Devotional for a Snowy Sunday

Growing up in the Washington, D.C. area, my experience with snow was not unlike what happens here in the Shenandoah Valley. Once, twice, perhaps three times a year we’d get hammered with snow. I’ve got to admit that as a child, two-foot snowfalls were a blessed event. School cancellations, sledding, snow forts,… snow was my best winter friend!
 

As an adult and a pastor, I still appreciate the beauty of a snowfall, but I also dread the shoveling and inevitable interruptions to my schedule (as well as my sometimes comical attempts to get my decidedly “not in love with snow” rat terrier to take a walk for the sake of her bodily functions!)

As a Jesus-follower, though, I must remember that my attitudes toward snow should mirror those of a child, not a grumpy old man. Children dance with joy in the snow, sticking out their tongues to catch what a church sign in town recently called “kisses from heaven.” Rosy-cheeked children may look awkward in their over-padded snowsuits and appear frost-bitten to their overly protective parents, but they know deep in their hearts that snow is a gift of grace from above. It’s us all-too busy adults who have declared it to be a “bah humbug” event as we groan about the inconveniences brought on by the onslaught of a snowstorm rather than celebrating the possibilities for play and a break from our regular routines.

So on this Lord’s Day, January 24, 2016, I pledge to give thanks for the snow all around us. To not bemoan opportunities lost but to shout with the children of our community, “Thank you God!” and to see the new opportunities for joy all around us.

In Job 37:5-7, God’s Word says, “God’s voice thunders in marvelous ways; he does great things beyond our understanding.  He says to the snow, “Fall on the earth,’ and to the rain shower, ‘Be a mighty downpour.’ So that everyone he has made may know his work, he stops all people from their labor.”

Did you hear verse 7? “So that everyone he has made may know his work, he stops all people from their labor.” Boy, did I need a stop from my labor. Just last night I was looking out the window at the falling snow, and I said to Lydia, “It is good that there are events like this that put us in our place.” We, who God has made, can’t stop the snow from falling. We attempt to stem its effects with snow plows and chemicals. But in the end, the only thing that conquers the army of a billion snowflakes is the warmth of the sunshine God sends from above.

Snow is a reminder that, for all our pride in human achievement, God is still in control.

Let’s all enjoy a day of rest. If you have family around you, take the time to get to know each other again. Play. Sing. Take a walk. Then sit down and pray together to the One who made it all possible.

Here are some snow day devotional ideas for you and your family:

  • Read Psalm 147:15-18:  “He sends his command to the earth; his word runs swiftly.  He spreads the snow like wool and scatters the frost like ashes. He hurls down his hail like pebbles. Who can withstand his icy blast? He sends his word and melts them; he stirs up his breezes, and the waters flow.”

Where does the snow come from?  Who designs every flake?  What does the snow tell you about God?  What is its purpose?  What are your favorite memories of winter?  Share stories.

  • Read Psalm 148:7-13:  “Praise the LORD from the earth, you great sea creatures and all ocean depths, lightning and hail, snow and clouds, stormy winds that do his bidding, you mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars, wild animals and all cattle, small creatures and flying birds, kings of the earth and all nations, you princes and all rulers on earth, young men and women, old men and children. Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted.”

Who is meant to praise the Lord?  How does snow praise God?  How can we praise Him today?

  • Read Isaiah 55:9-11:  “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”

What is the purpose of snow?  What does it do for the earth?  In these verses, God compares rain and snow to what?  What does His word do?  Why should it be important to us?

Discuss how each snowflake is a new creation of God.  If God takes such great care to design each flake, how much more care did He take in designing you?  Read Psalm 119:14, “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.”

If you have children, ask them to identify the gifts that God has given them.  Take this opportunity to love your child with encouragement, with statements like, “I love how God put sensitivity on your heart.  You care deeply about others.”  Or, “I love how God made you aggressive.  You will fight for what is right and I am proud of that.”

  • Read 1 Corinthians 16:13-14, “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.  Do everything in love.”

Think about a time you went ice skating or walked on ice. Discuss how hard it is to stand firm on a slippery surface.  It takes a lot of practice, balance, and hard work.  It is also difficult to stand firm in this world of sin.  The same characteristics are needed to not fall.  What can we do as a family to help you stand firm in your faith?  Will you be willing to help me be courageous in mine?

Read Psalm 121: 2-4, “My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.  He will not let your foot slip- he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.”

When you take a walk in the snow, observe your own. Spell out words in the snow for others to read. Look for other prints also and attempt to identify them.

  • Read Psalm 77:18-20, “Your thunder was heard in the whirlwind, your lightning lit up the world; the earth trembled and quaked.  Your path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen. You led your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.”

Discuss how God saved the Israelites from the Egyptians.  Were God’s footprints seen?  How did they know that it was Him who was saving them?  Though God doesn’t leave visible footprints, He does direct our steps and assures us that He is there.  How does He do that?  Have you ever felt God with you?  What was that like?

Can you think of someone whose footprints you would like to follow?  For example, someone who loves God and shows it with his or her life?  Tell me what you notice about that person.  We all need good examples in our lives.  Write a thank you to that person.

What about us?  Are we making footprints that follow God or are we leading others in a wrong direction?  Who may be following us?  Who can we be a good example for?

Thank you to Kristin Charles of ministry-to-children.com for many of the ideas contained in this devotional guide for a snowy day.



