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God is big, and we are small

by Pastor Mike Ramsdell

First Methodist Church is in the middle of a message series on the book of Romans. I am enjoying the series and appreciate the fact that we are reading the entire book together through our GPS readings. If you want to connect here and have not yet, go to www.growpraystudy.org.

The theme of Romans is simple for me and built around a simple idea:

Would we rather trust in our own ability, goodness, righteousness or the mercy, grace, love and gospel of God rooted in Jesus Christ?

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteousness person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:6-8

It is as simple as looking at our own reality. The more of life that goes by, the more life experiences I have, the more aware I am of humanity and my own reality. I am not enough, and neither is anyone I know. We mess up, fall short, hit limitation after limitation and face death.

I used to hope that one morning I would wake up and be past all of that, reach some level of spirituality and godliness, that I would be above my own humanity. Not yet, and I don’t anticipate that happening any time soon.

I used to think that one day I would wake up and all the people around me, including the church, would be past all that, have reached some level of spirituality, of godliness, that it would be above the core of our own human nature. Not yet, and I don’t anticipate it happening anytime soon.

We work so hard to make ourselves better and bigger than we really are (or at least to appear so) and, in the same journey, attempt to make God smaller than he really is.

God is big, and we are small. I want to live in the shadow of God’s mercy. The more I embrace my own humanity, the more I am able to embrace the divine. The more I embrace my own need, sin and limitations, the more my heart and faith reach out to a merciful and loving God. We need you, God. I am glad that you love us.

It is the core of God’s mercy from which the Christian life is lived — where we love, forgive, serve, bless, survive, overcome and even begin again. I think this is why Romans is so insistent that we are not saved or made right with God based on our works but on faith in God (confidence in God’s mercy expressed through Christ). This restored relationship is what fuels the rest of our lives, the relationships we build and the treasures we store in heaven.

The story of humanity is the story of a relationship with God lost. The story of God is the story of the initiative to restore that relationship.

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Romans 5:1

Heavenly Father, I admit that I am not enough, that I fall short, that sin marks my life. Forgive me; grant me grace, save my soul. I give my heart and life to you and accept the salvation and eternal life you give me in return. In Jesus’ name, AMEN.

Mike Ramsdell
Senior Pastor

Thoughts on Changing the World

by Pastor Mike Ramsdell

Okay, I am a news junkie; some weeks I handle it better than others. But the daily influx of information and the many formats we can get it in can be overwhelming as we hear about illegal immigration, turmoil in the Gaza Strip, political confrontations and so on.

As a Christian, I have opinions about most things — what I think about the happenings on the border, the chaos in Israel, even the explosive nature of Iraq. These things concern me; I pray about them and wish the world would become a better place. I have political, economic and certainly religious opinions.

But the question becomes for me, “What do I do?” (Besides just talk and worry about it.) James tells us, “Do not be just hearers of God’s word only, but doers.”

How do I change the world? How do I make it a better place? How do I respond to turmoil and uncertainty besides just worrying about it or even being afraid or angry?

What do I do?

Jesus said, “As God sent me to you, so I send you to the world.” Jesus offered good news, taught about the kingdom of God, healed the sick, served the poor and said, “Come unto me all you who labor and are heavy laden . . . and I will give you rest.”

I can’t change the world, but I can change the lives of those around me. An individual church can’t change the course of the world, but it can change the course of the community God has put it in.

First Methodist’s goal this year is to change lives, grow the church and build the community.

Hosting Annual Conference, a community Vacation Bible Camp, United Mission Week, reaching a broad area of our community, and now the Trinity Habitat for Humanity Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project is coming up (you can give to this cause — our goal is still $4,000 short — donate and learn more about how you can help on the church website). This is just a small snap shot of what God is doing through you. And, I love the series we have just begun, Saved, a study of the book of Romans designed to change hearts and lives and turn us towards Christ and place us in the grasp of his amazing, graceful salvation.

I led a middle school work team during United Mission Week. I hope I touched a small part of my world. If every Christian and every church were out there like that, we just might change our world and impact the issues our world continues to face.

I have signed up to help on one of the pre-build dates for the Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project, August 1. My hope is if we join with many others, we just might change the world we live in.

I am working on this Saved message series. Nothing changes lives and the world more than people coming to Christ. The Gospel is “the” change agent God designed to change hearts and lives.

And, we loved having two of our grandaughters on mission trip stay with us, as well as our youngest daughter and her children. What better place to change the world than through the love we have for our own families.

James said, “Be not hearers of God’s word only, but doers.” When we join with the thousands of other churches and the millions of other Christians following Jesus in the world, we make the difference God calls us to make, one person at a time, one neighborhood at a time, one community at a time, one city at a time, one state at a time, one country at a time and then the world. When we do this, action and faith take the place of fear, worry or anger, just like Jesus tells us to do.

