Stretch!

What do you do when you first get up in the morning? Stretch? What do you do when you get up from sitting a long time? Stretch?

Stretching. We talk about stretching our body. We talk about stretching our mind. I wonder if we ever need to stretch our spirit.

“Stretching our mind” refers to being challenged in our thinking; expanding our thinking. “Stretching our spiritual mind” does the same thing. As we go about our day, we can be influenced by the world — by the attitudes of others, conversations of others and through media. When we read the Bible, worship together, and study God’s Word together, we stretch our minds to hear God’s voice. What does God’s Word have to say about our experiences and our cultural influences? God’s Word challenges us to think differently; for our minds to be renewed.

Physical stretching increases blood flow to the muscle. Perhaps spiritual stretching can increase our spiritual blood flow. When I think of blood flow, I think of the heart because the heart is what pumps the blood. We also refer to the heart as the seat of our emotions (i.e. “I love you with all of my heart”). Prayer, God’s Word, and worship are a few things that increase our spiritual blood flow. They stretch us by leading us to love God with all our heart. They stretch us to love with God’s love. They stretch us, challenging us to serve with compassion, and to speak in love and humility.

Physical stretching improves flexibility. Spiritually, improved flexibility means we are ready for whatever comes our way. Yes, there are surprises for life, but we serve a God who knows all things and is in control of all things. God teaches us to be more flexible, relying on him in his great power and love for us.

Lastly, one article on physical stretching says, “Don’t consider stretching a warm-up.” Morning devotions are not a warm-up. They are a solid part of starting your day and sustaining and leading you through your day! Morning devotions are the way to take God with you, acknowledging his presence with you, all the day long. Physical stretching, like any physical exercise, is a discipline. That’s why we call spiritual things like morning devotions, prayer, Bible reading and study, worship, and even serving, “spiritual disciplines.” We discipline ourselves to practice these things regularly … and we are stretched.

Let God stretch you! Perhaps you need to stand up right now and stretch your body, and at the same time stretch your spirit by saying a sentence prayer to God.

Here are four suggestions

  1. “Thank you, Jesus, for this day.”
  2. “Jesus, help me with this project, or this relationship, or this circumstance (name it before the Lord).
  3. “Thank you, God, for your great love for me; let me know your presence in my life.”
  4. God says: “I am the Lord your God.” (Introduction to Ten Commandments, Exodus 20)

10,000 Reasons to Give Thanks

Inspired by Psalm 103, worship leader and songwriter Matt Redman cowrote the song, “10,000 Reasons” with a Swedish friend, Jonas Myrin.

In Psalm 103, David lists several reasons why his heart is full of worship for God. So, Redman and Myrin made a list of their own reasons and noted they were barely scratching the surface of God’s worth. Redman explained to Worship Leader Magazine …

If you wake up one morning and you cannot think of a reason to bring God some kind of offering of thanks or praise, then you can be sure there’s something wrong at your end of the pipeline, and not his. We live beneath an unceasing flow of goodness, kindness, greatness, and holiness, and every day we’re given reason after reason why Jesus is so completely and utterly worthy of our highest and best devotion.

In this month in which we observe the national holiday of Thanksgiving, may you set aside time each day to say “thank you” for God’s blessings in your life. You may even want to compile your own list of reasons to bless the Lord. May your heart be lifted to God anew in worship and thanksgiving for his many blessings!

You can read more about the song here, or watch the below to learn more.

A Makeover for Your Mind

Have you ever gotten a makeover? Makeovers aren’t just for your face and hair or even for your house. They are also for your mind!

The dictionary definition of transform is …

to make someone or something completely different, usually in a way that makes them more attractive, easier to use, etc.

When I think of transformations, I think of something that looks different in appearance. But appearances can deceive. For transformation, one has to go much deeper!

