The happiest life is the one that is generous

November 11,2014

by Pastor Mike Ramsdell

Early on a Sunday morning, June 8, 2008, Meredith Hatch was riding her bicycle (training for a triathlon) in Grand Prairie. There she was killed by a drunk driver, leaving three children and a loving husband. Meredith was a member of this church family. I had the honor of presiding at her funeral service a few days later.
 
Meredith lived life right. I would often see her in church and got to know her through her community service. She was President of the Mansfield Rotary Club, on the Board of Directors of the Mansfield Education Foundation, served with the Mansfield Chamber of Commerce, owned and operated Primrose Schools, was an accomplished triathlete and the mother of three energetic boys.
 
For Meredith, faith, family, love for children and her commitment to the community she lived in was a driving influence for her. She inspired, motivated and challenged others. Her faith was not a private thing. It was lived out in the things she did — in her drive to be the best she could be as an athlete but also in the impact she made upon children, her family and in the community she felt it was her task to build and make better. She knew something about what a Christian was supposed to do because she went to the places Jesus did — into the world around her.
 
The year after her death, I was asked to say a prayer at a 5K that was put on by her oldest son to raise money for bicycles for needy kids. There were a handful of runners. I was not one of them back then. At her death, a foundation was created to serve the community, just as she had done in life. Since then, the run has grown to 2,000 runners, and the foundation has raised over $100,000 and has given out over 1,000 bicycles.
 
The signature fundraiser for the Meredith Hatch Foundation is the Miles for Meredith 5K that is scheduled for Saturday, December 13. It is usually held the Saturday before Thanksgiving at Mansfield High School. This year the time has been moved because of potential bad weather. If you are interested in serving this way, go to the foundation’s website and sign up today. There is a 1K run at 8:00 a.m. and a 5K at 8:30 a.m. It is a great cause as Meredith was a great example of a life that makes a difference, even now extending that difference. If you have an In the City for the City shirt, wear it — red, gray or even the pink one I have seen.
 
I hope you are preparing for a special Thanksgiving and Christmas season. We are especially excited about the Christmas emphasis, Christmas in the Holy Land, and our Christmas program, the Noel Christmas Cantata, on Sunday, December 14, at 6:00 p.m. in our Sanctuary. Our Chancel Choir, Chancel Orchestra and the Jubilate Children's Choir, along with soloists and dancers, will tell the story of Jesus' birth through dramatic narration, songs and special effects. You can catch a sneak peek of the secular portion of the program that morning in our 11:00 a.m. Sanctuary service. Make sure you mark your calendar.  
 
I told Meredith’s story for a reason. She led a life of impact  faith, family and community. It was cut short on this earth, but in that time, she had made a difference. I think God expects all of us to make a difference. Jesus challenged us to be the salt and light wherever we are. Jesus does this through us, in simple ways such as being part of the run, serving our family and church, being generous financially, volunteering in our community. The happiest life is the one that is generous. This is especially true when we realize that Jesus was the most generous person who ever lived — generous with who he was, what he had and the life he lived.

Mike Ramsdell
Senior Pastor

Living a life of generosity

November 11,2014

by Pastor Mike Ramsdell

I had a friend for more than 30 years. We walked through ministry together. I remember when I was the pastor of a small church in Bangs, he was the pastor of a small church in Cisco. Our lives in ministry paralleled in many ways. As we journeyed through ministry together, we would often talked about the church and learn from each other. I appreciated his wisdom as did many, but especially his persistent spiritual focus.
 
Ken had a very clear focus when it came to money, something he began as a young man while at Oral Roberts University and something he continued throughout his life. He saved 10% of his income, gave 10% and lived on the rest, also very carefully avoided debt.  He did this when he made very little but also when he made more when he became the pastor of First Methodist Grapevine. In many ways, as a Methodist pastor, he was the best of us.
 
A few years ago he was preparing for a weekend sermon on Super Bowl commercials, something that had become a tradition for him. He began to have a headache and was taken to the hospital. It was quickly discovered that Ken had undiagnosed Leukemia. He died that night. At the funeral thousands grieved his loss as we celebrated his life. But there was another part of the story. Even though he was only 52, his family was well taken care of, as was his soul. The simple decision to live as he had done had already paved the way for his sudden death. I know few who are prepared as he was at such a young age. But Ken was ready for death, spiritually and financially, just past 50. His priorities guided his life, and his example still speaks to many.
 
