Priorities

  • By 7001631907
  • 27 Oct, 2017

We make time in our lives for what is important

Several years ago I decided to become a runner. I needed a way to improve my cardiovascular health and relieve the stress that comes with being a pastor. The decision to take up running was easy. Actually becoming a runner and putting in the miles to see the benefits that come from running was not nearly so easy. Over and above the fact that my body was not conditioned to run distances, I faced the challenge of finding the time to run in my hectic schedule. Like almost everyone else these days, I didn’t have a lot of free time on my calendar. My schedule was already full of important events and tasks and it took an iPhone and Google Calendar to keep track of it all. Running was going to be one more thing to try and squeeze in.

At first, I tried to find the time in my schedule to run. The truth is that finding the time to run didn’t work so well. My days and weeks were already filled with things to do and places to be. I didn’t have any empty slots in my calendar where I could just lace up my running shoes and run. When a time slot did occasionally open up in my schedule, the circumstances were always less than ideal to run. I was too tired or I only had a short period of time before I had to be doing something else. Consequently, my runs were sporadic and I couldn’t make significant progress towards my fitness goals.

After a month of struggling to find the time to run, I realized what the problem was: I was trying to find the time to run and I wasn’t making the time to run. If this was going to be a priority in my life I had to treat it as a priority and not an afterthought. That meant scheduling the time to run before I filled my schedule with other things. From that point on, I decided to schedule time to run before I scheduled other things. Of course, some things - like Sunday morning worship and my prayer time - are inviolable and I would have to schedule around them but the truth is that I usually have some say in the rest of my schedule. Instead of being the last thing to go on my calendar, running became one of the first things to get scheduled. It should come as no surprise that this worked. Before long, running was a regular part of my weekly schedule. I started accruing the necessary mileage to see improvements to my cardiovascular health. As the weeks passed, I started could farther and faster. My ability to handle stress also improved. The more I ran, the more stress I could handle.

For this to happen I had to make running a priority. When we make something I priority it shapes the way we use our time and resources. We allow it to claim our time and attention. The good news is that often we see a return on our investment of time and dedication.

In Matthew 6:25-33 Jesus asks us to examine our priorities:
 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what  you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither  sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27  And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28 And why do you worry about clothing?           Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory  was not clothed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is  thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What  will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ … 33 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his           righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

There are a lot of things that consume our focus, energy and resources. There are many things that compete for our time and money. Some of them are important. However, Jesus is saying that the most important is the Kingdom of God. He reminds us that God’s Kingdom should be our priority. He is also saying that a paradoxical things happens when we prioritize God’s Kingdom: we end up receiving all the other things about which we normally worry. So as we engage in our stewardship campaign at St. Matthew’s, I invite you to ask yourself, “How am I using my time, talent and financial resources in service to God’s Kingdom? Is God’s Kingdom the top priority in your life? I invite you to answer those questions as you prayerfully consider the gifts and talents survey and financial pledge card for the coming year.

Grace and Peace,

Pastor John





St. Matthew’s United Methodist Church of Valley Forge Blog

By 7001631907 27 Oct, 2017
The last autumn that our family spent in North Carolina before our move to Pennsylvania in 2014, my wife and I headed up to the North Carolina Blue Ridge Mountains for a few days at our favorite bed and breakfast - the Andon Reid Inn in Waynesville. It was our tradition to go there each May for our anniversary and spend time shopping in the beautiful historic downtown of Waynesville (Rhonda’s favorite thing) and hiking some of the great trails of the NC mountains (my favorite thing). We had always wanted to spend a weekend there in the fall and enjoy some of the autumn color so made reservations at the inn and we lined up my mom to watch our boys.

