The God of the Universe

The story is told that Teddy Roosevelt would go outside, stand on his balcony, and look up at the sky on most nights. He would see the moon, the stars, the constellations and remind himself how immense the universe truly is. He would then reflect on God’s power, majesty, and wonder, then turn to his wife and quietly say, “ Now I think we are small enough. Let’s go to bed.”


The truth is Mr. Roosevelt didn’t know just how immense our universe is; science had not yet discovered the far reaches of it. He didn’t know that scientists have estimated that there are more than 250,000,000 times 250,000,000 stars in this vast universe. He didn’t know that not too long ago, scientists discovered one star, Betelgeuse, that is some 527 light-years away from us. Have you ever tried to figure out just how far 527 light-years are?


Well, a light-year is the distance light will travel in 1 year. Light travels 186,000 miles per second so in 1 year, light travels over 6,000,000,000,000 (6 trillion) miles. So how far is the farthest star (that we know of) 527 times 6,000,000,000,000…let’s just say it is pretty far.


Mr. Roosevelt didn’t know that the Milky Way is about 120,000 light-years from one end to the other. And he had no way of knowing that our tiny solo system is 25,000 light-years from the center of the Milky Way. Nor did he know that it takes our sun 250,000,000 years to orbit around the center of the Milky Way. All of this amazes me and actually hurts my brain…


But what amazes me more than anything is that the God who created all of this, the God who placed every one of those 250 million times 250 million stars in their place, knows when I stand up and when I sit down. The same God knows every thought I am thinking and every word I am about to speak. And that same God believes that I am wonderfully and fearfully made. That same God truly does see me as the best of the best of the best. WOW!


I stood on my balcony this evening and saw the incredible moon and thought of Mr. Roosevelt and all that he never knew. I then smiled and whispered to myself, ” I think I am small enough. I am going to bed.” But then I had more thought before turning the light out, I might be small enough, but my God, the God who created it all, loves me. Not a bad thing to think about as I drifted off to sleep…


Breathe Peace….

Wesley’s Covenant Service

Greetings!

Sunday in worship, we join many other United Methodist Churches in kicking off the New Year by participating in an adaption of John Wesley’s Covenant Service. Central to this Service is the opportunity for us to hear God’s offer to enter into a loving, covenant relationship with Him. This covenant is not a business contract between God and us so that certain goods and services can be exchanged. Rather, it is the means of grace by which we accept the relationship God offers and then seek to sustain it.

The focal point of the service is Wesley’s Covenant Prayer:
I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.
Amen.

This prayer embraces the whole of life in all its parts. It is a difficult prayer to say and really mean it. If we are honest, it not only challenges us, but it also makes us uncomfortable. It asks questions of our faith and demands that we examine our relationship with God.  I hope you will take some time today (and maybe this week) to reflect on some questions and Wesley’s Prayer:

Read through the prayer slowly, a line at a time.
• What jumps out at you?
• What would you find easy to say?
• What would you find difficult to say?

Think about how it might apply to your life, to the whole of your life.
• What things might God be asking you to stop?
• What might God be asking you to continue?
• And what new things may God place in your life?

If you want to chat about it, let me know. Together we can grow as those who have chosen to be Jesus followers.

Breathe Peace,

REFLECTING ON PREVIOUS 6 YEARS

Greetings!

Last Sunday (December 1st) was not only my birthday, but it also marked my 6th anniversary as the pastor of First United Methodist Church Missouri City. I have spent the last couple of weeks reflecting on the previous 6 years. I even spent time going back through old sermon series that I have preached since that 1st Sunday.

