Thursday, June 3, 2010

Live or Die

If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. — Romans 14:8 NIV

We just celebrated Memorial Day weekend, remembering those who gave the ultimate of sacrifice for our freedom and honoring those who serve in our armed forces to stand in the gap for our protection and freedom. I was also moved by the Spirit this past Sunday when we gathered around the new Memorial Prayer Garden on the south side of the church building. We dedicated the garden to the service of God and then, Lane Smith led us in singing “In the Garden” a cappella. In all of these moments of remembrance, I personally remembered of my own mortality and an episode I experienced two years ago.

“You are going to the hospital!” proclaimed my doctor. These are words that many of us may have heard or will hear in the future. These words bring anxiety. After hearing these words, along came sirens of the ambulance--familiar sounds living near the fire and police departments in town--but this time the sirens were to transport me to the hospital.

Declaring you have unresolved chest pain causes others anxiety and others to jump into action to care for the person in distress. There you lay with the myriad EKGs, IVs, BP checks, doses of nitroglycerine, etc., with time moving so quickly, yet in slow motion. During these crisis-like times, though, the big question is always present. The question comes in many forms but interpreted as, “Is this going to be my last breath?”

As I laid on the gurney bouncing along Highway 82 (I believe that was the route), I came to a renewed resolution in my mind. The resolution connects to what Paul declared in the scripture above. As I bounced along, I discovered a peaceful assurance that if this was my last breath or not, I had the best of the best. Either way, whether seeing the light of a hospital room or seeing The Light, I was in the comfortable presence of Jesus Christ. Either way I can sing,

And He walks with me and He talks with me,
And He tells me I am His Own.
And the joy we share as we tarry there,
None other has ever known.
Celebrating holidays such as Memorial Day helps remind us of the sacrifice of others but it also reminds us of the assurance of the gift of Christ’s sacrifice for our freedom from sin and death and we are His.

Prayer: God of Wonders, thank you for loving us and giving us your Son, Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior that provides the assurance of whether we die or we live we belong to you. Give us the courage and strength to live out that assurance and pass it on to others. May we live this day as the first day of the rest of our life in You. Amen.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Well-formed Maturity

Read: Romans 12:1-2
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. (NIV)

Back in the ‘70s and 80’s, I experienced what is still known in the Boston Bay area of Massachusetts as the “T.” The T (MBTA) is a commuter rail, similar to the DART Light Rail, has various lines covering the eastern part of Massachusetts from the South Shore to the North Shore. Some of you may have experienced the T in your lifetime.

Well, after a recent conversation with our witty youth director, Kevin, about being renewed and reformed in Christ’s image, I recalled from my feeble mind several experiences on the T while traveling to and from Fenway Park for Red Sox baseball games. I believe the route I took traveled along the Green Line from the South Shore, Weymouth/Quincy area to west downtown at Fenway Park.

I remember at each stop along the route more and more baseball fans took their spot in the commuter rail car. After just a few stops the car was filled to capacity. All the seats were taken, and passengers were stuffed in standing positions like sardines. Personal space was nonexistent for about a thirty minute commute.

The cheers and excitement of fans and supporters of the Red Sox escalated. How quickly every passenger got caught up in the excitement! In fact, it was not wise to proclaim you were a fan of the Red Sox’s opposing team of that day. In other words, you conformed to the Red Sox fans surrounding you. On the return trip, depending on whether or not the Sox won and how keyed up the passengers were after hot dogs, peanuts, and beer, it was even more important to conform to being a Sox fan.

Interestingly, when you exited the train at Fenway Park or at your home destination on your return trip, you had the free will to return to your normal position for or against the Red Sox. Essentially, you conformed to the character of the Red Sox fan while on the train and became yourself when off the train.

Kevin and I agreed this is the way we sometimes deal with our support, position, and character as a Christian. We are a strong Christians around other Christians, especially when we are at church or at a church event where peer pressure to be a Christian is high. However, as soon as we are seemingly away from other Christians and placed in a worldly situation we conform to the world.

