Who Will We Invite This Thanksgiving?

It seems only appropriate that as you read the November issue of our church newsletter we talk about hospitality and Thanksgiving.

 

During the month of October we have searched for “Treasures of the Transformed Life,” and one of the treasures we found was the acknowledgement that it’s not about us, but about one another. We were challenged to shift the focus off ourselves as individuals and focus on the people around us by looking at one another as God sees us.

 

That is easier said than done, isn’t it?

 

As I think about Thanksgiving, I have been challenged anew to ask the question, “Who will we invite to our Thanksgiving table?” Let me explain.

As a family we made a conscious decision years ago 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 other people who had no place set for them around anybody’s dinner table.

 

This year, my wife and I have been invited by our youngest child to join him in his new living space, and he was wondering who else he might want to invite from his new neighborhood. 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 we are, but based upon the fact that people who cannot repay us in any form, shape, or whatever, gather around the table.

 

Jesus asks us to get 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.

 

Keep looking up: God is here and now!

May you be blessed as you are thinking about how to be a blessing to someone else this Thanksgiving!

 

Pastor Daniel Hofmann

 

MAKING THE MOST OF OUR TIME

Our newsletter editor reminded me in no uncertain terms that I was once more holding up the presses, so I better get moving and write this month’s column.

The funny thing about the word “deadline” is that it did not originate in the newspaper world but has its origin in the American Civil War.

Congressional Records first mention the word in 1864. It states that the guards at the notoriously brutal Confederate military prison at Andersonville drew a line on the ground around the perimeter of the compound, a uniform seventeen feet inside the prison walls. Any prisoner crossing over that line was presumed to be trying to reach the wall in order to escape and was summarily shot. This boundary was known succinctly as "the dead line."

All I can say is that I am glad our newsletter editor (thus far) has not drawn a line on the ground for me!

But this looming “deadline” to write my column got me thinking about time management in general. As a United Methodist pastor I am well aware of our denomination’s founding father’s admonition to “not trifle away time.” In his “Rules for a Preacher’s Conduct,” John Wesley gave several practical guidelines: “Be diligent. Never be unemployed: never be triflingly employed. Never trifle away time: neither spend any more time at any place than is strictly necessary.”

Theses guidelines are certainly not only applicable to clergy but hold true for all of us. I am thinking of a passage in Paul’s letters to the Ephesians, where the following words literally jump off the page and beg to be applied in our daily lives: “Don't waste your time on useless work, mere busywork, the barren pursuits of darkness. Expose these things for the sham they are. It's a scandal when people waste their lives on things they must do in the darkness where no one will see. Rip the cover off those frauds and see how attractive they look in the light of Christ.

   Wake up from your sleep,

   Climb out of your coffins;

   Christ will show you the light!

So watch your step.

Use your head.

Make the most of every chance you get.

These are desperate times!”                             (Ephesians 5.11-16, The Message)

 

Neither Christ, nor Paul, nor John Wesley ever understood church as something to be “played” at, but as an organism that was alive and kicking, being busy in the pursuit of making the Kingdom of God a reality on earth.

May this column about deadlines, and not wasting our time encourage us once again to not be content with merely playing church but to go out there and BE THE CHURCH!

 

In the awesome name of our Savior,

Pastor Daniel Hofmann

 

 

 

 

I  REMEMBER  SEPTEMBER

On a picture-perfect day on a Lake Michigan beach, walking barefoot in the sand at the edge of white-capped waves, I couldn’t help but remember September.

For starters, September has a lot to do with change. The air turns a lot crisper in the morning, and the leaves on trees slowly begin to display an artist’s palette of warm colors as summer fades and autumn enters. Children walk down our sidewalks, some eager, some reluctant and sullen, as a new school year has begun. Churches experience fuller sanctuaries and a return to busier schedules as people settle into a more structured life following the enjoyment of a great summer.

Thus I remember September as I walk along a beach in Northern Michigan. My eyes and my ears soak in the tremendous sights and sounds of the world around me, and the wish that this perfect moment would last forever gently flows and ebbs in my sub-conscious mind. But my heart knows this moment is fleeting, and my rational side reminds me that I do not live in a perfect world.

