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What might your story of grace look like?

February 26, 2015

by Pastor Mike Ramsdell

In A Story of Grace, we meet Epiphanie, the creator and leader of ZOE’s Giving Hope Program that is changing the lives of thousands of orphans in Rwanda and throughout Africa. We have had the privilege of partnering with her and ZOE for many years, providing substantial resources for this special ministry.
 
What is so special about Epiphane is the tragedy she and so many experienced in the 1992 Rwanda Genocide where almost a million Tutsis were slaughtered by the Hutus in this small African nation. Epiphanie is a Tutsi; it was her friends, some of her family and many of her people who were killed. She could have responded with anger, bitterness and even revenge. Instead, her faith called her to return to Rwanda and bless orphan children for almost 20 years. She is a testimony to a story of grace.
 
Her response to what was so unfair and undeserved was to give, love, serve and invest grace into the hearts of tens of thousands, an investment First Methodist has joined her in.
 
Now, I want to tell you about Lynn Steelman. Lynn died not long ago at 42 leaving a wife, three sons and a father. He found out years ago that he had what is called Alexander’s Disease, a brain disease that would cause an early death. He knew for a long time he might not get past 40.
 
It was certainly unfair, undeserved and tragic. Lynn could have responded in bitterness and resentment. He really had a right to do that. He did not do anything to deserve this disease that only affects a few hundred people in all the world.
 
Lynn could have lived out a bucket list — going places, doing things, finding adventure, buying stuff, etc. — not necessarily a bad thing.
 
But his wife, Ragan, said instead, Lynn chose to:
 
“Cram as much kindness, generosity, love and friendship into every hour of every day, every day of every week, every week of every month, every month of every year up until death called him to heaven.”
 
Often life can seem unfair. Things come our way that we think we did not deserve. Things are done to us, or we do things that can create baggage of resentment, bitterness and even more. But when we accept the grace of God that comes so fully in Jesus Christ, we are called to lay that baggage down and live into our own story of grace — the story of people who have experienced the amazing grace of God in his Son Jesus Christ.
 
I shared with you Epiphanie’s story of grace and Lynn’s. What might your’s look like? What could it look like?  What can we cram into our days?
 
I would also like to offer an invitation.
 
Pastor David and I will be leading a trip to the Holy Land February 10-19, 2016. In preparation, we will have an informational meeting on Sunday, March 15, at 3:00 p.m. in the Chapel. If you think you might be interested, join us that evening. You can also check out information about the trip and download a brochure with the registration form on the church website. You can even sign up today. Many have already. On this trip, we will take only one bus so we can all stay together the entire trip, so the numbers are limited.
 
Second, I am excited about becoming the lead preacher and pastor for the 5:00 p.m. Sunday contemporary service in the Chapel. We are moving from a video format to live preaching. If you are looking for a time that works for you, consider Sunday at 5:00 p.m. And if you can’t attend your normal service due to other obligations, then think Sunday at 5:00 p.m. I believe this service has great potential and would love to see it grow. See you this weekend for A Story of Grace.

Pastor Mike Ramsdell

Thoughts on Lent

February 19, 2015

by Pastor Mike Ramsdell

We just completed a very inspirational Ash Wednesday Service. I remember when we began that service 20 years ago we had a handful in attendance. Last night we had almost 700 people gather to mark the first day of Lent, and at the same time, over 100 students met in the Loft marking the same day — all coming to kneel at an altar and have ashes placed on their foreheads in the mark of the cross.
 
Why?
 
Sin is a word we don’t use very much. I often think it is because we don’t understand what it really means. We might define it as doing bad things for which God will judge us. For some, there is a list of sins they were taught as children to avoid — cursing, drinking, smoking, stealing — you know the list. But it is much more than that.
 
The actual word “sin” means “missing the mark,” meaning God created us for a special purpose and special lives that we can easily miss. Sin takes us in another direction, and we find ourselves separated from a loving relationship with God and often with each other. We feel that condition and are called to an altar to kneel and find restoration, redemption, even salvation that deep down we know can only come from God. The world we live in and the lives we often live are sometimes dominated and defined by sin in such a way that we feel its weight — the things done to us and the things we have done that defined how we feel, what we think and even what we do. God wants more for us.
 
How serious is this sin thing? The answer God gives for it is most clear, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life”(John 3:16). Sin and the damage sin does is so serious that only the cross of Christ could provide the answer for it.
 
So, ashes in the shape of the cross placed on the foreheads or hands of people who kneel in confession and contrition, accepting the amazing cross-based grace that not only saves our souls but restores us into a loving relationship with God.
 
“For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates his own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6-8).
 
This should bring us to our knees again and again. Thank you, God, for your amazing grace that overcomes the sin we have done and the things sin has done to us. 

Pastor Mike Ramsdell

Invest and invite

February 12, 2015

by Pastor Mike Ramsdell

Invest and invite — this is what Jesus did, and it was certainly the way the disciples learned to follow him in the Roman world. Jesus invested in people, in whatever stage or season of life they were.
 
As he and his disciples traveled from Galilee to Jerusalem, they passed through Samaria. The religious leaders of Israel would never pass that way even though it was shorter; they would go around, unwilling to come into any kind of contact with a Samaritan. Yet, Jesus stopped at a well to get a drink, and there he found one woman —  not just a Samaritan but a woman, and not just any woman but one who had had five husbands and was not married to the man with whom she was living.
 
No self-respecting Jew would even look at her much less talk to her. Jesus asked for a drink. She was shocked, not believing that a Jew, and a rabbi to boot, would take water from her, even talk to her. But Jesus did, and a conversation began.
 
Jesus invested in this woman at a well.
 
Jesus then invited.
 
