Saint Andrew United Methodist Church

1528 Church Road

Toms River NJ 08755

Thankful In Deed

Posted by on Wednesday, November 22, 2017 @ 4:21 PM

What does it mean to give thanks? What does it mean to be filled with gratitude? We may be tempted to answer this question simply by describing thankful or grateful actions like saying thank you, or smiling warmly, or doing a kind action, or giving a gift. Yes, these actions do reflect thanks-giving, but they merely scratch the surface of true gratitude. Let’s dig a little deeper:

On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, ten lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!” When he saw them, he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, “Were not ten made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:11-19)

Gratitude, at its deepest level, is turning ourselves towards the God who gives us life and recognizing both the greatness of God and the greatness of the gift of life. In this story from Luke’s Gospel Jesus heals ten but only a single leper was grateful. Nine were healed and went out, presumably, to seize the day and leverage God’s blessing to their advantage for the rest of their lives. Nine took their gift of life for granted. One turned back, praised God, and fell at the feet of Jesus. Nine were healed…   but only one was made well. He was made well by his faith, Jesus says. His faith, in turn, came in the recognition of God’s gift of life and God’s power to give it.

 This turning ourselves towards God in praise and thanksgiving for the gift of life is not something we do only once, or only when God has healed us of something terrible. Falling at the feet of Jesus in gratitude is something we should do daily…   maybe even hourly…   in recognition of the life we have been given and the power and love of the one who has given it.

 May your thanks-giving run deep this week and all the days of your life

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Essential Generosity

Posted by on Wednesday, November 15, 2017 @ 11:08 AM

Part of our life of faith together is cultivating a joyful generosity. Yes, I am specifically talking about financial generosity. An essential expression of our gratitude is our willingness to generously support the mission and ministries of the church. It is through the church that God has chosen to transform the world with the Good News of Jesus. Paul says in 2 Corinthians 9:6-8):

 The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.  Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.  And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.  As it is written, “He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.” (2 Corinthians 9:6-8)

 Financial generosity is not only necessary to continue the work of the church…   its good for us personally:

  • Giving money to someone else makes people happier than spending on themselves. Giving to charity excites parts of our brain associated with feelings of pleasure, social connection, and trust.
  • Giving contributes to better health. People who volunteer, serve, and provide emotional support to others reap health benefits such as lower stress levels and blood pressure.
  • Giving increases our chances of health, wealth, and happiness because it builds broader social connections, greater trust, and more positive relationships which are likely to reward us.
  • Finally, ‘pay it forward’ really works! When we give we encourage others to give as well. This causes a ripple effect in our communities and beyond really making the world a better place.

(From the University of California at Berkeley, December 13, 2010 by Jason Marsh and Jill Suttie (http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/5_ways_giving_is_good_for_you)

Even with all the statistics about the personal and social benefits of generosity, still one of the most negative yet popular criticisms of the church in our day is that: ‘The church is too concerned with money”. Yes, the church needs financial support, but we are far more interested in partnering with people who share our faith in Jesus Christ and our mission to serve the world in faith, hope, and love.

Anyone, at any time, can support our church with their time, their talents, their financial gifts, and their prayers. We understand that someone’s ability to financially support the church and/or their time available to volunteer may change. But, the following outline sets some general expectations for giving and serving at St. Andrew UMC.

Visitors: Visitors are with us for the first time through the first 3 months. Regardless of how long (or short) a time one has been a Christian, we all start as visitors. Visitors are learning about who we are, what we do, and where they fit into our family. Our mission and ministries serve our visitors, so we do not expect visitors to give financially or volunteer. Visitors should attend, get involved, and grow in faith, hope, and love! If you feel moved to give or volunteer please do so, but it is NOT expected.