I think this biblically-informed way of living has great rewards. Ken’s life proved that, not only in that saving is a wise thing to do but that generosity builds life — a walk with God, a changed and growing heart, a balanced existence, a standard that informs the rest of one’s choices, even opening the door to a supernatural component in life where God blesses the giver.
 
This weekend First Methodist is celebrating Commitment Weekend, where we each get a chance to place our 2015 Estimate of Giving card in a special offering or celebrate that we have already made that commitment. All pastors enter these seasons with some fear and trepidation. First, pastors believe in giving and the mission of the church, our heart and soul is wrapped around both. Second, the church cannot be successful in the life and mission God calls us to be about if the church family does not support the mission with presence and generosity. Third, most pastors, me included, are worried that people will think that all we care about is money. It is ironic that few complain that all pastors do is talk about prayer or the Bible or ministry, which pastors and most churches talk about a great deal. It seems most of us are relatively sensitive about money. Why? Because it is very important to us. This is why giving, being generous, making a commitment are equally important and why Jesus talked about money so much.
 
Be rich. Being rich is living a life of generosity in all the ways generosity is lived out. Jesus was the richest man who ever lived because he was the most generous. 

Mike Ramsdell
Senior Pastor

What does the assessment of your wealth look like?

November 11,2014

by Pastor Mike Ramsdell

First Methodist is in the middle of an emphasis called Be Rich. One of the important ideas is that being rich is an attitude. Another is “it’s not how much someone has, but what they do with what they have.”
 
On Tuesday I had a chance to vote while my one-year-old grandson was holding onto my leg. I felt rich.
 
Two weeks ago I got to sit at a table in Boston with my wife Rhonda and her aunts and uncle. The table was loaded with good food, china and a white tablecloth. I had never eaten a Banana Boat pastry before. I felt rich.
 
I turned in our Be Rich Estimate of Giving card this week. I felt wealthy as I jotted the number for my tithe on the card; it was a far bigger number than the first one I turned in decades ago. God’s blessings have been far more than I even imagined as a young married 40 years ago.
 
I sat out on my porch Sunday night after a full weekend, great worship, got to baptize a baby, visited with a group of new and potential members and spent time internalizing through prayer the Bible verses I had preached on last week and the ones I was looking at for the next Sunday. I felt rich.
 
I have been invited to give the Christmas message and share communion at Feed by Grace homeless ministry in Fort Worth in December. I felt rich.
 
I got to talk to both my daughters this week. They are doing well. I also attended a Halloween party with “Groot” and the raccoon from Guardians of the Galaxy (two of my grandchildren). We had cheese dip and chocolate-dipped Oreo cookies. I felt rich.
 
I had the privilege to walk with two families in a season of grief, but also life, family, relationships and faith. I felt rich.
 
I got to make a donation to a family who needed some help. I was glad I had the money and glad I could. I have been there. I felt rich.
 
I remind myself that I am rich just because my sins are forgiven. These are the same words that King David said in one of his psalms, a king, but his wealth was in God, “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than live in the tents of wickedness.” I remind myself that If I can be generous with myself and what I have, if I can be generous with good deeds, if I can enjoy the life God gives me minute by minute — the small things and the big things — I am rich.
 
What does the assessment of your wealth look like? This self-assessment was a great attitude check for me.
 
Mike Ramsdell
Senior Pastor

Know and be known by God

October 10,2014

by Pastor Mike Ramsdell

I love to tell the story about a lunch I had quite a few years ago with several celebrities. The church I pastored at the time allowed a movie to be filmed at a house we owned, including allowing our fellowship hall and parking lot to be a base for the filming as well as to feed the cast and the crew. (We did not charge enough.) They invited me to eat from the food truck anytime I wanted, so on occasion I got my food there and ate in our fellowship hall, often with the actors in the movie. (The food was amazing.)
 
So, I can say I had lunch several times with Danny Glover, Ed Harris and John Malkovich. Sally Field was also in the movie, but she must have eaten elsewhere. The movie was called Places in the Heart. You might have seen it. At the time, the actors were not well known. Since then, they have all gone on to great success — the Lethal Weapon movies, The Truman Show and more recently Reds.
 
But the truth is, I don’t really know them at all, only the characters they have played and the stories I might have read about them.
 
For too many, this is their experience with God. They know a few things about God. They might have even touched base with God a time or two. They might know some of the God stories others have told, or more likely, the ones in the Bible — Noah, Samson, even Jesus. But they don’t really know God.
 
