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Monday Morning Musings

“For we walk by faith, not by sight.” 2 Cor. 5:7 There at the top of my book case is a little engraving of that verse inside a frame. It was given to me by church members in Williamsburg. They tucked it into a moving box that went with me to Decorah. The Williamsburg church was about to make an important decision about the old church building and what to do to accommodate the growing congregation. So when I saw the engraving I smiled. The verse provided to us encouragement and assurance that God was indeed, unfolding the map as that church and I walked forward. Little did they know that within five years their congregation would worship in a new building. Little did I know about my future too. I had no clue that during the summer of 2013 God would transplant me once again. This time to Gladbrook. My goodness, since the time of my arrival a lot of water has gone under the bridge. We have some terrific new church members. We have said “good-bye for now” to great Christians who have entered into eternity and are now a part of the company of Saints (including my mother). Our ministry through missions keeps evolving and touching new places. The leaders of Sunday school and the Community Kid’s Club ministry have expanded and grown in confidence. And the children have grown too. Although we are in the midst of changes inside of our beloved denomination, there is stability here. The general mood of our church is lighter, yet it has energy, don’t you think? Moving always pulls on the strings of our hearts too. When I am packing for the moving van, I want you to know that the good friendships, great memories, and experiences God has given to us are being packed for the journey and will not be forgotten. Thank you for being such a faithful Christian community and great friends of mine. The blessing of our denomination is that I am confident Rev Gideon and Jhonna Gallo, (Ruthie and Josh) will lead and serve here with all of their hearts, minds, strengths and wills. It will be awesome to have a family in the parsonage and to be with them as they learn the ropes. Let’s all be mindful that Pas-tor Gideon and his family are “walking by faith and not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7) too. So I am confident you will do your best to work with the Gallo family and bring to fruit whatever God has intended for the Gladbrook church and community. Let me complete this final musing with something I wrote a long time...

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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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Monday Morning Musings

(this Musing borrows from a meditation written by Rev Dr Deborah Stowers, Sr. Minister of the Mount Pleasant UMC. in 2013) These days boxes have taken a new priority in my life. These two eyes can spot and focus upon an empty one from blocks away. Packing peanuts are new treasures too. My appearance may seem to be calm but the voices in my mind have not stopped planning or figuring. They are constant. “Oh, this sturdy box would be good for nick knacks.” “Can a group of small boxes be combined to fit into a bigger one?” “Can I spare this box to use for my Goodwill donations?” “How many boxes of annual tax forms do I truly need to keep?” Yesterday I happened to notice an imprint on several boxes and I was reminded of something Rev. Stowers shared with me. The imprint is a ‘box certificate.’ It contains important information that is helpful to read and follow. It addresses how much can fit in the box, what weight can be safely carried inside of it and how much can be piled on top of the box without crushing. Look at the boxes you have stored in the closet and you might find a certificate too. Apparently the manufacturers of boxes have set standards that report the strengths and limitations of each box. If I were to try packing a drum (25 inches tall) in a box sized at 24 inches, I will be out of luck. And, when I start a new stack of boxes in the side room it’s good to know that they can withstand 32 lbs/sq. inch without falling flat as a pancake and spilling my precious valuables all over the floor. When a carton has a weight limit of 65 lbs before the bottom drops out, a person must pack accordingly. Now you can just imagine why Rev. Stowers felt it was important to tell me about box certificates and how to read them. Human beings do not have a “human certificate” stamped upon our body. But just think how handy it would be to have that information and to know one’s strengths, abilities and limitation before hitting that red zone where they are in danger of being surpassed. Of course people can stretch and grow and change, but there re-main limitations. We may not have this information handy, but God knows us better than we know our-selves. There is a certain amount of stuff we are capable of containing without bursting. The pressure of those things others pile on top of us can only go so high. God has no intention of allowing the bottom to...

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Monday Morning Musings

Have you used the old expression “Would, you help me out because I’m still in the dark?” Or, have you asked someone to “enlighten” you? Not long ago I attended a class where a lamp stand was passed around, and when someone had a good idea they were encouraged to pull the chord and turn on the light before sharing with the others. The metaphors of light and dark are common in use. And that’s been true through the ages. The Gospel of John explains that Jesus is the Light of the World. All of us understand the importance of light and just what this description of Jesus Christ means So, it isn’t hard to catch onto the depth of despair described in the Gospels as they tell of the death of Jesus. This terrible event was accompanied by darkness that fell across the land at midday. And there was the blackness of the tomb that was sealed with the stone. While I do not know fact, many dramas depicting this event will accompany the telling with murky skies, lightening and mud. Those who were witnesses of these events were left with destitute spirits. The contrast between light and dark or day and night is something I have pondered for a long time. Recently it led me to attempt to find a place where I could experience total blackness. I tried to find a spot outside, but even when I tucked into a shadowless cavern there was light. I tried shuttering myself into an interior room of the house, but even with all bulbs off, light crept under the door. Once, I thought I found a place where I would be in total darkness, but my eyes adjusted, and I saw dusky impressions. So after my failed attempts I returned to scripture with a renewed understanding that light has the qualities of persistence and endurance. It is no wonder when Jesus was described as “the Light of the World” or the “Light of Life” the metaphors are so powerful for me. It is no wonder they are linked to the Easter promise of eternity within the light of his presence. Well, I’m yet not done with my study of ways the two terms, (darkness and light), are used in the Gospel of John, the New Testament and the theology they present But since I’ve spent all this time pondering, I am even more thankful for the gift of light and life Jesus Christ brought to a dull and dying world. My prayer is that all of us will remember the importance of his gift as spring returns to our world, or each time the...

