Saturday, April 28, 2012

Transitions 5

It seems like we are always engaged in transition of some sort.  Even today, Sue and I will be driving the 48 miles to the Town of Parker to search for a new home.  We had one all picked out but the offer and contract did not hold.  So, our transition process starts from square one.  God has always been good so we know it will all come together.

I think back to previous transitions; since we were married in 1975 we have lived in Denver, Genoa, Denver again, Wilmore, Fort Morgan (four different houses in that city), Longmont, Broomfield, Colorado Springs, Wilmore again, Colorado Springs again, and now on to Parker.  Along the way, the faithfulness of God has been evident at every turn.

For example, when we moved to Wilmore, Kentucky in 1981 to start our seminary journey, we watched the daily activity of God each day.  There was no question in our minds. Asbury Theological Seminary was the place God was leading us for our initial theological  and biblical preparation. 

We packed up our little Dodge Omni, rented a 12 foot U-Haul truck, and headed east on I-70.  It was a great adventure.  Everything was unknown but every step was certain.  We grew together under the care of godly men and women who loved us, taught us, and demonstrated what a life of ministry looked like.  We soaked it in. God was faithfully providing the solid foundation that we needed.

We worked with young people, worshiped with saints, and dreamed about then next transition.  One by one, they have arrived, and we have been blessed at every step.  Now, there is another step at hand.  The faithfulness of God will continue to teach, lead, and develop relationships.  Transition: a part of the plan of God.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Walking by Faith 4

The Genoa United Methodist Church is a place of great blessing.  You know the feeling!  For all of us there are places that continue to speak to our souls and remind us of the things that flow through our past experience.  Walking up the steps into the sanctuary in Genoa does that for me every time.

At the same time, we all know that the physical location is really not the 'church' it is just a building.  The real church is the people who choose to live by faith.  I was personally blessed to meet godly people who became models of ministry to me in the early days of my Christian life.

It all started with Ed.  It was a Sunday morning.  Everyone was gathered.  Folks were sitting in their regular places.  Sue and I were just moving off the 'guest-in-church' list.  (I could tell because Georgia asked me to dry dishes following a potluck.  It was a sure sign that we were quickly moving from guest to part-of-the-team status.)  JL preached about the Holy Spirit.  I was moved.  The benediction arrived and everyone made their way downstairs for coffee and some of Norma's cookies.

I remember looking around to see if anyone was watching as I quietly went back upstairs and slipped into the sanctuary.  I didn't really know what I was doing but I thought it would be good to pray.  I knelt at the altar rail and said something like..."Lord, if you will have me, and I understand if you say no thanks, but if you will have me...I am yours."  In a moment, I literally felt the weight of the past years shift from me to the heart of God.  I was warmed with joy and I could feel myself smiling.

Suddenly, I felt a huge hand on my shoulder.  I thought God must be snatching me off to heaven or getting ready to rough me up a bit.  I looked up and saw Ed.  He somehow saw me climbing the stairs so he quietly followed.   He came to pray with me and for me.  I think it was the first prayer anyone ever prayed over me.  It was a blessing that continues to this day.

From that moment forward, life has been about walking by faith.  The first step was to discern the first step!  What in the world were we going to do with a gift from God that was so powerful it would change our lives forever.  How should we serve, what will we do.  We only knew one thing for sure, the gift of forgiveness and the power of salvation was so significant we would not be content with just living it our week by week as a part of the chruch.  We needed to serve and we needed to find our how and where.

Thanks be to God, we had gracious guides for our early discipleship journey!  Suddenly, faith walking became a great adventure.  It continues to be an adventure today.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

A New Pastor In Town 3

If you stepped onto the sidewalk in front of the Jessen Sunshine Market on the corner of Main and Kunkel in Genoa, Colorado you would see FT Links blacksmith (he can fix anything) shop just across the street.  To the left (looking South) you would see the full scope of Main Street with a semi-functioning Conoco station and the Genoa Cafe.  A quick look to the North and you would spot the open space and wheat fields that mark the edge of the city.  Just before you get to the city limits (three blocks from the center of town) is the Genoa United Methodist Church.

