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Monday Morning Musings

People in my profession tend to have a lot of nativity sets in their homes. A minister-friend of mine (who retired to Colorado) has over ninety. At Christmas time her condo in the mountains must be quite the sight. I wonder if she has room for any visitors at all? My number of nativities is modest in comparison to hers, but I like mine and enjoy setting them up for the holiday. So on Christmas Day I set out the very last one. While I took the set out of the box and found the perfect place for each one of the pieces, I found myself thinking about the shepherds. They have their moment in the spot light, but I find that they are not the first ones that I look at when I reflect upon the nativity sets . Baby Jesus is front and center of all the sets. He gets the spotlight (as he should). On either side are stationed Mary and Joseph who are major supporting characters. An angel glows near the manger. The three kings seem to command a strategic spot where any one can admire the camels and those gifts that made an impression. Even the animals of the stable have spots. I like placing the donkey as close to Mary as I can and I will turn the cow so that her gaze is upon the precious child. But the shepherds don’t have a special spot, I seem to fit them in to balance out the nativity scene. In one of the sets they really do look best standing out in a side pen with the sheep. If you saw them you would agree that those shepherds were meant to watch over things while everyone else gathered in the stable. Who knows what would become of a church that did not have a team of shepherds to watch over things? I think of all the volunteers and quiet workers who serve Christ by tending to so many little things that happen inside the house of God. So much of their work goes overlooked and under appreciated. But without their thought and care, the church would suffer. There are shepherds who keep the flowers watered, the projection current and the sanctuary orderly so there are few distractions to worship. There are shepherds who pay attention to fiscal matters and talk about a greater stewardship of our personal and shared resources. There are shepherds who are planning Sunday school lessons, making costumes, and helping our young people open the Bible. There are other shepherds who encourage everyone to open the Bible and invite it to live within our hearts. We...

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Monday Morning Musings

Today is filled with sunshine. Days like this one have been few and far between. That makes sunshine more precious today. The days are shorter now and common indicators of winter are on the scene. What will winter be like? When I was a kid on the farm, my bedroom windows faced the western sky. During winter, I recall doing my homework there while looking out the window to see the sunset over a frosty horizon. My goal was always to complete it before Venus shined in the darkening sky. Although planets do not have a self-generated source they can twinkle with the sun’s reflective light. Jupiter, Mercury and Mars twinkle and if there was a colony on any of them, their people would say that Earth twinkles too. Still, I watch for the beauty of winter sunsets. Certainly, a long winter night can usher in dangerous temperatures and threatening weather. This fact does not stop me from appreciating the sunset. Besides, the winter sky at night cannot extinguish the starlight. Not really. Even when clouds are thick and heavy, the stars shine higher above. When I watch very closely they will peek through to prove their presence every now and then.. Soon we will celebrate the birth of baby Jesus. The timing of this event is so fitting. Jesus was born during one of the longest nights of the year as winter chills settle. To humanity it is a reminder that our bodies need light and warmth to make it through cold, dark winter nights. In the same way, our spiritual bodies need the gifts Jesus brought by way of his birth. These gifts allow us to survive exposure to hard trials and seasons of hopelessness. We cannot do this on our own. It is possible only because of the love of God revealed to us through Jesus Christ. He is the source of spiritual light. This truth forms the basis of the scriptural message from Isaiah pro-claiming, “Arise and shine, for thy light has come. The glory of the Lord has risen.” (Isaiah 60) Allow me to invite you to watch with me for the sunset and then stars to appear. Our physical life is dependent upon the sun, and our salvation is dependent upon Jesus Christ. God gave him to this world as a sign of his everlasting love. No matter the thickness of the clouds nor the length of the night, he has promised to shine forth on our behalf. It is a promise upon which we can count. So praise God with me for the precious gift of his son and we will encourage each other to trust in...

