Saint Andrew United Methodist Church

1528 Church Road

Toms River NJ 08755

Good News

Posted by on Monday, December 11, 2017 @ 11:02 AM

Christmas was built on prophecy. Long before Jesus was born a baby in a Bethlehem manger…   the prophet Isaiah was proclaiming God’s promise that “people walking in darkness have seen a great light!”

Two features of Isaiah’s prophecies concerning the coming messiah are: 1) the world is a dark and dangerous place heading for destruction; 2) God’s chosen King is coming to usher in an age of victory, peace, and prosperity.

Have you ever experienced a season of darkness in your life? It can be demoralizing and despairing. During times of struggle we can begin to doubt that anything good can come out of it. We can even make choices under duress that make matters worse…   deepening the sense that life is out of control. The Israelites spent centuries wrestling with injustice, oppression, struggling and suffering between the time Isaiah prophesied and the time Jesus was born.  When life is dark, we NEED a word of hope and promise. We NEED encouragement to keep going. We NEED someone to shed light on our darkness and show us the way to a future of victory, peace, and prosperity. Even though we NEED it…   it can be so hard to muster the faith to embrace God’s promises.

 

The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned.
You have enlarged the nation
    and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
    as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice
    when dividing the plunder.
For as in the day of Midian’s defeat,
    you have shattered
the yoke that burdens them,
    the bar across their shoulders,
    the rod of their oppressor.
Every warrior’s boot used in battle
    and every garment rolled in blood
will be destined for burning,
    will be fuel for the fire.
For to us a child is born,
    to us a son is given,
    and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
    Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
    there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
    and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
    with justice and righteousness
    from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the Lord Almighty
    will accomplish this.

(Isaiah 9:1-7)

May Christmas give you the faith to embrace God’s promises.

God is Coming

Posted by on Monday, December 4, 2017 @ 9:40 AM

Have you ever encountered someone you know but didn’t recognize them right away? It happens, right? Maybe you haven’t seen the person in a long time and it takes a moment or two before you recognize their face or voice or mannerism. Or, maybe, it’s someone you know very well, but the place and time of your encounter with them is so unexpected that you don’t recognize them right away…   like, for instance, you are on vacation a thousand miles from home and you see your hair stylist relaxing on the beach.

‘Seeing’ has more than one component. There’s the actual physical part of ‘seeing’ that comes from light illuminating the world around us. There’s the perception part of ‘seeing’ that interprets what we see and defines it. And then, there’s the recognition part of ‘seeing’ that actually integrates what we see with what we know and what we experience into a coherent perspective of the world around us.

All of this is to say…   we MUST have light to see, but we need MORE than just light to see. We need to actively engage in the process of perception and recognition.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. 10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1: 1-5; 9-15)

When Jesus dwelt among us. When he arrived at Christmas. He was the light that shines in the darkness allowing people to see God. But, unless the people would actually, actively engage in the process of perceiving and recognizing…   they couldn’t really see Jesus for who he is. So, how do we actually, actively engage in the process of perceiving and recognizing? FAITH. We have to believe! It is through the ‘eyes of faith’ (how we define and interpret what we see and how we integrate it into our lives) that Jesus is revealed for who he is: GOD!

May your faith allow you to truly see Jesus this Christmas season

Down to Earth

Posted by on Monday, November 27, 2017 @ 11:32 AM

Our Study and Discussion Series for Advent is based on Down to Earth by Mike Slaughter and Rachel Billups from Ginghamsburg Church.

God is persistently generous with God’s love. As we enter the season of Advent in which we anticipate, and rejoice in, the coming of Jesus the Messiah, it is an important time to come face to face with God’s persistent love. Think about it, ever since the Garden of Eden God has been pursuing God’s wayward people. Through blessings, promises, signs and wonders, prophetic declarations, and the Law, God persistently and generously declared God’s unending love and bountiful grace to all who would return to God’s embrace. Yet, generation after generation ignored, betrayed, and rejected God. Still, in the ultimate expression of this persistent and generous love, God came down at Christmas. In the form of a child. Jesus, Emmanuel, God With Us.

We celebrate this persistent and generous love at Christmas. And, we are called to emulate it:

If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:1-4)

God wants us to be just as persistent and generous in the way we love each other. It starts with recognizing God’s love for all people, but then it extends to loving one another as we love ourselves. Even when we are treated poorly, ignored, betrayed, or rejected, we ought to persist because God’s promise is that love will eventually rule and reign in all things. The promise of Christmas is that God’s love will never give up on us…   so we should never give up on one another.

 May you do love persistently and generously this season.

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

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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