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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

8/23/2017 High’s Ice Cream & Western Auto

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This evening I stopped in at an ice cream social hosted by a Presbyterian congregation a few miles from my home.  Yeah, I don’t let denominational boundaries keep me from the prospect of enjoying home-made ice cream!  Ice cream socials are definitely ecumenical affairs!

The ice cream was delicious, and I enjoyed meeting people I had not met before.  Ironically, this event shared with folks I had not previously met became a trip down memory lane!  Someone at the table mentioned growing up near a High’s Ice Cream store where her favorite flavor was butter brickle.  Oh, my!  That took me back to my childhood because I also really liked butter brickle ice cream from a High’s Ice Cream store near me!  Interestingly, I learned later that the last remaining High’s Ice Cream store is in the city of my youth but serves Hershey’s Ice Cream now since there is no longer a High’s Ice Cream manufacturing plant.  Oh, by the way, Rebecca worked at another High’s Ice Cream store prior to when we first met at college.

Then, someone else mentioned Western Auto.  Oh, my!  My father was employed for a few years during my childhood by Western Auto.  I remember him doing year-end inventory for Western Auto at our kitchen table a couple of different times, and I remember the Western Auto catalog.

Isn’t it funny how you can suddenly and quite unexpectedly be reminded of something from your childhood that you haven’t thought about in ages?  It happened for me twice within a single minute tonight while enjoying homemade ice cream at a Presbyterian Church!

Question:
Can you think of a recent example of being reminded of something that you hadn’t thought about in years?

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

Today’s music video features the Statler Brothers.
Do You Remember These?

Grace Upon Grace,
George

8/22/2017 A Closer Look at Yesterday’s Eclipse

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Over the last 24 hours since publishing yesterday’s blog post about my experience of witnessing the Great American Solar Eclipse (8/21/2017 De-lighted, Then Delighted at the Ball Park), I have been processing what happened.  Here are some of my reflections.

  1.   When I made my plans weeks ago to experience the eclipse as part of a crowd attending a baseball game, I thought it would be very special.  I was wrong; it was more than simply “very special.” Spirit Communications Park was (pardon the pun) a stellar environment in which to witness the eclipse.  It is a jewel.  The giant video board with eclipse-related information and coverage, the complimentary solar eclipse viewing “glasses,” the special “glow in the dark” uniforms worn by the home team, and the deep fried moon pies available for purchase inside the stadium added to the superlative experience. The energy and excitement of nearly 10,000 persons in attendance made it a collective experience par excellence.
  2.  I was blessed to share the experience not only with more than 9,600 strangers, but with a loved one. Our daughter Rachel drove up from Jacksonville, Florida to join me for the game and the spectacle.  Neither of us knew anyone else in the stadium before we arrived, but we enjoyed becoming acquainted with some people sitting near us.  Other family members joined us after the eclipse concluded for the end of the game, and it was great to hear about their own view during totality miles away.  Rachel and I will remember for the rest of our lives sharing this very special experience with one another.
  3. For me, looking directly at the sun during the time of totality with a loved one surrounded by thousands of others doing the very same thing was sacred, profound, and mysterious.  I had goosebumps as I joined with others in cheering what we were seeing.  I felt awe and wonder in a powerful way, recognizing it was a deeply personal experience as well as a very communal experience.
  4. It was as if I experienced the suspension of time although I was also very aware that time was passing quickly and that life would return to ordinary from extraordinary within minutes.  Kairos time was intersecting chronos time.
  5. It is going to take more than the past 24 hours for me to process and to appreciate all the layers of yesterday’s experience.

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Rachel and I have already begun to consider where we will meet in 2024 to experience the next total solar eclipse in the continental United States.  I can’t imagine that even our most carefully-made plans will lead to an experience that equals our experience yesterday, but maybe I will be pleasantly surprised once again as I was yesterday!

Question:
When was the last time that you were part of a communal experience that was deeply sacred and holy for you?

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

Today’s music video features Pink Floyd.
Eclipse

Grace Upon Grace,
George

8/21/2017 De-lighted, Then Delighted at the Ball Park

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I am in Columbia, South Carolina, where I witnessed the “Great American Solar Eclipse” during a professional baseball game between the host Columbia Fireflies and the guest Rome Braves.  The game was stopped during the minutes leading up to totality and concluding several minutes following totality.

What a spectacle!  The largest crowd ever at Spirit Communications Park, more than 9,600 people, cheered enthusiastically as the last bit of the sun was eclipsed by the moon.  The sun was de-lighted, and we the spectators were delighted!