Guests: Guests are with us from 4 to 8 months. Guests are in the process of growing in their faith and building relationships in our church family. Guests are discovering and exploring all that we have to offer as a church family and how our mission and ministries are serving the world. It is appropriate for guests to ‘give as they go’ and contribute when they attend, $10 -$20 is a good suggested weekly contribution to start. Guests are encouraged to join us as volunteers for specific short-term projects and events. This provides a short-term opportunity to work side by side with our church without the long-term commitment of leading or supporting an ongoing mission or ministry over the course of a year.

Partners & Members: At St. Andrew UMC there is NO practical difference between ‘partner’ and ‘member’ in terms of expectations. Both have been involved in the church for at least 9 months and are committed to being involved consistently in the worship, mission, and ministries of the church.  A member has made a public commitment to this for the official church record, an active partner has not yet made this public commitment. It is appropriate for both partners and members to support the church both financially and with volunteer service. Based upon the average giving of our partners and members $35 -$100 is a good suggested weekly contribution for EVERY week of the year (under normal family financial conditions and depending on your level of income). Partners and members are the backbone of the church family and, as such, are expected to volunteer not only for specific short-term projects and events but also commit to long-term leading and supporting the ongoing mission and ministries of the church. Based upon the average commitment of our partners and members to lead and support our missions and ministries 2-4 hours a week is a good suggested place to start.

May you experience the joy of giving thanks by giving generously this week and throughout the year!

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Mission of Hope

Posted by Lynn Koch on Monday, November 6, 2017 @ 6:37 AM

Evidence suggests that two ways to reduce feelings of worry, anxiety, and depression are: 1) to stop focusing on ourselves and instead focus on others, and 2) be thankful for what we have been given. When we focus all of our care and concern on someone else or on a cause bigger than ourselves…   or when we give thanks for what IS good in our lives…   we simply don’t have time or energy to be selfish!

It’s no surprise that the Christian life is meant to be lived for God and others in gratitude. It’s a mission! A large part of God’s will and purpose for the church is to reach out into the wider community and serve needs, bring hope, stand for justice, extend mercy, and communicate the Good News of Jesus by word and deed. We do this because God first reached out to us, served us, brought hope to us, extended mercy to us in Jesus Christ! Giving ourselves and our resources fully to this mission frees us from the petty concerns of a self-centered life.

The Kingdom of God that Jesus proclaimed is a Kingdom that runs on the currency of kindness, generosity, and service. Jesus himself was on this mission to give and serve those in need. He in turn sends his followers (we who are Christians) out with this same message and mission:

After this the Lord appointed seventyothers and sent them on ahead of him in pairs to every town and place where he himself intended to go. He said to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest. Go on your way. See, I am sending you out like lambs into the midst of wolves. Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals; and greet no one on the road. Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ (Luke 10:1-9)

May you be filled with thanksgiving and free from worry on God’s mission to extend and expand the Kingdom of God!

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Equipped to Serve- First Fruits

Posted by on Monday, October 30, 2017 @ 11:01 AM

Busy, busy, busy. Everyone’s so incredibly busy all the time. Most of us start the week overscheduled with just the necessities: work, household upkeep, family obligations, kid’s activities, errands. Then…   add in the emergencies (like that unscheduled trip to the vet with a sick dog), and surprises (like the in-laws are coming in this weekend and you have to get the spare bedroom ready). Then, maybe we try and tackle one of the many half-finished projects like painting the garage (half-finished, by the way, because we ran out of time to finish them). It’s exhausting and never-ending.

How is a faithful Christian supposed to make time in the midst of this for serving in the ministries of the church? There simply aren’t enough hours in the day! Right? Not so fast.

The whole idea of ‘First Fruits’, our stewardship theme at St Andrew UMC this month, is that we MAKE time for our greatest priorities. OK, ok, ok. I know…   sometimes there isn’t even enough time to get the necessities done each week. Yes. That’s totally understandable. However, cutting out top priorities should only happen on an emergency basis. All too often, serving in the church is one of those necessities that HABITUALLY gets cut. Imagine what would happen if we habitually cut out going to work, helping the kids with their homework, spending quality time with our spouse. Our lives would literally fall apart.