Tis the Season to Be Vile

Tis the Season to Be Vile! From the Journal of John Wesley, March 15-29, 1739:  I left London and in the evening expounded to a small company at Basingstoke….I could scarcely reconcile myself at first to this strange way of preaching in the fields...; I had been all my life (till very lately) so tenacious of every point relating to decency and order that I should have thought the saving of souls almost a sin if it had not been done in a church. April 2—At four in the afternoon, I submitted to be more vile and proclaimed in the highways the glad tidings of salvation, speaking from a little eminence in a ground adjoining to the city, to about three thousand people. For Wesley, to be more vile in his proclamation of the Good News meant to preach in places that other clergy found lowly and objectionable, even foul and obnoxious. He was a clergyman of some reputation who had preached in the grandest cathedrals of England. To go into the fields of England’s poorest villages and proclaim the Gospel must have seemed an incredible fall from the privilege he had earned as an educated priest of the Church of England—the church of kings and queens!  Yet Wesley and his  Methodists “submitted to be more vile” because it was the most effective way to communicate the Gospel to those who hunger and thirst for the good news of Jesus Christ. And that’s what got me to thinking about whether or not God was calling our church to be more vile. It seemed a strange idea at first  until it dawned on me that we are in the vilest of seasons—Advent and Christmas. Consider the vileness of the two main characters of these seasons: ¨ John the Baptist. The forerunner of the newborn King Jesus was as vile as they come. He preached in the grand sanctuary of the wilderness. He wore animal skins and ate locusts and wild honey.  His message was revolutionary and anti-establishment. He was beheaded for faithfulness to the vile task God gave him. ¨ Jesus. The eternal, immortal, and only wise God determined that for the world to be saved he must send his only Son in the vilest of forms:  a servant robbed of all divine privilege, born without rank or reputation in a lowly manger. In his ministry Jesus had no home, no place to lay his head. He associated with sinners and was accused of being possessed by demons. For the sake of the world he loved, Jesus submitted to die the vilest of deaths. So what has happened to those who claim salvation in the name of Jesus? After the first century, it didn’t take long for the Christian Church to lose its grip on the importance of a vile environment in which to plant the Gospel seed. Instead, we increasing moved toward a system where the precious seed was planted only in the sterile soil of formality and disengagement from the poor. It is as if a farmer chose to plant a field of wheat in a concrete parking lot rather than in the neighboring field with its manure and worms and all the elements that cause seed to sprout and produce fruit.
The concrete may be less messy, but messiness isn’t the point… the point is the harvest of souls. We even see this in manger scenes and living nativities at Christmas. Few churches attempt to make their shepherds smell like sheep and dung. Few present the characters in thread-worn clothing. Mostly, we attempt to escape the vileness of the scene for the sake of respectable, non-threatening sterility.
Is God calling us to be “more vile” for the sake of the Gospel? I believe so. Look at our November 23rd Outreach Sunday. What I saw on that day was a congregation abandoning their comfort zones for the sake of hungry children in our world. We exchanged ties and our best clothing to wear t-shirts and hair nets and package meals for Stop Hunger Now. We brought our sewing machines to the church to make dresses for little girls in Haiti. We made soup and soap and sleeping bags for the homeless. We  abandoned the formality of worship for the vileness of servitude. Wasn’t it a joy-filled morning! We laughed and worked together and then prayed and sang together not because it was what we were supposed to do but because it was what our hearts compelled us to do. It wasn’t “high” church by any definition, but I don’t believe our hearts and spirits could have been any higher. In the coming year, let’s join John Wesley’s determination to be more vile. Let’s pray that God would move us further out of our comfort zones. Let’s venture into the vile fields of life where seeds of grace and salvation can sprout and bring forth a great harvest for the sake of the Kingdom of God. help for parents Amen


He Stood Up

The following devotional is to be published in the May 11, 2014 Virginia Advocate

SCRIPTURE:  Luke 4:14-21

 “He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him (NIV, Luke 4:16b-17a).”

I’m not sure what was in the air in our worship services a few Sundays ago. The children gathered for our “children’s time” on the steps of the chancel area. After sharing a story based on the morning’s Scripture lesson, I asked the girls and boys to stand up and pray with me. Not one child stood up. I asked again, this time with a “please.” Again, no one stood. I turned to the congregation and confessed, “I feel so powerless.”

One of the duties of a United Methodist Pastor is to serve as chairperson of the Lay Leadership Committee. I have a feeling that most pastors dread asking members of their congregation to take on leadership responsibilities for any number of reasons. There’s the fear of rejection; or the sinking feeling that the entire process is more about “filling slots” than matching gifts with ministries. It can truly be an exercise in frustration.

We long for someone to stand up and declare their determination to fulfill the Scriptures, in whatever way they are called by God. Not out of guilt, or a grudging sense of duty, but with a sure and certain desire to follow where Jesus leads. We long for more “here I am, send me” moments and fewer, “I’ll have to pass” excuses.

Before we can follow Jesus, we must first stand up for Jesus. In today’s Scripture passage Jesus stands up to proclaim God’s truth without regard to the consequences. He later calls upon his disciple Peter to stand up with him in the hour of his greatest trial – and Peter fails (John 18:2-27).

But the good news is that God didn’t abandon Peter, didn’t give up on him, did not leave him sitting in the dust of his despair. “Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd (Acts 2:14a).”  Emboldened and empowered by the power of the Holy Spirit, this same Peter who denied his Lord over and over in the shadow of the cross, will be chosen to stand up before thousands on the day of Pentecost and proclaim:  “…God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah (NIV, Acts 2:36b).” Because Peter stood up, a Church was raised up.

Will we also stand up when Jesus calls?



Lent – A Season to Realign Our Hearts

After a recent snowstorm dumped a foot and a half of white stuff in our neighborhood, I decided to venture down to the church. Our street in Staunton had not been plowed but my all-wheel-drive did just fine and within the hour I returned home, reporting to Lydia that the roads were a lot worse than I expected. What I hadn’t noticed was the amount of snow that had accumulated in my car’s undercarriage.

