Living Generously – Growing Together

Over the last few weeks, and continuing into November, we have engaged a sermon series titled Living Generously. These sermons include a series of films that tell the story of the Donovan family as they seek to understand what it means to live the words of Jesus. Each week, the videos have been fun and challenging. Each episode gives us a glimpse of the Donovan family’s journey as they take risks, experience suffering and joy, and find themselves transformed by the call of Christ.
 
In our first episode, we heard about giving good sheep and giving “stinky” sheep. Ray, the Donovan family gardener, explained that long ago, when God’s people would sacrifice sheep to God, some would offer their biggest, best, most valuable to sheep to God. Others would give away a sickly, stinky sheep, one they didn’t want in the first place. Giving our “good sheep” to God reflects our love for God. This is the heart of generous living: loving God with our whole hearts, souls and minds (Matt 22:34-40). As we examine our own generosity, we have to ask ourselves, “Is God our first love?”
 
Throughout this series we have also been hearing and reading testimonies from within our own congregation about the impact of living generously.
 
Living generously is a lifestyle I adopted when I ultimately realized it is more blessed to give than to receive. It involves prioritizing my money, my time. my services, and more. I learned to live generously when it became apparent that the way I personally receive love is by “time” given to me. As a Christian I now offer my time to encourage others, in sickness and despair…by notes and visits and prayers. I also contribute to my church as much as I can, more freely and joyfully. How living generously affects the outreach of the church is evident every day: providing PADS shelter in the church; the UMW Rummage Sale proceeds augmenting local and global efforts, being an election polling site to the voters in town, Christian social services providing temporary homes to families in need, etc.
 
Marilyn
 
Living Generously gives us all a chance to re-evaluate the demands upon our lives and reset our hearts toward gratitude. The series will conclude with our every member commitment campaign. We will receive pledge cards during worship on Sunday, November 17. You will receive more information about this in mail. Please have the “generosity” conversation at home before November 17, so that you will be ready to turn in your pledge card on that day.
God loves each one of us. Our best response is to love God. When God is our first love, we want to give God the best we have to offer, not our leftovers. Love moves us to give our biggest and best sheep to God.
–Jay

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Living Generously

Life is busy, and it is easy for our hearts to be distracted by the demands we face.  As the summer comes to a close we are all evaluating our calendars and gearing up for the change of pace that comes with the change of season. It is a good  time for us to re-evaluate our priorities.
 
Beginning in October we will begin a new series, titled Living Generously. This  series includes a series of short videos that tell the story of the Donovan family as they seek to understand what it means to live the words of Jesus. Each week in worship we will see  a glimpse of their journey as they take risks, experience suffering and joy, and find themselves  transformed by the call of Christ. You won’t want to miss a single Sunday! At the conclusion of the  series we will have the opportunity to make a real-life response through our every member commitment campaign.
 
Generosity is an important part of the Christian life, and an important part of the life of UMCL. The  members of this congregation are generous with their finances and with their time. Here are just two  examples of how generosity is lived out at UMCL:
 
Because of the generosity of this congregation, specifically through the Outreach Committee, I was able to help people in another country. This in turn led me to be generous with my time by serving on the Outreach Committee for a few years.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     -Becky Traut
 
Helping Hands and the Ride Sharing ministries started as needs arose in our congregation. Don & Jeris Boyce and John McNally started these ministries to help those who struggled in one way or another. Over the years, these ministries have expanded to helping folks throughout Lake and Cook counties. Our group has expanded to include folks from St. Lawrence Church and the men of UMCL. We pick up donated furniture and appliances that are distributed to people coming out of PADS, The Harbor, and San Palo Church of Waukegan. This ministry continues because there is a need, and because of the joy our people get from helping others.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             -Tom Plohr
 
We will hear more stories of generosity within our congregation as we go through the Living Generously series.
 
Each of us has so many blessings, but often the situations of our lives distract us and our attitudes are less than generous. Together, let’s work through the distractions and learn to live according to the call of Christ upon us!
 
–Jay

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What’s Love Got To Do With It?

We live in a time of great cultural anxiety. Our nation is more polarized today than at any time in my memory. We characterize people who disagree with us as villains. Our politicians consider “dialogue” and “compromise” to be dirty words. As a culture, we are quite willing to kill the killer, hate the hater, and be close-minded to the close-minded. But in the end, hatred doesn’t work. Hatred breeds hatred.
 