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Monday Morning Musings

Not long ago a friend of mine sent an email of a cartoon strip. In it there was a sheep walking on two legs. The sheep addressed a wolf who blocked the pearly-gated entrance to a green pasture. Standing by the sheep was a familiar looking bearded man who wore a robe and carried a staff. He had an unstated look of authority. The sheep spoke to the wolf while pointing to the man and said, “I’m with Him.” The sheep’s trust is in his Shepherd who gave him protection and led him to green pastures beside still waters. On the day Jesus died, three crosses rose in Golgotha. And Jesus was crucified between two criminals. One of them mocked Jesus. But the other one had a repentant heart of a believer. He asked Jesus “Will you remember me when you come into your kingdom?” Jesus replied, “This day you will be with me in Paradise.” Can you imagine how much those words of assurance helped that man? He knew for sure that in his hour of great need, Jesus would pay the price of his sin and lead him to pastures eternally green. He was now a child of God.. Perhaps he acted just like the sheep did when it approached the pearly gate by gesturing to Jesus and saying that wolf, “I’m with him.” This is the November newsletter and Thanksgiving will be observed on the 23rd. (That day would have been my mother’s 88th birthday.) As with all citizens who gather around Thanksgiving dinner tables, we will have a lot of reasons to offer our thanks. Along with them, many of us will mention our families, or our friends, or our health, or our community. But, as Christians we are most thankful for the precious gift of Jesus Christ. Scripture states “God gave his only begotten Son that who so ever believed in him would have life ever lasting. For God gave his son to the world not to condemn it, but that the world would be saved through Him.” (John 3:16 & 17) Just like the thief on the cross, we do not deserve what God planned and Jesus did for us. These things are a precious gift from God’s hand and we have been changed forever. So, I hope that along with the blessings you will count, there will be a time when you point to heaven and say with a clear, loud voice. “I’m with Him!” Have a safe and blessed holiday R. Carol Kress Gladbrook,...

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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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Monday Morning Musings

It is true, I celebrated a mile-stone birthday. I joined all of the other Baby Boomers who are at least 60 years of age. Thank you for flooding my mail box with well-wishes and laughter. Here are some of the better one-liners – – At 60, your birthday suit requires regular ironing – At 60, fortune tellers begin reading your face instead of the palm of your hand – At 60, the candles on the cake threaten to set off the sprinkler system – At 60, your parties don’t even wake up the dog, let alone cause the neighbors to complain. Now that I am 60 my ideas about older people have changed – a lot. When I was young, I envisioned most 60-year-olds as folks who sat in a rocking chair watching the corn grow. Now I think we should trade in those rocking chairs in for golf carts. The old people that I know are on the go! There are Asian cultures where it is seen as a handicap to be young. The Chinese believe that as a person grows older, they grow in wisdom and resourcefulness. When asked ‘How old are you?’ A 55 year-old might fudge and claim to be 60. Perhaps we need to adopt their point of view. Then we would better resonate with Psalm 90:12 which states, “Teach us to number our days, O Lord, that we might present to you a heart-full of wisdom.” The aches and pains that loom in my future don’t occupy my thoughts as much as you may think. However, I do have a prayer I say daily: “Lord Jesus, help me be true to you by loving and serving you and also your people.” There are days when I am closer to the ideal of this prayer than others. But I hope that by staying persistent with that prayer I’ll be more aware of the coaching God gives to me and I’ll keep moving closer to that goal until my the clock runs out and the game changes. This leads me to an observation and an invitation. If it is true that I have grown wiser over the years, then I have observed that when people pray together big things happen. Therefore I am issuing an invitation for you to pray my little prayer too. I believe that God is up to something and by lining up our desires with his that good things happen. When our Christian family asks God to show us how to best love and serve Him and his people, then something big is going to happen. It has something to do with being his hands and...

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Monday Morning Musings

So, today I want to talk to you about Wildly Important Goals and ask your prayers in helping the church define one. Some know about W. I. G. through the work place. Others who use a Franklin Planner may have heard of them too. And now the Iowa Annual Conference is introducing them to the churches. We are going to be asked to spell out ours in the not-so-distant future. The idea of a WIG is that employees (church members) can only concentrate on one or two big projects over a period of time. At the same time, if the goal is not accomplished, the organization (church) will fall back. When the sole task of the work place is to accomplish this one, big goal, then things change in several ways. Likewise, if all employees have their own W.I.G. (which is a sub-set of the over-arching WIG), then folks don’t work at cross-purposes and the contribution of each team member matters. Workers have a clear focus, understand their role, and recognize their individual importance to the whole workplace. The right W.I.G. might even change attitudes around coming to work every day. Some faithful readers may think I just went off the deep end and I know all this writing is lofty stuff. But I am trying to talk sense. Really. Just think what it would mean if all of us agreed that God could work through a W.I,G. set for our local congregation. Let’s say the goal was “We are meant to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” Breaking down this goal would help us recognize a few obvious things we can do about it right here in Gladbrook. It is possible the church could tale a close look at the ministries we offer right now. Some of our groups might be re-purposed, and other task forces added so we would be more focused in the message of hope God calls us to more clearly of-fer with our church members, in the community and to the world. So, just what might be our Wildly Important Goal? Well, all us know nothing ever stays the same in the life of a Christian nor in the life of a church. We have known many joys and we know too much about struggle. Perhaps the creation of a Wildly Important Goal will help us see the path forward so that our lives will be filled with the knowledge of God and our greater community be blessed through our faithful service. Please join me in prayer and discernment about the W.I.G. God is formulating for us. I look forward to its revelation. R....

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