The next morning the streets were a bit cleaner but as my speedometer approached 35 miles per hour I noticed a severe shaking in the steering wheel. My first thought was that I had knocked the front end out of alignment during my previous day’s trip to the church. I pulled over and inspected the car. Mipowahami . The problem was much simpler than I had anticipated:  a tremendous amount of snow and ice were packed in around the wheels. I knocked off as much as I could and it eased the shaking. Later, when the ice melted, the shaking completely disappeared.

There is no more important discipline in life than the discipline of check-ups. We do it with our cars and we do it with our bodies all the time—a bit of shaking in the hands, a lump we hadn’t noticed before, a patch of skin that doesn’t look quite right—all are potential symptoms of deeper problems. web domain . Sometimes the symptoms lead us to uncover critical health threats; sometimes they are easily treated and “melt away” over time. No matter the outcome, we know that to forgo a check-up and ignore the symptoms is to risk serious, even fatal, health consequences.

Less apparent to many of us is the need for regular, personal, spiritual check-ups. It’s what our church does when we go through a visioning process or during the introspective season of Lent. Are we still in alignment with God’s will for our lives? Are there signs and symptoms of spiritual disease? Can we take the time to seek God’s wisdom and be assured that we are in alignment with his will in all we say and do?

On a recent Friday a man called the church office and spoke with Shawna. He shared an unusual story:  One Sunday twenty-two years ago he came to our church and filled out a pledge card for two dollars a month. It was the first and last time he attended our church. Recently he had been reading his Bible and was convicted in his heart of the unkept promise he had made to God and our church all those years ago. Roepromazperdu He told Shawna that he would fulfill his promise and give the twenty-two years of money pledged—and would continue to give two dollars a month until he died.

A few days later we received two money orders totaling $530.00, fulfilling his pledge made in 1992.

This man, whom I’ve never met, knew he needed to keep that promise if he wanted his life to be in alignment with God’s will. My prayer for all the family of God at VUMC is that during the coming season of Lent—through prayer, fasting, and the reading of God’s Word—our thoughts and actions would come into alignment with what is the pure and holy will of God.



Baptism – Immersed in God’s Love

I was baptized in a small non-denominational church when I was ten years old. Frightened after a sermon that left me believing I would be "left behind" if Christ returned, I ran up the aisle and confessed my belief that Jesus was my Lord and Savior.Within a few minutes I was in the baptistry (a large tank of water) and immersed (dunked) by our preacher. My baptism was different in many ways from the baptisms I've been part of as a Pastor in The United Methodist Church. Generally, we baptize infants by sprinkling, although baptism at any age and by pouring or immersion is equally permissible. Yet, though outwardly different, my baptism as a ten-year-old is accepted by The United Methodist Church as sacred and valid. Why? Because in the end, what validates and makes a baptism holy is not our actions or the mode employed but the actions of God. It is God who pours out his grace and Spirit. It is God who unites us with Christ. And it is God who raises us to new life. Any baptism that leads us into the Kingdom of God is a baptism to be celebrated.     As we gather this week on "Baptism of the Lord Sunday,"  may God grant us all the peace of hearts sprinkled by his Spirit, immersed in his love, and poured out upon the altar of service in his name! Pastor Bob Weeks


