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06/01/2016 Transitioning to a New Blogsite

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I began blogging in August 2012.  At the time I was serving in the second month of my sixth year as the appointed pastor of Monroe United Methodist Church. It was already a time of spiritual renewal for me and of renewed spiritual vitality for the congregation, and the blogging was the result of both and also became a means for further renewal personally and for the congregation.

Forty-five months later, my journey with Monroe UMC is nearing an end.  I will be retiring the blogsite that I began in August 2012 because I chose to use “Monroe UMC” as part of the domain  name, and it will no longer be appropriate for me to connect with readers using that domain name since I will no longer be serving the congregation as pastor beginning on moving day on June 29th.  Although no new posts will be added to that blogsite after June 28th, readers may still access the blogsite after that date to view the hundreds of posts published since August 2012:  Monroe UMC Blogsite.

Josh Dalton will be serving as the congregation’s new pastor beginning on June 29, 2016.  I pray that the congregation will welcome, love and support him.

Today I am launching this new blogsite, and I will continue to blog on this site through the end of the transition and beyond.  If you wish to subscribe to receive future posts from this blogsite, you may do so at your own initiative.

I am grateful for the nine years that I have served as the pastor of Monroe UMC and look forward to God’s preferred future for me and for the congregation as we part on June 29th.

Grace Upon Grace,
George

6/23/2017 Acquainted With Grief

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Here in its entirety is today’s reading from “My Utmost for His Highest” by Oswald Chambers.

He is…a Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. —Isaiah 53:3

We are not “acquainted with grief” in the same way our Lord was acquainted with it. We endure it and live through it, but we do not become intimate with it. At the beginning of our lives we do not bring ourselves to the point of dealing with the reality of sin. We look at life through the eyes of reason and say that if a person will control his instincts, and educate himself, he can produce a life that will slowly evolve into the life of God. But as we continue on through life, we find the presence of something which we have not yet taken into account, namely, sin— and it upsets all of our thinking and our plans. Sin has made the foundation of our thinking unpredictable, uncontrollable, and irrational.

We have to recognize that sin is a fact of life, not just a shortcoming. Sin is blatant mutiny against God, and either sin or God must die in my life. The New Testament brings us right down to this one issue— if sin rules in me, God’s life in me will be killed; if God rules in me, sin in me will be killed. There is nothing more fundamental than that. The culmination of sin was the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, and what was true in the history of God on earth will also be true in your history and in mine— that is, sin will kill the life of God in us. We must mentally bring ourselves to terms with this fact of sin. It is the only explanation why Jesus Christ came to earth, and it is the explanation of the grief and sorrow of life.

Questions:
1. What do you think of this statement: “We look at life through the eyes of reason and say that if a person will control his instincts, and educate himself, he can produce a life that will slowly evolve into the life of God?”

2. If “[s]in has made the foundation of our thinking unpredictable, uncontrollable, and irrational,” then do you think that we can trust reason in our life above Scripture?

Please post to this blog site your responses to these questions or any other comments.

The song in today’s music video is by Don Francisco.
Adam, Where Are You?

Grace Upon Grace,
George

6/22/2017 The Retribution of Judgment

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Here in its entirety is today’s reading from “My Utmost for His Highest” by Oswald Chambers.

With what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. —Matthew 7:2

This statement is not some haphazard theory, but it is an eternal law of God. Whatever judgment you give will be the very way you are judged. There is a difference between retaliation and retribution. Jesus said that the basis of life is retribution— “with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.” If you have been shrewd in finding out the shortcomings of others, remember that will be exactly how you will be measured. The way you pay is the way life will pay you back. This eternal law works from God’s throne down to us (see Psalm 18:25-26).

Romans 2:1 applies it in even a more definite way by saying that the one who criticizes another is guilty of the very same thing. God looks not only at the act itself, but also at the possibility of committing it, which He sees by looking at our hearts. To begin with, we do not believe the statements of the Bible. For instance, do we really believe the statement that says we criticize in others the very things we are guilty of ourselves? The reason we see hypocrisy, deceit, and a lack of genuineness in others is that they are all in our own hearts. The greatest characteristic of a saint is humility, as evidenced by being able to say honestly and humbly, “Yes, all those, as well as other evils, would have been exhibited in me if it were not for the grace of God. Therefore, I have no right to judge.”