As we headed into the mountains on a Friday afternoon we could see that, while the weather was beautiful, there wasn’t much color on the trees. Our hopes were further dashed as we drove through Asheville on the way to Waynesville and failed to see much color on the trees. Pulling into the parking lot of the bed and breakfast, we consoled ourselves by asserting that while the trees were mostly green and lacking autumn color, the weather was perfect - sunny and crisp. After spending Saturday shopping at the arts and craft fair in downtown Waynesville, we headed out onto the Blue Ridge Parkway with a picnic lunch to enjoy a hike and see some fall foliage at Graveyard Fields. As we ascended into the higher elevations we began to see some signs of autumn. Here and there we spied some bright yellow, orange or red leaves on the trees of the mountains. We had to drive slow and get out of the car at various overlooks to see them but they were there.

This brought to mind some words of Jesus as he described the coming Kingdom of God, ““What is the kingdom of God like? And to what should I compare it? It is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden; it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.’” (Luke 13:18-19) In this parable Jesus says that that the kingdom of God begins small and grows from there. The little outposts of fall color that we saw along the way to our hike reminded me of the small, seemingly insignificant signs of the Kingdom in our midst. Like the fall visitors to mountains who want to see the mountains aglow with autumn color we want the Kingdom of God to come in all its glory. We want God to transform his creation into what God wants rather than a manifestation of our imperfect human desires and wishes. Unfortunately that is not what we have. For now we have to be content with the isolated pockets of Kingdom joy that erupt here and there: a prayer answered, an act of kindness performed, mercy given and received. What helps us await the coming of the Kingdom is hope. We have confidence that God will deliver on his promises. We place our hope in God’s faithfulness and we know that God will not let us down.

Rhonda and I hoped for more autumn color as we drove toward the location of our hike and we were not disappointed. As we rounded a bend in the parkway and saw our destination, that hope was rewarded. When our gaze fell upon the high, flat valley of Graveyard Fields we could see that it was ablaze in a vibrant display of fall color. Deep burgundies and reds were interspersed among bright yellows and oranges from one end of the valley to the other. Here in this high mountain valley we found autumn taking hold. We spent the afternoon hiking along the stream and waterfalls that the valley contains, marveling at the wonderful color around us. If we had given up in disappointment earlier in our drive we would have missed it.

Let us not give up in disappointment as we await the coming of God’s Kingdom. Its beginnings may be small but it is coming in all its glory. In the meanwhile let us trust God and reinforce our hope with the signs of Kingdom already among us. They may be small, but they are growing.

By 7001631907 27 Oct, 2017
Several years ago I decided to become a runner. I needed a way to improve my cardiovascular health and relieve the stress that comes with being a pastor. The decision to take up running was easy. Actually becoming a runner and putting in the miles to see the benefits that come from running was not nearly so easy. Over and above the fact that my body was not conditioned to run distances, I faced the challenge of finding the time to run in my hectic schedule. Like almost everyone else these days, I didn’t have a lot of free time on my calendar. My schedule was already full of important events and tasks and it took an iPhone and Google Calendar to keep track of it all. Running was going to be one more thing to try and squeeze in.

At first, I tried to find the time in my schedule to run. The truth is that finding the time to run didn’t work so well. My days and weeks were already filled with things to do and places to be. I didn’t have any empty slots in my calendar where I could just lace up my running shoes and run. When a time slot did occasionally open up in my schedule, the circumstances were always less than ideal to run. I was too tired or I only had a short period of time before I had to be doing something else. Consequently, my runs were sporadic and I couldn’t make significant progress towards my fitness goals.

After a month of struggling to find the time to run, I realized what the problem was: I was trying to find the time to run and I wasn’t making the time to run. If this was going to be a priority in my life I had to treat it as a priority and not an afterthought. That meant scheduling the time to run before I filled my schedule with other things. From that point on, I decided to schedule time to run before I scheduled other things. Of course, some things - like Sunday morning worship and my prayer time - are inviolable and I would have to schedule around them but the truth is that I usually have some say in the rest of my schedule. Instead of being the last thing to go on my calendar, running became one of the first things to get scheduled. It should come as no surprise that this worked. Before long, running was a regular part of my weekly schedule. I started accruing the necessary mileage to see improvements to my cardiovascular health. As the weeks passed, I started could farther and faster. My ability to handle stress also improved. The more I ran, the more stress I could handle.