There are actually four congregations in this community of 350 people.  There are two Lutheran bodies who have two separate building but are essentially one congregation.  They worship one week on the west edge of town and alternate the next week with worship next door to the parsonage.  One pastor, two congregations and a lovely arrangement that allows them all to survive the small numbers.  There is also a reformed LDS building and then the Methodist Church that anchors the north edge of town.

As owners and operators of the only grocery store in town it was our blessing to serve as the community welcome wagon.  When ever any one new moved to town (you can imagine the massive influx of people!!) we would bag a gift of groceries and go to meet them.  It was a hospitality gift that was really driven by a desperate desire to get people to buy groceries.  It was more marketing that hospitality!

It turns out that the Methodist Church has a tendency to move pastors from time to time.  So the former pastor packed and departed the parsonage while rumors abounded about the new pastor who would be arriving.  He and his family were moving to Genoa from a small town in Kentucky called Wilmore where he had just graduated from seminary.

As soon as we learned the date, we started the semi-sacred watch for a U-Haul truck to arrive.  Sure enough, it was right on time.  J.L. and Marian Penfold pulled into town on a hot summer day.  I loaded my pipe with a fresh clump of cherry tobacco, lit up, got the grocery bag, and walked past the Post Office to meet the new preacher / potential grocery purchaser. 

We met on the street next to their car.  He was kind of quiet, very polite, a bit reserved, but friendly to the core.  The welcome wagon task was done.  Now it was his turn.  He came through by walking the two blocks downtown that very afternoon to return the hello.  He even remembered my name.

I will save the details for later but let me just tell you the rest of the story now.  One thing led to another, I ended up sitting in church, JL preached, I went forward, knelt, and God took it from there.  The new preacher in town was a successful fisherman!  Thanks be to God!

Thursday, April 19, 2012

The Eastern Plains of Colorado 2

I mentioned that Sue and I consider the Town of Genoa to be our spiritual home.  We could actually expand that to say that we love the wide open space of eastern Colorado.  There is something special about watching the sun set on a horizon that is straight long and beautiful.  Try it sometime!  We discovered that trees are really overrated!

My uncle Jess is an intimate part of this story.  He was a loveable guy who could smile your socks off and talk anyone into anything.  He was a retired Captain in the Marine Corps and the Executive Vice President of Carson and Barnes Wild Animal Circus (more about our circus days to come).  Jess was my father's older brother who lived his life in alinement with the Sinatra "my way."  One of my favorite people of all time!

Jess decided that he wanted to move to his historical home town of Genoa.  He, along with my father and his younger brother, was born in a sod house just outside Genoa.  My grandfather and grandmother were homesteaders there in the late teens and early 1920's.  Grandpa cut the sod, stacked the walls, and packed the cracks with mud to create a home.  The old soddy is still there today just about a mile north of Genoa.

So...Jess got tired of traveling the world and decided to settle down in Genoa.  He asked us if we would help him with the move.  We loaded our GMC pickup with odd assorted boxes and set a course to head east on I-70 just ten miles outside of Limon.  We pulled into town and laughed.  Who in the world would ever live in a place like this?  There were tumble weeds blowing down Main Street and a young man walking to up the sidewalk carrying a rather large bull snake.  It was the Twilight Zone without Rod Serling's voice track!

We unloaded the boxes in the Genoa Hotel building that now belonged to Jess.  We continued to laugh as we looked across the street at a two story grocery store building that was obviously abandoned. It had spring loaded pull down yellowed shades that were drawn, water stained, and torn in strategic places.  We peeked through the large plate glass window and continued to laugh.  What in the world was my exotic uncle going to do in this town?

I remember the moment.  We were headed west on I-70 somewhere between Limon and Agate.  We were still laughing.  Somewhere on that strip of concrete Interstate, we looked at each other and said, "I wonder what that abandoned store is worth?"  We laughed some more.

