January 29, 2015by 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
January 22, 2015by Pastor Mike Ramsdell
I often hear people wistfully talk about how it used to be, how much better it was back then and how we ought to get back to what was. I certainly hear people complain a lot. Even when things are going well, there always seems to be at least one thing that isn't. And, of course, people worry about the future, trying to figure out a way to secure tomorrow or find the agency or system that can do that for them. It’s human nature.
Human nature often leads people to do this:
- Celebrate the past (even idolizing how much better it was than the present, even if that’s not true);
- Complain about the present (it seems things are very seldom exactly as we wish it was, so complaining ensues);
- Fear of the future (we want security, and because tomorrow is uncertain, anxiety happens).
When God called the people of Israel out of bondage in Egypt to the Promised Land, they at first were very excited. But as the journey continued, things changed. They begin to idolize how wonderful they remembered life in Egypt, remembering garlic and leeks but forgetting the slavery. They complained constantly about the trying days in the wilderness wandering, even though God gave them miracle after miracle. And, the future frightened them; this idea of an uncertain Promised Land that required faith and trust was not nearly as appealing as the garlic they had while slaves in Egypt.
What is the answer?
The past is covered by God’s grace. We get no points for our successes, and we lose no points for our failures.
The present is covered by thanksgiving. Giving thanks for God’s daily miracles is the fast track to peace and joy.
The future is covered by faith. God does not want us to walk with the certainty about a known future; God wants us to walk with him in faith and trust. This is what God is about and God’s purpose in our lives. It’s about having confidence that the God who has given us Jesus is trustworthy and choosing to trust him. “If God is for us, who could be against us?” (Romans 8:31)
I also want to remind everyone about the Block Party this Friday, 6:30-8:00 p.m., at the church. This is for our church family and our friends, neighbors in the area around the church and Ponder Elementary School, the school we connect with through the Big Hope mentoring program. We are celebrating their return to a brand new school a few blocks from our church (bounce houses, petting zoo, photo booth, hot dogs and chips, reading resources, music, crafts and activities). Bring the family, bring the kids, In the City for the City lived out in a bounce house with hot dogs. What could be better than that?
Finally, if you have yet to watch the Sunday, January 11, combined service, it is still available online. Just click on the link, and celebrate the first in the What’s Next? series. Then join us this weekend in one of our seven services to hear the third message in the same series from Pastor David. That Sunday, January 11, the Sanctuary was packed, and since then, we have had over 1,000 view the service online, including almost 400 live that day.
God is big enough,
Pastor Mike Ramsdell
January 15, 2015by Pastor Mike Ramsdell
Yesterday was a really good day. It began with a smoothie and heading out the door early with a cup of coffee in hand to lead some interview teams for the East District Committee on Ministry. It was great to see so many quality, young people who are entering ministry. That was not true a few years ago. It is a great sign of health for the church.
After the interviews were over, I dropped by three hospitals to check on some people. I have long enjoyed visiting and praying for people in seasons like this. I surely have appreciated when people have prayed for me in similar seasons.
I spent some time preparing for a Saturday funeral for a dear friend who served with me in our church in innumerable ways the last 20 years. It will be a sad time, but heaven is real and God is with us. I love hearing how his life was changed 20 years ago when he decided as he drove by our church that it was time for him and his wife to get back to church. He did, with bells on. That was a sad but good moment.
Supper was very good. Rhonda, my wife, had made some of my favorite foods for my noon men’s Bible study (thank you, Johnny, for teaching for me while I was out at the District Committee on Ministry). She saved some for me, lasagna and pineapple cake. It was a great meal. I can eat more calories than normal because of the marathon I will be running in a couple of weeks.
I made my way to choir practice for a few minutes, just wanted to say thanks to our choir and orchestra for the great way they supported last Sunday’s 11:00 a.m. combined service. It was an amazing, grace-filled Sunday. I also want to thank all of our music and worship people from all of our services, the many who attended worship in person and the many hundreds who worshiped online. (People are still checking out the service. If you have not, you can watch the service on the church website. I believe you will be glad you did.)
