Blessed to Be a Blessing

     Years ago, as a family we made a conscious decision to always keep open spaces around the Thanksgiving table for guests whom God lays on our hearts. Over the years these may have been recently widowed women or men, or persons we knew would be alone because they had no family nearby, or someone who had no place set for them around anybody’s dinner table.

     This year, as my wife and I pondered our “guest list” for Thanksgiving, I was struck by something Jesus said to a man who had invited him for dinner. “When you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” (Luke 14.13-14)

     If I understand Jesus correctly, then the blessing is based not upon how spiritual or “good” of a person I am, but based upon the fact that people gather around the table that cannot repay us.

Jesus asks us to get way out of our comfort zone and interact with people who are often “invisible” to us. If we truly desire to look at one another the way God sees us, then we begin to see one another not from the perspective of “what’s in it for me if I interact with this person,” but instead appreciate one another as God incarnate, God among us.

 

     This year’s Thanksgiving Day offers us such an opportunity to be blessed by one another, as Reed City UMC will be serving a Thanksgiving feast for anyone in our community who would otherwise be alone, forgotten, or unnoticed. I cannot think of a better way to enjoy Thanksgiving than by serving others, so my family and I will spend Thanksgiving Day with our neighbors at church. I look forward to seeing many from our church family to be there as well.

 

     May you be blessed as you are a blessing to someone else this Thanksgiving!       Pastor Daniel Hofmann

What Size God Fits You?

Ask just about anybody you can think of the question, “Who and what is God?” and you will get many different ideas about the subject back. Why is that? Mostly it is because God is many things to many people. The idea of a “One-Size God Fits All” doesn’t hold much water in real life, simply because our experiences of how we met God and what God has done in us and through us are so immensely different. J. B. Phillips wrote a little book way back in 1952 with the intriguing topic of Your God Is Too Small. I believe this little book and its topic is as relevant today as it was over half a century ago.

Phillips writes that to some people God is a kind old gentleman with a white beard, sitting on the heavenly throne bestowing gifts and favor upon people. This sounds more like someone I know who is believed to live near the North Pole, doesn’t it?

How about the idea that God is a like a tour guide, supposed to show us all the attractions and interesting things in life? We in turn “tip” God according to how good of a time we’re having on our trip.

Perhaps God is in some ways like the parent we once had, or perhaps like the parent we wished we would have had.

Or what do we think about God the almighty rescue ranger, popping out of telephone booths any time we face a personal crisis?

And, just maybe, God is like a broom stuck on a peg in a closet, ready to be let out whenever we need help cleaning up the mess we have made with our life, and once the problem or situation is swept out the door, we put God back in the closet.

So, do ask the question again, how BIG or how small is our God?

Quite often we have created God in our image to such an extent and for such a long time that this kind of God is no longer able to stir up much excitement in our everyday lives. Sunday mornings have grown bland because the God who has become so manageable and so small is no longer any God at all.

But when we begin to cut through the mists of presuppositions and wishful thinking and go out on a limb to encounter the living God face-to-face, it will literally blow us away.

God is first and foremost the God of salvation who sent us Jesus Christ to restore the broken bonds of relationship we once had with our creator. Isn’t it mind-boggling to realize that you and I matter so immensely to God that God is in search of us? We have gone astray and have lost our way, and God, in Jesus Christ, has come to lead us safely home.

Consider this my invitation to gather starting in the second half of October for a Bible study on Paul’s Letter to the Romans. The exact dates and times will follow soon, but I encourage us all to read this exciting letter of the apostle Paul and discover (or perhaps re-discover!) what a life-changing God we serve.

Let us step out of the shadows together and let the God who is in search of us find us. Let us together discover just how infinitely bigger God is than anything we have imagined thus far.

On the journey together with you, Pastor Daniel Hofmann

 

The Relentless Pursuit of Happiness

 

It all started with a half-pound bag of hazelnuts. We were standing in the aisle of a grocery store, picking up said nuts, when my friend asked whether I was sure Brand A hazelnuts were going to be as good as Brand B, or even Brand C.