For this to happen I had to make running a priority. When we make something I priority it shapes the way we use our time and resources. We allow it to claim our time and attention. The good news is that often we see a return on our investment of time and dedication.

In Matthew 6:25-33 Jesus asks us to examine our priorities:
 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what  you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither  sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27  And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28 And why do you worry about clothing?           Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory  was not clothed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is  thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What  will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’ … 33 But strive first for the kingdom of God and his           righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

There are a lot of things that consume our focus, energy and resources. There are many things that compete for our time and money. Some of them are important. However, Jesus is saying that the most important is the Kingdom of God. He reminds us that God’s Kingdom should be our priority. He is also saying that a paradoxical things happens when we prioritize God’s Kingdom: we end up receiving all the other things about which we normally worry. So as we engage in our stewardship campaign at St. Matthew’s, I invite you to ask yourself, “How am I using my time, talent and financial resources in service to God’s Kingdom? Is God’s Kingdom the top priority in your life? I invite you to answer those questions as you prayerfully consider the gifts and talents survey and financial pledge card for the coming year.

Grace and Peace,

Pastor John





By 7001631907 28 Aug, 2017
On Friday, August 11, I followed the news of torch bearing white supremacists descending on the campus of UVA in Charlottesville, Virginia to protest the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee. Like many, I was deeply alarmed because night time marches by torch bearing white men are a sinister reminder of Ku Klux Klan marches. Our fears were justified because the next day we saw white supremacists, white nationalists, and Neo-Nazis show up with weapons, clearing looking for a conflict. Some of them carried assault rifles and guns, and wore camouflage. They were so heavily armed that some mistook them for National Guard troops. These white supremacists marched yelling Nazi-era slogans and phrases like, “You will not replace us.”

Counter-protesters were on the scene to declare that such racism and hatred have no place in the United States. As tensions escalated between the two sides, violence erupted and then turned deadly. 32-year old Heather Heyer was killed and many more were injured after a car driven by one of the white supremacists rammed into a crowd of demonstrators protesting against the racist groups.

The events of Charlottesville serve as a reminder that although we have made progress as a nation towards fully embodying the values expressed in our Declaration of Independence, we have a long way to go. The presence of so many hate-filled racist groups in Charlottesville demonstrate that there are some in our nation that are so filled with fear and resentment that they would undo the progress achieved through the struggle and sacrifices of those who shared Dr. King’s dream “that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’"

At this moment in our nation’s history, Christians and churches cannot remain silent in the face of evil. We cannot be so “heavenly minded that we are of no earthly good.” We must speak out against the sin of racism and declare that it is contrary to God’s will for his people. Everyone is equally valuable in the eyes of God. No exceptions. God’s love and grace are freely offered to all people. Not just some people. This is what Christians believe: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28).

This is what United Methodists believe:
We affirm all persons as equally valuable in the sight of God. We therefore work toward societies in which each    person’s value is recognized, maintained, and strengthened. We support the basic rights of all persons to equal access to housing, education, communication, employment, medical care, legal redress for grievances, and physical protection. We deplore acts of hate or violence against groups or persons based on race, color, national origin, ethnicity, age, gender, disability, status, economic condition, sexual orientation, gender identity, or religious affiliation. (United Methodist Social Principles)

Now is the time when we must witness to these beliefs and embody them. We must embody them in acts of love and compassion to the people, community and city around us. We must embody them in how we vote. We must embody them in what we buy or don’t buy. Racism is not in the distant past of our great nation. It is not something that we can look back upon as an evil perpetrated by our ancestors. It is still among us and it seeks an opportunity to fester and grow. We cannot assume that progress towards the dream that we “will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character” (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.) will just naturally happen. It will happen because we strive for it. It will happen because we refuse to let the sin of racism spread its tendrils into our communities. Let us remember the words of Edmund Burke, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men (people) to do nothing.”

Grace and Peace,
Pastor John
 



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