The Process of Change

The Process of Change

img_1129(Author’s note:  This post was originally written for the January 2017 issue of the Cross and Tower, the monthly newsletter of First United Methodist Church Winnfield, LA. The entire newsletter can be read here: Cross and Tower January 2017 )

Recently, I have been thinking quite a bit about a tree in my neighborhood.  I’m not sure what kind of tree it is (though I have a suspicion), and the truth is botany was never one of my strong points.  What got me thinking about this tree is the way it looks.  As I write this in mid-December, several top branches of the tree are bare of leaves, as a result of some of the freezes and cold weather that we have experienced.  The middle part of the tree is a kaleidoscope of yellow, red, and brown leaves still attached to the tree.  The lower branches of the tree still have green leaves on them.  It is as if the three seasons of summer, fall, and winter are reflected in this one tree at the same time.

But, I know that this will not last long.  Soon it will grow colder.  The nights longer.  The winter winds will blow.  The tree will lose all of its leaves, and it will seem to sleep through the winter, only to be reborn and resurrected in the spring.  No matter how difficult and painful it is, no matter how hard we want to hang on to summer or fall or winter, change is inevitable.

Watching this process of change in this tree that I drive by everyday reminded me that in this month of January, millions of people will make resolutions to change something about themselves.  Maybe it is their weight, or the way they spend their time or money, or even their future.  But, like the tree, this process of change is a slow and difficult one.  Statistics tell us that these almost all of these resolutions that we make will last only a matter of weeks, if that long.

Likewise, change is a slow and difficult process as we seek to follow Jesus.  But it is possible.  Second Corinthians 5:17 tells us “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”(NRSV)  Through Christ, there is hope for a positive change in our lives and in the world around us.  The founder of the Methodist movement, John Wesley, called this process of changing to become more like Jesus Sanctifying Grace, that grace that helps us grow and mature in our faith.

Pay attention to the changes in the world going around you.  Make a resolution to change something in your life.  Decide to start today to claim the new creation that God has created us to be in Jesus Christ and allow God’s sanctifying grace to abound in your life.  Take a lesson from a tree that change is a process and does not happen easily, nor overnight.  You could be the one that is reborn and resurrected, not just the tree!

Seeking change for the better,

Kevin

Seeking? The King?

Seeking? The King?

Seeking the King Hawesville Baptist Churchseeking-the-king

One of the joys of serving First United Methodist Church Winnfield, LA is being a part of their outstanding music program.  It has been many years since I sang with a choir and I am enjoying singing with our choir each Sunday.  Like many choirs, we put on a special Christmas program.  Our program was on December 18, 2016 and featured many of our children as “actors” in the familiar Christmas story from Matthew and Luke.  I was blessed to be asked to sing the solo part for the song “Seeking the King” by Pepper Choplin.  I don’t have the technological knowledge to share the video from our program, so you will find a link at the top of this post to the same song performed by the choir at Hawesville Baptist Church in Hawesville, Kentucky.

More important than the beautiful music, we should consider the words to the song.
Seeking the King by Pepper Choplin
Seeking, seeking the newborn King. Seeking, seeking the newborn King. Seeking, seeking, the newborn King.
The road is dark, the dust is dry. We find our path by starlight. We are seeking the King, we are seeking the King, seeking. Though we are tired, the journey’s long, we walk in faith to carry on. We are seeking, seeking the King, we are seeking the King, we are seeking the King.
We bring gold to crown Him with royalty, frankincense to show His divinity. We bring myrrh, the fragrance used when someone dies, though we’re not sure the reason why.
Seeking, seeking the newborn King. Seeking, seeking the newborn King.
Now, we are so tired, we’ve come so far, but now, once again, we see the star. We see the star, now we rejoice with great joy, we rejoice with great joy, we rejoice with great joy. We’re rejoicing, for now we see the star of wonder, start of night, star of royal beauty bright. Westward leading, still proceeding, guide us to Thy perfect light. Westward leading, still proceeding, guide us to Thy perfect light.
Seeking, seeking the newborn King. Seeking, seeking the newborn King. Seeking, seeking the newborn King.
And when we find the newborn King, our greatest gift we then shall bring when we worship the King. We will worship the King. When we worship the King, we will worship the King, we will worship the King, we will worship the newborn King.
wise-men-still-seek-him-1-728

