God Looks at the Heart

 

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Adventures in Denver with our Youth!

For the first time ever, our little church decided to brave the big city of Denver over a long weekend in order to give our youth an experience with different faith traditions and cultures while having a bit of fun, too!  We loaded up our van in the wee hours of Friday morning and began our journey.

Other than a break for lunch and gas in the ever-windy city of Casper and a couple of pit stops for small bladders, the journey went smoothly until…

Denver Traffic.

May it be noted that several people mentioned “Denver Traffic”; HOWEVER, no one directly said “Denver Traffic is ridiculous. Awful. Fifty miles of slow. Give yourself an hour longer than you think you should!” Nor did anyone say, “Pastor, just an FYI – Denver Traffic will force you to practice the Christian trait of self-control  in a car filled with impressionable young people in a way that nothing else every has!” Both would have been helpful tips.

Anyway…we arrived an hour and half later than expected. We were warmly welcomed by youth director Darcy at Phillips UMC in Lakewood, the place where we would camp out for two nights. As soon as we unloaded our stuff, we loaded ourselves back into the vans and made the trek through a beautiful neighborhood filled with blossoming trees and gorgeous old homes to visit Temple Micah, a small Jewish house of worship, located in a building with Park Hill United Methodist Church. Though we were late, we were warmly welcomed into the middle of their Friday night prayer service. Rabbi Morris shared a poignant message about Sabbath and Sabbatical, taking time away to remember what matters most. We did our best to follow along with the Hebrew prayers and happily sang “Peace Train.” After a brief chat with the rabbi, we were on our way to dinner.

Dinner at Casa Bonita’s. Need I say more? The kids had fun. 😉

Saturday morning included breakfast and an incredibly efficient assembly line that put together 100 peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, fruit cups and granola bars in record time! With 100 sack lunches in tow, it was off to downtown Denver to meet up with volunteers from After-hours Denver Church to share the sack lunches with friends without homes. At least, that was the intention.

If you’re paying close attention, you may have realized that this was May 5th. Cinco de Mayo. In downtown Denver. The place to deliver lunches was moved at the last minute, every person in Denver and the surrounding areas seemed to be headed to the same place we were, and several roads were blocked because of parade and celebrations. Patience tested. God won.

Though late, the lunches were delivered and the kids gained a hands on experience of feeding the hungry and sharing kindness with strangers. We left feeling blessed and headed over to the Aquarium for a fun afternoon of fish, sharks, turtles, and a 4D movie experience we will not soon forget!

The evening gave us a warm welcome at the Denver Islamic Society where Murad, Mohammed and friends shared an insightful presentation about their religion, graciously answered any and all questions we had, then fed us a most delicious meal of middle eastern cuisine. I believe everyone of us – kids included – cleaned our plates! We were invited to stay and witness their time of evening prayer. It was a meaningful experience.

With full bellies and sleepy eyes, we returned to Phillips UMC for a few games of pool (FYI – do not let Bev trick you into a playing a game against her. She’s a pool shark!) and hide-n-go seek. After prayer and Lisa’s nightly meditation, we feel asleep quickly and quietly.

Sunday morning worship with the folks from Phillips was enjoyable! It is fun to experience worship with our Christian brothers and sisters from other places. Bev was able to sing with the choir, Lisa caught up with some members who remembered her parents, and I was blessed with a surprise encounter with Shelly, a friend who attended Local License Pastor training with me a few years ago.

The trip home is always the longest, but the kids were good and we made it back before bedtime. All-in-all, a great trip!

Our group will find time to process our experiences with each other and share a few insights at church, but for now, let me say this: before asking our youth to confirm their faith, this trip showed me how imperative it is that they experience other faith traditions as well. Both Rabbi Morris and Mohammed were open and honest about why they believe what they do and why they do not think Jesus was the Savior we proclaim him to be. Both faith communities showed us hospitality and made us feel welcome. In both places, God’s presence was felt and shown. If we are going to confirm, proclaim and live out our Christian faith in a diverse society, we must understand and have respect for others’ beliefs while also learning how to say, “and this is why I believe what I do.”

Phillips UMC reminded us of how and why it is important for us to practice intentional hospitality with our visitors. They entrusted their space to us and made us feel at home for the two days we were there. Because of them, our youth were gifted with another safe and warm experience of being a part of the Christian family.

Thanks to all who kept us in prayer! Perhaps you will think about joining us for the next adventure…Denver 2018_collage

Need a little confidence?

Need a little confidence? I know I do. I must confess that as a pastor, Mondays often bring a sense let down to me. Sunday is over and the questions begin: Why weren’t the pews fuller? Was it something I said or did? Something I didn’t say or do? How come no one told me they liked my sermon? Was it that bad? Am I any good at this? At all?!!

The mature, rational, solid-in-my-faith part of me is able to recognize these questions and the insecurity that accompanies them and then come up with rational, helpful answers: there were as many people as usual, you did not offend anyone and it might be okay if you did once in awhile, get over yourself – it’s not about you!!

But today was one of those days when the emotional, vulnerable, doubting voice was loudest: You’re no good at this! You’d better figure out another way to make a living…

*Sigh*

So I did what any good pastor should do…I googled “Bible verses for when you need confidence.” Then I began to read.