I remember September walking along the beach and watching my feet make footprints in the wet sand. Occasionally I see another person’s footprint here and there scattered among the higher ground where the waves have not been able to erase these fleeting traces of another human being’s existence yet.

I remember September because on the eleventh day of this month 21 years ago, nearly 3,000 lives ceased to exist in the blinking of an eye, and thousands more lives have been lost since in the aftermath of that tragic day.

And suddenly I am no longer alone on the beach but am surrounded by the footprints of almost 3,000 women and men. They remind me that each one of us leaves footprints behind. The waves of time do erase all our visible footprints, just like my footprints will be erased when the waves wash over them, but I am not referring to visible footprints alone.

There are the lives of those who walked before us that have left footprints in our hearts. A person’s encouraging words or a simple act of kindness leave indelible prints upon our lives. Likewise, the hurtful things a person has said or done will leave permanent footprints on our hearts and minds as well.

Of the nearly 3,000 human beings that died September 11, 2001, 19 of them will be remembered for the part they played in the deaths of all the others. The other 2,977 women and men will be remembered by their spouses, their children, their families, their friends, and others, for the words they said or did not say, and the things they did or didn’t do.

Come; take a walk with me on the beach. Feel the sand beneath your bare feet. Let’s turn around and look at our footprints in the sand before the wind and the waves erase them. Is anybody following our footprints? And, more importantly, will their lives be better because of the invisible footprints we made in their hearts and minds?

I remember September, and I am more determined than ever to make footprints that leave a lasting and positive impression for those who know me and love me.

Making footprints for eternity with you,

Pastor Daniel Hofmann

 

 

God’s Perfect Pitch

I want to talk to you about pitching. I am not talking about pitching for just any old team, but pitching for God’s team. And the pitch I have in mind has very little to do with baseball, but a lot with prayer.

 

The longer I follow Jesus as a disciple, the more I am convinced that one of the top ingredients for effective and relevant churches today is that of being and staying in tune with God. Prayer is how we as followers of Christ and as churches get in tune with God. Leonard I. Sweet in his book, Faith Quakes, writes “that our body is an instrument, tuned for the right pitch, which is God’s pitch.” Sweet uses the image of a Christian holding a tuning fork in one hand, and a pitchfork in the other hand. The image of the pitchfork may be rather obvious. Leonard Sweet writes that “a true prayer is not something one does with one’s lips but what one does with one’s life.” The Christian life is a life in action. We proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ not only with our lips, but also by what we do with our hands, our bodies. We are familiar with the saying that “action speaks louder than words.”

 

By the same token, though, one cannot support with one’s body what has not been discerned in and through prayer. To engage in Christian action without any sense of direction and purpose is to be a mere busybody. Hence the tuning fork.

We get out of tune with God’s perfect pitch quite easily. Christians aren’t immune to sin, those acts of willful and conscious disobedience to God’s love and grace.

 

Prayer becomes the instrument whereby we lift our lives toward God and get in tune with God’s will for our lives (and for our churches). By ourselves we will fail in this endeavor; but when we keep our eyes on Jesus we can get back in tune with God. To quote from Leonard Sweet’s book again, “Jesus is our tuning fork for the eternal. Jesus is God’s Perfect Pitch.”

 

My sincere wish is that we are willing to seek God’s heart and mind this summer and beyond. By striving to attain God’s Perfect Pitch, we can be tuned for constructive and body-building harmony as God’s people here in Reed City and far beyond.

 

What do you think could happen if Reed City UMC committed itself to weekly prayer meetings and to a sincere and fervent prayer life of its people? Don’t keep your thoughts to yourself; share them with me and talk with others about what you are going to do with your prayer life!

 

Praying with you, and for you,

Pastor Daniel Hofmann

 

 

Everybody, Somebody, Anybody And Nobody

Recently I was cleaning o_t my email inbox and noticed how many of the messages contained the word ‘appeal’ or req_est for help’ in the s_bject line.

This got me to thinking abo_t the nat_re of the ch_rch. What makes a ch_rch a congregation of disicples of Jes_s Christ?