Lord, Help My Unbelief

Message for Confirmation Sunday at Verona United Methodist Church, 11/17/13 The message I am going to share with our confirmands and congregation this morning is based on a Confirmation Sunday sermon preached by the German theologian, Lutheran Pastor, and Christian martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Bonhoeffer preached this message on April 9, 1938. Seven years later to the day, Dietrich Bonhoeffer would be hung by the Nazis for his refusal to compromise his Christian faith, for the aid he gave to Jews trying to escape the concentration camps, and for his opposition to Adolph Hitler and all those Christian pastors who allowed the Hitler regime to infect the German Church with propagandist liturgies. Bonhoeffer spent two years in prison at the Buchenwald concentration camp before his execution along with six other resisters at the extermination camp Flossenburg. He died at the age of 39, just 23 days before Germany’s surrender to the Allies. A decade later, a camp doctor who witnessed Bonhoeffer's hanging described the scene: "The prisoners … were taken from their cells, and the verdicts of court martial read out to them. Through the half-open door in one room of the huts, I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer, before taking off his prison garb, kneeling on the floor praying fervently to his God. I was most deeply moved by the way this lovable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer. At the place of execution, he again said a prayer and then climbed the steps to the gallows, brave and composed. His death ensued in a few seconds. In the almost 50 years that I have worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God." It is because we must never believe that confirming our faith in Jesus Christ is a minor commitment that I share this message with you this morning. Here is my adapted version of Pastor Bonhoeffer’s Confirmation Sermon from April 9, 1938 based on the remarkable confession of Mark 9:24: “I believe, dear Lord, help my unbelief.” I apologize to all who treasure the legacy of Deitrich Bonhoeffer for any short-comings in this adaptation. The original text of the April 9, 1938 sermon may be accessed at  http://www.jakebouma.com/media/Bonhoeffer-ConfirmationSermon.pdf Dear members of our confirmation class! This may seem a strange scripture to read on the day of your confirmation. It is a very sober word – a man confessing he has a bit of faith but also a lot of doubt. But it is good that from the very beginning we get used to not bragging about our faith. Faith is not like that. Whether we believe or not will be evident every day not only in our words but in our deeds; saying we believe isn’t the same as living out that belief.  Do you remember the story about Peter – Peter who was always so very quick to confirm his faith in Jesus - how he said to his Lord: “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you,” and Jesus answers: “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And the story ends very sadly with the Scriptures saying: “And Peter went out and wept bitterly.” Why did he weep? Because, despite all of Peter’s claims to great faith, he had denied his Lord, just as Jesus had predicted. Great assertions of faith, even if they are said sincerely and are meant seriously, always open us to the possibility that in the moment of trial, our doubts will rise up and reveal who we really are. It is not an insignificant thing that you profess your Christian faith today in the presence of God and before the ears of your church community. For the rest of your life, you will think back on this day with joy. But for that very reason, I beg you to also take this day seriously, to understand the life-changing seriousness of what is said and done here. My prayer is that you will not say anything on this day that you will remember later with bitterness and regret, having said and promised more in an hour of inner emotion than a human being can possibly live up to. Your faith is still weak and untried and very much in its beginning stages. Therefore, when in a few minutes you are asked if you believe in God as Creator and Redeemer and Guide, do not rely on yourselves and on your good intentions and on the strength of your faith, but rely on the one whom you confess. Rely on God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And pray in your hearts: “I believe, dear Lord, help my unbelief.” And who among us adults would not and should not pray the same with you? Confirmation is a serious day. But it is easy enough to confess one’s faith in the undisturbed environment of a church sanctuary, in the fellowship of Christians, your parents, your brothers and sisters, your friends, in the familiarity of a worship service. Let us be thankful that God grants us this hour when we can all come together in common faith. But all of this will only become utterly serious, utterly real after confirmation, when daily life returns, our daily life with all its decisions. Then it will become evident whether even this day was serious. At this moment in your lives, you do not have your faith once and for all. The faith that you will confess today needs to be regained tomorrow and the day after tomorrow, indeed, every day anew. We receive from God only as much faith as we need for the present day. Faith is the daily bread that God gives us to nourish us for what lies ahead. Do you know the story about manna in the Old Testament? How when the children of Israel left slavery in Egypt they had to wander through a dry and barren wilderness. So God provided them with a food that appeared each day, light and flaky like frost, they would gather it up and grind it and pound it and make a cake-like bread from it. It was all they had to eat. Being like you and me, because of their lack of faith, they decided it would make sense to gather more than they could eat in one day and store it away for the next day. The problem was that manna would turn rotten if stored for more than one day. This is how it is with all the gifts of God. This is how it is with faith as well. Either we receive it daily anew or it rots. One day is just long enough to preserve the faith. Every morning it is a new struggle to fight through all unbelief, faintheartedness, lack of clarity and confusion, anxiety and uncertainty, in order to arrive at faith and to wrestle it from God. Every morning in your life the same prayer will be necessary: “I believe, dear Lord, help my unbelief.” Today, when this Christian congregation acknowledges you as autonomous members of the church, it expects that you begin to understand that your faith must be your very own individual decision. The “we believe” must now grow more and more into an “I believe.” Faith is a decision. We cannot avoid that. “You cannot serve two masters”; from now on either you serve God alone or you do not serve God at all. To serve him is your highest honor. But to this Yes to God belongs an equally clear No. Your Yes to God demands your No to all injustice, to all evil, to all lies, to all oppression and violation of the weak and poor, to all godlessness and mocking of the Holy. Your Yes to God demands a brave No to everything that will ever hinder you from serving God alone, whether it be your profession, your property, your house, even your own good name. Faith means decision. But your very own decision! No person can make this decision for you. Beginning today you must dive into Scripture and into prayer - you alone - and you must learn to fight with the weapon of the word of God wherever it is needed. Christian fellowship is one of the greatest gifts that God gives us. But there are times when we must walk the dark valleys alone. Then we will stand or fall with our very own faith. Even if in life you could evade every test of faith, the Bible tells us there will come a day when God will you ask you: Have you believed? Not, have your parents believed, but: have you believed? In that moment when we come face to face with God, may we still pray: I believe, dear Lord, help my unbelief. Then you shall know the joy of the Lord. Your faith will be led into difficult temptations. Jesus Christ was tempted just as we all are, more than all of us. At first, you will be tempted not to obey God’s commandments any longer. These temptations will assault you with great force. Satan will come to you, handsome and alluring, innocent and with the appearance of light. He will obscure God’s law and call it into doubt. He will want to rob you of the joy of following God’s path, to tear your entire faith out of your heart and trample it underfoot and cast it away. Those will be difficult hours in your life, when you will tend to become weary of God’s word, when all is in revolt, when no prayer passes your lips anymore, when the heart refuses to listen any longer. As certain as your faith is alive, all of this must happen. And even if the temptation brings great confusion to you, if your resistance threatens to utterly collapse, indeed, even if defeat has already arrived, then I pray you will cry out with that final bit of faith that remains: I believe, dear Lord, help my unbelief. For it is, after all, our Lord and Father who strengthens us.  It is, after all, the dear Lord Jesus Christ who has suffered all temptations like us, yet without sin, to be an example and a help for us. It is, after all, the Holy Spirit of our dear Lord who wants to keep us holy in this struggle. Your faith will be tested through sorrow. God sends sorrow to his children when they need it the most, when they become too overly sure on this earth. Then a great pain, a great loss, sickness, death, enters our life. Our unbelief rears up. Why does God demand this of me? Why has God allowed this to happen? Why, yes, why? That is the great question of unbelief that wants to suffocate our faith. No one can avoid this calamity. Everything is so perplexing, so dark. In this hour of being forsaken by God, we may and must say: I believe, dear Lord, help my unbelief. Yes, dear Lord, also in the dark, also when in doubt, also when I can’t help but feel that God has forsaken and abandoned me. Dear Lord, you still are my dear father who works all things together for my good. Dear Lord Jesus Christ, even you yourself, in the hour of greatest suffering cried out: My God, why have you forsaken me? You were where I am now. You came to be with me even in the hour of my need. I believe, dear Lord, help my unbelief. Your faith will bring you not only temptation and suffering but, above all, struggle. Today’s confirmands are like young soldiers who march into war, into the war of Jesus Christ against all the gods of this world. This war demands engagement of the entire life. Isn’t our God and Lord worthy of our giving everything we have to the struggle for his kingdom. The struggle is already being fought, and you shall now join in. Idolatry and fear of the future confront us everywhere. But do not think that great words of faith are enough to accomplish God’s goals in our lives. The hardest enemy stands not opposite us but within us. That is why we must keep on praying:  I believe, dear Lord, help my unbelief. If we, despite all temptation, do not run away but stand and fight, it will be that prayer that gives us the victory. Because when we call upon the Lord for the portion of faith that can only come from him, then he will lead the struggle with us and give us the victory in all things. In all the struggles of life, within and without, we will be more than conquerors through him who loved and gave himself for us.  It is not we who have won it. God himself has done it through Jesus Christ who is our righteousness, our life, our peace, our victory! And amen!


