at-a-time journey with you,


Tuesday, December 13, 2016

A Mid-Week Update from Pastor Carol Myers

Dear Friends,

As I write, Aleppo is expected to fall at any time. The pictures and stories coming out of Aleppo have been horrifying for some time. The suffering is beyond my comprehension.

If you are like me, you feel helpless in the face of such horrors. The situation is complex. It is hard to sort out the truth.

But we are not totally helpless. We can give a donation to help. Here are some charities that I have seen recommended that are on the ground in Syria. I have seen these recommendations from several sources, but please do your homework before you decide to give:

American Red Cross along with the Red Crescent

The White Helmets – a non-governmental organization that rescues people from the rubble of destroyed buildings.

Doctors Without Borders

Hand in Hand for Syria – takes emergency aid to those directly under threat.

Karam Foundation – runs an emergency aid program for the children of Syria and their schools.

I recently saw a post on Facebook that talked about creating a new family tradition. Each Christmas morning, there is a white envelope waiting in the branches of the Christmas tree. When the envelope is opened, it reveals a gift that has been given to someone in need. This began when a woman gave her husband, a big sports fan, the gift of a donation of athletic equipment in his name to a struggling team. It continued for years while he was alive. Then it continued even after his death as the family remembers their loved one in a special way at Christmas – with a white envelope in the Christmas tree and a gift given in his name.

My white envelope gift this Christmas may well be to the White Helmets. Let us pray for peace in the world as we await the birth of the Prince of Peace. Let us be the light in the darkness of the world.

On the journey with you,

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

A Mid-Week Update from Pastor Jeff Blackman

Grace and peace to you from God and our Lord Jesus Christ.
As Advent continues toward Christmas—the birth of Jesus of Nazareth—we continue to hear of John the Baptist as well as an important “new” character:  Mary, the mother of Jesus.  The readings for this weekend include the prophet Isaiah as well as John and Mary, so it contains a lot of important material to digest as we are in ‘Kingdom of God’ preparation mode.
The context for the Gospel reading, Matthew 11:2-11, is that John is now in prison and is asking if Jesus is the one who is to come.  Jesus answers that the gifts of God’s kingdom are being found in Jesus’ ministry.  Jesus then speaks of John significance and importance and then concludes cryptically, “Yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Matthew 11:11).
The next text we have for the worship service is a gospel text from St. Luke and it is a song, one called in the language of the Church “The Magnificat” and Mary the mother of Jesus is the singer.  So now in our Advent preparation, Mary comes to us again.  Mary is a young, pregnant, technically unmarried woman who is visiting her relative Elizabeth who is also pregnant but not at all young or unmarried.  Elizabeth’s pregnancy seems not only surprising, but also the result of God’s actions.
So, Mary comes visiting perhaps to encourage and support her relative Elizabeth.  It is in this coming together that Mary sings her song.  In this song, the focus of Jesus’ ministry is laid out, specifically the reversals of blessings that will come to the poor and uncaring rich in God’s realized reign.  Mary stays with Elizabeth seemingly until Elizabeth gives birth to John.
Finally, we have Isaiah’s ongoing description of the picture of God’s reign, also a picture of reversals of blessing.  The land itself that is barren will blossom.  The weak and fearful people who feel powerless will experience God’s salvation.  The blind will see, the deaf hear, the lame shall leap, the mute will speak.  Healing will come to people as well as the land and the redeemed shall travel to God on God’s highway.  They will travel safely, without getting lost and will experience everlasting joy in the presence of God.
So, this third weekend of Advent is a time of reversals—from despair to happiness and from grief to joy.  It is often called Rejoicing Sunday as we sing with St. Mary the mother of Jesus: My soul magnifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my savior!
May it be so in this season of rejoicing.

                                                                                       Pastor Jeff Blackman