In the _nited Methodist Hymnal we find hymn #558 which reads, in part, that “The ch_rch is not a b_ilding, the ch_rch is not a steeple, the ch_rch is not a resting place, the ch_rch is a people.”

 

The Apostle Pa_l shared that same sentiment when he wrote in 1 Corinthians 12 that “j_st as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, tho_gh many, are one body, so it is with Christ. … The body does not consist of one member b_t of many. … Yo_ are the body of Christ and individ_ally members of it.

 

Ok, I think yo_ have by now ca_ght on to what I am _p to. Like our typewriters of old, where once in a while a key got st_ck and wo_ldn’t strike the ribbon, so I have omitted the letter YOU up to this point. I am sure you understand by now that the Reed City _nited Methodist Ch_rch cannot be complete if YOU are missing at every turn!

 

Let me tell you a story about four people named Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody.

 

There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that, because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realized that Everybody wouldn’t do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have.

 

A cheesy story, I know, but oh, so true! I draw your attention to this month’s Leadership Team Update, and encourage you to think about what we have written there about A Note on Leadership Team Direction.

Surely it cannot be that a few dedicated and willing persons wear themselves out in the service of the entire congregation! At the beginning of this article I quoted from hymn #558, and I close out my reflections with the refrain of the hymn.

I am the church!

YOU are the church!

WE are the church together!

ALL who follow Jesus, all around the world!

Yes, WE ARE THE CHURCH TOGETHER!

 

I look forward to working side by side together in being and becoming the Reed City United Methodist Church!

In Jesus’ Name,

Pastor Daniel Hofmann

 

When Jesus Calls Your Name

Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” (which means Teacher).   John 20:16

Of the four Easter accounts in the New Testament, the one in John’s gospel is the most personal to me.

When I think of all the times when I stood in the presence of Jesus the Christ, but was entirely unaware of his presence, that is to say, when I did not recognize him as such, I know only too well the conflicting emotions raging through the hearts of Jesus’ disciples.

Peter and John are scared, confused, and bewildered by what they see and hear and touch, and yet cannot believe.

Mary Magdalene, on the other hand, meets the risen Christ but is so overwhelmed by her grief that she does not recognize him for who he is. She takes him to be the gardener and wants to know what had been done with her Lord’s body. Only when Jesus directly speaks her name does she become aware in whose presence she stands.

What power there is in a name! I tend to think our parents put considerable thought into naming us. And even if we end up with a popular name that is shared with many others, there is only one of us, and our common name becomes special precisely because of who we are as a unique person.

Mary is one such familiar name in Jesus’ time (as is the name Jesus coincidentally), but there is only one Mary, the Mary who is in the cemetery that first Easter morning. And all Jesus has to do for Mary to recognize him is to call her name.

I find it interesting that Mary seems to have her back turned on Jesus, for when he speaks her name, “she turned,” and as she turns around, she knows immediately who it is that spoke her name.

There are moments when I am desperately looking for God but cannot find him because my back is turned. And God, who does not play “hard to get,” gently and tenderly calls me by name, and I turn toward him, and am found. 

Thanks be to God who knows you by name, who loves you, and who calls you and walks beside you!

Christ is risen! Christ is risen indeed!

Pastor Daniel Hofmann

For Such a Time as This

Every single day ordinary people are given the chance to do extraordinary things. In our current vernacular we call this “acts of kindness,” and sometimes we even add the expression “random” to it, but by doing so, we are missing the point. Exposure to current news stories is anything but encouraging. These are challenging times we live in. I hear the words of Jesus going through my mind as I open my newspaper:

And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places” (Matthew 24.6-7).

We “commit” acts of “kindness” simply because we are the right person in the right place and at the right time. Take Nicholas Winton, for example. Nicholas was scheduled to take a skiing holiday in Switzerland when he received an urgent message from a friend in Prague, Czechoslovakia, who needed his help in assisting with some Jewish welfare work. Nicholas traveled to Prague instead of Switzerland, and once there, he put his whole dedication and ingenuity to work.