Remembering Those Who Planted the Seeds

With the recent celebration of our congregation’s 135th anniversary, I’ve been reflecting on our past and what it means for our future. The changes in technology, culture, morality, and a thousand other aspects of our society since our church was founded in 1878 are almost incomprehensible. In the year of our church’s birth, telephones were still a rarity in our nation. In 1878 the first electricity for homes would be offered in the northeast but it would be years before it came to Verona. The universal right for women to vote in our nation was still four decades away. The physical scars of the Civil War were all-to-evident in Augusta County—it had been only 14 years since General Philip Sheridan had laid waste to the Shenandoah Valley as a means to destroy “the breadbasket of the Confederacy”  and cut off the railroad crossroads of Staunton from Richmond. And despite the abolition of slavery as a result of that war, the movement to further segregate the races was gaining strength.

         Ahead of our church lay a devastating, world-wide flu epidemic in 1918, two world wars and numerous “lesser” conflicts, and a crippling Great Depression. A few years into the future there would be the first automobiles touring up and down Route 11 and the first planes flying overhead.

         All that lay ahead in the unknowable future. In 1878 we were primarily an agricultural community. Attending church services was not just an hour or two obligation. Mipowahami Children came to play and learn. Adults had the opportunity to share news of their families and farms with each other. Yes, they came to worship. But the gathering was also a social event that grew relationships and enlivened lives hungering for an interruption to the mundane routines of hard work and sacrifice required to simply survive. Without telephones, cars, malls, supermarkets and Facebook, the Sunday worship gathering was essential to the spiritual, social, and mental health of the community.

           I have a copy of a photo from a church I attended in Spotsylvania County before I was called to ordained ministry. The photo is of the church’s congregation standing outside their modest church building in the 1880’s. What is most notable is that while the men, women and children have dressed in their best for the occasion, their clothes are still thread-bare and many are without shoes. Where the pants and coats are too short, you can see skin and bones and little to spare.

         Life was hard for Virginians in 1878. It was, after all, just 13 years since the end of the war. And yet, here in Verona, a small group of dedicated members of The Church of the United Brethren in Christ decided that another preaching point was needed, a place where seeds of the Gospel could be planted and God’s Kingdom could grow. I can’t help but wonder what they would think of their spiritual descendants in 2013. Would they judge that we spend too much time examining and complaining about microscopic splinters in our hands, forgetting that for 135 years, they and others have worked their hands to the bone to serve God through our church?

          Perhaps an even more provocative question:  what will our descendants in 2148 say about us? May God grant us His grace so that we might be inspired by the past, prepared for the future, and worthy of the high call of God in Christ Jesus.

 

 



The Hell-Shaking Power in Desiring God

“Give me one hundred men who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God, and I care not whether they be clergyman or laymen, they alone will shake the gates of Hell and set up the kingdom of Heaven upon the earth.”

(from a letter of John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement)

Wouldn’t it be great if we all woke up each morning with a deep, burning desire to please God? What if our church had a hundred members who feared “nothing but sin” and desired “nothing but God”? Would it really shake Hell’s gates and set up the kingdom of Heaven on the earth?

What if we worshiped with the desire to please only God?

¨ Would worship be transformed from the mundane, ordinary, and unexciting into a transforming encounter with the Creator of all things and the Lord of our lives?

What if we read the Bible with the desire to please only God? 

¨ Would we discover God’s Word was a force so powerful that it could penetrate our hardened hearts, break us down, and reform us into what God intended us to be?

What if we related to the people around us with the desire to please only God?

¨ Would we discover how often we fail to walk in Jesus’ steps: to forgive, to love, to serve, to embrace… to share His good news?

Gilbert K. Chesterton once wisely said that “Christianity has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and not tried.” I am hoping that the day will come when people will look at Verona UMC as a church that was unafraid to try and walk in Jesus’ steps. A church that hated sin but desired God enough to seek his will in everything and then to live according to that will. The Petal Pushers have just donated a garden bench to our church that reads:  “By His grace and to His glory.” Are we living daily by His grace and to His glory?

I believe all of this is possible if we commit to the following:

¨ Accepting God’s grace, love and salvation in Jesus Christ

¨ Speaking with and listening to God

¨ Presenting ourselves for Sunday worship and worshiping with all our being.

¨ Reading the Bible daily with an eye toward living by and through that Word

¨ Spending less time consumed with the things that matter most to this world— and more time consumed with the things that matter most to God.

¨ Loving, forgiving , and serving our friends and our enemies.

 

Are we ready to step out and “shake the gates of Hell and set up the Kingdom of Heaven upon the earth”?

