Friday, September 30, 2011

Trading In Your Dreams For Another's

People nearing mid-life often crash into some startling and unexpected observations. For instance, we all dreamed big dreams when we were younger. But as we move at a break-neck pace through our twenties, thirties, and forties, we eventually slam head on into the realization that some of our dreams will never be realized.

That observation throws some people into a mid-life crisis. Some don’t make it that far with their aspirations, having already given them up somewhere along the way. Some run into conflict that makes them weary and they settle for less. Still others make bold decisions to trade one dream in for another.

That’s what Joseph did. Talk about dreams! He had some big ones. At seventeen he dreamed his ten older brothers would bow down to him. It’s enough he dreamed that dream. What makes it worse is that he told his brothers about it.

The older brothers already had issues with the younger son. Their father favored Joseph. He had even given him a valuable, multi-colored coat. That’s the modern-day equivalent of a parent of four teenagers giving one an iPhone and the other three a stack of quarters each for a pay phone (assuming they could find one on their travels). The brothers banded together and tossed the dreamer in a ditch, eventually selling him into slavery at the first opportunity. The next thing Joseph knew he was waking up in Egypt.

From there his life was a rollercoaster thrill ride. One minute a slave. The next in charge of an Egyptian official’s house. The next in prison. The next in charge of the prison. Then he found himself in front of Pharaoh, called upon to interpret the leader’s dreams. With God’s help he was able to warn Pharaoh he would have seven years of abundant crops that he should be put in storehouses in anticipation of seven years of famine. Recognizing his wisdom, Pharaoh put Joseph second in command of all of Egypt.

And because of God’s personal involvement in his life, he was was able to save his family. The same family that God was building into a nation. Joseph was in position to bring his family to Egypt and give them the most fertile land to work. And it was definitely fertile. In the time they were there they were “fruitful and increased greatly” (Exodus 1:7).

Joseph could have lost his life getting caught up in the details of his life, chasing his dreams and desires. Instead, he chose a better story. God’s story.

You can do the same. If your life’s dream has stalled, look to God. If your dream now realized is not all you thought it would be, look to God. He can give you another dream. A better one, not according to the world’s standard but God’s criterion. Just like Joseph’s. Then you’ll have a story to tell.

*Taken from the resources for "The Story."

Thursday, September 29, 2011

What's Mine is God's

Abraham took what was most precious to him and surrendered it to God.  He would not hold back even his own son. 

Make a list of 5-10 things that mean a great deal to you.
One by one, offer them to God.

If it is a person, surrender that loved one to God.
If it is a material thing, let God know that God has full access to it.
If it is a talent or ability, tell God you will use it for God.

Take everything and freely offer it back to the One who gave you all you have.

Yowsers!  How hard is it to freely offer everything back to God?!  To truly live by "what is mine, is God's"? 

I'll be praying pretty heavily on this one this week!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Recap: Chapter Two

In Chapter 1 we saw that God has a vision: to be with us.  The community of God wants to extend their community to include us.  The main character of the entire story is God, and the primary leading characters of Chapter 1 were Adam and Eve, two people God created in God's own image.  The plot in Chapter 1 thickens pretty quickly.  God has a vision to be with us, but Adam and Even choose a different vision.  Sin entered into their nature, and that sin seperated them from God and caused them to be banished from the Garden and access to the Tree of Life.

We also learned in Chapter 1 that sin nature is transferred to their offspring, Cain and Abel, and to their offspring, so that every person in this room is conceived in the womb of their mother with the DNA of sin that seperates us from a living and holy God.  This is fundamentally our biggest problem - not our relationships, not the economy, but the underlying issue for all of it is our sin.

We learned last week that the rest of the story of the Bible, as complicated as it may have been for you in the past, is really very simple: it's about God's relentless pursuit to get you and I back.  We also learned that wiping out every person on the earth and starting over with the most righteous man didn't work.  When Noah and his children stepped off the ark, they took with them the sin nature they brought onto the boat, and we saw it come to light just days after they got off the boat.  We learned a clue last week that if there is going to be a restoration to our relationship with God, it will not be found in people.  To summarize, God wants to be with us, and at the end of Chapter 1, God makes a promise that God will provide a way for us to come back.