After the sun began to shine again, the game resumed.  In the top of the ninth, the visiting Braves scored 2 runs to tie the game 5-5.  Not to be outdone, the Fireflies won the game with two outs in the bottom of the ninth on a walk-off single.  The Braves de-lighted the Fireflies in the top of the ninth, but the Fireflies delighted the home crowd in the bottom of the ninth!

Question:
Where did you view today’s solar eclipse?

Please reply to the question and offer other comments by replying to this blog post.

Today’s music video features Stevie Wonder.
You Are the Sunshine of My Life

Grace Upon Grace,
George

8/20/2017 “We Don’t Invent New Things to Believe”

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What an awesome experience the 9:45 AM worship service at Myers Park United Methodist Church was for me! This large membership congregation in Charlotte, North Carolina does have one major challenge though: adequate parking spaces.

As a first-time worshiper totally unfamiliar with the physical facilities and property, I ended up parking across the street in a commercial center parking lot. It wasn’t until leaving my car that I noticed a police officer holding up traffic to allow many persons heading to the worship service to cross the street to the sanctuary.

From the beginning of the service to the end of the service, I sensed the glory and majesty of God in the cathedral style sanctuary. The instrumental music (pipe organ, piano and trumpet) and the vocal music of choir, soloist, and duet were amazing.
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The opening musical selection on this day before the total solar eclipse tomorrow appropriately was “Total Eclipse” from the oratorio “Samson” by Handel.

The time of prayer led by a staff member who knelt at the altar rail was one of the most uplifting I have ever experienced in any corporate worship setting.

Senior Pastor Dr. James C. Howell was away at a mission meeting in Armenia. Associate Pastor Rev. Parker Haynes delivered a fast-paced and profound sermon based on Genesis 45:1-15 and the story of Joseph finally revealing himself to his brothers and inviting the whole family to come and live in Egypt during the remaining 5 years of famine and beyond.

The entire sermon was well-crafted, but one statement stood out for me above the rest. In fact, I made a note of it right after he said it. “We don’t invent new things to believe.” He acknowledged that sometimes we grow tired of the familiarity or predictability of the message of the Church. Nevertheless, the message of forgiveness and reconciliation never becomes outdated or less urgent.

Thank you, Lord, for the worship ministry of Myers Park UMC and for the timelessness of the message of forgiveness and reconciliation!

Question:
“We don’t invent new things to believe.” What do you think of that statement?

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

Today’s music video features Jon Vickers.
“Total Eclipse” from Samson

Grace Upon Grace,
George

8/19/2017 Joy in Our Trials

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The subject of this blog post today may turn you off or may seem odd to you. This subject (as indicated by the title of this post) will seem counter-intuitive to many readers. Some may object that I should not be writing about such a subject. However, as someone who has served as a pastor who has had the privilege and opportunity to hear the complaints and honest struggles of people, I am quite confident that we need to be reminded of God’s perspective on our lives, and that is what I am writing about today.

Sometimes I am the recipient of harsh criticism. I am not complaining about that; I am simply naming it. There is a difference between acknowledging what one is experiencing and protesting what one is experiencing. Sometimes that difference is a very fine line. I am not engaging in self-pity simply because I am acknowledging that I am experiencing pain nor am I trying to elicit pity from others by naming it.

If I say that I am experiencing a trial, that does not necessarily mean that I am protesting or complaining. However, that is often what others perceive me to be saying. Honestly, that is often how I perceive others who talk about struggles they are having: it seems that when they are talking about struggles, they are not simply naming them, but complaining about them.

So, what is God’s perspective on trials? There are many passages in Scripture that give us God’s perspective on trials, but the one that really grabs my attention comes from James. It grabs my attention because it comes near the very beginning of his epistle. The only thing that precedes it is this:

1 James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,
To the twelve tribes scattered among the nations:
Greetings.

The very next words that he writes are these:

2 Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3 because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4 Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

Wait a minute! Once James identifies himself and the people to whom he is writing, he immediately talks about the value of trials?! Wow! No small talk? No mention of what he himself has been doing? No flowery words about his hopes and wishes for the people to whom he is writing? He gets right to the point, doesn’t he? He doesn’t even say, “I am so sorry that you are facing challenges and difficulties.” He doesn’t even say, “Life is so unfair; you deserve better than what you are facing.” Nor does he begin by saying, “I am praying that God will remove the difficulties that you are facing” or “I am praying that God will make life easier for you.”

Instead, James has the audacity to tell the people to whom he is writing to reframe the way they are thinking about their difficulties. He calls them to consider their difficulties as a reason for joy. He then explains why they should consider their trials a reason for joy.

Are there any difficulties in your life that are testing your faith in God? Are there any inconveniences or interruptions or stresses or conflicts or troubles or challenges or pain or threats to your well-being? Reframe them as pure joy!

Thank you, James. And to think that Martin Luther considered what you wrote to be an “epistle of straw.”

