Blog

Notes from Summer

Wow this summer has flown by! I keep meaning to write another blog post, but the days keep slipping away from me. So, I finally made myself sit down to write. I just want to share a few things that I’ve discovered/learned this summer.

First up was the Virginia Annual Conference. Here is the link to all of the information from Conference – https://vaumc.org/ac2022/ – feel free to explore and check it out and let me know if you have questions. But, I highly recommend you find time to watch this video – Opening Session-Thursday, June 16 https://vimeo.com/721056192 (Time marker: 4:58:11). It is a little long, but there is some great stuff in here. Bishop Lewis preached a wonderful opening worship sermon, and I also highly recommend the Lay Leader address by our Conference Lay Leader Martha Stokes. But gave me great food for thought and inspired me.

This summer I also discovered a new-to-me devotional app. It is called Everyday Sanctuary, and I have found it meaningful to use. The app gives us a new breath prayer to pray each day and encourages us to spend time in contemplation. We have space to record 5 things we are grateful for each day and to write what we need God’s help with. This is a wonderful way to deepen our prayer life and our connection with God. I hope you check it out! – https://everydaysanctuary.com/

Have you discovered anything new this summer to help you connect better with God? What has inspired you? Please share and let me/us know!

Prayers

We are in the aftermath of yet another horrific mass shooting in Uvalde. I’m sure we all have a lot of responses and emotions to the latest news. And as Christians, one of our automatic responses is to pray.

This is a good thing. Prayer is always a good thing. In prayer, we draw close to God. We can lament and weep over the this tragedy. We can yell and rage in our anger and frustration over the senseless deaths of children. We can be silent and know that God is with us. We can intercede on behalf of those who mourn the death of loved ones and those who are traumatized body, mind, and soul. Prayer is a good thing. It is a faithful response in the midst of such horror.

But I also want us to reflect on what exactly is prayer. Part of my morning devotion routine is to read an emailed devotion from the Henri Nouwen Society, which is an organization that has curated Henri Nouwen’s writings and sends short reflections every day. Check out their website – https://henrinouwen.org/about/. Today’s devotion is pertinent to our reflection on prayer. Here is today’s meditation:

Prayer and action can never be seen as contradictory or mutually exclusive. Prayer without action grows into powerless pietism, and action without prayer degenerates into questionable manipulation. If prayer leads us into deeper unity with the compassionate Christ, it will always give rise to concrete acts of service. And if concrete acts of service do indeed lead us to a deeper solidarity with the poor, the hungry, the sick, the dying, and the oppressed, they will always give rise to prayer. In prayer we meet Christ, and in him all human suffering. In service we meet people, and in them the suffering Christ. . . .

Action with and for those who suffer is the concrete expression of a compassionate life and the final criterion of being a Christian. Such acts do not stand beside the moments of prayer and worship but are themselves such moments. Why? Because Jesus Christ, who did not cling to his divinity, but became as we are, can be found where there are hungry, thirsty, alienated, naked, sick, and imprisoned people. Precisely when we live in an ongoing conversation with Christ and allow the Spirit to guide our lives, we will recognize Christ in the poor, the oppressed, and the downtrodden and will hear his cry and respond to it wherever he is revealed.

To sign up for these devotions or check out other meditations, go to this website – https://henrinouwen.org/meditation/

I love how Nouwen describes prayer. Prayer and action go hand in hand. Prayer inspires us to act. Prayer empowers us to act. Through prayer, God nudges to the places where we should act.

So, in our prayers in the aftermath of this latest shooting, how is God nudging us? How is our prayer leading us to act?

Our Roots

I am not much of a gardener, but I want to try to get better. So, I am attempting to plant and grow a small vegetable garden this year, as well as planting different perennials in our yard. I was advised to wait until Mother’s Day to do most of my planting in order to avoid the potential for frost. That means – I’m in the middle of trying to get everything in the ground.

But like I said – I’m not a great gardener. It takes me a while to plant something – I have to triple check the directions for each item I’m planting, and I’ve even broken out a yardstick to make sure I’m spacing plants appropriately.

Now – what does this have to do with our faith? Well, the song “Kindergarten Wall” by Joh McCutcheon keeps coming into my mind. (If you want to listen to the whole song, go here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d36gs36TJ-Y) The chorus goes:

Of all you learn here, remember this the best

Don’t hurt each other and clean up your mess.