It may not be so apparent…   but habitually cutting our volunteer service in the church literally makes our faith life ‘fall apart’. First, we don’t get that overwhelming sense of joy of being used by God to accomplish something bigger than ourselves. We miss out on the teamwork and friendship and love that come from working together. Not only that…  but the church itself begins ‘fall apart’. Without committed, faithful, volunteers church ministries lack leadership and volunteer support. Excellence wanes. Scope and impact reduce. And, before you know it, there’s NOTHING going on at the church at all! Peter reminds us of the priority of loving service in the life of a faithful Christian:

Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins. Be hospitable to one another without complaining. Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received. Whoever speaks must do so as one speaking the very words of God; whoever serves must do so with the strength that God supplies, so that God may be glorified in all things through Jesus Christ. To him belong the glory and the power forever and ever. Amen. 1 Peter 4:8-11

May you give your First Fruits of time and attention in the ministries of the church this week and flourish in the faith!

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Formed By Faith

Posted by on Monday, October 23, 2017 @ 2:45 PM

The famous athlete Billy Sunday (who went on to become a prominent Christian evangelist in the early 20th century) said this famous quote: “going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than going to a garage makes you an automobile”.

True words. In fact, there’s no ‘activity’, strictly speaking, that ‘makes’ someone a Christian. Going to church, praying, reading the Bible, doing good deeds, all of these are things Christians DO…   but they don’t make Christians WHO they are.

A Christian is simply someone who has accepted Jesus their savior, puts their whole trust in his grace, and promises to live for him and serve him as Lord. That’s a lot of Christianese…   in common everyday terms we would say: a Christian is someone who sees the world as created by God, accepts Jesus as God, and centers their lives on following Jesus every day of their lives. Success, for people like this, is that their daily thoughts and actions ‘hit the mark’ in imitating the thoughts and actions of Jesus just like a well-aimed arrow ‘hits the mark’ of a bullseye. This kind of life is formed by faith…  and the actions and activities follow from this faith.

This kind of life takes practice. Praying, worship, Bible study, good works, giving, serving, caring and many other activities are all good practice for growing Christians. We don’t become Christians by doing them…   but we become better Christians built up and with deep roots, thankful for Jesus in our lives.

As you therefore have received Christ Jesus the Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. Colossians 2:6-7

May your life be formed by faith in Jesus today and every day!

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Life That is Truly Life

Posted by on Monday, October 16, 2017 @ 9:20 AM

How do you define a life worth living? What really is most important?

Many people think they have the answer and they run off chasing their dream of ‘the good life’. They chase after riches and comfort. They chase after beauty and fame. They chase after power and achievement. Some find empty promises and failure. Some find success at too great a cost to peace of mind or relationships with others. Some find they had to compromise their integrity, cheat, and hurt others to climb to the top.

Any definition of ‘the good life’ that starts we ‘me, me, me’ is destined to be, at best, a life incomplete. A life left wanting. A life with wasted potential. We need to believe and invest in something bigger than ourselves. We need to cultivate deep meaningful relationships. We need a moral compass, a sense of justice, and a passion to make the world a better place. We need a sense of gratitude and make regular opportunities to be generous.

Maybe you know this. Maybe you’ve developed real answers to these essential life-questions. If so, congratulations! It takes wisdom and lots of trial and error to arrive at an intentional lifestyle that is faith-filled and fulfilling for yourself, connected deeply and lovingly with others, and transformative for the world through generous good works of gratitude. When Paul was mentoring the next generation of church leaders, he gave Timothy this advice:

As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life. (1 Timothy 6:17-19)

For the next six weeks St Andrew UMC will be reflecting on just such a life. Our faith-life, fully expressed, aligns our lives with Jesus and sets us on a journey of growth and maturity, service and leadership, mission and outreach, and gratitude and generosity.