This led to a lengthy discussion on the pursuit of happiness that so many people struggle with these days. My friend was commenting on the confusion she noticed in many people’s lives when it came to making choices and be content with the ones they had made. “People second-guess themselves constantly,” she said, “about whether or not the job they have now is as good as the other they had interviewed for, or if the relationship they were in now was truly all it was cut out to be, or if it wouldn’t have been better to buy this house instead of the one they’re living in now.”

 

There are two very subtle traps when it comes to dealing with the relentless pursuit of happiness. The first trap is to live life exclusively in the rearview mirror, always wondering about whether one’s choices were the best they could have been.

The second trap is that of living life exclusively in the future, thinking that when we live in this house, or that town, or marry this person, then we will be truly happy.

The problem with both approaches is that we end up not getting much out of life, because we miss out on living life in the present.

 

You don’t need me to tell you that the pursuit of happiness has been wrought with difficulties ever since March 2020. First, we learned about this extremely contagious and often fatal new virus. Then we learned how to live with face masks in public places and how to socially distance from each other. And just when we thought it was finally safe to resume life as before COVID-19, the dreaded virus mutates into several different strains such as the Delta Variant.

 

What is ours to do in this new challenge? The first thing to do is get vaccinated and encourage others to do the same. 90% and more of those entering hospitals with the novel coronavirus are persons that chose not to get vaccinated.

The second thing we can do is to think hard about how we can protect each other. Many of our church friends and neighbors are considered vulnerable due to age or because they are immunocompromised. I do not believe that the question is if the Delta Variant reaches Osceola County, but when. Here is one source of information regarding best practices right now: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/fully-vaccinated.html

Perhaps going back to everyone wearing masks while in church might be the most caring thing we can do for our community.

 

Jesus encourages his followers to “not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? (Matthew 6.25). God knows what we need for our lives, and God provides us with all these things.

 

Making the right choices is important and deserves our careful consideration, but we should never get so wrapped up in chasing after this elusive thing called happiness when it means to miss out living and enjoying life here and now.

 

Caring about you and our communities,

Pastor Daniel Hofmann

 

 

 

Imagine a Church

Dear Reed City UMC Family,

During Sunday morning worship we are presently working our way through several passages from Paul’s Letter to the Church in Ephesus. Paul wrote Ephesians with one basic message in mind: Because we have this new life through Christ, we ought to live a new life through the Spirit.

I was thinking about this recently when I saw the moon, just a sliver, rise above the horizon. Usually all you see is the portion the sun is shining on. On this particular evening I could see the entire moon, albeit somewhat dimly because most of it was in the shadows, but I could see that the whole circle was there. Even when we cannot see it, we instinctively know the whole moon is there. It hasn’t disappeared just because we can’t see it. The same is true about the sun on cloudy days: We may not see the sun, yet we do know it is there.

 

That made me think about God in our lives.

When we see each other on Sunday morning (or any other time), shouldn’t we remind ourselves that in many ways we are looking at Jesus? Isn’t it true that you and I notice more often when we do something that makes us wonder if Jesus really is in me or in you? And isn’t it about time we changed this, for our sake and for the sake of everybody else?

 

It seems that we so easily forget our partnership as Christ followers.

I can’t get through this life without you and yet it is so easy for me to think sometimes, “those around can’t be much help because they still have so far to go.” At the same time, I think of how far I have to go, and feel I can’t be much help to another person either.

Isaiah 62.5 tells us that, “as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you.”

If God, who knows us better than anyone rejoices over us, shouldn’t we rejoice over each other?

So what do we do to change this mindset of ours, and our vision concerning each other? Here is what I need to do more of: I need to pray. The apostle Paul models this so beautifully for us:

I pray that you would be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3.19).

 

You and I stand in the need of prayer every single day for each other and ourselves so that

  - we can rejoice over each other (as does God),

  - you and I keep walking toward perfection in Christ,

  - we will treat each other as saints instead of sinners (as does God),

  - we desire to treat each other the way we deserve to be treated,

  - we will love each other with an everlasting, unconditional love (as does God).