 Bob

Roepromazperdu


What God Has Prepared

Mike was a big, blunt, burly man of Irish heritage who would often refer to me as “a piece of Mike Putnamwork.” We once drove together from Portsmouth, Virginia to Ginghamsburg, Ohio for a church conference. Settling into the driver’s seat for the ten-hour journey, I reached over and powered up the radio —Mike immediately reached over and punched the power button off. Said he couldn’t stand the noise. Mipowahami . I said I couldn’t stay awake without it. Mike won. In close proximity for ten hours, I began to count the ways Mike and I were like the proverbial married couple who had little in common except the journey they were doomed to complete together. It was a long list. Roepromazperdu But in the end I  realized there were two things we shared that trumped all the dissonance in our relationship: Mike loved Jesus and he loved being a pastor. At our Virginia UMC’s recent annual conference in Hampton, we remembered Mike and dozens of other pastors and their spouses and church lay leaders who, in death, had joined the church eternal and triumphant. I last saw Mike in Roanoke at last year’s conference. His health was slipping but he was still bigger than life. He served only one small congregation in his relatively short ministry as a “second-career” pastor. But he served as if all of God’s Kingdom depended on the faithfulness of his small but beloved flock. After the memorial service on Friday evening, I returned to my hotel room and read my scripture passage for the day, an excerpt from the second chapter of the apostle Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth, where he reminds that fractious group of surly Christians that: “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, and what no human mind has conceived”—the things God has prepared for those who love him—these are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.” Late in life my friend Mike heard God’s Spirit calling him to pastor a small congregation. That was God’s retirement plan for him. I am certain that Mike’s human mind had never “conceived” such an outcome for his life after years as a banker.  But one day Mike laid his life before the Lord and heard the Spirit reveal the things God had planned for him. Mike, the church member who had once told his pastor that he didn’t care to serve on committees, much less chair them, discovered that God wasn’t going to let him go quietly into the night—that he had things prepared for him yet to accomplish. Can you hear his Spirit calling? Can you feel the fire burning? God is not done with you yet!      