We are calling this series ‘First-Fruits’ because we are reminded of God’s call on the lives of all people of faith, hope, and love: to GIVE…   in gratitude and thanksgiving for the gifts of life and blessing we’ve received from God. GIVE our first and best gifts…   not what’s left over of our time, talent, and treasure after we’ve used everything up. GIVE ourselves freely to God as the Creator of the Universe who loves us. GIVE ourselves in love to others, and serving as God’s community on Earth. GIVE ourselves in works of justice and mercy for those in need. GIVE ourselves in generosity of resources to build, maintain, and expand our mission and ministry efforts into the future.

May you take hold of this life that is truly life…   today and forever!

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First Fruits

Posted by on Monday, October 16, 2017 @ 9:18 AM
https://vimeo.com/16301164

What happens when we live our faith fully? We experience life...   life to the full...   just as Jesus promised! Giving of ourselves...   giving our First-Fruits (the best we have to offer) not only fills us with 'life that is truly life' (1 Timothy 6)  but transforms the lives of everyone we touch with the beauty of hope. 

Check out this video of the story: The Flower Man. A wonderfully uplifting story and illustration of the power of living missionally and giving generously!

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Marching Orders

Posted by on Monday, October 9, 2017 @ 9:08 AM

Going ‘into battle’ is a full-on commitment. No one just gets up one morning and says, “I’m going off to join the war today”. Preparing for battle takes time, energy, resources, and commitment before one ever reaches the front lines. And, when one gets to the front lines, all focus, attention, priority and commitment are spent right there on the field of battle to both ensure survival and victory.

Sounds like high-stakes right? Sounds like you have to be ‘all-in’ right? Yes. That’s the idea. Look at our United States’ military…   these brave American heroes have put their lives on the line to serve and protect the values of freedom, justice, and democracy. They don’t go out and do that half-hearted. They don’t go do that part-time. And they certainly don’t put away that commitment, sacrifice, and love for their country when they return home from battle.

‘full-on commitment’, ‘High-stakes’, ‘all-in’…   these terms seem strange when applied to people’s commitment to the life of faith in our day. I mean, if people go to church at all, their commitment to faith in God and following Jesus seems to consist in nothing more than sitting in a pew on some Sundays and maybe, possibly, accidentally, kinda growing a little in faith. Nevertheless, the Scriptures often refer to the life of faith as one of battle: battling against a world that wants to exist on its own terms; battling the forces of evil trying to subvert all of creation; battling against our own fear, doubt, and disbelief; battling against our own temptation, discouragement, and selfishness. Paul puts it this way:

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.(Ephesians 6:10-17)

The church is looking for a few faithful folks to answer the call! Heroes that put their lives on the line to serve, grow, and expand the values of the Kingdom of God: faith, hope, and love. Heroes that don’t go out half-hearted or part-time. Heroes that never put away their commitment, sacrifice, and love for God and others as they follow Jesus.

Question for this week:

With intentional commitment to faith, hope, love, sacrifice, and committed and courageous service…   where do you see St. Andrew UMC in future years? Who will we be? What will we be doing?

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Beware Our Lesser Selves

Posted by on Tuesday, October 3, 2017 @ 8:24 AM

Our environment can influence our behavior a lot. We’ve all had the terrible experience of walking into a hostile workplace, a back-biting social circle, an unmotivated team. The overwhelming negativity or dysfunction in those circumstances can, at best, demoralize us and keep us from being our best. At worst, they can actually draw us down to a level to which we actually participate with our own worst impulses.

Our world today marches on to the beat of a lot of different drummers: wealth, power, pleasure, celebrity, pride. Our world today does not march in accordance with, and obedience to, the grace, love, will, and purpose of God.  And so, as we march, it is no surprise that our lesser selves and lesser impulses are often rising to the top: greed, arrogance, lust, abuse, injustice.