This coming weekend we have all our normal services, but they will be anything but normal. Our Senior Pastor David Alexander will be sharing his vision of What’s Next? for First Methodist Mansfield this weekend and next. I will be in all the services leading in worship and sharing the Pastoral Prayer. It is an important season.
I am also very excited about the message series that will follow this, Invite, which I will be preaching in all the Sanctuary services. I have been looking forward to this invitational, three-week series for a long time. I am eager to enter this new season as pastor which I pray will continue for many more years here at First Methodist Mansfield.
It was a good day, and I am convinced there are many more good days and years ahead.
God is big enough for what’s next.
Pastor Mike Ramsdell
January 8, 2015by Pastor Mike Ramsdell
In lieu of my regular thought for the week, I wanted to write a very important reminder. If you already have this on your calendar, I apologize for telling you again, but if you don’t, please mark Sunday, January 11, at 11:00 a.m., in the Sanctuary of First Methodist Mansfield.
For the first time in decades, First Methodist Mansfield is going to have just one, combined worship service this weekend. So, if you normally attend one of the many other services, thanks for your patience and commitment to join us for this one church, one weekend, one service.
Sunday is the first in a three-week series emphasis entitled What’s Next? and will set the stage for what is coming for First Methodist Mansfield. I really hope that everyone in our church family will make a triple effort to be a part of this historic moment by being present.
We will have G-Force children’s worship as always. We will have nursery as always.
Please note that we expect the Sanctuary to be packed (we want that, we never get to see each other all at one time). We have a plan for overflow spaces on our campus as well as parking. I believe this will be a very exciting, inspirational and historical gathering for worship.
It is going to be especially cool to see all our music people together at one time. We have multiple worship teams along with our choir and orchestra who will be leading us in worship.
I will be bringing this first message.
Please join me in praying for this critical weekend and the What’s Next? beginning. Also, please be present if at all possible. This is a one-of-a-kind moment that will set a direction for our church, one already great, but we expect to expand even further in our life and mission in the years ahead and with the opportunities that surround us.
God is big enough for First Methodist,
Pastor Mike Ramsdell
December 18, 2014by Pastor Mike Ramsdell
There are many Christmas traditions in the world. Some are very familiar such as the Christmas tree and decorations, as well as a gift-giving, jolly Santa. Others are not so familiar such as Krampus, an evil Santa Claus in Austria who is supposed to beat and punish so-called bad children, and in Japan, Kentucky Fried Chicken is enormously popular as a Christmas dinner with people lining up early to pick up the greasy delicacy.
One Christmas tradition that I love and see growing every year in almost every church is the Christmas Eve Candlelight Service. I see families, couples and singles who plan into their Christmas season presents, trees, food, maybe a Christmas parade and a Christmas Eve Candlelight Service (a time to get it right as we come together around the simple theme of the season — Christ is born.) We sing, act out and read the Christmas story and share the candles symbolizing Jesus as the light of the world. I see this moment becoming a growing, connecting time for families, churches and communities around the country.
It is a great way to focus on Christ, the light of the world, in the midst of so many other fun and sometimes odd traditions. I love seeing it become a lifelong tradition for children. It is part of Christmas they will never forget and bring their children back to when that time comes.
I hope you can join us for one of our services this year. We have two on December 23, 6:00 and 8:00 p.m. Then December 24, we have services at 2:00, 4:00, 6:00, 8:00, 10:00 and 11:30 p.m. If you want to know more check out christmasinmansfield.fmcm.org. I hope to see you at one.
I would add one more thing as well. There are just a few more days before 2014 ends. The end-of-the-year gifts from the First Methodist family to the life and mission of First Methodist Church are always welcome and needed. Few churches anywhere make the impact this church family does, locally and beyond. In the season marked by giving, please remember gifts to and through First Methodist really do make a difference. In fact, dollar for dollar, I don’t believe you can make a bigger difference anywhere than in the comprehensive, faith-based way we do.