In every chapter of The Story there are clues as to what God's grand plan is.  Notice the parallel language between Genesis 22:2 and John 3:16 - "Take your son, your only son, whom you love, and sacrifice him" compared to "For God so loved the world that God gave God's one and only son."

Abraham ascends Mount Moriah to sacrifice Isaac.  Most scholars believe that the hill of Moriah is most likely Jerusalem (2 Chronicles 3:1).  It is on the same hill 2080 years after this God's one and only son would be offered up as a sacrifice on a cross, on a hill, in the same place as Moriah.  Except, on the day that God the Father's son was hanging on the cross and the knife was coming down, there was no ram in the thicket.  Jesus was the only, the final, the ultimate sacrifice.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Do I Trust?

God calls each of God's children, at various times, to follow God in ways that are risky and demand faith.  Look at your life and reflect honestly on these scenarios:

**When was a time God called me to step out in faith, but I missed the opportunity?
(Confess this to God and receive God's grace to let it go...)

**When was a time God invited me to take a bold step of faith and I followed God with confidence?
(Thank God for carrying you through that time...)

**Ask God to give you a sense of where God might be leading you in the future.  Commit to follow God, no matter what anyone else might say or think.

Hard stuff, huh?  But important to take notice of in our lives...
I think of risks in my own life when I felt the nudge of the Holy Spirit, pushing me beyond my own comfort zone, desires, or wishes...  New jobs, new towns, new loves, ways that we step out in faith to help others...  God is in all of it!

Where is God leading you today?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Find Your Place

Another great Sunday service yesterday!  The pews were packed, many grandparents brought their little ones, Pastor Penny did a great sermon - as somebody said, "She did a great job 'channeling' Sarah!"

Remember - if you haven't gotten your copy of "The Story" for your household, we still have plenty!  We want everyone to be on the "same page" - literally!  So be sure to get a book from Megan!

Also, we have several opportunities to be involved and in conversation about our weekly readings - ways to ask questions, express thoughts and ideas, and learn with and through others' experiences:

**Sunday mornings, 9:30am, in the Multi-Purpose Room (formerly the Youth Room) - Andrea Larson leads a discussion about this week's reading.

**Tuesday evenings, 6pm, in the Library - Megan Adams takes you to the "Heart of the Story."  This discussion encourages you to find your place in God's grand story.

**Wednesday evenings, 6:30pm, in the Fellowship Hall - Pastor Penny leads a faith conversation into The Story, discussing questions and thoughts on last week's sermon and looking ahead to this week's sermon.

Have another time that would work better for your schedule?  Would you like to lead a small group?  Just let us know!  The more people who find a plce in the conversation, the better!

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Sarah's Laughter - Week 3

"Is anything too hard for the Lord?"

Reflection by Pastor Penny

I sit here and watch them go

hurry, stop them, wait, lets talk again.....

Or you may wonder if I know where they go and for what purpose. Of course I know – no secrets in this small camp, as I listened at the tent door when the angels came, I heard and saw more than most would ever dream… but I assure you that Abraham takes Isaac to the mountain -- with my agreement, no - with my blessing and agreement.

But let me tell you why I am willing to wait on God, to see what might happen with the "Great Promise Maker."

??? Did I laugh???I'm so wearily sad –

I laughed to keep the bitter tears from coming. We've waited too long to see this promise come true. We had long ago left our family home – all of those who raised us, sat at celebration tables, held our memories of how life had been. We were following the promise of God and waiting…

Month followed disappointing month, and year followed disappointing year, and I saw no promise blooming. Gray hairs came, wrinkles multiplied, some limps as my bones aged. And now a rocking chair – for me, not for a baby.

I know I'm the talk of the camp – poor Sarah, barren Sarah, must be cursed to be so childless. God has left her behind. I watch as others become round and full of life – families multiplied tents overflowing. I touch the little ones soft beautiful skin, smell that baby smell and know the waiting empty tent that mocks me.

??? Did I laugh??? I'm too sensible for this kind of nonsense.

I know how the world works, and it's too late for this kind of promise. I'm too old and so is Abraham. I know what people say: cursed Abraham, no child to call his own – no one but his employee to give his fortune and future promise to.

I'm a woman used to doing serious business, managing the camp and those who live with us. As I sort trouble through, I have the idea that Hagar, my maid, could be the one who carries our child of promise. Don't look shocked – this was a way things were done in our world – it makes lots of sense. Maybe that's what God had in mind all along.