The community of faith, the church, is supposed to be a place in which the power and presence, the Spirit and will, of Almighty God is discerned, worshipped, and obeyed. In THIS kind of environment of shared faith, shared thanksgiving, shared community, shared justice and mercy, shared purpose and mission should all work together to inspire us to be our best selves.

Unfortunately, it seems as though it’s much easier for the lesser values of the world to infect the life of the church than it is for the greater values of the church to inspire the world. So, we always have to be vigilant and intentional about how we conduct our lives of faith. Paul says:

Be sure of this, that no fornicator or impure person, or one who is greedy (that is, an idolater), has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore, do not be associated with them. For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light—  for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. (Ephesians 5:5-11)

May your greater self reflect and shine the light of God into the darkness of the world

 

Question for this week:

What are the greatest challenges facing St. Andrew UMC today?

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Equipped To Serve

Posted by on Monday, September 25, 2017 @ 11:44 AM

Now that football season is in full-swing…   I love to cheer on my team: The NY Giants! Too bad that they have started out with zero wins and three losses.

 Maybe football isn’t your game…   or the Giants aren’t your team…   but one thing we all know about the sports we love and the teams we cheer for: a good team is one that fills ALL of their positions with gifted and talented players.

 Back to my Giants for a moment. They have a GREAT defense! They have an experienced and gifted quarterback! They have receivers that can catch! They have runners that can run! The problem is that they have a terrible offensive line. Basically, this means that the quarterback can’t throw, the runners can’t run, and the catchers can’t catch because the offensive line can’t block the other team’s defense…   and they keep shutting down the team’s ability to score. Ugh.

 Enough about the Giants.

 Church is like a team too. We need gifted and talented and experienced people in all the positions of the church. Paul puts it this way:

 The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:11-16)

 We may be accustomed to thinking about the church team being mostly made up of pastors and teachers…   but the reality is that the church desperately needs good players to be apostles, prophets, and evangelists as well. For the church to accomplish its mission to bring the Good News of Jesus, extend and expand the Kingdom of God, and serve the needs of others with justice and mercy…   we NEED to fill all of our team positions well.

 Maybe you want to get involved in the church. Maybe you want to be on the team. But, maybe you’ve never felt like your particular gifts and talents were needed. The church is more than just pastoring and teaching. Maybe you are called to be an apostle, a prophet, or an evangelist. The words are ancient and maybe carry some baggage in our modern-day understanding. So, let me put a 21st century spin on all the people Paul mentions in this passage:

The Apostle (The Entrepreneur): Is the church-planter, the new ministry developer, the ‘big-picture’ pioneer that seizes new opportunities to extend the Gospel in the world beyond the current existing church to the not-yet-Christian.

The Prophet (The Problem Solver): Is the one who listens and speaks God’s will and word to the people. This is the ‘church conscience’ making sure that the Gospel is not compromised in the works of the church, even when the solution is necessary and uncomfortable. This is the ‘proclaimer’ of God’s promises of hope in the midst of trials to the church and the not-yet-Christian alike.

The Evangelist (The Friend-Maker): Is the one who communicates the Gospel to the not-yet-Christian and reminds the church of our shared ‘God-story’. Through an authentic calling to build relationships with others and a keen sense of knowing when and how to reach them, the evangelist inspires people with the Gospel message.

The Pastor (The Nurturer): Is the ‘people-person’ who helps the people to develop healthy, Gospel-centered lives and relationships. The pastor is a worship leader, spiritual counselor, faith coach, and encourager to the church. The pastoral role promotes stability and organizes sustainable, secure growth in ministry.

The Teacher (The Informer): Is the person who brings knowledge and understanding of the Gospel to the church. The teacher articulates the history, truths, ideals, principles, purposes and goals of the church. The teacher ‘passes-on’ theology, tradition, perspective, and mind-set.

 May you join the church team an use your gifts and experience to help us win.

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