By ROBERT ECKERT Pastor, Courtland-Oakfield United Methodist Church “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. “ 2 Timothy 4:7 (NIV) I’m 58 years old. Earlier this week I attended the funeral of a woman of my parents’ generation. Madeline was someone I only knew from the church we both attended. The most you could say of us is that we were good acquaintances, not close friends. Neither did we have a long history; it’s been less than 10 years since I first met her and for the past two years I’ve been at different churches than the one where she was a member. But she had enough of an impact in my life that I didn’t want the occasion of her passing to simply slip by as a momentary item of interest. I wanted to be there when good things were said about her and share with others prayers of thanksgiving for her life. No one would have noticed if I had not attended. If I ever met any of her children before the day of the funeral, I don’t remember, and most of the others in attendance were also strangers to me. As they arrived and took their seats while old hymns were being played on the organ, I found myself thinking that even Madeline doesn’t know or care that I’m here. Still, it would have been wrong not to attend. Having received gifts of endearing kindness, undeserved respect, generous hospitality, and sincere affection from her, it would have been wrong not to say “thank you.” Only a quarter of the 252 words of her obituary in the Grand Rapids Press were given to a short chronology of her life; 196 words were required to list her surviving children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren; to give a nod to “numerous in-laws, cousins, nieces, and nephews”; and to acknowledge by name her “special extended family.” Madeline was well-connected. I’ve read that spirituality can be defined as our connectedness to others and the world in which we live. By that definition Madeline was deeply spiritual. In fact, I remember her saying once, “My faith has been a team sport with my own family … we all did it […]
A weekly inspirational message
Unlikely Rescue by PASTOR RON AULBACH BridgeWay Community Imagine yourself lying on the beach, watching the waves lap against the shore. It’s another record breaking day of heat and humidity, with no relief in sight. You decide it’s time to take a dip and cool off, but as you wade into the water a huge fish swims towards you. Just before it beaches, its’ enormous jaws open and out comes an ear deafening belch. The deep bellowing ‘burrrrp,’ produces a large amount of seaweed, several half digested fish, a volleyball named Wilson, and to your great surprise, a man who is barely alive. The smell is overwhelming, but the man reaches out his slimy hand and says, “Hi my name is Jonah. Man, is it good to be out of there!” It’s one of the strangest verses in the bible, “And the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land” (Jonah 2:10). I’m sorry if you are reading this while sipping a cup of coffee or eating a cinnamon roll, but I will never forget hearing this story as a little 6 year old in my Sunday School class. These are the stories adult teachers relish, “Do what God says, or a giant fish will eat you.” It was a toss up whether I was more scared of Jonah’s fish or a ferocious shark named Jaws. God wants our obedience, that’s true. But the really good news for Jonah is that God cared enough to rescue him the moment he asked. Jonah went from fish food to rescued the moment he cried out to God. Sure, it looked like vomit, but it was better than death. What would rescue look like for you? Maybe you’re like Jonah and the problems of life have absolutely swallowed you. The boss is unbearable. The kids are a mess. Financial burdens are weighing you down. Maybe your life is swallowed up by sin and disobedience. It’s never to late to call out for rescue. Deep in the belly of whale, God heard Jonah’s prayer “When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, O Lord. Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs” (Jonah 2:7-8). May that be your prayer today, […]
Being Used by the Master Carpenter by PASTOR DICK RILEY Rockford United Methodist Church Once upon a time, some tools at a carpenter’s bench were having a conference. Someone complained that Mr. Hammer was making too much noise and ought to leave. “Well!” said Mr. Hammer. “If I have to leave, then Mr. Screwdriver should leave, too, because all he does is turn things around and around!” “At least I try to go into some depth,” said Mr. Screwdriver. “On the other hand, Miss Plane is only concerned with superficial appearances.” “Excuse me!” Miss Plane retorted. “I may be concerned with appearances, but at least I’m not like Sister Ruler who is always making judgments—as if she were the only one who is right, or like Brother Sandpaper who is always so rough and can rub you the wrong way!” As the discussion grew more and more heated, the Carpenter from Nazareth walked in. Putting on his apron, He went to work making a pulpit from which God’s Word could be shared. He used the hammer, the screwdriver, the plane, the ruler, and the sandpaper. And under His guidance and authority, the tools began to turn very rough pieces of wood into a most beautiful work. When everything was done, Mr. Saw remarked, “Friends, I see that we are all made perfect in the hands of the Carpenter.” And, humbly, everyone agreed. Or, as the Apostle Paul shared, “There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all. There are different kinds of service, but we serve the same Lord. God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us.” (I Corinthians 12:4-6) Question: Are you letting the Master Carpenter use you and your gifts? I encourage you to go to a church of your choice this week, and see how our Lord can use you!
