Category Archives: Meditations

Meditations – October 15, 2014

By Rev. Mike Gudka, St. Paul United Methodist Church

My articles for this month are a little different than what I have done in the past. I am going to look at the history behind some of the great old hymns that many have come to know and love. Many of these hymns have an interesting past; they come from many different people and church denominations, and help tell a powerful story of what we believe. They can comfort us, bring back strong memories, and help us draw closer to Christ.

This week I am going to look at the hymn “He Lives.” This tune was written out of an experience that was had by the Presbyterian pastor Alfred H. Ackley in 1933. Alfred was having a discussion with a Jew about Christ and the discussion was not going well. The man finally turned to Alfred and quipped, “Why should I worship a dead Jew?” Alfred quickly responded with, “But Jesus lives!”

From this experience he wrote this hymn that is very upbeat, joyful, and proclaims without any doubt that Jesus Christ rose from the dead and is alive today. So the next time you have the opportunity to sing this wonderful hymn, sing it out loud and strong, just like Alfred powerful response to an unbeliever, “I serve a risen Savior, he’s in the world today; I know that he is living, whatever foes may say. I see his hand of mercy, I hear his voice of cheer, and just the time I need him, he’s always near. He lives (he lives), he lives (he lives), Christ Jesus lives today! He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way. He lives (he lives), he lives (he lives) salvation to impart! You ask me how I know he lives? He lives within my heart.”

Meditations – October 1, 2014

By Rev. Mike Gudka
My articles for this month are going to be a little different than what I have done in the past. For these articles I am going to look at the history behind some of the great old hymns that many have come to know and love. Many of these hymns have an interesting past; they come from many different people and church denominations, and help tell a powerful story of what we believe. They can comfort us, bring back strong memories, and help us draw closer to Christ.
So this week, I am going to look at “It is Well with my Soul.” In 1873, a Chicago Lawyer Horatio G. Spafford sent his wife and four daughters on a ship headed out on a European vacation. He was going to follow them on another ship at a later time. The name of the ship that his wife and four daughters traveled on was the SS Ville du Havre. But tragically, while at sea this ship was struck by another ship and sank. All four of his daughters where lost, but his wife survived the tragedy. From England, she sent Horatio a very simple cable, “Saved alone.”
Horatio then sailed to see his wife in England and when his shipped reached the place where his wife’s ship had sunk, the Captain notified Horatio. Within the sea of emotions that Horatio must have experienced, he sat down and wrote “It is Well with My Soul.” So the next time you sing these words, “When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll; whatever my lot, though hast taught me to say, It is well, it is well with my soul” remember the sorrow that Horatio must have been feeling when he wrote those words, and yet he rested on God’s promise and allowed God to get him through this very difficult time in his life.

Meditations – September 24, 2014

By Pastor Jenna Couch  Zion Lutheran Church, Jubilee

Do you tend to be a person who has high expectations, low expectations, or no expectations about life at all? I’ll admit it. I’m a person that tends to have high expectations. Of myself, of others, of life in general I guess. But, because of those high expectations, I sometimes get disappointed. I’ve had people in my life tell me before, “If you expect nothing, you can never be disappointed.” While in a sense that may be true, I can’t imagine living life without expectations.
Whether we admit it or not, we all have expectations in life. And yes, that may mean that sometimes we get disappointed. But other times, our expectations challenge us and others to be better than they thought they could be. And something happens that is so totally unexpected that we couldn’t imagine life any other way.
Many times, we feel that God doesn’t meet our expectations of who we think or want God to be. We’re really not that much different from the people we read about in the Bible. The God they encountered in Christ didn’t meet their expectations either.
People expected a mighty king; what they got was humble servant who was indeed mighty, but not in the way they were expecting. They were expecting a king who would side with those in power. What they got was a servant leader who proclaimed a kingdom where the least among us are blessed, the poor are honored, and those considered least in the eyes of the world would be given the greatest honor.
They were expecting a warrior; someone who would come with a sword and free Israel from Rome’s mighty grip. What they got was someone that Rome hung on a Cross. And when they hung him on a Cross, they expected that he would stay dead. But he overturned that expectation as well when he rose from the grave and said no to the power of death.
Thank God that the disciples’ expectations of who Jesus would and should be were nowhere near accurate.
What are our expectations of Jesus in this world? We often try to put Jesus in a neat little box of who we think he is or should be, where we think he shows up and doesn’t show up, and who we think he would side with in this world. One of my favorite quotes from seminary came from one of my seminary professors, Dr. Duane Priebe, who always told us in class, “Whenever you draw a line between ‘us’ and ‘them,’ in whatever situation it is; Jesus is always on the side with ‘Them.’” We are the ones that draw the lines. We try to declare who is in and who is out based on our experiences and our interpretations of Scripture and our faith traditions. As humans, we often have our mind set on human things and not on the divine. God shows up in places that we might not expect and does amazing things. Thank the Lord that God takes those expectations and challenges them and shows up where we may not expect.
We buy into society’s expectations of what we’re supposed to look like, how we’re supposed to act, what activities we’re supposed to (or not supposed to) be involved in. Then, we judge each other for not living up to the expectations we set up for them and we shame ourselves for not living up to the expectations that we set up for ourselves or that others have set up for us.
One of my favorite current theologians, David Lose, who is the new president of Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, notes in one of his blogs that Jesus comes to us to overturn our expectations we’ve accepted or goals we’ve set and to help us admit that we’ve settled for far less than what God offers in this world. Even though we may be devastated when we discover we’re not getting the God we want, God is with us as we come alive again as we realize that God is being the God we need. (www.davidlose.net/2014/08/pentecost-12-a/ “Peter’s Heartbreak, Accessed Sept.18, 2014)
May God exceed your expectations of love, grace and mercy in your lives and the world, now and always. Amen.