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Monday Morning Musings

Do you remember the musical ditty used by the Army which beckons “Be all that you can be. You can do so in the Army.” That’s a call which sounds to many more people than just the recruits. What would your life look like if you were living your best life? What are the obstacles to living that way right now? Can anything be done about them? These are big questions. But they are inspirational questions too. When one is mindful of a desire to live one’s best life now- then that same person is not easily swayed off course. What would it mean to be part of a church that was living its best life? In other words, are we striving for excellence in all that we teach, share and do in service of Christ and his kingdom? I have a friend who in high school was quite musical. He played multiple instruments and went on to study music at the U. of Iowa. He is a music director at a large school in Milwaukee today. My friend says. “I told God I’d do anything God wanted of me except be a high school music teacher.” He said, “The reason I didn’t want to do that was because too many teachers and kids in our school music department just want to get by and get a grade. I wanted to take music seriously. Later God told me it was just because of my desire for excellence that I was being called to be a teacher of music. My purpose was to raise the bar and instill the a desire for excellence in the hearts and lives of high school students. Excellence is worth striving to achieve in the church. It’s worth it with regards to our own discipleship too. Our membership vows urge us to support the church through our prayers, presence, gives and service. I believe members of the Gladbrook UMC care enough to do these things to the best of our abilities and to strive to set the bar a little bit higher. The best place to start the process is by offering prayers to God, asking for guidance in the days ahead. When we have a spirit of prayer surrounding us, God can move in a powerful way. Have an excellent week and all of us hope to see you in church very soon. (Phil 4:8-9) R. Carol Kress Gladbrook,...

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Blessed are the Meek, the Merciful, the Pure of Heart.

Scripture: Matthew 5:5-12  Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven. Blessed are those who mourn: for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek: for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness: for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful: for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they will be called children of God Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Thoughts:  Over the past month I’ve been opening my Bible and reading through the Beatitudes twice a day. It doesn’t take long but I have found a lot of food for thought by doing this so often. My inspiration to take up this practice was when I learned that Ghandi read the Beatitudes twice a day too. He was not a Christian, but he still had great respect for these words of Jesus. It has been said that he founded his non-violent movement for peace and justice upon the Beatitudes.. By reading through them daily I have also been struck by their beauty and insight. They are a mission and vision statement, authored by Jesus, for Christians and the church through all ages. Just think what would the world be like if every Christians was meek, merciful and pure in heart. How would you be challenged, if Christ called you to be both a peace-maker and a defender of righteousness? Over the course of the month I think I see the Beatitudes leading me to be a bridge builder who is meant to carry the message of a “third way.” It is a way that moves Christians beyond the “me vs. them” wrestling matches into which we fall, and seeks to span the distance between us. I really want to do this even though I know bridge-building is hard work. Richard Rohr says, “The joy of serving as a bridge is that you get walked on by both sides. But the goal of being a bridge is to end strife by creating an opportunity for a transformation of the heart.” That may be lofty thinking for Friday morning. Still, Jesus is using the Beatitudes to take me on a journey. While the focus of Christianity may be to gain converts, there is another equally...

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Monday Morning Musings

So, yes. Bishop Laurie Haller will appoint me to be the next District Superintendent of the North Central District in Iowa. Wow, just typing those words causes me to swallow hard and blink twice. There were few things the Bishop could offer to me that might cause me to consider leaving Gladbrook. But God showed her one. The five years I have spent here have been good years for me and, I pray, also for you. You have risen to some interesting challenges and taken on a few new projects. God has called us to venture outside of the church doors and to be his agents in this community. We have touched new lives and hearts with the love of Jesus. It seems like the light is a little brighter. (And that’s not just because the Trustees have found out the best bulbs to use here.) I believe the church is growing toward the Light. The lighted city upon a hill is a descriptive phrase found in the beatitudes. Jesus tells his listeners, ‘You are the light of the world, a city that is set upon a hill cannot be hidden.’ (Mt. 5) This verse was used by John Winthrop, the 17th century Puritan, as he cast his vision of a new society for the colonists who were leaving ship and setting foot on American soil. While anchored in Boston Harbor, on the Arbella, Winthrop shared that vision. He saw their new city becoming a Christian model of communal charity, affection and unity for all the world to see. We may not use the same terms, but we understand their meaning. Charity is an old word for aiding or assisting one who needs help or support. Affection describes a gentle feeling of fondness within a relationship. And unity is a desire for all people to be included, respected and protected. I think it’s interesting that John Winthrop, known as a great Puritan preacher, focused his vision upon the way society should be ordered but he did not speak of a personal relationship with God. Maybe he did that in other speeches. Or he believed that the way Christians treat other is a clear indicator of their relationship with God. If John Winthrop came to Gladbrook, I think he would cast a similar vision for the church. He would call you a shining city upon a hill. Returning to those old terms he would see you as Christ’s agents of charity, affection and unity right now. Surely we can agree that these qualities are desperately needed as darker forces try to pull us apart. Furthermore, he would add a word in the description of our...

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