Take a nap every day, wash before you eat

Hold hands, stick together,

Look before you cross the street.

Remember the seed in the little paper cup,

First the root goes down and then the plant grows up! (https://lyricstranslate.com)

Remember that the root has to grow down, and then the plant grows up. This is how it works for plants and also how it works in our faith lives. We need to make sure that we have planted ourselves in God, letting our roots grow deep in God, so that we can grow up and mature and produce the fruit of God.

How do we grow those roots? We read the Bible and study the word of God. We pray. We worship in a church community. We have holy conversations with one another – listening and learning from each other. The more we immerse ourselves in God, the deeper our roots and the better we can grow – meaning that we will produce more fruit for God and that we can better show and share God’s love and the good news of Christ!

Happy gardening – both in our yards and in our faith lives!

Happy Easter

Last post I talked some about the wonderful hymnody that we have that helps us make sense of Holy Week – of Christ’s betrayal, arrest, torture, and crucifixion. This week, I want to highlight the words of a great Easter hymn.

Now, understand that there are a lot of great Easter hymns. I love singing Charles Wesley’s hymn “Christ the Lord is Risen Today.” It’s words and the theology present in the words is fabulous. But, this year, I’ve been especially drawn to Brian Wren’s hymn “Christ is Alive.” Read these verses:

Christ is alive! Let Christians sing.
His cross stands empty to the sky.
Let streets and homes with praises ring.
His love in death shall never die.

Christ is alive! No longer bound
to distant years in Palestine,
he comes to claim the here and now
and dwell in every place and time.

Not throned afar, remotely high,
untouched, unmoved by human pains,
but daily, in the midst of life,
our Savior in the Godhead reigns.

In every insult, rift, and war,
where color, scorn, or wealth divide,
he suffers still, yet loves the more,
and lives, though ever crucified.

Christ is alive, and comes to bring
good news to this and every age,
till earth and all creation ring
with joy, with justice, love, and praise.

This year, in the midst of the war in Ukraine, in the midst of the pandemic, in the midst of a troubling week in the Scottsville/Esmont area, in the midst of the anniversary of the VA Tech shooting, I have needed this reminder that our resurrected Christ is also the suffering Christ who suffers with us in our pain. Christ is alive and brings us this good news of hope and love and the promise that the worst thing is not the last thing. But even with this hope, Christ still suffers with us in the midst of the difficult and painful places. God doesn’t abandon us in our darkest times. Instead, God loves us so much that God suffers with us and brings us this good news of hope and love. This is something to rejoice in indeed! Alleluia. Amen.

Holy Week Music

I love the hymns that we get to sing in church. We are so fortunate to have so many wonderful hymns and songs that describe God and our lives of discipleship. The music for Holy Week is no exception. Holy Week tells us of the final days of Jesus’ life, leading up to his crucifixion, and these hymns help us to explore our understanding of these events and even our role in them.

The hymn, “Ah Holy Jesus” by Johann Heermann reminds us of the consequences of our sin – “Who was the guilty? Who brought this upon thee? Alas, my treason, Jesus, hath undone thee! ‘Twas I, Lord Jesus, I it was denied thee; I crucified thee.” The hymn also personalizes Jesus’ birth, life, and death – it was for us that Jesus came to earth and then suffered and died – “For me, kind Jesus, was thy incarnation, thy mortal sorrow, and thy life’s oblation; thy death of anguish and thy bitter passion, for my salvation.”

The hymn, “O Love Divine, What Hast Thou Done” by Charles Wesley has some similar themes – emphasizing how God has done this for us out of God’s great love for us. I really like how Wesley even called God “Love” in this hymn, emphasizing how the events we remember this week are from God’s love for us. “O Love divine, what has thou done! The immortal God hath died for me! The Father’s coeternal Son bore all my sins upon the tree. The immortal God hath died for me! My Lord, my Love, is crucified!” Verse 2 of this hymn reminds us how we are reconciled to God through this work of Jesus – “Is crucified for me and you, to bring us rebels back to God. Believe, believe the record true, ye all are bought with Jesus’ blood. Pardon for all flows from his side: My Lord, my Love, is crucified!”