Part of being a huge baseball fan is having a love for numbers and statistics. So, I thought it would be fun to look at some of the statistics from the last 6 years:

  • I have preached 268 sermons (usually times 3).
  • I have been honored to officiate 110 funerals.
  • I have been able to experience God’s grace by performing 82 baptisms.
  • I have been part of confirming 57 young people and have received 172 new members into the life of FUMCMC.
But my memories and reflections have been more than numbers. I want to share with you some of the thoughts that have filled my mind and my heart:
  • I feel the need to apologize for ruining Christmas for some of you by teaching that we don’t know how many magi came to see Jesus AND that they didn’t arrive on Christmas morning.
  • I miss the staff that have moved on to other positions and opportunities.
  • I am thankful for our church staff, who work hard to make a difference in the Kingdom of God.
  • I am thankful that FUMCMC is a church that is truly an inclusive and diverse congregation. I love that I can look out on the congregation every Sunday morning and get a glimpse of what heaven is going to look like.
  • But I am sad because we are inclusive and diverse some have chosen to leave our community.
And most importantly, I understand how Paul must have felt when he wrote to the church in Philippi. After all, through the hard times and joyful times, through the ups and the downs, I am grateful that God has allowed me to serve as your pastor and look forward to this next year. Paul writes it so eloquently, so let me use his words:
I thank my God every time I think of you… (Philippians 1:3)

I look forward as we work and serve together in the coming year!

Breathe Peace,

Marty Signature BROWN

All Saints

Every year as All Saints Sunday approaches, I think about a book I read years ago, “A Prayer for Owen Meany.” In the book, author John Irving tells the story of John Wheelwright (who acts as narrator of the entire novel) and his best friend, Owen Meany, growing up in a small New Hampshire town during the 1950s and 1960s.

John was good looking, popular, and his family had money. Owen, however, came from the other side of the tracks. To say he was different than most other kids his age would be an understatement. He was small, very small, with a sharp nose and big ears. His skin was pale and translucent, which made him look more like an old man than a kid. And on top of all that was his voice, which was high-pitched and very unusual.

It is the opening line of the book, spoken by John, that I think about during this time of the year: “I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice – not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany.”

The names that we read this All Saints Day, like the names from All Saints Days of the past, remind me of the people in my life who pointed me to Jesus Christ. Through their words and their actions, we have tasted the grace and peace that only God offers. The names we read are each an Owen Meany to somebody, and we need people like them in our lives — people who make it possible to believe. This is why we miss those people so dearly when we lose them.

This All Saints Day take a breath and remember the Owen Meany in your life. And maybe this will be a good day to remember that to someone, you just may be their Owen Meany….

Breathe Peace,

Marty Signature BROWN

Something Beautiful for God

Greetings!

When I did youth work, I would often ask the kids a simple question, “If you could eat dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be and why?” It always was amazing the answers I would hear. Some would be serious, while others would try to make a joke. Some kids would want to eat with an actor, actress or sports figure. There would also be those who would want to eat with a family member or close friend who had passed away. When I was asked the question, more often than not, my answer was a person who became a nun because she thought she was too ugly for anyone to marry. Can you imagine that? Mother Teresa became a nun, not because of some deep spiritual reason but because she saw herself as ugly.

Maybe that is the reason why Malcolm Muggeridge decided to produce a documentary about her and chose to title it, “Something Beautiful for God.” The story behind the filming of the documentary is the best. At Mother Teresa’s insistence, the only light that could be used for filming was whatever light was available. This drove the film crew crazy as they tried to shoot the film in rooms that were too dark. But when they began the editing process, they discovered that the finished film was bathed in a beautiful soft light. Muggeridge determined that it must have been a “halo of love” that filled the rooms of that hospice.

Years later, when she was talking at the National Prayer Breakfast, she shared what she thought the greatest thing about her life was: “I have been able to be a tiny pencil in the hand of God, someone through whom God writes love letters to the world.” And if you were to watch the documentary or read Muggeridge’s book, you would understand that she was about to write those love letters to the world because she chose to live a life of generosity. She gave herself away…

I guess that is why I would want to eat dinner with her. I would like to experience that halo of love that radiated from this woman. I would love to sit in her presence so I could witness a person who saw herself too ugly to ever be married but made her life something beautiful for God. Alert all, I would consider my life pretty “successful” if someone could stand up at my funeral and simply say that I lived a generous life and I made something beautiful for God.

What about you?

Breathe Peace,

Give All You Can

Greetings!
I have no idea when I learned to ride a bike. Nor do I remember who taught me, but I do know it wasn’t my mom. She was a pretty amazing lady, but she never learned to ride a bike. Anyhow, I would guess that when I learned, it wasn’t much different than the way I taught the boys to ride, which is probably like many of you learned to ride.