And so I directed Hagar, my maid, to go to Abraham, to be with him and to provide the heir. I convinced Abraham and they conceived the baby I could not. As custom directed when she gave birth I was there to receive the baby into my arms. Our inheritance.

But I soon saw how wrong I had been. Her pride and superior attitude, my jealousy, Abraham's confusion. We lived together in growing bitterness and despair.

??? Did I laugh??? I'm too easily tickled! I have a grand sense of humor. Of course I laughed.

I imagine myself in the obstetrician's office with the other 20 year olds – trading tips on how to stay in shape through those last challenging months.

Or shopping at the "Lady Madonna Maternity Boutique" and as I browse through the dresses, the sales woman asking if I'm looking for something for my granddaughter – or one of the great grands perhaps… "Oh, no – for me, I'm due in the spring!"

Abraham and me attending the Lamaze natural childbirth classes and discussing if a doula would be a good idea.

I laughed because babies are not born on the geriatric ward and they are not paid for by Medicare!

I laughed because this is just plain hilarious. I laughed because according to the angel, God's promise was now in delivery mode.

And so, years later, I sit and watch – watch them go over the horizon. I know what is asked, and although I do not know how it will be answered, I trust in the God who makes the impossible happen.

The God who invites laughter.

The God who gives hope.

The God who gives life.

The God who keeps promises.

The God of the impossible.

And you? What does this story mean for you? No matter who we are, what life stage in which we sit, God has promises for us. Are we listening? How will we live into them? How will we reach for the stars and dreams God holds out to us?

Let us pray and listen together.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Surprises in Casting

When the Last in Line Gets Chosen for the Team

The casting agent enters the room with her top picks for the show’s leading man and lady. The new series will follow the spellbinding story of a clan that builds a powerful, world-impacting family tree. This is the pilot, and it is crucial to make the right call on the individuals who will fall in love and launch this Kennedy-like family of influence and fame.

Producers and writers alike have waited breathlessly for this moment, the moment when who they have envisioned as the leading characters will be finally realized in an actor and actress. But when they turn to see who has been tapped for these most special of roles, the thud of their collective jaws hitting the majestic mahogany conference table muffles their mutual groans.

There before their wide eyes, instead of the expected vibrant, young couple with gleaming white teeth and tanned and toned bodies, stand a 75-year-old man and a 65-year-old woman. Not what they had pictured for their production.

And yet, this is what God has chosen. God's screenplay called for a couple to launch a new nation, one that would impact the entire world. As God would say, a nation through whom “all the nations of the earth would be blessed” (Genesis 12:1-3).

Abram and Sarai stand there, adorned perhaps by dusty old robes and crowned with wispy white hair and loosely fitting skin and as befuddled as anyone else. God chose them to begin a nation. An unlikely pair, especially after factoring in the fact that Sarai was barren. How could God expect to start a nation with a woman who could not bear children?

To complicate the story line, it will be 25 more years before they actually have their child of promise. By that time Abram and Sarai will be 100 years old and 90 years old, respectively (and their names will be changed to Abraham and Sarah). Perhaps Social Security checks will help this special couple decorate the baby’s tent and they’ll be able take naps when the baby does. And the rest, as they say, is history. God's story.

God picks people you and I wouldn’t necessarily select to take part in his story. In fact sometimes we are shocked who plays the starring roles in his stories. Unlike the way we do business, God taps people, not merely because of their abilities, but for their availability. God searches for people who are open to be used by him. Since God uses only those who are willing to be used for God's purposes, there is no doubt that it is God who is doing the the wonder- working. Let there be no doubt, throughout history God is the one making things happen.

That’s good news, isn’t it? In the business world, you may not have a great pedigree. In academics, you may not be a Rhodes Scholar. You may not have a lot of money and you may have average looks. But you may be sitting in a pretty good position to be a top pick for God’s work.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

A Walk with God

Take a walk outside and notice the beauty of what God has made.  Look at the intricacies of a leaf or the expanse of the sky.  Thank God for making this amazing world.  As you walk, seek to talk to God as though you were two friends walking in a garden.  Tell God about your life, feelings, joys, and fears.  Ask God to help you learn to walk with God each and every day.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Recap: Chapter One

Quote of the day:  "It says that God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep and he pulled out his brains and made the woman.  That's the way my wife's version reads."