The final hymn I want to highlight is “What Wondrous Love Is This”. This hymn again emphasizes the amazing and incredible love God has for us an individuals and as a collective humanity. Just read these great words!

What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul,
what wondrous love is this, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss
to bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul,
to bear the dreadful curse for my soul.

What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul,
what wondrous love is this, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this, that caused the Lord of life
to lay aside his crown for my soul, for my soul,
to lay aside his crown for my soul.

To God and to the Lamb I will sing, I will sing,
to God and to the Lamb, I will sing;
to God and to the Lamb who is the great I AM,
while millions join the theme I will sing, I will sing;
while millions join the theme I will sing.

And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on,
and when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on;
and when from death I’m free, I’ll sing and joyful be,
and through eternity I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on,
and through eternity I’ll sing on.

I invite to read these words and pray them as we contemplate God’s great love for us this week!

Serenity Prayer

Holy Week and Easter are approaching rapidly, and it is a busy season for me. I start to get more anxious as I am triple-checking my plans and making sure I have everything in place that I need for worship. During these busy times, it is easy for me to become so focused on my to-do list that I forget to spend time with God. But in these busy times, it is more important than ever that we spend time with God, letting God calm our hearts and fill us with peace. One prayer that always helps me is the Serenity Prayer.

I first remember praying this prayer at my grandmother’s house. The prayer was cross-stitched and framed, and it hung beside the bed I slept in. For years, I wasn’t sure what serenity meant. But I like the prayer, and I tried to memorize a bit of it every time I visited. Now, this prayer has become an important part of my faith life, re-orienting me to God whenever I am anxious or stressed.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a picture of that cross-stitched prayer. I chose instead a picture that always calms my soul. So, may we pray:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. Amen.”

I’m sharing a picture that I took one year at the beach. There is something about seeing the sun rise over the ocean that reminds of me of this serenity prayer and calms my weary soul.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day

On this day when we wear green and celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, I want to share with you a prayer attributed to St. Patrick that is found in our United Methodist Book of Worship:

Christ be with us, Christ before us, Christ behind us,
Christ in us, Christ beneath us, Christ above us,
Christ on our right, Christ on our left,
Christ where we lie, Christ where we sit, Christ where we arise,
Christ in the heart of every one who thinks of us,
Christ in every eye that sees us,
Christ in every ear that hears us.
Salvation is of the Lord,
Salvation is of the Christ,
May your salvation, O Lord, be ever with us.

(SAINT PATRICK, IRELAND, 5TH CENT., ALT.)

I love how this prayer reminds us that Christ is indeed ever with us – surrounding us and going with us wherever we are. It is a powerful reminder of Jesus’ promise to us at the end of Matthew’s Gospel that he will be with us always.

This prayer also reminds us that others should be able to see and hear Christ within us. Our lives of faithful discipleship ideally reflect and reveal Christ to others. We can help others see how God is with them – surrounding them and going with them.

If you want to learn more about St. Patrick, check out this article from the United Methodist News Service. – https://www.umnews.org/en/news/what-st-patrick-can-teach-united-methodists – Learning from the saints of our faith is great way for us to grow in our faith, too, and to find inspiration and strength for our discipleship.

Praying for Ukraine

My heart is heavy today as I follow the news of Russia’s renewed invasion of Ukraine. This egregious act by Russian President Putin reminds us of how too many people in our world live with war and the threat of violence. We lament to God and cry out – why, Lord, why? How long until hearts of violence are turned to hearts to love? How long until weapons of war, weapons of death and destruction, will be beaten and turned into plowshares and instruments of peace and sustenance? How long until our Prince of Peace comes to set all things to right?

As United Methodists, we remember our siblings in Christ who are in Ukraine. We remember the churches in Lviv, in Kharkiv, in Lugansk, in Kiev, and all over Ukraine.

We also remember those Russians who don’t want their relatives and fellow citizens to die in a senseless and needless war.

We pray for Ukrainian President Zelenksy as he leads his people in this difficult and dangerous time.

Let us pray this prayer for peace from the Methodist Church in the United Kingdom:

Prayer for peace in Ukraine

Holy and Gracious God

We pray for the people of the Ukraine and the people of Russia; for their countries and their leaders.

We pray for all those who are afraid; that your everlasting arms hold them in this time of great fear.

We pray for all those who have the power over life and death; that they will choose for all people life, and life in all its fullness.

