Lenten Reflections

4.22.2011
It is finished…A reflection upon returning home from Haiti

I find Haiti one of the most difficult places to serve.  It was hard for me to be there again.  Perhaps for me, part of the difficulty lies in facing and acknowledging my own shortcomings, weaknesses and sin.  When Jesus spoke those words, “It is finished” –   I think to myself, “But it is not finished; just the beginning.”  Perhaps what was finished was the suffering and death required for new life.   I realize that whatever I struggle with, sacrifice or give is nothing when compared to the struggles and sacrifice of Jesus.  His mission to show us the depth of God’s love and mercy wasn’t finished but just the beginning of what He expects of us.

As I reflect back on the week serving in Haiti (April 1-8) and think about Easter approaching, I realize that the only hope for Haiti is resurrection- new life.    In the year since I was in Haiti following the earthquake, there is still devastation and rubble in many places, still tent cities, and still the poor masses; but there are also many glimpses of new life taking place. As I think about last week, I am reminded of the places where resurrection is taking place.  Life continues around and despite of the destruction.  Security walls are being rebuilt; schools and churches repaired.   Returning to College Bird, no longer is there a structure ravaged and fractured – the rubble has been removed and temporary classrooms give students an opportunity to learn.  A year ago at Grace Hospital, a malnourished infant boy lay in a crib in a military tent because the buildings were crumbling and unsafe.  His face remained with me as I worried and wondered if he died.  During our tour of the new temporary structures, Roberson shared that he too thought Paulo would not survive; but was thrilled to share that his health improved and the mother that had abandoned him returned to take him back three months later.   New life and hope for a future.  On Tuesday with the announcement of the new president, you could see the sense of hope in the celebration of the people in the community.  A chance for changes where corruption and oppress end and new opportunities and hope may exist for the Haitian people.

Our mission in Haiti was finished; but it is not finished for Haiti as it is not finished for us.  When He said “It is finished”, Jesus may have only been referring to the fact that his death accomplished the mission that God had sent him.  But his resurrection meant so much more – new life and hope!  The love I have can never compare to His love for the world yet I know that I am called to share His love with others.  So how do I embody and share this incredible love?  I’m afraid I don’t always do it well.  But I will continue to try because I am one of the Easter people.

The hope for Haiti is the resurrected Christ; the hope for all of us is found in His love.  May you continue to share the hope and love of the resurrected Christ with others in all you do.

-Paulette West, Executive Director
UMVIM, SEJ

4.15.2011

 God’s Mysterious Plan

Paul speaks of God’s mysterious plan many times in his letters.

“No, the wisdom we speak of is the mystery of God – His plan.  1 Corinthians 2:7

“Pray for us, too, that God will give us many opportunities to speak about His mysterious plan concerning Christ.”  Colossians 4:3

Check out the other places where Paul mentions “God’s Mysterious Plan” by name. (Colossians 2:2, Ephesians 1:19, 3:3, 6:19)

In hindsight, we know that God’s mysterious plan for us and the world involved a cross, an empty tomb and a surprising climax – the Resurrection of Jesus Christ!

So, what does this mysterious plan of God mean for us now?  Well, many things and… everything!

But let me mention just two right here as we move through Holy Week.

First it means God is in control!

“We can make plans, but the Lord has the last word.”  Proverbs 16:1

The religious leaders and the Roman authorities wanted to shut Jesus up and get rid of him.  Much like the Dictators are doing against the protestors right now in the Middle East in places like Libya, Bahrain, and Jordan.  They tortured Jesus.  They crucified him and he was buried.  They thought it was over.  But God always has the last word!

The fact is, we like to think we are in control most of the time.  But the reality is quite different – we control very little.  We can’t change the past or predict the future.  We cannot make people like us, love us or act the way we want them to.  We can’t keep family or friends from getting sick or from dying.  We certainly don’t control the economy or influence world events.

Do you know the definition of stress?  It is trying to control what you can’t control.  The only thing you can control is your response to what happens.