Jesus said, “Judge not, that you be not judged” (Matthew 7:1). He went on to say, in effect, “If you do judge, you will be judged in exactly the same way.” Who of us would dare to stand before God and say, “My God, judge me as I have judged others”? We have judged others as sinners— if God should judge us in the same way, we would be condemned to hell. Yet God judges us on the basis of the miraculous atonement by the Cross of Christ.”

Questions:
1. What do you think of the following statement: “The greatest characteristic of a saint is humility?”

2. Romans 2:1 says, “Therefore you have no excuse, whoever you are, when you judge others; for in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, are doing the very same things.” If you do believe what is stated in this verse is true, what difference does it make in how you live today?

Please post to this blog site your answers to these questions or any other comments that you have.

Here is today’s music video:
Humble Thyself in the Sight of the Lord

Grace Upon Grace,
George

6/21/2017 A Casual Conversation About Race

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Last evening I was present at the monthly Peakland Pub meeting in Lynchburg. Peakland Pub is a series of “casual conversations about contemporary issues” initiated and coordinated by Peakland UMC. It is held inside a local restaurant. The guest speaker/facilitator last evening was The Rev. Dr. Dori Baker, an ordained United Methodist elder in the Virginia Annual Conference and a research fellow to The Forum for Theological Exploration, a leadership incubator that inspires young people to make a difference in the world through Christian communities. The topic was Race.

Dori organized our time together by leading us in the following 4 part process.
C – Create space to explore the subject together;
A – Ask self-awakening questions about the subject together;
R – Reflect theologically on the subject; and
E – Enact next faithful steps.

After establishing some covenant principles such as suspending judgment of what we would hear others share, we were invited to pair up with someone we did not know in order to share a story with one another about when we became aware of our own racial identity. In turn, each person shared for two minutes while the other listened carefully.

Next, we each returned to the whole group to reflect together theologically on the subject of race. Finally, we were invited to think about and to name a next faithful step that each of us as individuals might take today. I announced that I would write my blog post today about the experience.

Listening attentively to another person’s 2 minute story and having someone listen very attentively to my story were both very enriching to me. Of course, that could only happen because a safe, supportive space had been created first.

Reflecting theologically together after sharing our stories was also very enriching. What does God have to say about how we are to relate with one another given ethnic and cultural differences among us?

The final step of enacting a next faithful action insured that the experience last evening has “legs” so that it will be a transformative experience rather than just an isolated event in our lives. Dori told us about several books that we might want to read to explore the subject of racial justice and gave a few examples of faithful next steps. One simple example is to make direct eye contact with other pedestrians when walking down the street and to acknowledge seeing them.

Thank you, Dori, for engaging us and encouraging us to become intentional about working to improve racial justice in our community and in our country.

Question:
What intentional next step might you personally take to improve racial justice?

Please reply to this question and offer other comments by posting to this blog site.

Today’s music video features Stevie Wonder and Paul McCartney.
Ebony & Ivory

Grace Upon Grace,
George

6/20/2017 5 Years and Counting!

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By the grace of God, today I successfully completed 5 full years of race walking each and every day for at least one hour! Today was the 1,826th consecutive day that I have done so. Most of the time I cover a minimum of 5 miles.

Although I have not kept a complete list of all of the places in which I have walked, I can say with confidence that it is well over 100 places. States other than Virginia include North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida, Tennessee, Maryland and Pennsylvania. The most unusual place would be our small backyard patio when roads were impassable following heavy snowfall.
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I have walked inside multiple church buildings, shopping malls, on indoor walking tracks (including the one at the former Virginia United Methodist Assembly Center in Blackstone) and even inside my current work place in Lynchburg. I have walked in neighborhoods, in parks, in motel parking lots and on sidewalks along the side of busy highways. My favorite place to walk? Around Lake Junaluska! (Why? Because that means I must be at Lake Junaluska!)
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Some of my walks have also occurred during competitive or timed 5K and 4 mile racing events in Danville and in Lynchburg. God has blessed me with numerous trophies in those races.

