Three Words Morphing

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By Gary E. Mueller

Bishop of the Arkansas Annual Conference

Three words quickly surfaced to describe my feelings during the craziness of the past couple of years. If we were playing Wordle, the new word game app that is so popular I would swear it is being played by every pastor in the United Methodist Church in Arkansas, I simply would set up the puzzle and let you solve it to discover the three words. But since I don’t know how to code, I’ll just go ahead and tell you. The words are: proud, concerned and uncertain.

I’m proud of all the ways you have kept ministry going during the seemingly never-ending Covid pandemic. You’ve been faithful, creative, self-sacrificing and adaptive. And I hope you take pride in what you and other United Methodists have done during the past two years – in a humble sort of way, of course!

I’m concerned you are so bone weary that you may have lost your spirit. This is especially the case for our clergy. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a real thing. I continue to pray that you will find ways to take care of yourself. I pray even more that you will take care of each other.

I’m uncertain about the future of the United Methodist Church and what will happen to the congregations, laity and clergy of Arkansas. I wish I had answers about how it will all work out, but I don’t. I wish I could fix it, but I can’t. Trust me, I have tried.

While these three words described how I felt much of the time, three new words have now begun to emerge and take center stage. They are: gratitude, confidence and hope.

While I continue to be proud of you, my pride has morphed into profound gratitude to God because I have seen how God has given you just the grace you need, in just the way you need, at just the time you need it. And in the process, God has done what God does best – take something that could bring harm, turn it upside-down and use it for good.

Although I am still concerned about you, that concern has been transformed into a deep confidence in you. You are resilient, gritty and determined, and I know that not only will you survive, you will thrive. Why? Because I have complete confidence in how the Holy Spirit will continue to sustain, empower and heal you.

Even though I remain uncertain about the future of the United Methodist Church, my uncertainty has been replaced by more and more hope. Let me be clear. I’m not naive enough to think the future is filled with unicorns and lollipops or, to put it more realistically, that things will work out exactly the way I think they should. Rather, I am hopeful because I absolutely trust Jesus, what God is actually up to, regardless of what we think God is up to, and the ability of the Holy Spirit to move us into the future God desires.

As I look back, it is clear that one thing has enabled me to morph from being proud to grateful, transformed from feeling concern to confident, and becoming unstuck from uncertainty to hope. It’s God’s grace – God’s amazing grace – that has been at work taking me from where I started to where God is growing me. And I am convinced that God is doing the same thing in you. For God is offering new eyes to see, new ears to hear, new minds to understand, new hearts to respond, new feet to journey, new hands to serve and new mouths to proclaim what God is doing. And now is the season to welcome them with thanksgiving!

Every Moment Belongs to God

It’s happened again. It’s already the last day of January! It sure seems as if time is flying by at warp speed. That may be because I’m older and that’s par for the course. Or it may be because technology has everything in our world speeding up. I don’t know for sure. But I do know this. Time is a funny thing. Sometimes it speeds along and you just hang on for the ride. At other times it creeps so slowly you feel as if you’ll be stuck where you are forever. And at still other times it’s an odd mixture of speeding up and slowing down that leaves you utterly confused. But there is something all time has in common. Every moment belongs to God. And God can use any moment to bring you the healing, change or hope you need. Which means the moments you have today are a precious gift from God.

A Sunday Prayer

Lord of my life, Love of my life,

I praise You with my imperfect life, fractured heart and questionable actions. But I do so with confidence knowing that You take who I am – every bit of me – and work to heal me in all the ways You know I need.

I seek Your will with my ears that often hear what I want, eyes that see what I’ve always seen and a mind that keeps turning back to me. But I do so with the hope that Your love will melt, mold and fill me in exactly the way You desire.

I share Your love with those around me with my heart that has been broken, a spirit that lives out of unknown wounds and a narrative that sometimes lies to me. But I do so with courage that wells up from deep within me because of Your presence in my life.

Yes, I am imperfect. And I know it so well. But that’s not the last word about me. You are. And You always will be.

Thank You with all that I am in the strong and loving name of Jesus.

Amen.

God Really Does Love the Real You

I use social media quite a bit and have for a while. I don’t Tic-Tok or do Reels – but, who knows, maybe I will. I also know there are social media platforms I don’t even know exist. I use it to the extent I do because it’s a wonderful way to share reflections about God’s grace, following Jesus, and trying to live in and of the Holy Spirit. I also use it from time to time to share things going on in my personal life. You may think you know me from what I share. And I suppose you do. But there are parts of me you don’t know because I hold them close to my heart and and only share them with those closest to me. That’s because some of these things are simply too tender and others are not something I’m not proud of. And here’s the thing that truly amazes me. God knows everything about me and still loves me passionately, including loving me just the way I am. But it’s exactly because God loves me just the way I am that God is working to change me more and more into the likeness of Jesus. This means the most important thing I can do today is join in that work. And the same thing is true for you. Because God really does love the real you.

The Parable of the Daffodils

We inherited a home with lots of Daffodils and have planted more each year. While we’ll never be Wye Mountain or P. Allen Smith’s Moss Mountain in terms of volume or varieties, we enjoy them immensely. This year some of the Daffodils started sending up their shoots way too early during the midst of unusually warm weather in late December. Then it got cold. Really cold. And although they weren’t quite as perky during the cold spell, they quickly bounced back and are handling the nightly sub-freezing temperatures like it’s spring time. Daffodils can do this because they are bred to be resilient. And so can you. In part because this is how God has created you. Even more importantly because the Holy Spirit has your back. So even if today is tough and you don’t have a lot of hope, take it on with the confidence that you will bounce back. Because you will.