And yet, hatred seems to be SOP, Standard Operating Procedure, for so much of the world. We plan and plot how to overcome those with whom we disagree. We rejoice in their failures and mourn at their successes. We write letters, make phone calls, send e-mails and muster up support for “our side” among our friends. We try to get people to side with us and join the team of those who are angry with others. And then, we go to war with them.
 
There is no doubt that the polarization we are experiencing is feeding today’s culture of violence and mass shootings. We’ve even identified a whole new category of “domestic terrorism” to describe events like the Oklahoma City bombing, the Boston Marathon bombing, the Charleston church shooting, the Orlando nightclub shooting, the Congressional baseball shooting and the El Paso Wal-Mart shooting. Our willingness to hate the hater and to villainize those with whom we disagree is part of this national tragedy.
 
So, what are we to do? Is there a way to end the vicious cycle of hatred? How do we overcome the anger people experience when they feel betrayed? How can we prevent the downward spiral into self destructive patterns of depression, anger or revenge that so many individuals experience when they have suffered abuse at the hands of another?
 
Jesus answered that question nearly two thousand years ago. He said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (See the Gospel of Matthew 5:43- 44.)
 
For Jesus, it is not enough to stop hating your enemy. If you want to experience the blessing of God you have to go farther than that. You have to love your enemy.
 
Jesus didn’t mean that to love our enemy means we support them in what they do. To love our enemy does not mean we have to agree with them, or even necessarily become good friends with them. Loving our enemy means that the cycle of hate, the cycle of revenge, the cycle of retaliation stops with us. You can be angry with a person for what they do, and yet still love them.
 
If the cycle of violence that has become so much a part of our culture today is going to be broken, it will take more than changing our gun laws. It will require the power of love. Join us on Sunday morning to discover how.
 
Jay

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A Place to Belong! A Truth to Believe! A Way to Become!

On July 1, Ashish and I (and our families) will officially begin our third year at UMCL! Happy anniversary to us!
 
In the United Methodist Church, pastors are appointed each year by the area Bishop. Every appointment is for one year at a time. I describe this process as, “having a one-year contract with the option to renew.” At Annual Conference in June, Ashish and I were both re-appointed to UMCL for July 1, 2019 to July 1, 2020.
 
Saying I’m in my third year somehow feels more substantial than being in year one or two. For the first year and a half, it seemed like I was often refered to as the “new” pastor. Being “new” got old after a while. I’m glad to see the “new” description to have been mostly dropped. Dropping the “new” makes me feel like I belong.
 
I came to UMCL believing that God wanted me to be here, so in that sense I knew I “belonged” here. And certainly the overwhelmingly positive response to our arrival here made us feel accepted and loved. But now that we’re entering “year three” I have a sense of belonging in being connected to people, being accepted, being part of the group. There are still names that I do not know, and history of which I am unaware, but I’m glad to be part of such a beautiful community. In a society where people move so often, where we rarely spend our adult lives in the same community in which we grew up, there is a great need to feel like we belong.
 
Feeling like we belong really comes from building relationships. The Biblical word for this is “oikos.” Oikos relationships are the kind where we walk through valleys together, where we find support, where a trusted friend will tell us lovingly when we’ve screwed up, where we can be honest with each other and know we will still be loved.
 
This deep community does not happen if we only interact for an hour on Sunday morning. That’s why it’s so important to be involved in a small group or a ministry. Whether you sing in the choir, or serve as an usher, or you are in a Sunday school class or a UMW circle, whether you serve on a committee or go on a mission trip, we all need to be building faith-based relationships.
A recent Barna survey indicated that Americans frequently interact with each other about their religious beliefs and experiences, but seldom actually change their behavior. The survey reviewed the behavior of Christian adults over a five year period. Even more disturbing is the survey result that more people changed their behavior by moving away from the church than toward it. Only 7% of respondents said they had made a change in their life
that was identified as developing a positive Christian behavior. But 16% of survey respondents said the change in their behavior was away from the church, praying less, reading the Bible less, or generally “decreasing religious activity.” So, it is not enough for us to be a place to belong; we also have to be a place to “become.” We can build on our sense of belonging to encourage each other to become more of what God wants us to be.
 
But, it is the “truth to believe” that ultimately binds us together and moves us on toward God’s vision for ourselves. Because God came to us as one of us in Jesus; because of Jesus’ love and forgiveness; because of the strength available to us each day through the Holy Spirit; we have the chance to be new people and partners with God in making this world more of what God intends it to be.
A Place to Belong. A Truth to Believe. A Way to Become.
 
I believe UMCL embodies all of this. And I am grateful for it. But it’s up to all of us to engage in the process of belonging, believing, becoming!
 