A New Birth of Freedom

A New Birth of Freedom

Sermon for Memorial Day Weekend by Pastor Bob Weeks

Sunday, May 26, 2013 Verona United Methodist Church, Verona, Virginia

This morning I will be reading my sermon from a manuscript. I do this once or twice a year when I feel that the choice of words is extremely crucial to the message and I believe this is an important message for this Memorial Day Weekend. The short speech I am about to read is familiar to everyone here. It is not contained within the canon of Holy Scripture, but still, there is something holy about it. It was written and spoken by a man who was known for his homely appearance, down-home humor, and innate ability to frame great truths in words that still stun and move and challenge us:   Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.   But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate -- we cannot consecrate -- we cannot hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.   From where I stand, no greater words were ever uttered on earth than those of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount and in his farewell discourse with his disciples in the Gospel of John. Yet, to prove that mere human beings are capable of divine inspiration in their speech, Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address must be acknowledged as beyond the pale of ordinary human discourse – in its simple, dignified beauty – in its clear and concise exposition of the truth. Lincoln purportedly believed that his remarks on that day six months after the battle of Gettysburg in 1863 had been an utter disappointment to those assembled. The speaker before him had spoken at great length; Lincoln only a few minutes. When he finished there was no applause. Some who witnessed the address by Lincoln later said his word had so affected the crowed that they stood in silence as a sign of respect, that applause seemed unseemly. His address demonstrated the power of a few words. Both the Sermon on the Mount and the Gettysburg Address are about attaining and maintaining a proper perspective in the consideration of life and death - and life beyond death. They are part of a rich heritage of words that belong to all human beings, defining us, inspiring us, directing us. I’ve always loved words. My father, a Veteran of World War II, was a writer. His photograph is among the many here today, along with a portrait of his brother who died in Viet Nam. My father also loved words. It is a shame that some students come to despise the creative use of words as they text and tweet with little regard for lyricism and structure. I love words because when used with care they are the breath of our intellect and the mirror of our hearts. They have power. They are the seeds of revolutions, yet they can also mend torn relationships. I grew up on the poetry of the King James Bible. While it is true that this 400-hundred-year-old version of Holy Scripture is sometimes difficult for the modern mind to decipher, I found in its words a spiritual rhythm that moved me to delve deeper into its mysteries. I loved the King James Bible because words are greater than the sum of their definitions. They convey messages through intonation and the way the tongue and mouth and breath and the word interact. The first chapter of John’s Gospel is a wonderful example of the way words can cascade down from on high like a waterfall feeding a river. John says that “In the beginning was the Word” the Word was with God - and the Word was God - and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. It’s like listening to living water cascading out of the heavens. We know that God is love. But God is also Word. Words have transforming power beyond our comprehension. Over and over in Scripture, from Moses to Jeremiah to Jesus to Peter, healings and miracles come forth out of a spoken command, out of Word. Words can transmit authoritative power. Jesus was once asked by a Roman army officer to cure his servant:  The Roman officer said to Jesus, "Lord, my servant is lying paralyzed at home, in terrible distress." And Jesus said to him, "I will come and heal him." But the army officer answered him, "Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof; but only say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I am a man under authority, with soldiers under me; and I say to one, 'Go,' and he goes, and to another, 'Come,' and he comes, and to my slave, 'Do this,' and he does it." When Jesus heard him, he marveled, and said to those who followed him, "Truly, I say to you, not even in Israel have I found such faith. And Jesus said to the Roman military officer, "Go; be it done for you as you have believed." And the servant was healed at that very moment, by those very words. ( Matthew 8:5-13) They say we live in a visual age. They say words aren’t as important as they used to be – that no one has the attention span to pay attention to words alone without other stimuli thrown in. In the modern age we move our images in 7-second or less clips. We seek to entertain with multiple stimuli to keep our audience from falling asleep. But words remain the foundation of human communication because they have a unique power to interpret our personal experiences, to share with others what lies in our hearts, and to share our interpretations of what we see, and touch, and hear. Words are also capable of wreaking havoc, of inflicting pain, of undermining the best laid plans and best lived lives. The New Testament reminds us that the tongue is a little fire capable of setting the whole forest ablaze. Like water that can destroy or save, words must be carefully employed by those who seek to honor God and love their neighbor. Certainly we have seen the power of words to undo political careers in the past few years and to bring down pastors and leaders in every walk of life. But words can also lighten our load, can release our inner child, can trigger a laugh or a tear of joy. Most of you know I can’t resist a good pun. The English language is tailor-made for puns with so many words having multiple meanings. Even Shakespeare made good use of puns in his comedies. And you have a punster in this congregation who has more fun with puns than any man or woman I’ve ever met:  Dennis Gardner. Dennis can share a pun and immediately lighten the atmosphere, although he just as often hears groans. Now why am I going on about words and their importance and their power on this Memorial Day Weekend? Some of you brought portraits of your fathers and grandfathers and uncles and cousins and brothers to place before the congregation this morning, to remind us of the sacrifice others have made for our freedoms. The men and women in these photographs knew the importance of words. They sacrificed and in some cases died because they obeyed words uttered by their superior officers. Words such as Fire, Charge, Attack! But they also sacrificed and in some cases died because they believed in words like duty, honor, and country. They did not go to war fighting for property – they went fighting for principles. In the Civil War, they did not shed their blood in the fields of Virginia so that we might trash those fields with suburban sprawl and fast food litter. In World War II, they did not die on the beaches of Tarawa and Normandy so that I might dream of luxuriating on the beaches of Miami and Malibu. I don’t believe that over 2,200 men and women have given their lives in Afghanistan in order to preserve my freedom to super-size my fries at McDonald’s, as precious a freedom as that might seem to some. They did not leave their homes to die in far-off lands so that I might spend evenings in my home exercising my thumb with a remote control. I don’t believe members of the American military are fighting and dying to make sure I have the freedom to do whatever I want, regardless of the consequences of my actions to the world around me, to go through life cultivating addictions to drugs, to media, to over-consumption as if life were simply a grab fest for my own benefit . I have to believe the American soldier, sailor, marine, and airman have gone to war because somewhere at some time they heard certain words that transformed them, that touched them in a way that they had never been touched. These words called them away from a life of self-indulgence to a life of self-sacrifice. We do no honor to those who stormed beaches and endured muddy, shell-pocked fox holes for our sakes, when we confuse liberty with libertine. To be a libertine is to live as if there is no word of authority over us, no commands under which we must live, no principles to deter us from our self-destructive course. To live in a land of liberty, on the other hand, is to understand that our freedoms come with certain responsibilities. Nor do we honor these men and women when we reduce their sacrifice to the simple preservation of our consumer and property rights, as if America were no more than fruit in a canning jar, or that the true measure of our greatness would be key economic indicators, Wall Street reports, and the Gross National Product. The American Revolution of the eighteenth century was not about the mere accumulation and preservation of physical property but about a new birth of freedom of ideas and principles unlike any this country or this world has ever known - a birth of freedom that liberates us from the baser impulses of our fallen nature and elevates us to the nobler instincts of our God-given souls. We need look no further than the historical record of the Revolution to understand that it was principles and not personal profits that motivated its leaders. The final line of the Declaration of Independence assures us of this fact: “And for the support of this Declaration with a firm reliance on the protection of divine providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred honor." In other words, these 56 signers were willing to sacrifice everything for the principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness that had arisen from their mutual experience of life in America. I found these statistics about the signers of the Declaration online: Of those 56 who signed the Declaration of Independence, nine died of wounds or hardships during the war. Five were captured and imprisoned, in each case with brutal treatment. Several lost wives, sons or entire families. One lost all 13 of his children. Two wives were brutally treated by enemy soldiers. All were at one time or another the victims of manhunts and driven from their homes. Twelve signers had their homes completely burned.Seventeen lost everything they owned. Yet not one defected or went back on his pledged word. Even before the list of signers of the Declaration of Independence was published, the British marked down every member of Congress suspected of having put his name to treason. All of them became the objects of vicious manhunts. Some were taken prisoner. Some, like Jefferson, narrowly escaped. All who had property or families near British strongholds suffered. Here are but a few examples of their sacrifice:
Francis Lewis, a New York delegate, saw his home plundered and his estates - in what is now Harlem - completely destroyed by British soldiers. His wife was captured and treated with great brutality. Later, through the efforts of Congress, she was exchanged for two British soldiers, but she died from the effects of her abuse.
Philips Livingstone had all his great holdings in New York confiscated and his family driven out of their home. Livingstone died in 1778 still working in Congress for the cause, not realizing that the revolution he had worked so hard for would succeed.
Louis Morris, the fourth New York delegate, saw all his timber, crops, and livestock taken. For seven years he was barred from his home and family.
John Hart of Trenton, New Jersey, risked his life to return home to see his dying wife. Hessian soldiers rode after him, and he escaped in the woods. While his wife lay on her deathbed, the soldiers ruined his farm and wrecked his homestead. Hart, at the age of 65, slept in caves and woods as he was hunted across the countryside. When at long last, emaciated by hardship, he was able to sneak home, he found his wife had already been buried, and his 13 children taken away. He would never see them again. He died a broken man in 1779, never finding his family.
Thomas Nelson, signer from Virginia, ordered American gunners to fire on and destroy his own home when it was being used as a headquarters by the British at Yorktown. Out of respect for him, they refused, so he took control of the cannon and destroyed his home by his own hand. But Nelson's sacrifice was not over. He had raised $2 million for the Revolutionary cause by pledging his own estates. When the loans came due, the newer peacetime Congress refused to honor them and Nelson's property was forfeited. He was never reimbursed. He died, impoverished, a few years later at the age of 50.
Remember these sacrifices. I can’t help but wonder what body of politicians in today’s world would make these kind of sacrifices. Two-hundred-thirty-two years after those 56 men put their lives and fortunes on the line, we cannot escape hearing the term American Consumer at every turn. We hear it in the daily business reports on our radios, on the numerous business channels on our televisions, in the newspaper articles detailing the woes of our economy and the top issues in our elections. We have truly brought into the claim of President Coolidge that “the business of America is business.” I believe that, to a great degree, the average American today views his or her relationship to this country as a business relationship. We are consumers and taxpayers whose primary duty is too accumulate as much wealth as possible while paying as little in taxes as possible. We have lost our sense of community, our sense of duty to each other and to our nation that calls on each of us to contribute to the common good and to sacrifice when necessary. Rarely these days do we hear the term American Citizen unless it is in relationship to issues of border security and immigration issues. We have become a nation measured not by its devotion to the high ideas of our founding fathers, many of whom sacrificed everything, but by our devotion to holding on to our property and our pocketbooks. Other nations have come to view us as consumers of their commodities rather than as ambassadors of freedom and justice. Our recent political leaders of both parties seldom use the word we so desperately need to hear: sacrifice. Instead, we are coddled and encouraged to shop ‘til we drop; to pray for our servicemen overseas but to share little in their burden. President John F. Kennedy, who knew the sacrifice of military service and later would give his life for this country, once asked the American people, not just those in the armed forces, but all the American people, to “ask not what your country can do for you, but ask what you can do for your country.” He asked that of all of us, not just those in the military. Those are words that could have come straight out of the Gospels. They reflect the spirit of the servant’s heart that Jesus himself possessed. Recently Lydia and I visited graves of my parents in Spotsylvania County and I thought of how much they had sacrificed for their family, their church, and their country. Like many veterans, my father suffered wounds beyond the bullet that shattered his left arm. He contracted malaria in the south Pacific and pneumonia in the hospital at Pearl Harbor and it was a recurrence of that pneumonia that took his life in 1998. His experiences in World War II left him never wanting to ride in a boat – boats for him were reminders of the beach assault at Tarawa. He never wanted to camp – he had camped enough in the dank, dark jungles of Guadalcanal. He never wanted to hunt – he had seen too many men die, both friend and enemy, to take any pleasure in firing a weapon at a living thing. He lost his only surviving sibling in 1965 when his younger brother was shot and killed in Viet Nam. My dad’s experiences are shared by tens of thousands of veterans from World War II to Korea to Viet Nam to Desert Storm to Afghanistan to Iraq who are haunted by their experiences, including my own son Robert who served over a year in Iraq. Tens of thousands will carry debilitating physical and mental wounds with them to their graves. Spouses suffer, children suffer, our society suffers from the pain these veterans carry with them. That is the price they have paid for our nation’s freedom. But if we who call ourselves Christians are to honor them, we must hear our own call to battle as Christian citizens. God’s Word reminds us that we who survive, we who benefit from the sacrifices of others, we who have put on the name of Christ, are also called to a field of battle. It is a battle for a new birth of freedom in this world, a freedom that cannot be secured by a nation’s laws and armies. A freedom that is born in the soil of God’s love and grace and mercy. It is the noblest and highest of freedoms that requires a submissive humility before God. It is a freedom that transcends national boundaries and allows us to see all people not as races or nations or classes but as children of the same Creator whose Son died not for one nation but for all nations. It is a freedom that shatters the false illusion that accumulation of possessions is the path to happiness. It is a freedom that allows us to enjoy life without being enslaved to it. The nobility of those who understand this freedom leads them on mission trips to aid those devastated by natural disasters. It leads others to sacrifice financially for the good of others. It leads others to volunteer to feed the hungry, to help house the homeless, to provide clothing for the poor, to work on blood drives for the benefit of others as so many of you do. For millions of Christians throughout the ages, it is a freedom that has led to their martyrdom. In short, it is a freedom that fulfills the gospel of Jesus Christ to be our brothers’ keepers, even to the giving of our own life. The freedom this nation can offer us, that is secured by the blood of our brothers and sisters and fathers and mothers, is a wonderful gift to all Americans and, indeed, to the world. But it is an incomplete freedom unless it is coupled with the freedom from sin and death given only through the cross of Jesus Christ. Every Sunday is a memorial to the One who is the Way to true freedom. The Apostle Paul once said that “You are not your own; you were bought at a price.” [I Cor. 6:19b-20a]. That price was the Son of God crucified. Tomorrow we will remember and honor all who have paid the price for the freedoms we enjoy as American citizens. Let us not forsake that responsibility. Above all, let us not forsake honoring our God whose Word alone can penetrate to the very marrow of our souls, who alone can bring about a new birth of freedom in our lives, by the shed blood of his Son Jesus Christ, both in this world and in the world to come. May this God bless America and all lands where his Word is upheld. Our final hymn on this Memorial Day weekend is “Eternal Father, Strong to Save.” This hymn, invoking the security found in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit alone, is 153 years old. It has served as the official hymn of military services in both Great Britain and the United States, and was sung as the final hymn at the funerals of President Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan. We sing it today in tribute to all those who died and now live with the One who died to save their souls.