Paul reminds us in our scripture text that our belief in Christ should permeate each area of our life, and God gives us the strength not to succumb to the world. Listen to how Peterson’s The Message says it in Romans 12:1-2:

So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating,
going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an
offering. Embracing what God
does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don't become so
well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking.
Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out.
Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike
the culture around you, always
dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

May we have the courage to allow God to help us not to so fit in to the culture or fall into sin that people can’t tell we are Christians. May we allow God to bring the best out of us and develop us to well-formed maturity. O God, please help us. Amen.

Grace and peace,

Pastor Jack

Friday, January 8, 2010

Praise You in the Storm

Read: Matthew 8:22-26

Here it is a new year and our hope is everything in life will flow smoothly. Yet, the reality is that we go through life with the calm and the storms flowing to and fro. Just as soon as we experience the calm of life, unexpectedly the storm comes raging over us. As I look back through my life it is permeated with this ebb and flow between calm and storm.

However, as I reflect, there is one thing that has remained constant and unchanging in the journey: God’s love for humanity. In spite of the storms, God’s love in Christ remains present and sure. Recently, my oldest grandson, Eric “EJ,” wrote an essay that encompasses this presence and assurance of God’s love in three things he knows:

Three things that I know about God

Three things I know about God are that he knows everything in the world, he put Jesus in my heart and God loves me. I know that God knows about everything going on in the world because he can be in every place at the same time. Jeremiah 23:23 says I am God who is near and not far away. I know God put Jesus in my heart because John 3:16 says “For God so loved the world, he gave his one and only Son so whoever believes in him will live life eternally.” I know God loves me because John 3:16 says “For God so loved the world” and I am part of the world. I also know this because John 6:44 says “No one can come to the father unless he draws them to Him.” This means God chose me. If he chose me, he must love. Psalm 139:14 says I will give thanks to you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. I praise God everyday because he made me in amazing and wonderful ways. Wouldn’t you like to know God like I do?
By Eric Hohler (age 8)
EJ’s wisdom is assurance for all of us. If we can only remember these three things we can successfully ride through the calm and the storm and praise God. As Casting Crowns sings:
And I'll praise you in this storm
and I will lift my hands
for You are who You are
no matter where I am
and every tear I've cried
You hold in your hand
You never left my side
and though my heart is torn
I will praise You in this storm
From “Praise You in This Storm”
words by Mark Hall/music by Mark Hall and Bernie Herms

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Little Child Come to Me

Read: Luke 24:13-31

“I know what I'm doing. I have it all planned out—plans to take care of you, not abandon you, plans to give you the future you hope for.” Jeremiah 29:11 (The Message)

I pulled into the parking garage and walked down the breezeway toward the Margot Perot tower of the Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Plano. I pressed the elevator button to travel to the third floor. This was not any ordinary hospital visit this time. I was about to enter the neo-natal intensive care unit to visit our newest family member of First United Methodist Church.

I arrived at the nurse’s station of the secure wing of the floor and signed in to enter the unit. The RN checked my ID and authorized me to go down the hall and enter through the large locked double doors. I passed through the entrance and other nurses cordially greeted me. I approached the hand-wash station, scrubbed my hands, applied anti-bacterial gel, and began walking down the hall, passing cubicles that held tiny pre-mature babies. Each child had his or her own story to tell. In some of the rooms, moms cuddled their little bundles. Several of the infants had tubes and wires attached to them to monitor their vitals or provide nourishment. But that did not matter to the moms or the nurses who were busily dedicated and committed to caring for some of the smallest human beings created by God.