By the time we got home to Denver, we had successfully laughed our way all the way to the phone book where we started our search.  Ultimately we found a number and made a call to Marvin and Alice Hicks.  They owned the building and had operated the store for almost twenty years until the frustration got to be more than Marvin could handle.  One day, out of the blue, he just shut the front door, pulled down the shades, turned the key, and walked away.

Marvin was surprised by our call.  You see, commercial real estate in Genoa was not really a hot market in the mid 70's.  On top of that, Marvin and Alice were content to never ever look for a buyer almost three years after the lock and key event.  He came up with a price, we laughed a little more, then we called him back and made an offer.  He accepted!

We resigned from Fort Logan Mental Health Center, cashed in ten years of  PERA pension funds, left Denver behind, and moved to a town where tumble weeds blew down Main Street.  It was the best thing that ever happened to us...well, almost the best set the stage for incredible blessings that were about to change the lives of two non-believers who were left over from the 60's.

By the time we moved into the little three bedroom apartment in the back of the store we discovered the the boxes of cereal, jars of baby food, and rotted produce were still there just the way they were on 'the day' the Genoa store closed.  We started to clean everything in sight, paint the entire store, scrub the shelves, and looked around for someone who knew something about running a grocery store.

It was beautiful.  A place for people to gather.  The coffee was always on.  The guys from the county road crew could drop in before we were actually open to make a sandwich or get something to drink  They just walked in through the unlocked front door, helped themselves, and left a few bucks on the counter.  It was beautiful...not exactly 'business' in the strictest sense of the word but it was beautiful.

Just down the street, north of the Post Office, was the Genoa United Methodist Church.  Two non-believers were about to discover the joy of Jesus.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The early days! 1

The following posts are not intended to be a 100% complete autobiography but it should give you a bit of a glimpse into what God has been doing in our lives for the last 30+ years.

Let's start with 1966.  Does that sound like a good year?  Some will say, yes...that was a good year.  While many others will do their best to recall the history of the 60's they learned in high school!  No problem, that is the joy of the church, young and old alike come together to live out the beauty of the Body of Christ!

Meanwhile, back to the Spring of 1966.  It was a time of personal trial for many.  The war in Viet Nam was full blown, registration for the draft was mandatory, the country was just 30 months in recovery from the assassination of President Kennedy, and I was looking for a job.  I saw an ad for a grounds maintenance position at Fort Logan Mental Health Center on the south side of Denver.  I drove across town (from Golden) to submit an application for a summer job mowing the massive lawns that once hosted huge military parades.

I slid my paperwork through the security slot as the woman behind the window at the personnel office asked me if I was applying for the training program.  I just knew I needed a job to see me through the summer so I said yes.  Little did I know that one simple blind affirmation would change the course of my life.  It was prevenient grace at its best.  I was an enthusiastic non-believer, but God was at work anyway.

In the end I was accepted for the Psychiatric Technician training program.  It was a six month program that taught us the very basics of dealing with emotionally disturbed people.  Ultimately the program brought me to a ten year relationship with the Children's Division where I worked in a residential program with children who struggled with  a wide variety of behavior and thought disorders.  That experience also opened the door to my undergraduate degree in Human Services / Mental Health.  But the best part was a tall beautiful young woman named Sue...We met the very first day I walked into Pioneer Cottage in the Children's Division.  We were married in March 1975.

It has been a marvelous journey.  In a nutshell, soon after we were married, we left the Denver area and bought a country grocery store in a small town (population 350) on the eastern plains of Colorado.  We only lived in Genoa for about three years but it is still our hometown and (more importantly) it is our spiritual home.  I will tell you in the next installment about the incredible things God did for us during our time in Genoa.

Meanwhile, know that the deepest experience we have found in our spiritual journey is the blessing of faithful prayer.  Prayer opened the door to forgiveness, the gift of salvation, a call to mission and ministry, and to every good gift we have ever received.  As a result, my invitation is to pray.  Faithfully, fully, and with great conviction...God will do the rest!