You sat on the bike, the person teaching you held onto the seat and ran beside you. Eventually, the “teacher” would let go, and you were pedaling on your own. And the teacher? Well, she was standing there, yelling all sorts of instructions at you. And even though the instructions might have sounded confusing, you were riding a bike!

Of course, you don’t become an expert bike rider overnight. It happens in stages. At first, everything sounds and feels new and unfamiliar. Eventually, you get a feel for pedaling, for steering and especially braking. It no longer seems new and awkward. It becomes normal. There comes a point when you get on the bike, and you start pedaling; it is all second nature. You don’t even think about it anymore. If you see me riding a bike, and you yell, “Hey, Marty!” I am not going to yell back, “Hey, look at me! I am riding a bike!” Why? Because riding a bike is not a spectacular thing for me anymore and it has become very natural.

I think that’s how it is for those of us who are followers of Jesus. At first, it all seems new, unfamiliar, and maybe a little bit scary. But eventually, it becomes the way we live. It becomes natural to be a person of grace. It becomes second nature to live as Jesus calls us to live. We become what Paul calls “new creations”. We are changed; we are transformed. And when we experience transformation, then the words of the prophet are fulfilled: “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” (Jeremiah 31:33).

What would it be like if we moved from new to normal to second nature? Maybe, it’s like riding a bike…

Breathe peace,

Marty Signature BROWN

Stay in Love with God

Greetings!
Not long after my mom died, a friend sent me a silly yet profound story about two caterpillars. One day, these caterpillars are crawling along on the ground when a big beautiful butterfly soared by in the sunlight overhead, casting a shadow across the caterpillars’ path. Both looked up and saw the butterfly, and one said to the other, “You’ll never get me up in one of those things!”

Well, you and I know that one day, that caterpillar will become “one of those things.” One day that caterpillar will curl up on a branch, and it will seem to die. But when springtime comes, a beautiful butterfly will burst out and have a new life. If we remember back to our days in biology class, we know the change that the caterpillar experienced is known as metamorphosis.

Now, I am not sure how much the Apostle Paul knew about caterpillars and butterflies, but I know he understood the process of metamorphosis. After all, he wrote about it to the church in Rome. He tells the Roman church not to be conformed but to be transformed, to experience a metamorphosis, by God’s own powerful, mysterious, uncontrollable grace.

After encouraging the people to be transformed, Paul gives a warning of sorts to the church…and us: “God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you…Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it…Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame.” (Romans 12, The Message). I think these words from Paul contributed to John Wesley’s third General Rule: Stay in love with God (paraphrased by Bishop Rueben Job).

Staying in love with God comes from the center of who we are. Staying in love with God is how we keep from burning out. It is how we keep ourselves “fueled and aflame.”  When we love someone, we are intentional about our relationship with him/her. We talk. We eat together. We learn about the other. We sacrifice for that person. We celebrate their good. We are energized by being with that person. We work at the relationship, but the work doesn’t feel like work. So, what does that look like when it comes to our love of God? What does it mean to say, “I will stay in love with God?”

Breathe Peace,

Marty Signature BROWN

Do Good

Greetings!
If I am honest with you, the past couple of weeks haven’t been the easiest weeks in my life. I was forced to deal with a bunch of feelings and emotions that I was not expecting. I shared some of this with a friend this past week and was caught a little off guard with the question he asked, “Marty, if it’s so hard, why did you choose to handle the arrangements?” And when I told him I was doing it because it was the “right thing to do,” I have to admit that I was surprised with his response: “Sometimes it is just tiring to do the right thing. Doing good can wear you out.”

As I thought about our conversation, I was reminded of something Paul wrote in his letter to the Galatians, “Let’s not get tired of doing good, because in time, we’ll have a harvest if we don’t give up.” (Galatians 6:9 CEB) These words lead me to believe the followers of Jesus in Paul’s day must have faced times when they felt like giving up or when they simply grew tired of doing good. Paul does not go into detail, but I get the sense that there were those in the Church that had lost heart and were ready to give up, to give in and quit. Have you ever felt like this?

ompassion fatigue with heart

Actually, there is a name for this feeling, this tiredness. It is called “compassion fatigue” or “well-doer’s burnout”. It happened in Paul’s day and it happens to many of us today. When I get this way, I spend some time alone with God, then I walk through the church and am reminded that I am not having to do everything myself.

