October 10,2014by Pastor Mike Ramsdell
Two years ago we did a message series called Guardrails, naming some of the practices that help us keep our Christian life on track. There are four that have been very important to me for more than 40 years.
Just a week ago two men came walking down the hallway of the church. I was the only one there, and I asked if I could help them. I had not seen them before, and to be honest, I thought they were coming to ask for money. This happens often in churches, and they were dressed in a way that suggested this.
After I asked if I could help them, one said, “Are you the pastor here?” I told them that I am one of the pastors, and he said, “Good.” And, now I will paraphrase the conversation as best I can. He said, “I have been a Christian now for about 10 years and don’t have a church right now. I have visited around for a while, but I believe in tithing.” He then stopped, opened his wallet and pulled out a substantial amount of money, leaving not very much in the wallet. He gave it to me to give to the church. He then said that he had learned the blessings of giving and wanted to make sure he gave his tithe that month to God. After I thanked and affirmed his understanding of giving to God, he and his friend headed out the door and began walking down the street. It seemed they did not have a car.
Somewhere he learned that giving to God was a key part of faith and had experienced life blessings in that relationship. I also learned not to judge people just by what they look like. When I was anticipating someone to ask me for something, God sent someone to give to me.
He could have done whatever he wanted with his money. But he chose to give to God through the life and mission of First Methodist Mansfield, a mission that has been active and growing since 1885.
This is one of the practices that has guarded my heart, my life and my faith since 1973 (the year I gave my heart to Christ). I wanted to share with you those few things:
- Reading the Bible (putting the truth of God in my heart and mind);
- Prayer (formal, informal, lengthy, short, daily);
- Tithing (giving 10% of what God has given me back to God);
- Going to church (may sound like an old-fashioned term, but marking a Sabbath moment has been essential for me).
What this has done for me is help me see and understand life through a faith filter. When things go bad or they turn good, I learn to see them through the filter of my faith — what the Bible says, my relationship with God fostered through prayer, my belief that all I have or ever will have is a gift of God and all of life directed in consistency through my weekly church experience. It’s a big deal.
October 10,2014by Pastor Mike Ramsdell
For many years I had a dream that one day we would begin a special worship service and ministry called Celebrate Recovery. For many reasons we kept putting it on the back burner until four years ago when Pastor Caesar Rentie, our Celebrate Recovery Pastor, Debbie Black, our Care Ministries Director, Karen McGough, our worship leader, myself and many other leaders in our church got together and made it happen. After our leaders went through extensive training, and after much prayer, we gathered our great volunteer leaders and selected a time and space. Celebrate Recovery began. Since then, it has met every Thursday night at 6:30 p.m., even on Thanksgiving, Christmas and other holidays.
Tonight, Thursday, October 9, at 6:30 p.m., we will celebrate its 4th anniversary in our Chapel. I plan on being there, and know you are invited as well. If you are unable to attend, please pray for this great service and ministry.
When we were looking for an idea that would cover the purpose and meaning for Celebrate Recovery, these words came to me, “Everyone is recovering from something.” That has since stuck and become the guiding light as an invitation as hundreds of people have been helped through the service, step studies and other ministries that touch the heart and change a life through Celebrate Recovery.
Tonight’s guest speaker is a special one, Dr. Marty Jeane. Dr. Jeane is a long-time professional counselor, first with Center Street Counseling and more recently the Director of Regency Counseling in Mansfield. For many years he directed the counseling out of our Wesley Mission Center. Pastor Caesar will lead the service, Karen will lead worship and Dr, Jeanne, a United Methodist minister, will inspire us.
Jesus said this — and I paraphrase — “Who needs a physician? The sick do, that is who I have come to!” Jesus knew that the religious leaders of his day thought they were perfectly healthy and needed no help, so they rejected him. But everyone else? They knew they had broken pieces and responded to Jesus Christ. We all are a little bit or a lot broken. I am so glad Jesus has come to make us whole. The first step in becoming whole is admitting we might be broken.
That is the core of Celebrate Recovery but also the core of the Christian life. When the crippled man at the pool of Bethesda was asked by Jesus — “What do you want me to do for you?” — the answer was simple and clear. “Make me well.”
“Come to me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28
October 10,2014by Pastor Mike Ramsdell
When I was a kid, like most of us, I didn’t like tests very much — too many questions. Some are fill-in-the-blank, others true or false, occasionally multiple choice and even essay tests. I must confess, I thought multiple choice was the easiest. An educated guess seemed to guarantee a passing grade. I thought fill-in-the-blank was the most difficult, either I knew the answer or I didn’t, guessing wasn’t all that helpful.