As I learned the solo and begin to think about the appearance of the Wise Men for Epiphany on January 6, I was struck once again by the faith and commitment on the part of the Wise Men to seek this unknown, newborn king.  I was reminded that the things we most often seem to seek, prosperity, possessions, peace, and many others, seem to pale in comparison to what the Wise Men sought.

My wife has a sweatshirt that she often wears this time of year, that has a star, wise men on camels, and, emblazoned in big letters, the words “Wise Men Still Seek Him.”  So I ask myself, and you, what are we seeking in this new year?  Is it the King of Kings?
What Do You Cling to in the Storm?

What Do You Cling to in the Storm?

A Ruby Throated Hummingbird clings to a feeder outside our kitchen window on a stormy day.

A Ruby Throated Hummingbird clings to a feeder outside our kitchen window on a stormy day.

On Saturday, August 30, 2014 a storm rolled through our village with heavy rain and strong winds.  The airport in McComb, Mississippi recorded a gust of 34 mph and sustained winds of 17 mph (http://www.wunderground.com/history/airport/KMCB/2014/8/30/DailyHistory.html).  There are probably places where winds like this would be normal, but that is not the case here in my corner of Louisiana.  I had put the dogs out before the storm and was looking out of the kitchen window, where our hummingbird feeder was located, watching the storm roll in.  While looking out of our window, I was surprised to see that the storm had not slowed down our hummingbirds one bit!  All of the other birds, the chickadees, the titmice, the cardinals, the sparrows, were taking shelter and waiting out the storm to feed, but the smallest of all of the birds was still out in the tempest, fighting to get something to eat.  I was reminded of this picture I took several years ago while we were being assaulted by one of the tropical systems to make its way through South Louisiana (I think I took it during Tropical Storm Lee in September of 2011).  As I watched the hummingbirds in the storm, I couldn’t help but wonder what you and I cling to in the storm.

I wish I could tell you that storms would never come, but that is not true.  Growing up in South Louisiana, watching the tropics was a part of my everyday life.  In the 8 years we lived in Tangipahoa, we have gone through Hurricane Gustav, Tropical Storm Lee, and Tropical Storm Karen.  That is not to mention the 3 snowfalls and numerous thunderstorms.  Personally, we are suffering through a storm as my parents and thousands of others in the Baton Rouge area and all across South Louisiana have flooded due to historic rainfall.  Life has changed for many, maybe even permanently.

Of course, there are other kinds of storms in our lives.  Ones that do not involve water or wind or earthquakes.  The death of a loved one, a prolonged or sudden illness, age, loss of a job, or any multitude of other things can shake us to our core as quickly as a California earthquake.  What do we hold on to during these times?  What do we cling to in the storm?

I imagine that we, like this hummingbird, cling to that which is most important to us in the storm.  Family, friends, and faith may be some of the things that we cling to when the wind blows and the rain pours.  As important as friends and family are, they have their limits.  Like all humans, they are limited in time, strength and resources.  But there is one who is not limited by time, strength or resources- God.  So when the storm comes, as it does for all of us, I believe that we should not only turn to friends, family, and the church, but to God.

Psalm 46:1-3 reads “1God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. 2Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; 3though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumult.” This scripture describe dark and difficult times, much like we are going through, much like all of us go through at one time or another.  But the Psalmist is clear that we will not fear and even ends with these words “10Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth.11The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge”.  When tough times come, when the storm comes, cling to faith in God, family and friends to get us through.