Blessed is the one whose trust is in the Lord, whose CONFIDENCE is in him. -Jeremiah 17:7

Let us approach God’s throne with confidence so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. -Hebrews 4:16

Be confident of this: He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. -Philippians 4:16

Doubting ourselves and struggling with self-confidence is a normal pat of the human experience, especially in a society where we are constantly comparing ourselves to others. Because what others present is usually only what they want the world to see, it is easy to think that our inside messes don’t measure up to others’ outside presentations.

But as people of faith we don’t put our confidence in how we measure up to others! Our confidence is not in our accomplishments, or our physical appearance, or our bank account, or how many likes our Facebook post received. Our confidence is in Christ, the one who began a good work in us! Our confidence is in a Savior who is not done with us yet. Our confidence is in the one who can bring good from any mess, meaning from any struggle. The process often takes longer than we want or hope, but Scripture is clear: she who puts her hope in God will be blessed.

So take heart when life zaps your confidence – you are not alone! We all feel that way sometimes. But we do not have to beat ourselves up for not having the confidence to be self-confident. Open God’s Word, find verses of reassurance, and refocus yourself on the One in whom our confidence exists. Thanks be to God!

A True Advent and A True Christmas

I have celebrated Advent, the four weeks leading up to Christmas, for as long as I can remember: lighting candles on the advent wreath, opening daily one little window on a cardboard advent calendar to find chocolate and a bible verse, memorizing my line for the pageant at church. As part of a Christian family, I understood that Advent was the season in which we waited for the arrival of God’s gift, baby Jesus. As an American child, I knew the countdown was on for Santa’s arrival and the gifts he would bring, too!

 

But up until this year, I do not think I ever truly experienced Advent.

 

Though it’s a little unclear as to when and where Advent began to be observed, we know its origins are linked to a time of fasting and penitence; preparing for the mysterious incarnation of Emmanuel, “God with us,” is connected to us recognizing our need for a Savior. Life is hard, we are struggling, we cannot save ourselves. God, please come! Advent, of course, leads us to Christmas, the day set aside to celebrate Christ’s birth. This comes just days after the winter solstice, during the darkest week of the year.

 

Somewhere along the line, Christian Christmas festivities adopted traditions of other winter celebrations. People in northern Europe lit candles and hung evergreens to recognize light that shines in the darkness, life that endures the most frigid cold. It makes sense that Christians would associate light and life with the coming of Christ.

 

Perhaps that is why, this year, Advent and the promises of Christmas bring new meaning. Perhaps this year, more than ever, all of us – despite our religious beliefs – need a reminder that light overcomes the dark, life abides, and hope, love, joy and peace still reign in human hearts.

 

As a pastor, I have witnessed how the discourse and division in our country and world are affecting our families and institutions. We do not know who to trust. We worry about who sees us an enemy, simply based on who we voted for or how we feel about the latest issue. We feel misunderstood and easily become isolated, believing that no one else understands the pain, confusion, loneliness or anger we feel. Life is hard. We are struggling. We do not know how to save ourselves.

 

But on this special night, whether you sing about hope and joy while lighting a candle at church, gather with loved ones around a table filled with good food, or experience your loneliness and grief in deeply profound ways, may you know that Christmas is about Light and Life. May you sense the hope, love, joy and peace the Christ-child brings. May you experience the wonder and promise of the holiday after a long and dark season of waiting. May you have a blessed, meaningful, and Merry Christmas!

Pastor Wendy Ochs

Welcome to Our Blog!

“Glory to God, who is able to do far beyond all that we could ask or imagine by his power at work within us; glory to him in the church and in Jesus Christ for all generations, forever and always. Amen.”    – Ephesians 3:20-21

Welcome to Evangelical United Methodist Church’s (EUMC) very first blog post! EUMC is the place where we work hard to ACT OUR FAITH every day – and this blog is the place where we will celebrate that.

In our blog you will find stories about how God is at work in, through, around, and even despite (yes, we mess up sometimes) us. These will be personal stories from church members, stories about our church family, stories about the work God has given us to do through the Free Store, at the Women’s Prison, with our Broadwater School neighbors, and in the lives of the children & youth we love.  You may even hear a story or two about our neighbors from around the world, such as the pastors we support in Angola, Africa.

We take our mission to Act Our Faith seriously.

Methodists tend to be “practical theologians.” We do not spend all of our time contemplating lofty theology or dreaming about our eternal destination. We know that the majority of our earthly lives must be spent living in the mess of the world. Because of that, we work hard to pragmatically live out our faith among the mess. We ask God to help us share the love of Christ with those who need it. We feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the prisoner. (Literally. We really and actually do those things.) We tutor the kids and pray for the teachers at Broadwater school. We treat each other as family – sharing one another’s burdens, encouraging each other, laughing and crying together, and sometimes arguing about our differences. And through it all, we love each other. Through it all, we recognize that in this mess of a world, we are stronger together. God uses us to bless each other and to bless the world.

So we hope you’ll enjoy the blogs we post! You are welcome to comment and share your own thoughts, and we trust you will do so in a manner that is helpful and respectful. May God bless our efforts and continue to be at work in, through, around, among, and even despite us! Amen.