One of the most powerful transformations comes through the renewing of the mind. Change the way you think and that can change everything. The greatest transformation comes with God’s salvation. God’s ongoing work in us (i.e., sanctification) continues to transform our hearts, minds, emotions–our whole being. We are instructed in God’s Word to have the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2.16). And Romans 12.2 says, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

Each of us has an audio player running in our heads that constantly plays messages about ourselves and the world around us. If it keeps playing, “I am a loser,” you won’t feel good about yourself and what you have to offer. If it keeps telling you, “I am fat,” you can’t begin to lose those unwanted pounds. Rick Warren said in a recent interview with Oprah Winfrey, don’t fight against temptation, but rather, change the recording, renew your thinking. Don’t obsess over the fact you should quit smoking, replace the thought with something positive (eat an apple!).

The recording in our minds has been shaped by parents, teachers, and other influential adults as we grew up. Messages continue to be recorded as they are received through the media and by those we hang out with. If you don’t like what your recorder is playing, change the recording. Renew your mind through Jesus Christ!

One day I came home and I was not in a good mood. I could feel it wanting to bubble up and spill over my family. I asked Randy to play some worship music on the iPod while I was preparing a meal. A little while later, Sarah asked if I was feeling better, and after some brief refection, I said yes. I was glad for her checking in with me and calling my attention to the transformation.

Philippians 4.8 says …

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Choose to put positive, renewing, Christ-centered messages on your recorder!

Returning From Retreat With Hope

On Monday evening at the Bishop’s Retreat, Randy led a time of prayer and reflection, looking at 1 Kings 19.1-9a. He asked “What are you running from?” and “What are you running to?”

On Tuesday evening, I concluded our look at Elijah with 1 Kings 19.9b-15a, which begins with Elijah in a cave where he has spent the night.

The Lord’s word came to him and said, “Why are you here, Elijah?”

10 Elijah replied, “I’ve been very passionate for the Lord God of heavenly forces because the Israelites have abandoned your covenant. They have torn down your altars, and they have murdered your prophets with the sword. I’m the only one left, and now they want to take my life too!”

11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand at the mountain before the Lord. The Lord is passing by.” A very strong wind tore through the mountains and broke apart the stones before the Lord. But the Lord wasn’t in the wind. After the wind, there was an earthquake. But the Lord wasn’t in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake, there was a fire. But the Lord wasn’t in the fire. After the fire, there was a sound. Thin. Quiet. 13 When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his coat. He went out and stood at the cave’s entrance. A voice came to him and said, “Why are you here, Elijah?”

14 He said, “I’ve been very passionate for the Lord God of heavenly forces because the Israelites have abandoned your covenant. They have torn down your altars, and they have murdered your prophets with the sword. I’m the only one left, and now they want to take my life too.”

15 The Lord said to him, “Go back … (Common English Bible)

Two times, God asks Elijah, “Why are you here?”

Both times, Elijah answers by telling God what he is running from.

Finally, God simply says, “Go back …”

We are at a retreat. The military definition of retreat is to withdraw. I knew this part of the definition. This retreat is a time to withdraw—from the things you are running from.

But I never realized that the military definition goes on to say that one withdraws to find a more favorable position.

We, too, have come to retreat so that we can “go back” having gained a more favorable position, having gained sure footing, having regained perspective, vision, and renewed hope.

We concluded the evening in small groups, reflecting on, discussing, and praying for one another, around the question, “How has God prepared you to ‘go back’?”

What has God given you to “go back” to your ministry?

Coming Soon: Bible Study at West Side

Next Thursday, September 13, the West Side UMC morning Bible study will begin a new study, “James: Putting Faith to Work.” Following our study time at the church at 10:00-11:00 a.m., I’ll post a summary and a question or two so that those who cannot be with us in person may connect with us and participate online.

I will monitor the posts and participate in the conversation. To participate, click on “Leave a comment” at the bottom of the post. The only requirement for commenting/participating is that you have a sincere spirit and hunger to learn. Let us encourage and support one another. See you here next week!

Discipleship Wanes When Christianity is Popular

I’m reading Longing for Spring: A New Vision for Wesleyan Community by Elaine A. Heath and Scott T. Kisker. I was challenged by the authors’ description of discipleship when Christianity is popular.

