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Devotion Defined

Many readers know this is among my last submissions for the Gladbrook web site. A moving van will come to town and whisk me away in six short weeks. My intention had been to stay in Gladbrook for six more years. But as Priscilla Crumley says, “The best way to make God laugh is to tell him your plans.” Everything took a sharp turn when I accepted a call from the Iowa Conference to serve a six-year term as the District Superintendent of the North Central District. The van will unload my worldly possessions onto the porch of a new home in Webster City. Let’s hope Patches and Frank-the-cat are cooperative. There are times when Webster’s dictionary helps me prepare articles like this and he didn’t fail me when I needed help writing this column. Webster opened up and a little word that’s packed with meaning popped out of the page. That word was ‘devotion’. The dictionary gave me a great description for this age-old word. It’s an “act of dedicating oneself to a cause, vision or entity that is greater than the individual.” It also has connotations such as “strong feelings” and “commitment.”The synonyms are beautiful too, including “faithfulness”, “loyalty”, “attentiveness” and “love”. It’s no wonder Christian acts of private worship are called devotions and essays like this one are devotionals. Our handy-dandy word is found in scripture. Acts 2:42 explains how the early church hatched, grew and matured into flight. “They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and fellowship: to the breaking of bread and prayers. Awe came upon everyone because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. And all who believed were together.” That’s a good way to explain the basics for leading a life of devotion to the church and to Christ. Those people did not stop learning, breaking bread together, caring for one another and prayer. Allowing that kind of order to rule the day allowed them to experience something special and godly. And they were united together. Their model for a life of devotion is a good model for Christians and churches today. Upon moving to Gladbrook five years ago, I agreed to join the rotation of local religious leaders who were writing this column and sharing on a regular basis what God had placed upon their hearts. My hope and prayer was that I could offer a word of guidance or wisdom to encourage someone “out there” along the journey of faith. Many times I have sat down thinking I knew what I was going to write only to discover God had an entirely different message ready to spill out onto the page. Those...

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Monarch Butterflies, Francis of Assisi, and You

The Monarch Butterflies are Migrating Haven’t all of the Monarch’s already passed through Gladbrook? Apparently not, I saw one solitary dash of orange and black winging down my street today. He was bobbing up and down, but headed in the right direction. As with all the Monarchs that I see, I offered a simple prayer for him. “May God help you to fly safe and free, old boy.” Our beloved Monarchs are not as populous as they once were. But, it does not lessen the beauty and wonder I feel when I see one. My friend of today may have been traveling from as far away as south Canada. He will go to the mountains of Mexico for winter. If you have enough time and money, guides can take you to his home there, where blizzards of orange and black Monarchs are clustered together until it is time to wing back home. Somewhere along the RAGBRAI route in July there was a group determined to help maintain Monarch populations. They passed to the riders a mud ball. Tucked inside was a milk weed seedling. (The preferred home of Monarch caterpillars). RAGBRAI riders were asked to toss the mud ball into a ditch or pasture in hopes the seedling would establish itself and grow strong enough to welcome the Monarchs home in the spring. Perhaps to lay their eggs. It is a tradition for Christians to have a high regard for nature. Francis of Assisi believed nature can be used as a window through which the religious will gaze upon the majesty of God. In legend it is said that once, while Francis was traveling with his companions, they came to a place in the woods where birds filled trees on either side of the path. Francis told his companions to wait while he took time to preach to his brothers and sisters, the birds. The legend continues by stating not one of the birds flew away. This is why statues of Francis commonly show him with a bird in his hand. I won’t say the legend is factual. But there is some truth in it. Francis noticed things in the natural world and cared about those things. Likewise, God calls us to notice and to care about the natural world too. Perhaps one day someone will hand a mud ball that is home to a sprouting milk weed to you too. If someone does, then I hope that you will plant it. In what other simple ways can you offer a helping hand to Mother Nature? Prayer: “Dearest Lord, our tender shepherd and wise counsel. Help us to do our part to keep the...

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Of parting the Red Sea and kitchen conundrums

