Joe Green on smiling back as God smiles on us.
I’m Joe Green. My wife Trudi and I have attended LHUMC for over 25 years. We raised three boys, now all in their twenties, in this church. It’s my privilege to be here this morning to talk to you about two things:
- How God has been at work in my life through the work of this church, and what my hopes are for Lake Harriet’s ministries in the future.
- Why Lake Harriet has been an important part of our personal giving, and why I think other members of this congregation should consider making this an important part of their giving.
My Faith Journey
We all know that our faith in God is a deeply personal experience, and yet the great irony is that the most important way to celebrate and enrich our relationship with God is through shared experiences in community with other believers. LHUMC and its ministries have played a very important role in my spiritual journey over the years and it is difficult for me to recount in the short amount of time I have here this morning the many ways Lake Harriet and its ministries have touched my life. I’m going to tell you about only a few of them.
- I feel very blessed to have been a part of several mission activities of this church, both for youth, as part of junior and senior high mission trips, and as an adult. It has been wonderful to have my own children be a part of this outreach as well. These trips tested skills I wasn’t sure I had, like my ability to install a new service door on a garage for an elderly widower living in southern Minnesota, or leading a team of young people that built a new porch on a trailer home in Appalachia. In traveling to places like Haiti and Sierra Leone, these ventures introduced me to parts of the world where the needs are so great and where we truly can make a difference. I believe that the level and intensity of our mission outreach in this church have been truly extraordinary, especially for a church our size, and I am proud to have been a part of it. We as a people in 21st century America are preoccupied by the first world challenges that fill our days, but I believe God calls us to actively participate in addressing needs outside our own community, whether it is on the other side of town or on the other side of the globe. My hope is that our congregation will continue to be a part of this kind of fearless outreach in the coming years.
- I also feel very blessed to have been a part of LHUMC’s educational programs over the years, both as a participant and as a leader. These experiences began with my time years ago as a teacher for our kindergarten and second grade offerings, and more recently included helping to lead several adult discussion groups. I’ve really appreciated the chance our church leadership has provided to explore new topics in such discussion groups. One of my favorite pastimes is running on Saturdays with some friends, and I especially enjoyed a discussion group we organized three years ago, “The Long Run,” that focused on the Christian perspective on contemporary topics that have come up over the years in long marathon training runs I had with a friend—topics like tithing, taxes and charity; prayer and worship in daily life; fairness and rewards in a just society; what it means to lead a self-examined life; and whether Christians are too serious. Because I enjoy writing, I also especially enjoyed a discussion group a couple years ago built around the “This I Believe Essay” series, in which we read and listened to essays written by others, and also collected 15 essays written by participants in the class, dealing with the authors’ core beliefs and guiding life principles—which we’re now finally at the point of publishing in some fashion. I have learned so much in sharing experiences with all of you as part of these and a number of other programs, and am glad to see that there is a continuing emphasis on ongoing educational opportunities in our church. My dream is that we will continue to see growth in these programs in the coming years.
- A third area in which our church’s ministries have been a special blessing to me is in the opportunity to participate in our theatre programs. I was very blessed to have been a part of The Music Man, Jesus Christ Superstar (our first production) and Annie, and also numerous Sunday a.m. skits, always with a serious message but often with a humorous twist. These were wonderful opportunities for me—but not because I had any special talent to offer. For me, these were somewhat hair-raising opportunities to go out on a limb, and to learn something new that was fun and creative. They gave me the chance to get to know a number of other folks in the congregation and beyond, most of whom were far more talented than I was. I believe God wants us to think big and that we need to be more attentive to His plans for our lives rather than our pre-conceived notions of what the limits on our talent and resources may be. Our theatre programs over the years, both our annual musicals and the other theatre programs we had, gave me many opportunities for personal growth, spiritual and otherwise. I would encourage all of you to look to this church as a place where you can think outside the box and try something new, maybe even something outside your comfort zone, in the company of a supportive Christian community.
You all know how Paul tells us in Second Corinthians that God wants us to be cheerful givers? For me, this is easy, because what’s the first thing you want to do when someone smiles at you? You want to smile back. Where I have been blessed and God has smiled upon me, I am inclined to smile back, and I know many of you share that same instinct. Of course, giving is more than just giving out of our financial wherewithal—it also includes gifts of our time, including time spent in prayer and lending a helping hand whenever and however we can.
I’ve shared with you some of my faith journey and what I have drawn from LHUMC’s ministries and hope to continue to see in those programs in the future. For me, giving is easy because what our family has received from this church and this congregation in our own spiritual growth is priceless and really can’t be measured in monetary terms. And yet it does take financial resources to make this all happen, and to continue to develop church ministries and programs in the future.
I would encourage all of you to prayerfully consider what you can do as part of this year’s stewardship campaign. There are lots of worthy causes out there, and Trudi and I know from experience that choosing where to devote limited resources involves saying yes to some and no to others. We say yes to LHUMC because our pledge to LHUMC offer a truly unique opportunity to support ministries in our own backyard and around the world, ministries in which we and our families can personally participate and continue to grow together as part of an active and vibrant Christian community.