As I have written before, walking daily is just as much of a spiritual discipline for me as it is a physical discipline. It is a time of prayer and discernment for me. I am humbled to receive God’s direction for my life and ministry during these walks. I am very protective of this time of daily fellowship with God. I would estimate that I have covered close to 10,000 miles during these walks.

Part of my motivation in the first months of walking daily was Bishop Young Jin Cho’s invitation and challenge to us in Virginia following his election and assignment to the Virginia Conference to engage in some form of spiritual discipline at least one hour daily. I am grateful to be starting my sixth year of this practice tomorrow.

Thank you, Lord, for walking with me!

Question:
What is a spiritual and physical discipline that you practice daily?

Please reply to this question and offer other comments by posting to this blog site.

Today’s music video features Mario Lanza.
I’ll Walk With God

Grace Upon Grace,
George

6/19/2017 “And Now For Something Completely Different”

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What is the best way that I can find to describe the 2017 Virginia Annual Conference this past weekend in Hampton?  Honestly?  Frankly?  Truthfully?

I can find no better way than to quote the familiar catchphrase in recurring segments of episodes of “Monty Python’s Flying Circus!”

And now for something completely different!

The Annual Conference session itself certainly reflected the theme verse from Isaiah 43, and the personality of Bishop Sharma Lewis certainly incarnates that verse!

“See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.”)

From her episcopal address during the opening session on Friday afternoon through the laity address on Saturday morning to her sermon during the closing worship service that continued past noon yesterday, Bishop Lewis offered us “a new thing” that was completely different from any address or sermon in the long history of the Virginia Conference.

She invited, no, pleaded for us to respond verbally to her from our seats. She shouted, she strutted, she came down from the platform, she walked among the aisles on the floor, and even stood on a chair as she implored us to give God some praise.

In her best moments, she urged us not simply to give verbal assent to what she was articulating but also urged us to commit ourselves to the hard work that is ahead.

There can be no doubt that Bishop Lewis poured her heart and soul into this past weekend after pouring her heart and soul into her first nine months as our resident Bishop, traveling extensively throughout all 16 districts and holding “Chat & Chew” sessions with laity and clergy.

When we were dismissed yesterday to be lifelong learners who influence others to serve, it was clear to me that before leaving the building, there was one “new” thing that I had to do. I had to wait my turn to thank Bishop Lewis for what she had done and to have my picture taken with her.
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Thank you, Lord, for Bishop Sharma Lewis, and renew her strength to lead us in the days ahead for the difficult work in front of United Methodists in the Virginia Conference!

Question:
In what ways do you see God doing a new thing in and through your own life?

Please reply to this question and offer other comments by posting to this blog site.

Today’s music video features Verlene Vanderbilt.
God Is Doing A New Thing

Grace Upon Grace,
George

6/17/2017 The Holy Spirit Fell!

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It has been quite a day at the Virginia Annual Conference session today in Hampton, Virginia. There was an atmosphere of revival during the times of worship as guest speaker Bishop James Swanson of the Mississippi Conference preached at the morning service of mission and at the evening service for the ordering of ministry. He preached, he shouted, he danced, he strutted, and he walked off the stage and up and down the aisles of the convention center as he continued to speak. An altar call followed the morning sermon. An invitation followed the evening sermon to those who felt stirred about a call to ministry. People streamed down the aisle toward the front in response to the altar call and in response to a call to ministry.

Bishop Swanson’s Scriptural focus in the evening service was Acts 10:44. “While Peter was still speaking, the Holy Spirit fell on everyone who heard the word.” The Holy Spirit fell inside the Hampton Convention Center just as surely as the heavy rains fell outside the Hampton Roads Convention Center today! Thank you, Lord, and thank you, Bishop Swanson!
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Question:
Before this weekend, when was the most recent time that you were present to witness a United Methodist Bishop preach, shout and dance during a worship service?

Please reply to this question and offer other comments by posting to this blog site.

Today’s music video features Jesus Culture.
Holy Spirit, You Are Welcome Here

Grace Upon Grace,
George