Let us be in prayer for our persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ who are facing torture and death in other parts of the world.

Questions? Comments? Please post them to this blog site.

Grace Upon Grace,
George

8/18/2017 Becoming Very Sorrowful

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

When he heard this, he became very sorrowful, for he was very rich. —Luke 18:23

The rich young ruler went away from Jesus speechless with sorrow, having nothing to say in response to Jesus’ words. He had no doubt about what Jesus had said or what it meant, and it produced in him a sorrow with no words with which to respond. Have you ever been there? Has God’s Word ever come to you, pointing out an area of your life, requiring you to yield it to Him? Maybe He has pointed out certain personal qualities, desires, and interests, or possibly relationships of your heart and mind. If so, then you have often been speechless with sorrow. The Lord will not go after you, and He will not plead with you. But every time He meets you at the place where He has pointed, He will simply repeat His words, saying, “If you really mean what you say, these are the conditions.”

“Sell all that you have…” (Luke 18:22). In other words, rid yourself before God of everything that might be considered a possession until you are a mere conscious human being standing before Him, and then give God that. That is where the battle is truly fought— in the realm of your will before God. Are you more devoted to your idea of what Jesus wants than to Jesus Himself? If so, you are likely to hear one of His harsh and unyielding statements that will produce sorrow in you. What Jesus says is difficult— it is only easy when it is heard by those who have His nature in them. Beware of allowing anything to soften the hard words of Jesus Christ.

I can be so rich in my own poverty, or in the awareness of the fact that I am nobody, that I will never be a disciple of Jesus. Or I can be so rich in the awareness that I am somebody that I will never be a disciple. Am I willing to be destitute and poor even in my sense of awareness of my destitution and poverty? If not, that is why I become discouraged. Discouragement is disillusioned self-love, and self-love may be love for my devotion to Jesus— not love for Jesus Himself.

Questions:
1. What is your response to this question?

Has God’s Word ever come to you, pointing out an area of your life, requiring you to yield it to Him?

2. What do you think of the question and the statement below?

Are you more devoted to your idea of what Jesus wants than to Jesus Himself? If so, you are likely to hear one of His harsh and unyielding statements that will produce sorrow in you.

3. What difference would it make in our local congregations if the leadership fully agreed with the following statement?

Discouragement is disillusioned self-love, and self-love may be love for my devotion to Jesus— not love for Jesus Himself.

Please post your responses to these questions and all other comments to this blog site.

Today’s music video features Derek Webb.
Rich Young Ruler

Grace Upon Grace,
George

8/17/2017 Where Is God Not Present? (Part 2)

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In yesterday’s blog post (8/16/2017 Where Is God Not Present?) I asked the following question:

What authority or what evidence supports the idea that “God is everywhere?” or the idea that “God is not everywhere?”

One reader, Carie, submitted a very thoughtful and well-articulated response to the question.  Here is the first paragraph of her response.

God is everywhere, but perhaps not in the same way. Even in eternal separation, He sees and executes that judgment. The Spirit indeed indwells a believer, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t see and know the hearts of all men. What comfort and assurance to know that we can never flee from his presence, and even when we feel alone, yet he is still there, holding onto us! Omnipresence, what beautiful attribute of God!

Carie went on to quote several passages of Scripture:  Jeremiah 23:23–24, Proverbs 15:3, Psalm 139:7-12, and Revelation 6:15-17.  She then concluded with the following paragraph.

Also God is Spirit; He is not bound by time and space as we are. As finite creatures we have difficulty understanding that, but nevertheless it is true. I assert that God does not have size or spacial dimensions, and is present at every point in space with His whole being, yet God acts differently in different places, but is always consistent with His character and Holiness- He never changes!

I thank Carie for her response.  (On a personal note, from 1984 to 1988, I served as the pastor of the congregation where Carie and her family were very active participants.  At that time, Carie was a teen.)   She makes some excellent points, and provides several important references from Scripture.

Nearly 230 years ago, John Wesley published a sermon entitled, “On the Omnipresence of God.”  Here is a brief excerpt from that sermon.

In a word, there is no point of space, whether within or without the bounds of creation, where God is not.

2. Indeed, this subject is far too vast to be comprehended by the narrow limits of human understanding. We can only say, The great God, the eternal, the almighty Spirit, is as unbounded in his presence as in his duration and power. In condescension, indeed, to our weak understanding, he is said to dwell in heaven: but, strictly speaking, the heaven of heavens cannot contain him; but he is in every part of his dominion.

Question:
What do you think of the idea that God is present everywhere, but perhaps not in the same way?

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

Today’s music video features Kelly Willard.
Where Could I Go From Your Spirit?

Grace Upon Grace,
George