In its earliest days, Christianity was at times “illegal and semi-covert” until the conversion of Constantine in A.D. 312. Constantine made Christianity legal in A.D. 313. This single act changed the character of the church. Rather than counting the cost of discipleship, it became “socially advantageous to be a Christian. Discipline lagged. The church began playing the world’s game.”

The authors contend …

The change in the character of Christianity brought about numerical growth, but not the healthy reproduction of disciples. Like the growth of mainline Christianity after World War II, and of evangelicalism in the 1980s, numerical growth masked the true condition of the church.

Reflection questions:

  1. In Matthew 28, we’re called to “make disciples of Jesus Christ.” Reflect on the similarities and difference of church attendance and discipleship.
  2. In what ways does the church “play the world’s game” today?

Clear the Way!

This post is part of the Common English Bible Tour.

The prophet Isaiah proclaimed …

A voice is crying out: “Clear the LORD’s way in the desert! Make a level highway in the wilderness for our God! Every valley will be raised up, and every mountain and hill will be flattened. Uneven ground will become level, and rough terrain a valley plain. The LORD’s glory will appear, and all humanity will see it together; the LORD’s mouth has commanded it.” (Isaiah 40.3-5, CEB)

This year when I decorated for Christmas, I removed other pictures and decorations from the end tables to make room for Christmas decorations. One woman told me she had to move two chairs to make room for her Christmas tree, all by herself.

How will we prepare for the coming of Christ? What do we have to move in our hearts and lives to make room for the coming of Christ? This month, in particular, what do you need to give yourself permission NOT to do so that you can have time for spiritual preparation?

Comfort, Comfort!

This post is part of the current Common English Bible Tour. You can read Isaiah 40.1-11 in the CEB here.

In Isaiah 40.1-11, Israel is in exile, a very dark place in their history. They doubted their status as God’s chosen people; they even doubted the sovereignty of God.

This portion of scripture seeks to assure Israel that the Lord still has compassion for them and the Lord, despite the triumph of Babylon their enemy, is still Lord of the heavens and over history. In fact, the Lord will act soon to allow the exiles to return home, a journey more glorious than the journey out of Egypt.

This is the real time scenario; and yet it foreshadows the coming of the Messiah. And that coming foreshadows the second coming of Christ, also a theme of Advent.

The first word is a word of comfort.

Comfort, comfort my people! says your God. Speak compassionately to Jerusalem, and proclaim to her that her compulsory service has ended, that her penalty has been paid … (Isaiah 40.1-2, CEB)

Even in your most desperate of situations, there is hope. There is a word of comfort. The Lord holds these circumstances in his hand, and he will deliver.

This is such an appropriate word for this season. We look at this season as one that is to be filled with joy. If we have suffered loss of any kind—death of a loved one or the separation of a loved one by miles, sickness, dementia, relational difficulties, or infertility, etc.—our loss is magnified during this season.

And so we turn to God and hear his word, “Comfort, comfort.”

The Alleluia Singers

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West Side UMC was blessed to host a concert by the Alleluia Singers from Towson UMC, Towson Maryland.

The Alleluia Singers is composed of a talented group of middle school and high school students. As part of a tour that took them through our area, they presented a program of music and drama, creatively entitled, “God’s Apps.”

We were blessed to have them minister among us!

Chi Rho Singers

I sing with the Chi Rho Singers, the clergy choir of the Susquehanna Conference. We do one concert a month, meeting in a different district, nine months out of the year.

We gather in a local church at 1:00 p.m. and rehearse until 5:00 p.m. After a dinner break, we conduct a concert at 7:00 p.m.

Last Thursday, we conducted a concert at First United Methodist Church in Altoona, PA. It was a joint concert with the clergy choir from the Western Pennsylvania Conference. We have been sharing a concert with the Western PA choir since singing together for the 2004 General Conference, hosted in Pittsburgh.

At last week’s concert, Paul Bowers, a member of West Side UMC, recorded some video, using an Apple iPad. You can view them here …

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8RBzZSjO6Zk

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y-AjK0wqlWQ

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mq3Nkvasmlc