-Jay

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It’s About Love, Not Survival

The trend is hardly even news any more — despite the growth in population in the United States, the number of Christians in America continues to decline. According to the Pew Research Center’s newest report, the United States is a significantly less Christian country than it was seven years ago.
 
The Pew survey shows dramatic shifts as large numbers of people leave major denominations, including the United Methodist Church.
 
In a similar study, the General Social Survey (GSS), reports that while about 30 percent of Americans identified themselves as “Protestant” in 1972, that number is only 15 percent today. In other words, based on the GSS, main-line Protestant churches lost half their people over the last 40 years.

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Hatred, Love and Easter

The world was shocked, once again, by an overwhelming display of hatred on March 15, in Christchurch, New Zealand, as a white supremacist live-streamed the killing of 50 people gathered for prayer at the Al Noor Mosque and the Linwood Islamic Centre. An additional 50 people were injured.
 
A 28-year-old Australian man, described in media reports as part of the “alt-right”, was arrested and charged with murder. The attacks have been linked to an increase in white supremacism and alt-right extremism globally. The suspect published a manifesto and live-streamed the first attack on Facebook Live. It is the deadliest mass shooting in modern New Zealand history.
 
The U.S. has seen a rise in violence by white supremacists, including the murders of 11 people at a Pittsburgh Synagogue last fall. There was also a deadly clash at a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017, the murders of nine people at a church in Charleston in 2015 and the deaths of six at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin in 2012.
 
This doesn’t even count the other mass shootings: Aurora, IL, February 15, 2019, 6 dead; Mercy Hospital, Chicago, November 19, 2018, 4 dead; Thousand Oaks, CA, November 7, 2018, 13 dead; Stoneman Douglas HS, Parkland Florida, February 14, 2018, 17 dead. The list goes on, there were 323 mass shootings in the US in 2018.
 
We live in a world of brokenness and sin; a world where hatred breeds hatred and violence breeds violence.
 
And yet, this is the world into which Jesus came. Jesus came to this world to “put flesh” on the love of God. He came to bring healing to our brokenness, to overcome hatred with love. And for his efforts, Jesus was crucified between two thieves.
 
As harsh as that is, we know that it is not the end of the story. We know that even death could not stop Jesus’ love. Because of Easter, we know that love has the power to overcome hatred. Because of Easter, we know that God offers a forgiveness that overwhelms judgment.
 
Each year, we travel through Good Friday to get to Easter. The crucifixion and resurrection remind us that while our world is still broken, God’s agenda is reconciliation. We are forgiven; we can forgive. We are loved; we can love.
 
To live as Easter people is to live with love as our guide. To live as Easter people is to respond to hatred with love. To live as Easter people is to love so fully and completely that we overwhelm hate. Love is not weakness. Love is stronger than hate, if we choose to truly love. Love can turn an angry young boy into a faithful follower of Christ.
 
Please join us as we make this journey to Easter:
–  Palm Sunday, April 14, at 9:30 and 11 am: We will remember Jesus’ triumphant entry in to Jerusalem with the waving of palm branches.
–  Good Friday, April 19, at 7 pm: We will remember Jesus’ sacrifice for us, share in the Lord’s Supper, and be led      in worship by the Chancel Choir singing Gabriel Faure’s Requiem.
–  Easter Sunday, April 21, at 9:30 and 11 am: We will celebrate the message that love overcomes hate.
 
Easter gives us the power to bring healing to the brokenness we encounter, even within our own lives.
 
–Jay

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Time to Rethink Lent

 
Christians need to re-think Lent. To most people, all this talk about self-denial and fasting is like the talking about astrophysics or nanotechnology. It makes sense to some people, but most people just politely nod their heads and then live their lives as they had before.
 
 
 

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Beyond Cards and Chocolates

Ah, love is in the air! Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, a day for romance and lovers. Or is it? Would the real Valentine (yes, he was a real person, not a cherub who shot arrows) even recognize our February 14 celebration?

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Whose Birthday Is It, Anyway?

The sales have already started! Last year, Black Friday crept into Black Thursday. This year, Christmas “Black Friday” sales started in October! The advertisers’ job is to tell us what we need. We “need” that new technology. We “need” that new toy or that new outfit. It just won’t be Christmas if that one special item isn’t under the tree!

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Called To Do Great Things

Nearly every day at UMCL I hear the story of someone whose life has been touched by the various ministries of this congregation. Whether it is a teen struggling with questions of faith, or a young adult looking for community, or a family needing winter coats for their kids, each story portrays a way that this congregation is “Jesus with skin on.”

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