On the other hand, God is in total control!  God has absolute power!  And I believe that God has given us the freedom of choice to trust Him (…or not).  I believe that His mysterious plan reveals to us through the events of Holy Week His awesome power is available to us – for those who choose to accept it and use it.  “I pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe Him.  This is the same mighty power that raised Christ from the dead.”  (Ephesians 1:19-20)

So what does the story of the cross, the empty tomb and the resurrection mean for you and me? Though we are not in control of a great many things.  God is in control, and we can trust Him.  And by His mighty power we can choose to respond to our circumstances, challenges and problems in ways that will help us to be victorious in our journey through life.  We can be “more than conquerors” (Romans 8:37) through our Risen Savior.

Secondly, God’s mysterious plan as revealed through the Resurrection of Jesus specifically means that God always keeps His promises.

 “God is not a man, so he does not lie.  He is not human, so he does not change his mind. Has he ever spoken and failed to act?  Has he ever promised and not carried it through?”  (Numbers 23:19)

In Luke 24:6-7, when the women went to the tomb on early Sunday morning that first Easter day, the tomb was empty and there were two angels sitting in the tomb.  They said to the women, “He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead! Remember what he told you back in Galilee,  that the Son of Man must be betrayed into the hands of sinful men and be crucified, and that he would rise again on the third day.”

Jesus had told them in advance what would happen.  And now he was keeping his promises!

The Lord promised us life with Him in the hereafter (1 Peter 1:4-5 and Luke 22:42-43) and life with him in the here and now (John 10:10 and Matt 11:28-29).  Jesus had told them the truth.  God’s myserious plan involved a cross, an empty tomb and the Resurrection…all part of God’s mysterious plan concerning Christ.

The Good News of God’s Mysterious Plan (Holy Week and Easter) is that God is in control and God always keeps His promises!  If we want to experience God’s Mysterious Plan for our lives then the big questions for us are quite simple:

Are we going to acknowledge that God is the only one in control and that we can trust Him?

and

Do we believe that God has kept and will keep his promises for us in the hereafter and the here and now?

If you answered both of those with a “Yes” then you are moving forward in “God’s mysterious plan” for your life!

Just remember this – saying “yes” to God’s mysterious plan for your life will mean taking risks as you step out into the great adventures of ministry, mission and service in the Name of Jesus Christ!

Dr. Lester Spencer
Senior Pastor
Saint James UMC
President, UMVIM, SEJ

4.8.2011

“Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus.”-Philippians 2:5

I returned home from a UMVIM trip to Nicaragua a couple of years ago on Ash Wednesday.   Going through three airports we saw several people who had attended Ash Wednesday services that day and had the sign of the cross placed on their forehead with ashes.   It was incredibly cool to be going through security, or the baggage claim or customs and look up and see someone with the cross on their forehead – letting me and everyone else they encountered know that they were a Christian.

I’ve thought a lot about that day since then.  We may not walk around everyday with the sign of the cross on our forehead- but each of us walks around representing our risen Savior every day.  What do our actions, our reactions, our attitudes and our speech show everyone we encounter about our faith?    Would the only way someone might know we are a Christian be by the Ash Wednesday cross on our foreheads?    Or – can they tell by the way we treat others?  Can they tell because of our actions?  The words we speak?  Our attitudes?

There’s no better time than during the season of Lent to examine our attitudes and actions and to reflect upon how well we are representing Jesus Christ in our daily lives.

-Rev. Daphne Moses, Northside UMC, Jackson, TN
Daphne serves as the Memphis Conference Volunteers in Mission Coordinator and serves as Secretary on the Board of Directors for UMVIM, SEJ.

4.1.2011
We are about halfway through the Lenten season, and I know there are many people out there who are probably dreaming of chocolate bunnies or a large Coca Cola. During this time when it is easy to focus on what we have given up, and count down the days until we are able to reunite with those little things that we love, it is helpful to shift our thinking towards how, in the void of simple pleasures, we can be fulfilled spiritually.

The Upper Room’s devotional today started with a quote from Tyler Blanski’s  Mud & Poetry, stating, “The idea behind spiritual transformation is that, in Christ, we become like Christ. Because of the grace of the gospel of God and the activity of the Holy Spirit, we can embark on a lifelong process to become more like Christ. This kind of transformation always involves the whole of life. It gives form to the Christian life. And this is something I want desperately. I want a life in Christ where Christ ties together every loose thread of my varied interests and responsibilities into a single whole.”