Recap of Chapter One:
God created the world with the grand vision of dwelling together with us in the world.  It is God's supreme passion to be with YOU. 

God gave us freedom of choice.  Adam and Eve chose out of the freedom of their will to eat of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, thus ruining God's vision of dwelling together with us.

Sin was deposited permanently into the nature of Adam and Eve, a virus seperating them from God. 

God banished Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden and set angels to guard it, in order to keep them from the Tree of Life, which would sustain life forever.  Without access to this tree, they would eventually die.  We think God is being cruel by letting us die.  But it's actually an act of God's grace to keep us from being able to sustain our life forever in a state of sin and hatred (thus seperated from God).

Man's choice resulted in seperation from God, and it broke God's heart.  The "rest of the story," the entire Bible, tells us of the relentless pursuit of God and the extent to which God will go in order to get us back.

The flood is God's first attempt to go to great measures to get us back.  But it doesn't work because it doesn't deal with our sin.  Sin goes into the ark with Noah, and it disembarks with him (Genesis 9, not in The Story).

YOU are the point of The Story.  When God replaced Adam and Eve's fig leaves with garments of skin, God gave us a clue as to how far God would go to fulfill God's supreme desire to restore a relationship with us.  Even when we are ashamed and feeling vulnerable, God covers us in order to restore our relationship with God, but covering us requires the shedding of blood.  We are invited to soak in the fact that the God of the universe wants to be with us more than anything on earth, literally.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Reflections on God's Love

Take time this week to meditate on the depth of God's love for human beings.  Why would God keep pursuing us even after we have rebelled and rejected God?  How can you express thanks for God's seeking love?  What can you do to celebrate the good news that God pursues you, even when you are not embracing God's will and desire for you?

Monday, September 19, 2011


Wow!  Yesterday was a day full of blessings and new life!  We welcomed our new members from First United Methodist Church of South St Paul - and what a celebration it was!

We hung the banners that were a gift from First UMC - a reminder of their beautiful stained glass windows, and of their long and amazing history.

We made room - moving over in our seats (179 of us filled the pews!), parking on the street, sharing a smile and a "welcome."  We introduced ourselves and made new friends.

We all began our journey through "The Story" together with our new books!
(Thanks to our Memorial gifts, each family, each teen, and each 3rd-6th grader will receive a copy of "The Story" as a gift from our church.  Praises to God for the ability to do such a thing!)

We all recited the new member vows together - as we became one congregation, on this special day.

And of course...  we celebrated with cake!

A spectacular way to kick off our new year of ministry!

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Great Beginnings - Week 2

THE STORY - Great Beginnings (Genesis 1-8)
Reflection by Pastor Penny

"1 How well God must like you – you don't hang out at Sin Saloon, you don't slink along Dead-End Road, you don't go to Smart-Mouth College. 2 Instead you thrill to God's Word, you chew on Scripture day and night. 3 You're a tree replanted in Eden, bearing fresh fruit every month, Never dropping a leaf, always in blossom."
 --Psalm 1, The Message

There are so many ways that the Bible invites us into the story of our lives. The scripture says it helps us to know how to live by guiding us into the right paths. Wonder how we started out? Just open to Genesis and begin to read.

We begin as the beloved friends of God. The Bible holds our story in ways that let us know how deeply we are loved, how we make dangerous choices, and how God reacts to our disobedience. One of my favorite ways to tell this story is from: YHWH is not a Radio Station in Minneapolis, by Craig McNair Wilson*. (I neglected to give him credit in the sermon.) Here’s my adaptation of his version:

God created the world in wonderful ways – speaking into shape all we see as lovely: sun, moon, stars, mountains, seas, maples-changing-color, ferns, and Star Gazer Lilies. There were underground utilities, snow never fell on the sidewalks and the pets were incredible (as you can imagine!). On day 6, things are not just ‘good’ but “very good.” As God breathed life into Adam and Eve, created in God’s image, God told them to be creative, make a family, and manage the wonderful place - But to stay out of the Banana Grove. It wasn’t that there was anything wrong with bananas – God just wanted to see if they would obey or decide for themselves what was good.