 

Imagine a church family that so much wants to be all we can be and need to be for each other, our community, and our world!

 

Of course, I am very well aware that we cannot do any of these things unless we arefilled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

And so I pray that God will make that happen in us, and with us, and through us, so that our actions towards each other show for all the world to see and believe that Christ lives in us.

 

Thanks be to God for continuing to help us become more and more like Christ.

 

Pastor Daniel Hofmann

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Moving Mountains  by the Reverend Daniel Hofmann

    Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

    As I write this column, I enjoy the warm sun filtering through the windows above our kitchen table. The official start of summer is still a few days away (June 20), and already we are experiencing scorching heat and high humidity. We are grateful to be able to work inside a cool home on such hot days, even though the lugging boxes from room to room, opening them, sorting their contents, and finding an appropriate space to store them seems like a never-ending task. Wava and I have officially moved to Osceola County and are busy getting settled before I begin my work of being your pastor come July 1st .

    We have waited so long for spring and summer to arrive, and the beauty of an awakening Mid-Michigan is almost like a shock at first, especially since we also ever so slowly emerge from a 15-month hiatus caused by this world-wide pandemic. While the warmer temperatures and the badly needed sunshine help boost our overall mood, for many people there are still dark clouds hanging over them, obscuring the ability to fully enjoy life. For some it is the threat of an ailing economy, while for others it may be health issues. Many among our friends and neighbors walk through life bogged down by a heavy burden. Sometimes it is unresolved grief, or the shame felt for a wrong committed long ago, or the bitterness of a broken marriage or relationship. If left unattended, many of these heavy burdens seem to only increase in weight with time, until there comes a breaking point when these burdens reach unbearable proportions. Add to this list the still largely unknown after-effects of social distancing and pandemic-weariness, and we may look to the future together with a cautious sense of optimism.

    You are likely familiar with the saying, “Don’t make a mountain out of a mole hill,” but what are we to do when life has dealt us several hard blows, and we stand facing a sheer unconquerable mountain? Whenever dark clouds seem to gain the upper hand in my life, I remember an event in the life of the British writer Thomas Carlyle. One of Carlyle’s major works is the voluminous French Revolution. Following at least two years of painstaking research and writing diligently day after day, page after page, with a goose quill and inkwell, Carlyle delivered the bulky manuscript bundle to his friend and neighbor, John Stuart Mill, asking him to read the manuscript and comment on it.

    Several days later Mill appeared on Carlyle’s doorstep, visibly shaken and upset over something. As it turned out, Mill’s maid had thoughtlessly used the manuscript pages to light a fire in the fireplace! For days Thomas Carlyle moved about in a stupor. A major part of his life’s work gone up in smoke! He raged, groaned, and declared that never again would he be able to pick up a pen and write.

    Then one morning while gazing over the rooftops of London, Carlyle watched a stone mason build a wall. This huge task was done by tackling the wall bit by bit, one brick at a time. As he observed the man labor with patience and great skill, Carlyle received fresh inspiration and energy. No longer would he spend his days grieving over his great loss. No, he would accept the fact that the manuscript was gone, and then, like the stone mason, he would build his monumental work on the French Revolution again, bit by bit, page by page. In that fashion Thomas Carlyle rewrote his history of the French Revolution, a book that even today is among the world’s greatest literary achievements.

    When I started the long journey of recovery following open heart surgery four years ago, several of the exercise equipment pieces I needed to use in physical therapy faced a wall with a Chinese proverb filling the entire wall: “If you want to move a mountain, begin by carrying away one small stone at a time.” Didn’t Jesus remind us in the gospel of Matthew to “Come, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest?”

    I am excited to be on this journey of rediscovering who we are as Reed City United Methodist Church in the post-pandemic world. The challenges ahead may seem like mountains too big to conquer, but we can face each day with the assurance that the risen Christ is walking by our side, bit by bit, step by step, day by day. May we be encouraged to begin moving the mountains in our lives by carrying away small stones, one at a time.

    Keep looking up: Jesus is here and with us!

    Pastor Daniel Hofmann