The giving up of little extras in our life can be viewed as, rather than sacrifices, blessings that bring us into a more holistic understanding of our faith and spirituality. One of the things I love to do in life is to run, mostly because it is one of the only times of day when I don’t have my phone within arm’s reach and I can solely focus on God. One of my best friends convinced me to run a marathon last spring and so often during that training I wanted to give up. Eventually though, I realized that just because things were hard did not mean that  I needed to quit; my prayer became, “God, it’s hard right now, and I really want to quit, but I know that you’ll give me the strength that I need to get through it”. This prayer carried over from my training to my everyday life, which is especially helpful during Lent while we are anxiously awaiting the glorious end, on Easter morning.

-Maria Underwood, Office Manager

3.25.2011
“Give me a lively faith, a firm hope, and perfect charity.” -Clare of Assisi

Admission: my life sometimes feels like a rollercoaster.  There are moments I posses a deep faith and trust in Christ, but then mundane daily happenings occur, or a crisis strikes, and my heart races.  I begin to fill my life with tasks, people, stuff to occupy my mind and create a focus on what “I can do to fix it.”

Inadvertently, through brief moments, I halt in believing that Jesus is who He says He is, and that I am who He says I am.  I halt in believing that God is at work and is working for the good of His people–Becoming like the Israelites-losing sight of the promises and dwelling on current hardships, as they did in the desert thirsting for water (Exodus 17:1-7).

It shows my selfishness and sinful humanity. It takes the focus off of the bigger picture of responding to Christ’s love through service and worship. Serving Christ through combatting poverty, providing clean water for all, healing the sick, comforting those who mourn.

Admission #2: I love my job. Daily I receive stories and pictures from volunteers who are selflessly serving and showing Christ’s love in action.  So,thanks to all of you who are serving and daily reminding me of the bigger picture–And that sometimes life might seem like a rollercoaster, but that God is at work for the good of His people.

“…And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.”-Romans 5: 2

Faithful God of love, you blessed us with your servant Son so that we might know how to serve your people with justice and with mercy.  We gather the needs of ourselves and others, and offer them to you in faith and love, seeking to be strengthened to meet them.
(Revised Common Lectionary Prayers copyright 2002)

-Cristin Farrington, Communication Director


3.18.2011
We here at UMVIM, SEJ live by the motto, “Transforming the World through Christian Love in Action” and we are continually humbled by the ways you, our volunteers, actively attend to the needs of the world.  You are movers and shakers- meeting needs, getting things done and loving your neighbors as yourselves!

However, in this season of Lent, as we prepare our hearts and minds for new life found in the promise of Easter, many of us still find ourselves surrounded by the ashes and ruin. Our hearts ache for our brothers and sisters who face unspeakable destruction and turmoil in Japan, Bahrain, Libya, Egypt and Haiti while we also struggle with sorrow, uncertainty and death in our own lives. Like the Psalmist, we lift our eyes up to the hills and ask, “from where will [our] help come?” (Psalm 121:1). We are often frustrated by our inability to bring resolution to our troubles and the seemingly insurmountable troubles of the world.

As I write this, I am fighting the temptation to “skip ahead” to Easter, to give you the Good News that death does not have the final word and that soon our suffering will be eased. To be sure, I believe it and hold on to that abiding hope, but I also believe that Lent is an invitation to re-orient ourselves to the world, to attend to the suffering, to sit with it and to mourn it. It is a call to pay attention and recognize the places in our lives and in our world that are crying out for comfort and healing.  It is a time for patience and belief that out of the ashes and ruin will come transformation.

O God, in mystery and silence you are present in our lives, bringing new life out of destruction, hope out of despair, growth out of difficulty. We thank you that you do not leave us alone but labor to make us whole. Help us to perceive your unseen hand in the unfolding of our lives, and to attend to the gentle guidance of your Spirit, that we may know the joy you give your people. Amen.
(UMC BOW #464)

-Lauren Roden, Program/Development Director

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