Meditations – September 10, 2014

By Pastor Jenna Couch    Zion Lutheran Church, Jubilee

I’ve encountered many changes in this rapidly changing world. Not as many as others, but enough. I’ve known a world where cell phones and the internet didn’t exist. I was in college when Facebook was first up and running. Back then, it was only available for college students but has since turned into an amazing way to stay connected with people and friends from all around the world. I joined Twitter just last year and in that short time have learned what an amazing tool that can be as well. Social media is a wonderful thing.
I consider myself to be pretty “connected” with various forms of social media, the news, and the world around me. I use social media to help me keep connected with friends, family and people from the church I serve. I also get out into the world and actually talk to real live people. Both are effective means of communication.
Quite a few months ago there was a video circulating on Facebook called “Look Up.” It was a video that had an anti-social media sentiment to it. After several of my Facebook friends shared it, I decided to watch it to see what it was all about. It made me angry, but I also had to smile at the irony of an anti-social media video “going viral” by means of social media.
I get it. It can be super annoying when you’re trying to talk to someone and they can’t look up from their (insert electronic device here) long enough to look you in the eye and show you that they’re paying attention. I’ve had it done to me and I’ve been guilty of it as well. Anything in excess can be harmful and hurtful. We all have the capacity to misuse any number of things in this world. There is definitely proper and useful etiquette to engage in while using electronic devices and social media.
However, to condemn social media altogether as this awful distraction that only makes us lonelier, disconnected, disengaged, and “dumb” is just plain ignorant. In the last year I’ve become incredibly passionate about the use of social media as a tool of evangelism, both personally and professionally. When used well, social media can be incredibly helpful and can connect us with people we may not have had the privilege to know otherwise. It can open many doors for us and others.
I’ve used social media for many things. It has not made me dumber, lonelier, or disengaged. It has actually strengthened some of my relationships and made me feel more engaged with the world around me. I’ve learned things online about people that has helped me engage in conversation with them when I see them in person. Social media can start and continue conversations for people who may have been too shy to initiate dialogue in a social setting. Social media can also be a great way to share a Scripture verse, a religious quote, or even a prayer with people that may have been looking for a word of hope that very moment or day. This is probably my favorite use of social media. Every day a friend of mine posts pictures that she took and attaches a Scripture verse or prayer to the picture. I look forward to those images every day.
Social media is not only for cute cat pictures or sharing what you ate for dinner last night. It can also be used as a way to pray for people, share Scripture with them, connect with them, and show them the many ways in which Christ is present in this world.
When you see someone looking down at their phone, don’t automatically assume that they’re disengaging. They may actually be helping someone else engage in yet another way that Christ’s love can be shown in this world.

Meditations – September 3, 2014

By Pastor Jenna Couch    Zion Lutheran Church, Jubilee

Our Mission in The World

In early July I took a class at Cal Lutheran in Thousand Oaks, California, called Executive Skills for Pastors. It was an amazing class that taught many different business type methods as applied to ministry.
The reoccurring theme throughout the week was, “How does your ministry reflect your mission statement?” Everything we learned about went back to the church’s mission statement. It was really helpful to think about the relationship between the things we do as a congregation and as people of God and how it fits into our mission statement. We learned about marketing strategies as applied to ministry and examined whether we were actually being the congregations we have portrayed ourselves to be.
Do you know what your church’s mission statement is? Does your church have a mission statement? Mission statements help guide ministry and orients congregations to who they are as part of the Body of Christ and how they portray Christ in the world.
I’m going to ask a few questions that you might want to reflect on. What are your experiences with the congregations you have been associated with in your life? What role do you see congregations playing in the community and in the world? What does mission look like to you?
These questions are questions we can be asking ourselves and the congregations we attend and serve. More and more people are reporting that they are not associated with any particular congregation and don’t attend worship services regularly. There are many reasons and factors at play in these statistics.An alarmingly high number of people attribute negative personal experiences with either members of a congregation, a pastor, or an incident at a congregation as the reason for not participating in the life of any congregation. We may not like to hear that we may have failed to portray Christ’s love to those who have attended or visited our congregations, but it is all the more reason to really study the mission practices of our congregations (and ourselves!) and figure out how we are currently doing at being the Church in the world and how we can do better. How are we, individually, adding to the mission of Christ and the Church?
There’s no such thing as a perfect congregation and the truth of the matter is, we simply can’t be all things to all people. What we can do, however, is to figure out what our gifts are and trust God to utilize those gifts in the best possible way so that we, individually and the Church, can work together to show the world God’s great love through Christ our Lord.