I rounded the corner slowly and asked for more directions to the little person I wanted to visit. The nurse directed me toward a room with a crib…and there she was…a tiny bundle of joy, the newest family member of FUMC. Indeed, there she was - a 4 lb 9 oz, 17 inch little girl, wrapped in swaddling with a brown satin bow on her beautiful, hair-adorned head. Tiny nose, tiny mouth, and precious, quietly sleeping eyes… She was a precious creation of God who was brought into this world with a plan, a hope, and a future (Jeremiah 29:11). Here was little Marlie Rae Krueger, being cared for by a dedicated nurse, but most importantly, a dedicated, committed, and loving mom who was on a dinner break.

As I gazed upon Marlie and said hi to her, I could only imagine what great things were in store for her. Marlie was birthed into a wonderful and loving extended family. Even though Marlie could not speak, I imagined she might say, “Thank you for loving me. Thank you for giving me a life with a plan, with a hope, and a future.”

As I gazed upon Marlie, I was overwhelmed with the thought that God loves us in the same manner. We were born with a plan, a hope, and a future. God cares for us in the same manner, if we will only realize it.

Later, I saw Marlie’s momma, Kaylie, touch Marlie with gentle hands, assuring her that momma was there with her and caring for her. I remembered that God does the same for us if only we will recognize his touch. Jesus said “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for such is the kingdom of God.” Oh, if we could only remember.

Prayer: O Lord Jesus, thank you for reminding us to come as a child and feel your touch of assurance and care and a plan with a hope and a future. Bless Marlie, Kaylie, and family, as you nurture and touch them with your care. Amen.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Opened Eyes

Read: Luke 24:13-31

“When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.” Luke 24:30-31 (NLT)

It is amazing to me how often I have participated in receiving Holy Communion over my fifty-seven plus years. As a child, there was the small plate with wafers & the tray with tiny cups of juice that passed between adults down the pew. As I sat with my mother & siblings, my mother gave each of us a wafer & cup. Everyone ate the wafer at the same time & did the same with the cup. I can still hear the cups being placed into the wooden racks on the back of the pews.

Then there were the times of coming forward to the base chaplain & his assistants at the Navy Chapel to receive the matzo dipped into the chalice. I also remember the times of gathering around a massive altar and kneeling on the rail that surrounded it. The pastor & assistants went from one celebrant to another giving the bread & small cup before saying a few words of scripture & a table blessing before all stood to return to their seats.

I recall the times gathered at Isle Du Bois State Park on an all-church campout during Saturday evening worship. One at a time, we received a piece of home-baked bread and & juice to fill our souls before we filled our bellies at a delectable potluck picnic.

More recently, I stood in the chancel area observing the people coming to the front of FUMC Whitesboro to receive their piece of bread, dip it in the chalice, going to the kneeling rail to pray, & returning to their seats.

In each of these situations, everyone was invited to partake in the mystery of the faith, “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.” No matter how much we understand the meaning & significance of this blessed celebration, we still know that there is mystery. How could the Son of God give his lifeblood for our sin? How could the Son of God love us unlovable people so much to do what He did?

These questions became evident this week as I was in Carter Blood Center in northwest Plano prepared to give double platelets. I discovered that I was unable to give platelets because I had taken my daily preventative aspirin less than forty-eight hours previous. I was disappointed. However, the nurse at Carter said I could still give whole blood & be eligible for platelet donation in two weeks. So, I gave one unit of my whole blood as a gift of life for someone I do not know.
As the phlebotomist held up the bag for my unit donation, I saw the bag bulging with my blood. Wow, one unit of my blood for someone else, and Christ gave all of his. Part of the mystery of the faith overwhelmed me again. He gave all his blood. I realized again, that every time I came to the table, whether or not I understood or remembered, I celebrated that He gave it all.

We may recall a time we came to the Table of the Lord in the past or it may have been recently. However, this week there is a place at the table for me, you, & for all, again. May we celebrate with expectation the mystery of the faith, “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.” He gave it all.