“Ask of me, and I will give you water that you will never thirst again.”
 
One of the aspects of a serious disciple of Jesus is a willingness to invest in other people  building relationships, friendships, listening and caring. This is done in all kinds of ways. Jesus did it with a simple conversation at a well. Then we invite  to church, to Christ, to prayer, into that which is most important to us. Surely water on a hot day is important. It was important to Jesus, but not as important as the water that quenches the thirst of the soul.
 
And, I would like to give you three special invitations:

  1.  The Love & Respect Marriage Conference is Friday and Saturday, February 27/28. I am delighted to be the host pastor of this event. The theme is clear: “Women need love. Men need respect. It’s as simple and as complicated at that.” For more information and to register, go to the church website.
     
  2. Our Ash Wednesday Service, when the season of Lent begins, is February 18 at 7:00 p.m. in our Sanctuary. I hope you will attend as we begin this important season together with an inspirational service, message and the traditional imposition of ashes. It seems that every year more and more people come, almost filling up our Sanctuary with people eager to connect with the journey of Christ to the cross.
     
  3. Our next message series begins the weekend of February 21/22, A Story of Grace. We will explore many of the stories of ZOE Ministry and Rwanda (our team returns today with many stories and extensive video footage) and relate those stories to the promise of Christ — redemption, reconciliation, restoration, even deliverance, what Jesus came to do. He said, “I have come to seek and to save the lost.” I believe this series that leads to Easter will be significant and connect us more closely to Christ, the Easter story and the world God calls us to serve. 

Pastor Mike Ramsdell

Thoughts on sharing your beliefs

February 5, 2015

by Pastor Mike Ramsdell

My wife Rhonda has never been a New England Patriots fan. She grew up rooting for the Miami Dolphins as a resident of Key West and became a Cowboys fan the last 37 years since she has lived in Texas.
 
But during the recent Super Bowl, she was all about the Patriots. Why, you ask? Earlier this year she reconnected with her Massachusetts family, uncle, aunts and a few cousins, a family who was misplaced for all kinds of reasons when she was 7. Let me tell you, they are fans of the New England Patriots —eating, drinking and watching this team, Tom Brady, Bill Beliceck and all. (I almost got kicked out of their house when I showed up with a Dallas Cowboys shirt on.)
 
I have watched a remarkable change happen — in just a few weeks a Cowboys fan has become a Patriots fan (even though I told her they are cheaters).
 
One of her cousins has a Patriots jersey in the mail heading to Rhonda. (Rhonda was born in Boston, though raised in Key West.)
 
The love she has built for her Boston family has moved her to a place I never imagined, a New England Patriots fan. She was one of few Texans who were happy about the score of the game.
 
We are in a series called Invite:
 
It’s a myth that most people don’t want to know the faith side of the people they trust!
 
When people trust us (and I often have said to trust the advice and guidance of people who love you, and feel free to ignore the same from those who don’t), we have an open door to their hearts. If we are willing to take small steps to get there — to say a prayer and offer a prayer, to live faithfully in grace, to learn to live in an invitational way, to let that which is most important to us be seen by those we love, family, friends and others who we make room in our lives for — then we become very close to bringing them to Christ, to the faith that we hold so dear, the relationship with Christ that gets us through life and one day will carry us into everlasting life.
 
Rhonda’s New England family really believes in the Patriots dynasty and is more than willing to share that belief. What do you believe, and do you want to share that belief with those you love?

Pastor Mike Ramsdell

The only way to fail as a Christian is to quit

January 29, 2015

by Pastor Mike Ramsdell

It was the 20th mile. I had been running already for 20 miles, beginning in the French Quarter of New Orleans, having run the length of historic St. Charles Drive past many plantation-style homes, then having made my way to Lake Pontchartrain along the south levee, heading for the turn around back to the finish line still 6.2 hard miles away. It was nice weather, but as the day had worn on, the sun grew hotter, as did the temperature. The humidity did not help. And, then two, long hills appeared, and what had not been terribly difficult up to that point had become very difficult. I slowed down considerably as I trudged forward to the finish line. I was not going to quit, too much had gone into this effort that began almost three years before when I put on my first decent running shoes and stepped out the door barely able to make it to the end of the street. I had survived a heart attack and a stent insertion in an artery going into my heart. GIBE. I had many days where instead of sitting on my couch or going out to dinner, I ran the miles I needed to run — in the cold, the wet, the heat and often in the dark. I wasn’t going to quit. All throughout the race I received messages of encouragement. I thought of the gifts I received on my journey to New Orleans from church family, my own family’s notes of encouragement, the many who had supported and even sacrificed with me for this goal I set. All were a blessing and a reason not to give up.
 
When I crossed the finish line, my wife was there, she always is (I got a congratulatory kiss). Our friends who traveled with us were there too. Even though there were 14,000 people in the race, the announcer called out my name, and then I received the marathon medal, a bottle of chocolate milk, a banana and a finisher’s jacket that I wore back home and the next day at the lead staff retreat.
 
“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus . . .” Hebrews 12:1
 
Every race has a beginning — the decision to run it, the first step and then the next. This is of course the easy part. It is not that hard to become a Christian, but it is surely hard to follow Christ. It is exciting, those first few steps of Bible reading, prayer, finding a church, entering this new area of life. But then it gets harder, the 20th mile comes, the sun heats up, the hills appear and weariness can set in. I think this is often the greatest enemy of the Christian journey — not temptation, just the awareness that it is getting harder or even less exciting and new and how easy it might be just to quit.
 
The only way to fail as a Christian is to quit.
 
The rewards of running a marathon have been more fulfilling than I expected.
 
The rewards in the race we call the Christian life are, well, eternal!

Pastor Mike Ramsdell