The time was December 1938, and Czechoslovakia was under constant threat of invasion through Nazi Germany, supposedly in order to free the German people living in the Sudetenland from their Czech oppressors. Winton singlehandedly established an organization to aid the children from Jewish families at risk by the Nazis. He set up an office at a dining table in his hotel room in Prague, and over the next few months he organized the rescue of 669 children (most of them Jewish) in an operation known as the Czech Kindertransport (children’s transport). Winton would arrange for the children’s safe passage to Britain in addition to finding homes for the children in Britain and in Sweden.

Nobody knew anything about what Nicholas Winton had done on the eve of the Second World War for half a century, until his wife found an old scrapbook while looking for something in the attic of their home. Inside this scrapbook Winton had diligently listed all of the names of the children rescued and other important documents. Once his story became known, Nicholas Winton was an overnight sensation, and the press called him “Britain’s Schindler.”

Nicholas Winton’s one act of kindness literally changed the world, because his brave action to save 669 children has touched the lives of their parents and descendants as well. All in all, Winton’s family, if you will, grew to over 5,000 people who are here today because of his willingness to stand up for what was right even when things became difficult and dangerous.

I am reminded of Queen Esther in the Old Testament book by her name. Esther, born to a Jewish family, becomes queen to a foreign king. When a decree goes out to have all of the Jews killed, Esther’s uncle, Mordechai, gets a message to Esther, urging her to do whatever she can to avert this tragedy: “If you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father's house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4.14).

The invasion and war in the Ukraine show us in vivid images humankind at both its worst and its best. The lies and misinformation fed to the Russian people, the Russian soldiers, and the rest of the world cannot change the stinking mess the Gremlin in the Kremlin has unleashed upon Ukrainian people and his own people. The outpouring of support and concern for the plight of people fleeing the war-torn country is a testament that good always wins over evil.

Every single day ordinary people like you and me are given the chance to do extraordinary things. May the story of Nicholas Winton inspire you to do extraordinary acts of kindness as you place yourself in the service of God. One never knows: Perhaps we are the right people in the right places for such a time as this!

Journeying towards Easter together,

Pastor Daniel Hofmann

 

Spiritual Garage Sale-ing

Scripture: “The LORD is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. He will not always accuse nor will he keep his anger forever. He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.” Psalm 103: 8-10

We are a few days away from the start of the season of Lent. Lent is a word that comes to us from an Old Germanic word meaning “longing.” Just as people long for spring after a hard dreary winter, so the spirit longs for renewal and life in communion with God. Lent is the gateway we must walk through if we want to understand the events of Holy Week and Easter. There is no Easter without the cross, and there is no cross without us being prepared to carry it. Jesus offers us companionship on our personal journey through Lent. We begin the 40 Days of Lent with Ash Wednesday, and I invite you to come by Reed City UMC between noon and 1 pm on Wednesday, March 2. I will be in the sanctuary and offer each person the traditional sign of the cross on their forehead, signifying that we are committing ourselves to spend the next 40 days in a significant manner. Alternatively, I will offer an Ash Wednesday service at the Brooks Corners UMC at 6 pm that same day.

For many Christians today, Lent is a season of preparation and conversion: we acknowledge the ways we have turned away from God in our lives and we focus on turning our hearts and minds back toward God. For some this means giving up something for Lent as a form of fasting. We can deprive ourselves of some small pleasure or indulgence and offer that sacrifice up to God. Or we might “give up” a bad habit as a way of positively turning our life back towards what God wants for us.

An experience of want, however temporary, can help us to appreciate the true abundance in our lives. And a small positive change can have a big impact that lasts beyond the 40 days of Lent. I invite you think about what you might want to give up this year. Is it something you enjoy that you want to sacrifice for a while, like your daily latte? Or is it a bad habit you want to conquer, like running late for meetings? Or perhaps you want to turn your mobile phone off for a few hours each day and not let it distract you from the loved ones you are with in real time?

Here is one more idea: Go into the basement and attic and storage closets of your heart and collect all the junk and rummage that has accumulated over time and hinders you from fully experiencing the life promised by Christ. Take all that junk and rummage and hold a spiritual garage sale. Don’t expect multitudes to throng to your place; they have junk and rummage of their own already! But do expect one buyer: God. God has promised us in Psalm 103 “As far as the east is from the west, so far [God] removes our transgressions from us.”