Rolling out the Welcome Mat

Sign welcoming us to the City of Fairbanks

Sign welcoming us to the City of Fairbanks

We arrived into Fairbanks via train.  As we were coming into Fairbanks, I saw something I had never seen before.  A family had pulled on to the side of the highway as our train passed by, pulled out a homemade “Welcome to Fairbanks” sign, and waved as we passed.  As far as I could tell, they were just a regular family, not tourist professionals, but they seemed excited that we had traveled to their city.  Not just in Fairbanks, but all across Alaska, the people seemed to really appreciate and welcome us to their state.  In almost every store the clerks said “thank you for visiting” even when we didn’t buy anything.  It was as if the people of Alaska realized that their state wasn’t “just around the corner” for many of their visitors and they really appreciated the time, effort and money that the visitors (like us) put in to visit Alaska.

Now I’m not saying that there aren’t crabby and obstinate people in Alaska (though I don’t recall meeting any), but I couldn’t help but wonder how we receive people here in Louisiana.  Like Alaska, the Louisiana tourist industry is a big part of our state.  This commercial by Louisiana Tourism that I have seen on television recently, states that we have over 25 million visitors to  Louisiana, and 1 in 11 jobs in our state is related to tourism.  Tourism brings in over $10.4 billion dollars to our state.  And there are great things to see in our state- Audubon Zoo, D-Day Museum, Aquarium of the Americas, Superdome, Poverty Point, Antebellum homes, state parks, and so much more.  Who wouldn’t want to come and see these great things?  But for those of us who are “home folks”, I sure hope we say “Welcome to Louisiana” and “Thank you for visiting Louisiana.”

If we welcome visitors to our state and businesses, shouldn’t we welcome them to our church?  After all church is where we gather to worship the living God, to remember God’s grace, mercy and love, as well as how faith has made a difference in our lives.  The first step, of course, is to invite people to church (see blog post “Fishing for People” from June 26, 2014), but once they come to church we must also welcome them like they are loved and appreciated children of God.  And we don’t have a lot of time to welcome them.  This article http://www.churchleaders.com/pastors/pastor-articles/153325-5-important-facts-about-first-time-guests.html?p=1 by Rick Ezell states that guests make up their minds about a church in the first ten minutes of their visit.  He also states that most church members aren’t friendly.  He writes “Churches claim to be friendly. In fact, many churches put that expression in their logo or tag line. But my experience in visiting churches as a first-time guest proves otherwise. The truth is that most church members are friendly to the people they already know, but not to guests.”  When we are not friendly to guests, then the guests remember that we aren’t the only game in town and may go down the street to the next church, just as we might choose to shop at another store if the one we usually shop at doesn’t have what we need or want.  Rick reminds churches that they are (or should be) in the hospitality business. “Though our ultimate purpose is spiritual, one of our first steps in the Kingdom business is attention to hospitality. Imagine the service that would be given to you in a first-class hotel or a five-star restaurant. Should the church offer anything less to those who have made the great effort to be our guests?”  United Methodist Bishop Robert Schnase has even listed Radical Hospitality as one of the Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations (source:http://fivepractices.org/radical-hospitality/).  The wonderful and scary thing is that how we treat and welcome others not only reflects on our church, our denomination, but on God.  If we don’t treat welcome guests with the love and respect they deserve, they could decide that God wouldn’t welcome them either or that God doesn’t love them.

So what can we do?  We can make a concerted effort to welcome those who we don’t know, even if we are not ushers, or the pastor, or if it is not our “job.” (Remember that homemade welcome sign to Fairbanks?)  Maybe one way to do this would be to follow the rule of ten, meaning that we greet anyone within ten feet of us, whether we know them or not.  Or we could follow the rule of three, which encourages us to spend the first three minutes after the service ends to welcome and greet those we don’t know, since most guests leave within three minutes after the service is over.  These are only a few ways to welcome and greet others, maybe you know of others.  Whoever we are and whatever we do, let us make an effort to roll out the welcome mat and greet others in church, in our businesses, and even visitors to our state.

Questions to consider:  When were you welcomed well to a city/state/business/church and how did it make you feel?  When were you not welcomed to a city/state/business/church and how did it make you feel?  What is God calling you to do to welcome others to your church and business?