One late morning, as Eve was playing with the pandas, she heard a voice; it turned out to be a banana salesman who said: “You got any bananas?” She replied, “God told us not to touch the banana tree. How about a pomegranate, or some granola?”

“Nope,” he insisted, “I’m a banana man myself, I’m not myself unless I have some every day. I used to be God’s number one man, till I got as smart as God and got kicked out of the organization.”

Eve replied, “Well, God said…”

“Ha!” hooted the Banana Salesman. “God just wants to keep you away from the neighbors’ garden—it’s greener than Eden. And God knows that if you eat the bananas you’ll be as smart as God is.”

And so, because it was long past lunch, because the bananas were right there, and because she was curious about those neighbors, Eve reached out and helped herself. Yum! She picked a huge bunch of ripe yellow bananas and took them home to Adam. Pealed one for him, smiled and handed it over. Big Banana Party – pealing, eating, till they heard God’s voice.

They began to run, knowing how sad God would be. But as they tried to make a quick escape they tripped and fell in all the banana peels. That’s where God found them.

Today we are still slipping because we want to be as smart as God. That’s where God has found us – slipping and falling in the banana peels of our disobedience, laziness, anger, selfishness, stinginess, etc.

It’s very important for us to know just how God acts when God’s friends – we -- walk away from the friendship. We have God’s reaction to the disobedience in Genesis 3:20-24; it’s The Story, page 6, bottom paragraph. There are a number of amazing things God does in response to the disobedience of Adam and Eve. Yes, they receive consequences but God also acts in strong ways to protect them.

First, (my very favorite), is that God makes clothes for them. God doesn’t dump them out in the cold without protection, but we get the picture of something handmade by the master craftsman—a gift from someone who knows them inside and out.

Second, they are taken from the garden. How’s that good? It’s away from the place of even more temptation and eternal trouble. As they would have had the chance then to touch the other forbidden tree, the Tree of Life. To have lived forever in their disobedient way, would have been even farther than God’s best for them.

Third, there’s a guard to keep things the way God knows they should be. An angel, with a flaming sword, is placed in front of the garden gate, just in case the temptation to return is too strong. It’s another way they are kept in a safe place by God.

As we all read The Story I’m glad we’ve had a chance to bless the experience together and begin to draw on this great resource for our future together as a new congregation. We are accepting God’s great invitation to learn and to grow together.


What’s next??? We get a little glimpse in The Story page 12, “God promised the impossible to Abram, and Abram watched as the impossible occurred.” Next week, first person narrative: “Sarah’s Laughter”

This Week’s Aside
What about the things I don’t agree with or wonder about? I’m sure we could all find a reason to stop reading. There’ll be ‘too something’ for all of us.

Timeline: Look at the timelines as suggestions, although the later ones are certainly close to dates when things probably happened. The Story says these are approximate.

Gender Language: I’d like to re-write the whole book to make the language stop reflecting God as having gender. Methodist churches use either NRSV or The Message – both of which are translated, paraphrased, to give us accurate understandings of God as being above gender. Male and female are created in God’s image, so please try to tune out the male pronouns.

*Resource: YHWH Is Not A Radio Station in Minneapolis: And Other Things Everyone Should Know. Craig McNair Wilson. 1983

Friday, September 16, 2011

A Sneak Peek at Chapter One...

God’s Great Passion is to Be With You

Some movies start at warp speed. Case in point: Star Trek. From the opening scene to the end it barely
lets you breathe. If you slipped out for popcorn you were sure to miss something important.

Some think that the way to maximize the movie-going experience is to be in your seat at least 20
minutes early. Never done that? Then next time you go to a movie look around and spot the person that is in the prime seat—dead middle, eye level with the center of the screen. That’s what 20 minutes early gets you. Popcorn and drink in hand, nothing will move this person from their secured spot for the duration of the movie.

That’s where you need to be for God’s story. Its opening scene also starts with a relentless pace that
doesn’t let up. The first line reads, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”
(Genesis 1:1).

Right off the bat we find the main character in the story is not you or me. It’s God. And the rest of
The Story will unfold out of the nature and person of this character. Just ten words in and there is enough action to leave you breathless.