I am looking forward to talking very soon!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Movement Momentum

I suppose it is real.  It is actually just about all I have talked about for the last three weeks.  It must be real even though it still seems a bit foggy.  The move is on.

I can tell that it is on because we have been seeing much more of our real estate agent lately.  Contracts to e-sign, decisions to make, things moved into storage, photos from every angle, online is the stuff of the modern move.

Most moves take some level of momentum to accomplish the task.  You know momentum...the big mo some would say.  In football, when you have it, every one is smiles.  When you lose it, heads begin to hang and eyes start searching the ground.

Momentum is also a spiritual reality.  We have just walked together through the season of Lent.  It starts in darkness and ashes but ultimately ends up with the flames and wind of Pentecost.  And along the way, the momentum grows.  It increased as we arrived at Holy Week.  We gained ground and caught a glimmer of the mystery on Thursday evening.  But there seems to be a bit of a stopping spot (or at least a slow down) as we turn the corner in to the Friday we all call Good.

Momentum stops.  It stops like the when the sun stopped shining in the sixth hour of that sacred Friday on Calvary.  The sign said, "This is the king of the Jews."  But the words were written as a mockery.  Momentum seemed to stop, or at least shifted to the opposing team.

But Jesus had a surprise!  What do you think, did he know about Sunday morning when he breathed his last on Friday afternoon?

The move it on.  In reality it is not about you and me.  It is not about houses and agents.  It is the movement from death to life!  Now that is a shift that requires momentum.  It is dependent on the grace of God and we all know that the grace of God is a powerful reality.

So if you feel like momentum is shifting away from you...breathe deep, take a moment, read these words; "It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, for the sun stopped shining.  And the curtain of the temple was torn in two.  Jesus called out with a loud voice, 'Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.' When he had said this, he breathed his last."

No consider the words of the Centurion who was listening to those words.  He saw what happened, praised God and said, "Surely this was a righteous man."

Momentum moves stones!  Momentum causes death to become life!  I guess another way to spell momentum is with an "E".  Happy Easter!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

A Place At The Table

Our entry into Holy Week will provide an appropriate wrap up for our Lenten conversation.  The journey has not been complete but it has been favorably rich from my perspective.  We have thought together about a number of social, cultural, and economic factors that relate to poverty.  Together we have experienced personal sharing and the Biblical narrative as we sought to engage our lives with the experience of those who have very little in the world.

I have been impacted in several ways.  My faith has been encouraged by knowing that there are people around the world who are serving day by day to make life better for those who struggle.  At the same time, my faith has been challenged when I realize how little I do personally to touch the lives of people who live all around me.  In a very real way, I know I have learned how to trust in a way that puts the other person first.  And (from a very personal point of view) I have learned the names of several people from our community who live either homeless or on the edge.

Our Biblical journey would not be complete without a comment from Jesus.  There was a day when he began to teach along the Galilee hill country.  Crowds from Jerusalem, the Decapolis, and the Trans-Jordan gathered to hear him speak.  They did not know what they would hear, but that were anxious to listen.

He told them that they should be glad when people persecuted them.  He looked into their eyes and called them light and salt.  He taught them from ancient paths that were being reshaped to touch their lives on that day.  She spoke of loving those who stood in opposition as enemies.  And he taught them about not let your left hand know what the right hand is not store up treasures on earth.  Then he began to close his comments with a great promise, Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened.

The people did not know what to think.  Was he just a radical who had no common sense.  Or was he (from the words of C.S. Lewis) another liar, a lunatic, or could he be Lord of all.

Easter morning is at hand.  It is time to decide.  It is time to live.  How then shall we live our lives.  As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord!

Thanks for being a part of the journey...from here, we will shift to another journey.  We will be sharing about our upcoming move as we depart the Wilson community of faith to become a part of the Parker United Methodist Church.  We leave with sorrow for the loss of relationships, with joy for the incredible work that has been done, and with wonder for all God will do through a great group of disciples.  Amen