Mike Ramsdell
Senior Pastor

 

Thoughts on Annual Conference

by Pastor Mike Ramsdell

Beginning Sunday, June 8, and running through Wednesday, June 11, First Methodist Mansfield will be hosting the Central Texas Annual Conference. Annual Conference begins Sunday night with a special worship service at 7:00 p.m. in our Sanctuary and continues with gatherings all day Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, including a special Service of Ordination on Tuesday night which our choir and orchestra will be an important part of. There will be well over 1,000 delegates, pastors and church leaders on campus each of those days.

In fact, pastors and delegates from 320 churches will fill up our campus, celebrating in worship, mobilizing in mission and strategizing for a new year. The Annual Conference is the core event of the United Methodist Church. It is an honor for First Methodist Mansfield to be hosting this important gathering. We hope that our church not only can be a host but also an inspiration for hundreds of pastors and churches.

One of the things that make this possible is our church family. We not only provide the space, but we also provide volunteers. We have many signed up to serve. As always, I am proud of First Methodist Mansfield and our dedicated family so willing to open up our church and community to a big piece of the church in Texas. Please join with me in praying that this Annual Conference meets the goals of uniting the church around the United Methodist mission of “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

For those who have volunteered, may I remind you that there is a meeting tonight, Wednesday, in the Chapel at 6:00 p.m. to communicate the details and expectations of volunteering at Annual Conference. If you need to know more, you can email Leslie Waldson.

Mike Ramsdell
Senior Pastor

Don't waste your life

by Pastor Mike Ramsdell

Here is my attempt at a list of five of the dumbest hobbies in the world: the rock, paper, scissors championship; paper airplane throwing contest; world stone-skipping championship; national staring contest; and even the Pooh stick championship (before you wonder what that is, it is from Winnie the Pooh). There is pretty much an unlimited number of ways people can spend their time.

I have often said that the Devil wants us to believe that something is nothing and nothing is something. The idea is that if he can get us to believe that something important is not, then we will let it slide. And if he can get us to believe that something unimportant is, that we will allow that to monopolize our time and dominate our lives.

This can make us unavailable for the kingdom and lead to the Christian wasting his or her life. Don’t waste your life.

If in the temptation in the wilderness the Devil could have gotten Jesus to think that his relationship with God and his mission were not important and that turning stones into bread and the pleasures of the world’s kingdoms were important, then the mission and purpose of Jesus would have been sabotaged.

In the year 2013, the average American spent more than five hours a day on the internet or using cell phones. In that same year, the average American watched more than 4½ hours of television.

One of the favorite responses people give when asked how things have been going is “busy.” I sometimes wonder how busy I really am. I watch TV. I mess with social media and surf the internet on occasion.

Here’s my point.

If we ruthlessly get rid of the “nothings” in our lives, we will have an enormous amount of time for the “somethings.” And the good news, I get to decide what those “nothings” are, as well as the “somethings” — the relationships, the causes, the necessities and the faith I profess.

We often talk about life being too short — the days not long enough, the week going by too fast. In reality, we have far more time and life than we realize if we ruthlessly rooted out the “nothings” from our lives. I think we would be amazed at the time we then had for the “somethings.”

Mike Ramsdell
Senior Pastor

Health Care Reform Bill

by Pastor Mike Ramsdell

Like many of us I have strong political, social, and religious opinions. These rise from how I think, how I feel, and what I have learned in my life, and hopefully opinions that reflect my faith as a Christian and pastor. I would, of course, have strong opinions about the health care reform bill recently passed and the process that led to it being signed into law.

Now let me first offer a quote from Paul Brown, a Duke University Graduate school student:
“Sisters and brothers, our unity is grounded in Christ—not in the details of health care reform, as a Church that includes both Hillary Clinton and George W. Bush as members, we are free to disagree on various social issues, but remain united in one Lord, one faith, and one baptism.”

What Connects the Church is our relationship with Jesus Christ and our commitment to serve Him, uniquely at first Methodist; “Making disciples of Jesus Christ, who will love God, love others, and serve the world!” Which ever side of this recent process each of us may light on, and the few that might wander somewhere in the middle, nothing changes when it comes to the mission of the Church and nothing changes when it comes to our responsibility to love God, live His way, and serve Him in the world. I pray that we always reflect Jesus Christ in grace, understanding, and even forgiveness (both receiving and giving).

  • Personally, I think that people who can take care of themselves should. Self-respect and personal responsibility is a Christian virtue. A person, family, and even a nation are strengthened when this virtue is highlighted and celebrated.
  • Secondly, I think a Christian society should somehow care for the poor and the disadvantaged, the elderly and the children. A society that neglects the least, the last, and the lost in their midst, especially in a time of affluence has abandoned a Christian virtue that is as core as Jesus’ basic teaching.
  • Thirdly, I don’t believe that political process are the way the Church has been challenged by biblical faith to change the world. We change the world by making courageous, compassionate, faithful disciples of Jesus Christ.

I also think, because of the Christian underpinnings of America, that these virtues are core to what America is about, even to what it is to be an American, values that have set this nation apart since its inception, and even in our most difficult times won out, such as overcoming the depression without chaos unlike many other nations, and addressing Civil Rights clearly and decisively even though belatedly. Programs of Social Security and Medicare have long provided help for the elderly during the seasons many could no longer care for themselves. When we add, as I think, that the United Methodist Church is the most American of churches, this idea of caring for the least, the last, and the lost, and yet also living in courage, self-respect, and personal responsibly (called personal holiness) define who we are.