It doesn’t take long to find out what God’s great passion is. Birds? Nope. Animals? Not quite. Sun, moon or stars? Bright guess. No, in Genesis 3:8 we find that God is walking in the Garden with Adam and Eve in the “cool of the day.”  Sounds nice if you are in a hot, humid climate, doesn’t it? And yet the “cool of the day” is not the focus. 

God is, and he is near. He is right with Adam and Eve. And he is right here with us. His simple vision for his creation was to spend time with them every day, to take a walk with them. God’s supreme passion is to be with us.

Some of you have lived your life with the idea that God is some angry cosmic kill-joy who sits in the
heavens and watches you, waiting for you to make a mistake so he can zap you. Or, you feel he is distant and doesn’t care or has simply forgotten you.

But from the beginning he has shown us this is not the case. He wants to be with you. He has not
forgotten you. In fact, this might be the perfect time for you to go for a walk.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Writing Your Chapter Into The Story of Life

If you think Genesis is just a band from the ‘80’s . . .
If you think it was Dr. Dolittle who took two of each animal into a big boat . . .
If you think an epistle is a woman married to an apostle . . .

. . . you may need to know more of The Story.

You may be a bit intimidated by the Bible. You’re not alone; many people are. And no wonder, its pages mention odd names like Jehoshaphat and Nebuchadnezzar. It contains accounts from places you probably never heard of, like Sinai and Samaria. And it seems to be made up of a lot of different, seemingly unrelated stories. But it really is one big, exciting story.

You can see it easily if you open your Bible to the beginning and then flip all the way to the end.
The first words found in Genesis 1:1 read: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”
Then, if you turn all the way to the back of the book, Revelation 21:1, you find, “Then I saw a new
heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away . . .”

In the beginning God is creating the heavens and the earth. At the end he is creating a new heaven and
a new earth. So the big question is this: “What on earth happened between the beginning and the end of the Bible?”

If you can answer that question you will have uncovered the one seamless story of God.

Why not read God’s story with your family this year? Studies indicate if the extent of your child’s exposure to things of the faith is a only weekly visit to church or Sunday School, the likelihood is very great that when she graduates and leaves home her relationship with the Lord will turn cold.

However, if you as a parent engage your children in the experience of reading and discussing the Bible, chances go up astronomically that they will remain strong in their faith after leaving home. You don’t have to be an expert or have all the answers. You just have to be willing to experience it with them.

Get involved in The Story of God. It will forever transform your life and your family’s life. Every day God is seeking to guide you, forming sentences that flow into paragraphs that over time write the chapter of your life––a life committed to knowing him better.

Will you choose today to take your life chapter and make it a part of the Big Story of what God is
doing on earth?

Taken from "The Story" resources, Zondervan 2010

Monday, September 12, 2011

A Great Start to the Year!

Rally Sunday was yesterday - one of my favorite Sundays of the year!

Our kids come back from summer vacations, our adults become more involved once again, our schedule is back on track, everyone's telling stories from their summer...  It's new beginnings and celebrations - just the way we like it!

And this year, we had 155 in worship - a new Rally Sunday record! 

As many of you already know, we are also widening our church family this coming week as we welcome the members from First United Methodist of South St Paul!  This Sunday will be their first official worshipping with us as we all become ONE NEW CHURCH.  Fabulous!

So, just a reminder, with so many new bodies in the building...
*  Be sure to leave parking spaces for our newcomers (Mike and I, and Pastor Penny and Eric will be parking on the street).
*  Scootch over in the pew - and get to know your neighbor!
*  Be sure to grab your nametag and introduce yourself (feel free to use Pastor Penny's favorite phrase, "I don't believe we've met, my name is...").
*  Invite new friends to classes or groups, to fellowship or out to lunch!
*  Smile!  God is blessing this church in amazing ways!

And remember, this Sunday we begin our journey into "The Story" as well - be sure to come and get your book!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Story - God's and Our's

“Every part of Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another –showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes,
training us to live God’s way.”
--2 Timothy 3:16, 17, The Message

Sunday Reflections by Pastor Penny

Church Signs:
(under a huge snow pile) “Whoever’s praying for snow: Please Stop!”
“Google Doesn’t Have All the Answers”
“The Bible is For Everyone to Read: Tech Support Provided here 10:30 Sundays”

That’s us! We are Tech Support for the Bible. I’m so excited – one of my very favorite ways to know about Jesus’ love for us is to listen to the stories in the scriptures. Maybe you’re like me, I have old Bibles, new bibles, I’ve got one in French and a few in the most modern English; some are easier to understand than others.