Prayer: O Lord Jesus, prepare our hearts to receive Your gift of love, the mystery of the faith, again. Amen.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


Read: Philippians 4:8-13

“Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4:13 (NLT)

I had an amazing experience this past week. I took a few days of vacation to travel to Oshkosh, Wisconsin to experience Airventure 2009, an international fly-in and air show, for my first time. Rick and I met two of my brothers from Pennsylvania and spent two full days at Whitman Airfield in Oshkosh. We walked a total of thirteen miles of exhibits, aircraft static displays, and watched flight demonstrations of aircraft from all eras. The gazing at loops, barrel rolls, hammerhead stalls, and Cuban eights, was permeated with food, fellowship, laughter, teasing, and food, again. What a grand time in 75-degree days and nights in the 50s. Our time in Oshkosh was a grand time that concluded with my brothers declaring Rick as adopted into the family.

Did I say what a grand time it was? There were so many thrilling moments, especially during the flight demonstrations. However, there was a time when we said, “Seen one loop, you’ve seen them all.” Many times, we stated, “I don’t know how they do it?” “How do they keep doing snap rolls, inverted, spins, and outside loops, without losing their sense of direction?” The answer became simple: Practice, practice, practice!

As I reflected on the pilot performances, I discovered it is the same for our lives as Christians. How do we get through the loops, barrel rolls, and spins in life? Practice, practice, practice! Paul reminds us in Philippians 4:8-13, the importance of practicing our faith in Christ in order to do life. If I do not practice the faith when things are going well, then it becomes more difficult to make it through the major maneuvers of life.

Now, am I saying I practice the faith well all the time? By no means, however, I do know when I have, life’s aerobatics are much easier to handle. May God help each of us practice our faith daily so we may experience the God of peace being with us.

By the way, Rick discovered how family of origin affects who we are as individuals. Seeing my brothers interact filled in the blanks of who I am.

Prayer: O Lord Jesus, may we do our best to daily practice our faith in you in order to fly in life with its aerobatics. Help us practice, practice, practice. Amen.

Grace and peace,


Thursday, July 2, 2009

The River of Life

Read: Proverbs 3

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will make your paths straight.” Proverbs 3:5-6 (NIV)

I have recently been planned a huge family reunion in June 2010 in honor of what have been my mother and dad’s 95th and 96th birthdays respectively. One of the activities we hope to participant in as a family is whitewater rafting. Thinking of the possibility, I drifted back in time.

I love to shoot rapids. I remember shooting rapids in a sixteen-foot aluminum canoe as a teenager. Of course, during that time, the rapids were probably category I or II in strength, but they seemed like Category IV from our perspective. As a teenager, it was a thrill, a heart-pumping, adrenaline-flowing moment as my brother and I came toward the first swell, water splashing in our faces, veering around one large boulder, and another. We paddled like crazy listening to each other above the “roar” of the Delaware River around Washington’s Crossing. At the end of each run, we took a deep breath and relaxed in the calm of a smooth flowing pool below, baling out the water we took on in the previous rapids. Oh what a wonderful remembrance! In fact, as I type this, my heart feels the exhilaration again.

As amateurs, we discovered some of the keys to the successful conquer of those rapids. They are not limited to directional control or float with or ahead of the current, but also, looking ahead and not to the side or behind. Furthermore, in the process, there was the reciprocal trust of my brother and me as we traveled along the river.

It is the same as life. The river of life is like shooting the rapids of a twisting, descending riverbed. The river of life has a guide who wants us to listen to his instructions and plan. The Guide, calls out to us over the roar of the rapids, the noise of the riffles, and the peacefulness of the calm pools, calling us to trust him with our whole heart. Thus, Proverbs 3:5-6 reminds us to trust the Guide in our run in the river of life.

Prayer: O Lord Jesus, may we remember to trust you with our heart as we travel within the river of life with you as Guide. May we be an instrument of your guidance to others who travel along their rivers of life. Amen.