As you are getting ready for your forty-day journey through Lent, I wish you happy garage sale-ing in the Lord. We are on this journey together.

Pastor Daniel Hofmann

 

 

Do Not Be Afraid

Some Christians like to live by slogans. The more concise and pithier the slogan, the better for us to memorize it and recite it. Remember the “WWJD?” phenomenon from some years ago? It seemed that the whole world was wearing “What Would Jesus Do?” emblazoned bracelets, from cheap, colorful rubber bands to rather elaborate, diamond encrusted silver and gold bracelets.

Another slogan we like to invoke as a mantra quite often is “God is good, all of the time,” to which others are expected to respond with, “All of the time, God is good.”

As such, there is nothing wrong with slogans, but if slogans become something akin to magic formulas, then we get ourselves in trouble. We get ourselves in trouble because we substitute the real thing, faith, with some catchy phrase or pithy saying. It is one thing to proclaim, “God is good, all of the time,” but an entirely different thing when asked, “is that what YOU truly believe?”

Think about it: do you truly believe that God is good (i.e.: faithful, trustworthy, always present, etc.) ALL the time? How about during these challenging times of living in economically stressful and unpredictable times? United Methodist Bishop Robert Schnase wrote in one of his blog articles that “If a congregation is driven by fear rather than faith, then it falls to us to keep the focus where it belongs—the ministry of Jesus Christ.”

How often do we find the admonition “Do not be afraid” in the Bible, and yet succumb to fear as we read or watch the daily news? And what are we to make with Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount about “Do Not Worry” (Matthew 6:25-34), and still give in to worry nonetheless?

“Do Not Fear” does not mean we avoid legitimate concerns, nor does “Do Not Worry” free us from making wise and often difficult decisions. But what Jesus reminds us of is that if we let worry win, then we lose. And “when worry wins, then the purpose and ministry of Christ gets hijacked, derailed, ignored and avoided,” to quote Robert Schnase one more time.

These are difficult and challenging days we are living through presently, but as people of faith we need not succumb to fear and worry. Someone once defined worry like this: “Worry is a lot like a rocking chair; it will give you something to do, but it won’t get you anywhere.”

So let us commit to make prudent decisions rather than panicked ones. When I look at the example the early Christians give us for this day and age, there is one thing that stands out very clearly: The early Christians did not let worry win. May we all learn from them as we follow Christ. And may we also remember that ‘this too shall pass away.’

In the awesome name of our Savior,

Pastor Daniel Hofmann

 

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What on Earth is God Up to in 2022?

 

I write these words in the remaining days of December, with January 1st already in full view. We get our name for the first month of a new year from the Roman god Janus, whose depictions show him with two faces: one face looks back while the other face looks ahead.

We do a fair amount of looking back ourselves as the countdown toward 2022 takes place. We remember failures and accomplishments, deaths as well as births, endings as well as new beginnings.

         

And we spend a fair amount of time looking and thinking ahead to the year that lies before us like a book with blank pages, waiting to be filled with accounts of wonder, joy, and amazement. As a congregation we are naturally interested in the question, “What on Earth is God Up to in 2022?” Much we don’t know yet or could not even begin to imagine. But there are a few things we know already, and the excitement and momentum are building.

What we can know is that we will continue our commitment to make a difference to be a beacon of God’s eternal love as we gather for worship and, even more importantly, when we are dispersed as God’s people within our neighborhoods and our community.

We can also know that 2022 will be a better and bigger year as we will learn to live with the Coronavirus and resume even more being an active and vital part in making our part of the world a better place through engaging the larger community. Engagements such as Vacation Bible School, hosting an ALPHA Course, run a Rummage Sale, or through serving the needs in our community in different ways.

Will it be easy? Most likely not.

Will it be impossible? With God, ALL things are possible!

Will it be worth it? Yes!, Yes, and YES!

We are not doing these things just for ourselves, but also for our community, and most importantly for future generations of faithful, spirit-filled Reed City UMC people like you!

I am excited about the new year. I sense that God will bless us in ways we cannot even imagine today.

So let us step boldly into 2022. God is with us, here and now!

Pastor Daniel Hofmann