Monday, June 24, 2013

From Darkness to Light

Listen, O isles, unto me; and hearken, ye people, from far; The LORD hath called me from the womb; from the bowels of my mother hath he made mention of my name.
And he hath made my mouth like a sharp sword; in the shadow of his hand hath he hid me, and made me a polished shaft; in his quiver hath he hid me;
And said unto me, Thou art my servant, O Israel, in whom I will be glorified.
Then I said, I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for nought, and in vain: yet surely my judgment is with the LORD, and my work with my God.
And now, saith the LORD that formed me from the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob again to him, Though Israel be not gathered, yet shall I be glorious in the eyes of the LORD, and my God shall be my strength.
And he said, It is a light thing that thou shouldest be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved of Israel: I will also give thee for a light to the Gentiles, that thou mayest be my salvation unto the end of the earth.
Thus saith the LORD, the Redeemer of Israel, and his Holy One, to him whom man despiseth, to him whom the nation abhorreth, to a servant of rulers, Kings shall see and arise, princes also shall worship, because of the LORD that is faithful, and the Holy One of Israel, and he shall choose thee.
Thus saith the LORD, In an acceptable time have I heard thee, and in a day of salvation have I helped thee: and I will preserve thee, and give thee for a covenant of the people, to establish the earth, to cause to inherit the desolate heritages;
That thou mayest say to the prisoners, Go forth; to them that are in darkness, Shew yourselves. They shall feed in the ways, and their pastures shall be in all high places.

ISAIAH 49: 1-9

The Servant" appears here "as a light to the nations." Footnotes indicate that scholars are divided: Is the Servant Israel? Is the Servant an individual promised in Israel's future? Because the New Testament applies the Servant lan­guage to Jesus, we also freely apply this language originally intended for Israel to the community of faith in Jesus Christ.

Those aware that they belong to a people are often exclusive. For them, having a covenant means keeping oth­ers away. Many in Israel often did so; many who are called Christian still do. When they did and we do, shadows result, leaving others in darkness. Meanwhile, though the light is available to us, we show that we are in darkness.

"I will give you as a light to the nations that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth" is the ancient promise made new this day. Only a few readers of this devotion will be pondering it in today's Israel. The vast majority of us are doing so in faith because the light has reached "to the end of the earth."

Talking about light is not the same thing as realizing it and being in it. In the Book of Acts, two light-bringers, Paul and Barnabas, quote this verse from Isaiah with this intent: to make all glad. And why? Salvation has come. Salvation means rescue from darkness to light, from fear to freedom, from being self-enclosed to being free to serve others among all nations-beginning, as it were, next door.

Salvation may sound like a word from ancient times or gets sounded among people who over repeat the question: "Are you saved?" Yet it speaks to our day, our need, our search for light.

Saving God, let your ancient promises live today among the people of Israel, among believers in Christ, and in our ears, to reach our hearts afresh this day. Amen.
--Martin E. Marty, Believe, Dakotas Ann Conf

God Is Still In Control!

Miss Lladale Carey
Web Content Producer

Monday, June 17, 2013

Rediscovering God's Presence

And in the morning, rising up a great while before day, he went out,
and departed into a solitary place, and there prayed.
And Simon and they that were with him followed after him.
And when they had found him, they said unto him, All men seek for thee.
And he said unto them, Let us go into the next towns,
that I may preach there also: for therefore came I forth.
And he preached in their synagogues throughout all Galilee, and cast out devils.
MARK 1: 35-39

Jesus is in demand. He takes an early-morning break to pray. Simon's desperate words interrupt his time away: "Everyone is looking for you!" (NiV). It must have been tough for Jesus to hear those words. I'm sure that he was acutely aware of how precious his time, energy, and presence were during his earthly ministry. Yet, Jesus took time to be alone.

Mark's Gospel is the shortest of the four Gospels and offers a straightforward collection of the sayings and deeds of Jesus during his ministry. Luke and Matthew seemed to feel a little more freedom to include additional narratives and explanations in their Gospels. Mark, however, includes only what he believes to be most critical to convey his mes­sage. And here it is, a few precious verses carefully tucked within Mark's narrative to remind the reader of the impor­tance of taking time in solitude to pray.

Perhaps this simple event, retold in the years after Jesus' death, left an impression on the early Christians: "You will always face demands and a need to manage expectations. In order to do so, you have to make time for silence and prayer. It is great to be needed and wanted. But these desires can easily become unhealthy, driving you to do things for the wrong reasons and even to become taxed and burdened by doing well."