Probably the person I know best in life (it’s not Danny, Ed or John) is my wife, Rhonda. Why? Because we have shared life together, all the ups and downs of a fascinating journey, some days good and some days bad. We shared the funeral for her mother when we loaded her cremated ashes in our car after the service in Pensacola and then drove them to Key West to scatter them on the grave of her mother’s first-born child as she had requested. We shared it when my parents died, and she sat next to me holding my hand as we grieved together.
 
But we also shared it when we met her mother’s sisters two weeks ago and her uncle for the first time since she was 7 and enjoyed many meals, wonderful stories and the great Boston accents they had. We also shared lobster rolls, views of Boston and Gloucester Bay and then stood at the tip of Cape Cod. It was especially cool to stand next to the farm my Dad grew up on and then find the place where Rhonda was a little girl just a few miles from there. It’s shared life that makes us know and be known. And, I believe one of the deepest urges in each of us is to know and be known.
 
The way to know and be known by God is to share life with God. This is God’s will and intent when he created us in the first place. Each day we are told that in the Garden of Eden God came down and walked with Adam and Eve in the cool of the evening.
 
 He sent his son Jesus into the world to walk with us all, if we choose to follow him.
 
Pray about everything. Allow God to share your life experiences. Confess sin and accept forgiveness. Explore the Bible daily. Learn to worship God. Make room in your life for God. Don’t compartmentalize your relationship with God to one hour a week or just in seasons of trouble. Give God access to all your life and all your moments. It’s about sharing life with God, the ups, the downs, the good, the bad. It is from this place that the Christian life is experienced and lived.
 
I would like to add that there is still room for men to join us at the Journey for Men Breakfast on Saturday morning at 7:30 a.m. We have a very special guest speaker, Senator Brian Birdwell, a retired colonel from the Army and a survivor of the 9/11 terrorist attack on the Pentagon. He has an amazing story of courage, faith and heroism. If you have not yet signed up, contact Cindi Blackburn and sign up today. We are having such a great response that we are moving the breakfast from the Loft into the Gym. We anticipate a full house and maybe our largest men’s event as we embrace this inspirational story of faith, country and family.
 
Mike Ramsdell
Senior Pastor

The story of the Christian life

October 10,2014

by Pastor Mike Ramsdell

Last year we celebrated Commitment Weekend, which is the season when we turn in our financial estimates of giving for the next year. It is an important time. We are about to begin that season again with our Be Rich emphasis.
 
I was surprised when it was brought to my attention that my 8- year-old grandson, Cody, had filled out, signed and turned in a commitment card for $65. This was to be given the following year. When they found out that they were moving to Puerto Rico the first week of January, Cody turned his offering in that Sunday, $65, money he had been saving for a long time. His family told him he did not have to do it, but he wanted to. And, with excitement and faith, he placed all the money he had in the world in the offering plate. Can you say “proud moment” for Granddad?
 
By the way, this divine moment for Cody doesn’t mean he is more than eight years old. I played a video game with him not much later where he “killed” me a hundred times, howling with laughter every time Granddad bit the dust. I am sure he has been sent to his room a few times under the disciplinary tutelage of his parents.
 
A little boy with a divine moment where he experienced God’s grace in an act of giving but knowing there are equal human moments where grace is known just as much − this is how love works. 
  
This is much the way we are as adults. We have divine moments that rise in the sea of our own humanity. But this is what grace is and where we connect with God − when we love, give, serve and forgive. But equal grace is experienced when we fail, worry, even sin as God acts in us as much as he acts with us and through us. It’s all part of the journey. We love as we have been loved, give as we have received, serve as we have been served. We will never catch up with God, but it is God who we follow as disciples of his Son, Jesus Christ.
 
I love that I can occasionally rise to the occasion as a Christian, serving in a special moment, reflecting God’s love in a special season, giving to a cause above and beyond what I imagined I could do, all the ways that the Spirit works in my life. But I have learned to love equally as God bends down to where I sometimes find myself − a moment of depression, a season of failure, an act of sin. And, God forgives, loves and transforms that moment just as much by his grace in the cross; and from this place I rise again.
 
This is the story of the Christian life, the story of the church as well. We rise to the occasion in divine moments, but God also bends down to us in the moments that also happen that are only human. Thank you, God, for Jesus, the only one both human and divine.
 
Mike Ramsdell
Senior Pastor