One of the things that Jesus often did to engage the heart and the soul of his hearers was to ask questions, questions like this:
- Why do you call me Lord and don’t do what I say?
- Why do you doubt?
- Why are you afraid?
- Who do you say that I am?
- What do you want me to do for you?
These questions require a response. Here are some good questions that I believe are essential to answer if we want to really be and grow as followers of Jesus Christ:
- Is God the authority in your life choices and priorities?
- Are you engaged in a consistent, daily conversation with God?
- Does your life reflect the fruits of the Spirit? (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control)
- Are you devoted to God, to good and the people in your life? (What is the evidence?)
- Are you faithful in stewardship? (Does how you spend your money reflect what you believe?)
- Are you committed to Christian community? (the church, mutual support, service, accountability to others who also have chosen to follow Christ)
When we might be asking questions like — what will the weather be tomorrow, did the stock market go up or down, who won a certain football game or what is the correct answer for the Wheel of Fortune puzzle — we might be better served to go a little deeper on occasion. Yes, deeper can be intrusive, even painful, but deeper is where life is changed, a new life is found and a future formed and shaped by our commitment to Jesus Christ and partnership with God’s Holy Spirit.
I hope you will dig a little deeper and work though some of the questions in this thought.
September 09,2014by Pastor Mike Ramsdell
The best life, the good life is lived between the lines we refuse to cross.
The Bible teaches us many things — how to be saved, who God is, what a relationship with God looks like, what sin is, how we discover grace, how we might experience God, how we are supposed to treat each other. If offers many rich promises, encouraging words, challenging words, loving words. It even reminds us that “the truth shall set you free.”
One of the things American culture focuses a great deal on is that everyone should be able to do what they want. There should be few, if any, restrictions, that life should be about pleasing oneself as long as no one else is hurt. We are bombarded with images of unrestricted sexuality. Alcohol advertisements constantly are connected with enjoying life in almost every activity. Images of food attack our senses and our appetites hundreds of times a day, online, signs, TV, etc. Few of the images that we encounter show the backside of unrestricted living — broken marriages, broken lives, diabetes, high blood pressure, etc. It seems the culture tells us there is no penalty for a life without rules, yet all around us we see the self-sabotage of people who have bought into that.
While many worry about ISIS and the Ebola virus, the real danger is the destruction of values that undergird our lives, marriages, families and communities, a danger we have adapted to at such a level that we often don’t recognize how destructive it can be until the damage is done. (The marriage fails, the family is broken, health is lost, life community slides down hill, you know what I mean.)
When God set the people of Israel apart, he promised that they would be his people and he would be their God, that there would be a land that these used-to-be slaves would one day have, that they would one day be a great nation. The first thing God did was set them free from slavery (the Red Sea parted). The second thing God did was a stop at Mount Sinai when the Commandments were given (you might know 10 of them). God knew they could not thrive, become his people, become a great people and live the life he wanted for them without heavenly guidelines. Otherwise they would be just like the immoral and idolatrous people around them.
This pattern has not changed, and neither has the Bible.
The art of experiencing the full abundance of the Christian life over the long haul is becoming very familiar and very specific on the lines we will not cross because it is between those lines where the greatest rewards of life are experienced.
What are the lines you will not cross? If you don’t have any, I would recommend praying about it and getting some.
September 09,2014by Pastor Mike Ramsdell
Throughout the years many have attempted to paint a picture of God. Some see God as angry. Some see him as fatherly. Some see him with lightning bolts in his hands, others as a pointing, judging finger. He is often seen as a man with a white beard who sits in the clouds.
But when the Bible paints a picture of God, it is often very different. When God chooses the words that paint a portrait of himself that he wants to give us, it often looks like the following words, Psalm 23.
The Lord is my shepherd,
I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters.
He restores my soul;
He guides me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You have anointed my head with oil;
My cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
In the thought today, I simply want to say this: the last few days I have been saying this psalm throughout the day. It has brought me closer to God and opened up the relationship I have with God. I realized that often my walk with God is attempting to encourage God to guarantee an outcome I want, even altruistic outcomes. This psalm reminds me it is walking with God that is most important. If for us walking with God is a success, then no one and nothing can prevent a successful life.
May Psalm 23 guide your walk with God today and every day.