Of Parting the Red Sea and Kitchen Conundrums  — this was written for the Iowa United Methodist Conference to be used during the week of May 21-27, 2017.  The Way Forward Commission has sought all United Conferences pray for their work as they develop a new statement and recommendations regarding all denominational understandings of Human Sexuality by Rev. Carol Kress Scripture: “The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground. The water forming a wall on their right and on their left.” (Exodus 14:22) An Iowa United Methodist church decided to remodel its out-dated kitchen. So a kitchen design team was appointed and spent months envisioning future needs of the church and designing a new kitchen to accommodate them. It was apparent the project would be expensive so they sought a vote of the congregation which demonstrated its support with enthusiasm. On New Year’s Eve, a party gathered which was eager to celebrate and demolish that old kitchen. However, it did not take long to discover a problem. The party discovered standing water underneath the double sink and its housing. Both sinks had problem pipes. One appeared to be stopped while the other was slow in its work. Unfortunately, the problem did not have a simple solution. Experts were commissioned to take the place of volunteers. Their report to the kitchen design team was sobering. Each sink had separate pipes. One set led east, connecting with the city on the far side of a historic brick street. The second set led west. They ran underneath the entire length of fellowship hall until they were finally under the alley to meet with city pipes. The expert recommended to replace the pipes and lead all of them in one direction, But no one could agree on which direction. Either way created its own set of expensive issues. Although the pastor could be impatient, the congregation was not, They deliberated the kitchen conundrum with great care, The design team studied the matter from every point of view and met with a lengthy list of local engineers, plumbers, carpenters and others, Surely there were more choices than had been recommended to the design team. No one wanted to tear up fellowship hall nor did they want to ruin a historic brick street. The team brought their quest for a solution to the congregation seeking prayers and help. The pastor was inspired to open her bible. She spoke of Moses, the Israelites and their flight from Pharaoh. God’s people found themselves caught between the Red Sea and the Egyptian Army. But, acting on faith, Moses stepped into the sea. It divided, providing an avenue of escape. Although Moses had worried there would...

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It’s about Confirmation

**Do you promise, according to the grace given to you, to keep God’s holy will and commandments and walk in the same all the days of your life as FAITHFUL MEMBERS of Christ’s Holy Church?** Recognize the question? It’s the one we are going to ask Lizzie Garber and Brandon Strohbehn when they come before the congregation on Confirmation Sunday. Their answer of *yes* means that they are ready to join the church and to *be confirmed in the faith that leads to life eternal.* They will then kneel and hands will be laid upon them as they do join the Christian church and leads to their membership in our Gladbrook United Methodist Church. Working with youth through Confirmation classes and preparing for their Sunday leaves me with thoughts and emotions that are hard to describe. It’s a joyful day because these youth have demonstrated commitment and a desire to grow in their personal faith. But I feel like I am only beginning to know them and their own special story. Brandon is so quiet in class, but he has a great sense of humor. And there is usually a message behind Lizzie’s dancing eyes that I am curious to discover. All of us have appreciated the other youth, mentors and sometimes parents who have been sitting in with the class too. I sometimes feel they are the best teachers and leaders. When Confirmation Class began in the fall we had a basic outline of topics, experiences and activities in which we would engage. We watched a few movies too. I hope the class can still remember a few parallels we found between THE LION KING and the life of Christ. Simba led an adventurous life. Although we gleaned a few lessons from worshiping at the Jewish Temple in Des Moines, my hope is that the youth will keep on gleaning lessons from the experience and not be afraid to draw their own conclusions. We worked with the Old and New Testaments a little. We revisited mission and service a few times. I would like to think their hearts are warmer toward people (and critters) who lead lives very different from our own. However we barely touched on the birth and development of the United Methodist Church. So much content. So little time. Just a few years ago a Confirmation student said something during a 12-hour retreat that made me think differently about how to approach Confirmation class. I do not remember the subject that we were discussing. But I said, “Why do you think your mentors and I were willing to organize this activity for you?” Without hesitation one of the girls replied...

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Monday Morning Musing – March, 2017

Have you heard a song from the 70’s entitled “What the World Needs Now”?  Over and over again the lyrics to that song have been playing in my mind.  “What the world needs now is love, sweet love.  That’s the only thing that there is just too little of….no not just for some, but for everyone…”  There, now it will be sounding in your mind too.  I hear that the scientists call those melodies and thoughts that replay in your mind an “ear worm”.  But, I don’t care for that phrase.  Instead, I call most of those replays “whispers from God”.  Wouldn’t you say there is quite a bit of difference in those phrases?  But, I really do pay attention to those long-lasting thoughts, lyrics and notions.  I pay attention because there have been plenty of times those whispers have been helpful in a way that can only be attributed to the guidance of God.  Perhaps Christ has provided a timely or beneficial whisper to you as well.  There is no doubt about it, we are living through a time of uncertainty right now.  I just left a Bible study group where people shared their worries and the list was lengthy.  We will spend this week praying for decision makers in government, concerns for loved ones, ourselves and all who are in harms way.  But when the study ended, there was that whisper from God playing in my mind again.  “What the world needs now is love sweet love, it’s the only thing….”   Scripture stays “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.  They that love not know not God, for God is love.  Beloved, let us love one another.”  (1 John 4:7-8).  The love this scripture calls us to embody has the same heart that my elementary school teachers taught in the classroom and wanted us to model every day. There was Valentine’s day, for instance. If we chose to bring Valentine’s Day cards to school, we were expected to give one to all of our classmates.  We couldn’t give cards only to our friends.  It didn’t even matter if your classmate said crummy things about your art project. It didn’t matter if the card our classmate shared with us was plain next to the glitter and bright colors a more privileged child could offer. Our teachers taught us to rise above pettiness and to just be kind. The love of God is a gift that is shared abundantly and equally with all of God’s children.  We matter to Him.  This love is both simple enough for children to sing of...

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