Maybe the first step in following Wesley’s 2nd General Rule, “Do Good,” is to remember we are part of a community who is made up of ordinary, flawed people simply trying to “Do Good”. Maybe we need to remember that we are not alone. Maybe we need to hear Paul’s words one more time:

“Let’s not get tired of doing good, because in time we’ll have a harvest if we don’t give up.”

Breathe Peace,

Marty Signature BROWN

Do No Harm

Until recently, the only way to study how a caterpillar changes into a butterfly was to cut open the chrysalis or x-ray it—both with fatal results. But a recent issue of National Geographic reported on new micro-CT scans that show how metamorphosis takes place.

Metamorphosis Screen Shot 2019-09-10 at 7.07.25 PMMetamorphosis is a radical change in form and function. Many animals go through this process (frogs, sea urchins, wasps, beetles), but most of us know about the metamorphosis from caterpillars that become butterflies. Yet scientists are only beginning to grasp the miracle of what goes on in a chrysalis. New research shows that the insect’s makeover is a mix of the destruction of old ways of being and thinking combined with brand new ways of being and thinking.

I am not sure if John Wesley understood exactly what happens to caterpillars and sea urchins, but he sure knew the importance of becoming a new creation through the grace of Jesus Christ. And to help be us become new creations; he gave us four rules to follow every day.

His first rule, Do No Harm, echoes Paul’s words to the church in Rome, “Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom. 13:10 NIV). As Jesus followers, we face choices that affect the lives of those who are around us. When we choose a course of action, we should ask ourselves, “Does this reflect the love that Jesus has for others, or am I only concerned for myself?”

Perhaps, the writer of Job says it best. Throughout the 31st chapter, Job reminds us that we are to live our lives in such a way that we heal instead of hurt, create wholeness instead of division, act in harmony with the ways of God and not the ways of the world.

Do No Harm. Do Good. Stay in Love with God. Give All We Can.

 If we live our lives according to these simple rules; maybe we could change our lives, our family, our community, our country, and our world. After all, “Transformed People Transform People.”

Breathe Peace,

Marty Signature BROWN

 

Change in Attitude?

Greetings!

Jimmy received a parrot for his birthday. This parrot was fully grown with a bad attitude and terrible vocabulary. Every other word was an expletive. Those that weren’t expletives were, to say the least, rude. Jimmy tried hard to change the bird’s attitude. He was constantly saying polite words and playing soft music; he did anything he could think of. Nothing worked. When he yelled at the bird, the bird got worse. If he shook the bird, the bird got madder and ruder.

Parrot-green

Finally, in a moment of desperation, Jimmy put the parrot in the freezer. For a few moments, he heard the bird squawking, kicking and screaming, and then suddenly, there was quiet. Jimmy was frightened that he might have actually hurt the bird and quickly opened the freezer door. The parrot calmly stepped out onto Jimmy’s extended arm and said: “I’m sorry that I might have offended you with my language and actions, so I ask for your forgiveness. I will endeavor to correct my behavior.”

Jimmy was astounded at the bird’s change in attitude and was about to ask what had changed him when the parrot continued: “May I ask you, sir, just what did that chicken do?

Yes, changes in latitude and changes in attitude might work for parrots and Jimmy Buffet, but you and I need something more. We need a change in our hearts and souls. As Paul reminds us, we need to be transformed by the renewing of our minds and our souls (Romans 12:2). To have a transformed soul, a simple change in latitude or attitude isn’t enough; we need Jesus to touch us and shape us.

How is it with your soul? Is it restless or heavy? Does your soul feel broken or tempted? No matter how your soul might be now, it doesn’t have to stay that way. If we allow Jesus to touch our souls, we can be transformed so that we can sing, “It is well, it is well with my soul…”

Breathe Peace,

Marty Signature - REVERSED

 

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