The United Methodist Church itself has taken no denominational stand on this particular health bill. Only General Conference can speak for the denomination. Our last conference was held before even the beginnings of this Bill.

But one of our Boards, The Board of Church and Society (we have boards for everything) has spoken for the Bill. This board can operate independently as many of our local Churches do, which it has done in this case.

The United Methodist Church did go on record through our General Conference in Fort Worth, (a body of representatives from every Conference and State who meet every 4 years) as saying, “We believe it is a governmental responsibility to provide all citizens with health care!” But there is no detailed description of what this might look like though reasons that all Americans should have access to affordable health care are given in abundance. This Methodist representative body votes in a similar fashion as does the Nations representative body. I sometimes agree and sometimes I don’t.

To give an illustration about differing opinions of Methodist Christians: there are 44 Methodists in the House of Representatives, 18, all Democrats, voted for the Bill; 26, Democrats and Republicans voted against the Bill. My guess is that this proportion represents the nation’s division and probably the members of most national Church bodies.

Mike Ross, a United Methodist congressman who voted against the bill said, “There are parts of the bill that are good, including much needed health insurance reforms and making health insurance affordable for the uninsured, on the other hand, many parts of the bill cause me great concern, like telling people they must buy health insurance or be fined, cutting Medicare by more than a half-trillion dollars, increasing taxes and forcing businesses to provide health insurance to their employees.”

Laura Richardson a United Methodist Congresswoman from California voted for the legislation saying, “While this legislation does not include an comprehensive full public option, as the House of Representatives preferred, it is a giant step forward in beginning the reform of our nations current neglectful health system.”

Rep. Marion Berry from Arkansas said, “health care reform must be deficit—neutral and must be fully paid for by squeezing out more savings from the pharmaceutical manufacturers and private insurance industry instead of cramming down hospitals and other providers and taxing Americans!”

Some of my thoughts:
I am glad we are talking about Health Care Reform. I have been a part of the journey of many families with health care needs in our Church who found themselves in dire straights when it came to health emergencies, sometimes with no place to turn, and often in that situation through no fault of their own. Something had to eventually give in the spiraling cost of health care and insurance and access. In our own Central Texas Conference clergy are aware we have an impending crisis ahead because of the rising cost of health insurance.

I think the US health care system is amazing, again having journeyed with other families and my own, our Physicians, hospitals, and medical staffs are compassionate, competent, and second to none. We live in a country that cares about the hurts of others and our medical people and providers are representative of that.

I am unhappy about the abortion language, or lack of abortion language in the Bill. The bill was passed without this being processed through a legislative body absolutely clarifying that Federal Money, our money, will not be used for abortions.

I, like many, are disappointed (whoever is to blame) that this bill was not bipartisan, has become divisive, and polarized the American people as well as our Government representatives. Anger and mistrust has ensued that can only scuttle the very care for the least, the last, and the lost that everyone on both sides wants. It is the only major bill of its kind in history, including Medicare, social security, and the civil rights bill that was not bipartisan.
I am disappointed in the speed this bill was pushed through the system. I am chair of a task force that is redesigning thee simple structure of our Central Texas Methodist Conference. This will take at least two years. Our Church just completed simple strategic planning that took 3 years. How can a health care bill of this Nation Changing and people impacting magnitude be put together, examined, approved, and put into play in what is absolutely an unreasonable amount of time. No one seems to be sure how it is going to impact all of us.
There has not been sufficient study of the economic ramifications of this bill, ramifications on the health care industry, physicians and medical providers, businesses, Churches, families, the tax payer, the nation itself, and the future of the next generation. This seismic shift in health care is too important to have myriads of uncertainties that may have unintended consequences.

I am disappointed with the United Methodist Board of Church and Society. There was no effort put into representing the diverse views of all United Methodist Churches, Methodist pastors, and members of the Methodist family. If the Board has supported the idea of access to health care for the least, the last, and the lost , that is to be lauded, but to support this particular bill from beginning to end without understanding the ramifications, this is unacceptable to me, as has been expressed by many Methodist Pastors, congressmen, and Methodists.

Final Thoughts:
In America we have the privilege of opinion, to speak our thoughts, to vote for those who represent us, to change our minds, to struggle together for the good of our country, the good of our neighbor, the good of our family, and the hurting of our world. We are a democracy. Thank you God!

In the Church we have the privilege of “Making disciples of Jesus Christ, who will love God, love others, and serve the world!” This Health Care Bill at its very worst might raise our taxes and leave many of us entering a changed health care world that leaves us less choices and a country where Government has intruded into unprecedented areas, but at its very best might provide excellent health care for a child with a single mother, a person disabled through the onset of a debilitating disease, a family with an unemployed father, or anyone who has been limited from the best health care system in the world through no fault of their own.