The point of the gift of the Bible to each of us is to know and to understand the story, and to follow it to deeper life, more joyful and more hopeful, more the life God wants to give us. Which is why we are going to spend this year following "The Story," a chronological telling of a condensed version of the story of God and God’s people. We’ll go from Genesis through Revelation and there will be lots of Tech Support!

Maybe we think only Seminary grads really ‘get’ the story. But I found that even in Seminary there were lots of things I didn’t find out. I always seem to want to know the rest of the story, the footnotes, the Google answers – I call it the ‘behind the page’ details. I understand better now that the Bible is not about sifting through details or getting an A on a test. I see the Bible as God’s love letter to us – it sure sounds different when read that way!

Who’s story is it?
#1) God’s story – referred to in our book "The Story," as the “upper story.” This is the stream of action that helps us to understand how God loves us, who Jesus is, how The Holy Spirit helps and guides.
#2) It’s also our story, for each of us is in this adventure, and is called the “lower story.” This is where we find ourselves and others like us who struggle with anger, loneliness, and rejoice in surprise and grace.

One key to understanding is to know that this is a faith book – not science book, not history book, not cookbook. We look here for truth about God and about ourselves. The Bible describes itself as “God-breathed.” So we have in our hands just what we need to be helped in our lives. You might ask:
1) What about the parts I don’t understand? There are always those, just look for what The Spirit of God wants to show you, to point out, to have you see or remember.
2) What about the parts I don’t believe? Reading the Bible isn’t a loyalty test; it’s an invitation to possibility.
3) Aren’t I just going to find boring rules to ruin my fun? I’ve been really helped by coming
to understand that the boundaries God sets are to guide us into the best life.

Any conversation about faith comes down to the: So what? What do I do now? If the Bible is a guide for my life – how do I get guided? If it’s a hope for the journey, how do I see that hope and feel helped? There is one key ingredient that each of us need to bring to this journey for it to do much good. Time. In many ways, time is the element most precious in our lives.

And what does all this have to do with St. Paul UMC’s new congregation – our merged faith community? I see us as having a deep need for a huge dollop of “Hope-for-the-Merger” in our transition time. Here’s one of my struggles for hope.

As an Arizona girl, I’m used to seeing green year round. Those of you not native desert people don’t realize that if you live with a family of gardeners – my grandmother and my mother -- your world would always be green, front and back yards: 5 grapefruit trees, dozens of amazing Queen Elizabeth rose bushes, walls of flowering jasmine, ranunculus, pansies, Etc!

Imagine my challenge coming here, a new bride with the hope of her own garden. We came in June, and it did look very green. But there is that long, long time of white, frozen waiting. One of our neighbors, a Minnesota gardener, took me under her wing. Carol shared plants, showed me how to work the rich earth and was a great encourager in such a new, unknown place.

So now, after many years as a gardener in this solidly, stubbornly zone 4 MN, I still wonder if ‘it’ will work. With hope, I’ll go spend my gift card at Bachman’s and buy the generous amount of bulbs it will cover. I’ll get Eric to help dig the holes 12” deep. I’ll stir in Bone Meal, a generous Tablespoon per bulb, and then arrange all those unappealing looking bulbs; some you can’t even be sure you’ve got their heads up. Finally, I’ll dump all the dirt back in and water. And wait.

The hardest part of that wait is in the middle of the winter. I’ll look out my living room windows and give a long steady gaze out onto the –20 degrees. I’ll wonder that anything good could possibly happen. It seems impossible! In February, late February, I’ll go see if there is the smallest, tiniest, tip of green. Maybe it could be my favorite: Estella Rijnveld – a parrot tulip, fringed petals with wild red/pink splashed on white. They won’t bloom till May, there’s plenty of time to wait and trust.

So much of our lives are like this. We are in a waiting time.
We don’t see bloom right away.
We plant things that don’t look like they have much potential.
We don’t want to wait.
We wonder if the wait could possibly be worth it.

The Story is God’s and Our's, in it we can come to understand how we are loved and surrounded by God’s best intentions for us, as we are “trained to live God’s way.”