We pray for those who choose war; that they will remember that you direct your people to turn our swords into ploughshares and seek for peace.

We pray for leaders on the world stage; that they are inspired by the wisdom and courage of Christ.

Above all, Lord, today we pray for peace for Ukraine.

And we ask this in the name of your blessed Son.

Lord have mercy.

Amen

https://www.methodist.org.uk/our-faith/prayer/prayer-for-peace-in-ukraine/?fbclid=IwAR1d4fRADn_eGtjIxnuo3ceSwTLl0Rjo9ZwdQ33hg8SZQmhistih5ByLnG0

God with us

During the Advent season, that 40-day season of preparation for Christmas, we are reminded that God is our Emmanuel – God is with us. This is one of main things we celebrate every year – that God loves us so much that God came to be with us in the person of Jesus.

We also celebrate the fact that God is still with us. Jesus promises us at the end of Matthew’s Gospel that he will be with us always. The Holy Spirit is God’s ongoing, enduring presence with us.

But what does this mean in our day to day lives? How do we know that God is with us? How do we get a sense of God’s presence? These are questions that people have asked me, and these are questions that I have asked myself. Sometimes, it can be hard to be aware of how God is with us. Sometimes, we may struggle to see God’s presence.

This past week, I was doing some devotional reading, and I found something that I think helps us meditate on what it means that God is with us and how that can look in our everyday lives. I am quoting here from the 20th century Christian mystic, Howard Thurman. This is No. 24 “God is With Me” from his book Meditations of the Heart (Beacon Press, Boston, 1953. pg. 48).

God is with me, in the sense that He is the Creator and the Sustainer of life. This is a part of my general thought and experience. There is something so big and vast about God as Creator and Sustainer of all of life that it is hard for me to feel that I am included.

God is with me. All around me are certain expressions of orderliness, of beauty, of wonder and delight. The regularity of sunrise and sunset, the fragile loveliness of a wisp of cloud fringed with silver, the wonder of day dawning and the delight of companionship – all these are His handiwork.

God is with me. Again and again I am stirred by some experience of tenderness, some simple act of gratuitous kindness moving from one man to another, some quiet deed of courage, wisdom or sacrifice or some striking movement of unstudied joy that bursts forth in the contagion of merry laughter. I know God is with me.

God is with me. Always there is the persistent need for some deep inner assurance, some whisper in my heart, some stirring of the spirit within me – that renews, re-creates and steadies. Then whatever betides of light or shadow, I can look out on life with quiet eyes.

God is with me.”

I encourage us to meditate on these wise words as we seek to know God’s presence with us. I also encourage you to buy Thurman’s book! It has many more wonderful passages on Christian living and faithful discipleship.

New Year

This is a little late in coming, but Happy New Year!

The new year certainly has started off with a bang here in the Scottsville/Esmont area – two snowstorms within a couple of weeks! Now, I honestly love snow, and I enjoy seeing the beauty of the landscape covered with snow. But, I know that for many people in our area, the first snow was not a thing of beauty. I am grateful for the linemen and all of the crews who worked hard to clear the trees and restore power, and my prayers are with those still trying to recover from those many days without electricity.

I also am grateful that we have the ability to pre-record our worship services, so that even in bad weather, we can still worship together online. If you haven’t been able to participate in in-person worship the last few weeks, I encourage you to check out our YouTube channel – Southern Albemarle Charge (https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC-lZ2P33SFyNSWb12t40a-w).

As we begin this new year, we are making a push for small groups in our charge. Small groups are an excellent way to deepen our discipleship. They give us an opportunity to more deeply explore passages of the Bible and to ask questions and contemplate different interpretations of Scripture. They provide us with support as we walk as disciples of God. We are compiling results from a small group survey to figure out what groups would be best to offer and when. I hope everyone will find a way to engage in a small group.

Finally, I want to share a good devotional resource with you. For several years, I have received daily email devotions from the Henri Nouwen Society – https://henrinouwen.org/read-nouwen/free-daily-meditation/. These free devotions have greatly enriched my understanding of God and our life as disciples. Nouwen was an excellent thinker and theologian and was definitely filled with the Spirit of God.

If you use other daily devotions, let me know! I always enjoy checking out new material.

As we journey through this week, may the love of God fill us and strengthen us!