Mark's Gospel reminds us, as it has done for centuries that even Jesus found a solitary place to meet with God and listen. This encounter helped him maintain balance and find the right perspective, pace, direction, and intention for his daily life and ministry.

Loving God, I choose to withdraw from the demands and expectations of my daily life to be alone with you. Give me the courage to seek you and your will first. Guide my thoughts and actions today. Amen.
--Dion Forster, Listen, Dakotas Ann Conf.

God Is Still In Control!

Miss Lladale Carey
Web Content Producer

Monday, June 10, 2013

Generosity by Example

Other than our Lord, who is the most generous person you’ve ever known?

For me, it was my first boss.

Over the course of time, our relationship transitioned from employer/employee to mentor/protégé. Eventually we became friends.

My friend Ed had a way about him and everyone knew it. But until recently, almost eight years after his passing, I couldn’t put my finger on what elements God must have mixed together to make him such a special person.

I always regarded Ed as the smartest person in the room, even though his higher education had been acquired through the school of hard knocks. You see, Ed dropped out of school at the age of 12 to care for his family. He was married at age 15 and he and his wife Margaret raised three children. After the kids moved out of the house to pursue their own dreams and start their own families, Ed and Margaret took care of each other. 

Outside of his immediate family, Ed was best known by both his employees and his clients as a fair and honest businessman who didn’t have a hidden agenda. He always took care of his employees’ needs and earnestly cared about his clients as well.

So here’s the part about him that I did not “get” until recently. Ed was so special because he truly cared and did for others, without any expectation of payback.

Generosity and caring for others, without an “agenda,” go hand in hand – I get it completely now!

When we think about generosity in the church, most of us immediately think about giving financial gifts. I don’t know how much money Ed gave to his local church—it wasn’t any of my business—but I do know this: Ed McElroy was the most generous person I’ve ever known. 

You see, I firmly believe that even though God plants seeds of generosity in each of us, it’s the generosity by example of another cheerful giver that helps to cultivate those seeds.

Since generous givers learn by example, can you even imagine how vital our congregations would be if we all practiced generosity without any expectation of payback? With God’s help, our lives, like Ed’s life, could inspire many others.

Will you pray that the generosity in your life will become an example to others as you care for them in the same way that Jesus Christ cares for you – with unconditional love? Will you ask God through prayer to show you what he wants you to give?

Randy Hardy, member of McEachern Memorial UMC, North GA Ann Conf. 

God Is Still In Control!

Miss Lladale Carey
Web Content Producer

Monday, June 3, 2013

A Risk of Faith

And there was a woman in the crowd who had had a hemorrhage for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal from many doctors through the years and had spent everything she had to pay them, but she had gotten no better. In fact, she was worse. She had heard about Jesus, so she came up behind him through the crowd and touched the fringe of his robe. For she thought to herself, "If I can just tough his clothing, I will be healed." Mark 5: 25-28, New Living Translation

I was reminded of this scripture as I prepared to make a journey to Africa. The trip itself was a blessing. I was able to attend and participate in the African United Methodist Clergywomen's Consultation at Africa University in Old Mutare, Zimbabwe. I saw firsthand the powerful Christian witness the University itself represents, and met young people from across the continent, across language groups and across cultural groups. All were brought together to be educated and to be ambassadors of mutual respect, peace and excellence in leadership. The clergywomen who participated in the consultation represented some of the finest leadership in our connection. And they were led with gentle but undeniable power by Bishop Joaquina Nhanala – the first African woman elected as a Bishop in the continent of Africa.

Women of the world face special risks
But my trip also reminded me of something very sad. In preparation for this event, I researched issues facing women in Africa, and it became clear that the same challenges faced by other women around the globe do indeed continue to affect and impact women everywhere who serve God in the Church.  Although men experience some of the same difficulties – there are some crimes which particularly devastate women and children.

Take the risk to reach out and help heal others
We celebrate the places God has made it possible for the gifts of women to be shared with our nations and our world. But we have a long way to go to end domestic violence, human trafficking, sexism, and poverty in our state and nation, as well as around the globe. It is our faith that empowers us to take the risk to reach out for healing, wholeness, and shalom for ourselves and all persons.

As we continue to try to help others, let us look in the places we have not yet gone – finding ways to participate in creating safe environments where those who are vulnerable can find God’s love through our care.

Jesus said to her, "Daughter, you took a risk of faith, and now you're healed and whole. Live well, live blessed! Be healed of your plague." (Mark 5: 34, The Message)

Where can we create safe environments for the vulnerable right here in Wisconsin?

--Bishop Linda Lee, former Bishop of the Wisconsin Episcopal Area

God Is Still In Control!

Miss Lladale Carey
Web Content Producer