Prayer is a Relationship by PASTOR SCOTT SWIX Hope Community Church “Oh, God, please HELP with ____.” (Fill in the blank here—job, wife, husband, health, school, kids, mortgage, loved one, fear of flying, etc.) That’s a very popular prayer indeed, and has been for thousands of years. It’s often combined with “if you do, I will ____.” (Fill in this blank too, such as “never do it again,” “start going to church again,” “become a monk/pastor/priest,” etc.) Yeah, that’s a common prayer combination. Hey, we are human, and usually a bit self-absorbed, and tend to turn to God when are in a spot of trouble. And that’s not all bad. While making “deals” with God is discouraged, God encourages us to ask for help. There are lots of great examples of that in the Bible. Then again, is that the only time we talk to God? If it is, or if the rest of our prayer life is just a short nightly Lord’s Prayer, “Now I lay me down to sleep…” a Hail Mary, or something similar, then we really should ask ourselves, “How does God feel about that?” How would we feel if someone claimed to be our friend, our really, really good friend, and the only time they called was when they needed something? Or, maybe they occasionally call really quickly, like a Facebook status post, and simply say, “I did this today” and then hang up. That’s a pretty one-sided and disappointing relationship. But it is an easy habit to fall into. Most of us tend to want God to be there when we need God, and want God to listen and answer our prayers, and then… well, then we’d really like to get back to our own life until we hit the divine 911 again. Listening to God takes time, and there’s always the risk God might actually say something that I don’t want to hear. It doesn’t take much to admit that God probably doesn’t find that a very fulfilling relationship. The really sad part, perhaps, isn’t that God is disappointed; it is that we are short-changing ourselves. Our own bad habit keeps us from God’s blessings. God wants to be part of our lives, wants to hear about our […]
Be attentive by REV. LAURIE TENHAVE-CHAPMAN First Congregational Church, Rockford As summer draws to a close, we reluctantly step on the treadmill of fall programming. We leave behind the quiet of the lake, the watery mist of a boat ride, and the relaxed conversations at sunset from back decks. As I entered the high school with my daughter to accomplish registration for a new year, the noise seemed deafening. So much energy goes into launching a new initiative. How do we hold on to the replenishment of the summer? The Lakota Indians say to one another, “Be attentive.” They exhort one another to be so attuned to their world that, even when a trail of tiny ants walks by, it will sound like drums. A gift of the Native Americans is their awareness of their life-giving connectedness to all of creation. They balance community life and celebrations with solitary immersion in God’s world. As we step back into busy schedules, clutching our day planners lest we miss an appointment, let us be attentive to God’s grace. We must become aware of our own biases that obscure an honest appraisal of our surroundings and look for God in the faces around us. Let’s listen for voices of need that count on our response. If we are humble, we will find God’s blessing from people and circumstances we might have considered beneath us. As the noise amps up in dance studios, school cafeterias, football stadiums and boardroom discussions, we are challenged to BE ATTENTIVE to the still, small voice of God. The prophet Elijah was unable to hear God in the storm that swirled around him. It was in the hush that followed, with his senses heightened, that he knew God’s presence. God grants us energy for all that is required of us. God gives us meaning so that our activities are carried out with holy purpose. Without God, we simply slog through each day, weary and emptied. Let us BE ATTENTIVE as we register for autumn opportunities so that we will be able to hear God always!