New Bishop for Virginia Conference

Our new bishop, Bishop Sue (see picture below), began her work at the start of the year. I haven’t had the opportunity to meet her yet, but I am excited for her ministry. Our Virginia Conference has created a couple of videos featuring Bishop Sue so that we can learn more about her. I invite us to watch these videos and to keep her in our prayers. Let’s also keep our former bishop, Bishop Lewis, in our prayers as she is the new bishop in Mississippi.

Interview with Bishop Sue – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9xCUDWTXKaM

Virginia Conference Facebook page – scroll down to find more videos – https://www.facebook.com/vaumconf

Here is Bishop’s Sue’s biography page on our Conference’s website – https://vaumc.org/bishop/

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

I want to wish everyone a Merry Christmas! I pray that as Christmas draws near, we are able to slow down and savor this time of year. I pray we can savor the smells, tastes, sounds, and sights. May we see God in the beautiful details around us. May we know how God’s peace, hope, joy, and love are working in our lives and in the world.

We know that there is still a lot of difficulty and darkness, a lot of sorrow and despair in our world. But, we also know and trust that Christ is the light of the world. Christ shines into all of the mess and is not overcome by the darkness. That is such a wonderful and hopeful statement – Christ is not overcome by the darkness. So, we can trust in God’s light. We can follow God’s light. We know that God’s light is always shining. May we have our eyes open to see God and God’s light.

I also pray for our new year – that we will have a happy new year. I pray our new year is filled with moments of God’s love showing up in our lives. I pray that we will have the courage to narrate the stories of how God is with us – that we can speak or write these stories and share them with others. Our world is hungry for that light, and so let us tell how we see God’s light and how we have experienced God’s light.

And may God bless us all with God’s steadfast love and abundant mercy!

Advent

What is Advent? Advent is a word that means “coming” or “arrival.” The advent season in the church is the time when we wait for Christ’s coming. We remember and celebrate how Jesus first arrived as a baby, and we anticipate his return when he arrives and establishes God’s kingdom of earth. Advent also is a season that reminds us that no matter how grim or dark things look in our world, Christ has overcome the world and the promises of God that we find throughout Scripture will be fulfilled. These promises are promises of peace, hope, joy, and love (see our worship services during this time to learn more!). We mark this time by lighting candles, reminding us of how Christ is the light of the world and how even in the darkest of days, God’s light shines forth.

Here is a great prayer from Henri Nouwen for this Advent season:

Lord Jesus,

Master of both the light and the darkness, send your Holy Spirit upon our preparations for Christmas.

We who have so much to do and seek quiet spaces to hear your voice each day,

We who are anxious over many things look forward to your coming among us.

We who are blessed in so many ways long for the complete joy of your kingdom.

We whose hearts are heavy seek the joy of your presence.

We are your people, walking in darkness, yet seeking the light.

To you we say, “Come Lord Jesus!’

Amen.

May we see signs God’s light, of God’s peace, hope, joy, and love during this season!

Autumn Reflections

We recently had a fall festival for kids, and one of the fun craft projects was a foam fall wreath. On the wreath were the words “God never leaves [leaf] us.” I thought that was cute and clever and true. God never does leave us.

But we can choose to leave God. Or perhaps we can not see God with us. Has that ever happened to you? Have you ever struggled to see God with you?

Honestly, I have struggled with this sometimes. I do think it is a natural part of our faith. Lots of Christians have struggled with what St. John of the Cross called “the dark night of the soul.” We don’t always “feel” it. Sometimes we just “go through the motions” of faith – coming to church for worship, praying, reading the Bible – even when we don’t feel God near to us. But we do these things, because we know that at some point, we will “feel” God, we will encounter God.

John Wesley once asked a mentor if he should preach, because he wasn’t feeling the faith. Wesley was advised to preach faith until he got it and then keep on preaching. The same is for us. Go through the motions of faith until we get it and then keep on keeping on.

Because God never leaves us. Even if we aren’t aware, God is present and at work. God is loving us, convicting us, sustaining us, and teaching us.

So as we look at the leaves around us this autumn and watch them fall, let’s think of God and how God never leaves us.

We are Loved

I have been using the app “Everyday Sanctuary” as part of my daily devotions. Yesterday’s contemplation invited us to mediate on 1 John 3:1 – “See how great a love God has for you that you are known, a child of God.” What does it mean for us to be loved? Do we know we are loved? This is the core of our faith – we are loved. God claims us. And this isn’t for anything that we do or because of who we know or what we say. We can’t earn God’s love. It simply exists. God claims us and loves simply because we exist. This is a wonderful and precious gift that we can rejoice in. It is life-giving. This is a message that I hope we can share with every person – we are loved – each and every one of us is loved.

Once we recognize this truth, then how do we live? How do we live with the knowledge that we are loved and that every person we encounter also is loved by God? Does this affect how we treat one another? Can we be more kind and gentle toward each other? Can we be more patient? Can we love one another?

I invite us practice the breath prayer that the app inviting me to pray – “I am loved.” Breathe in and out as we say this prayer. Breathe in this truth and feel it to the tips of our toes. I am loved. We are loved.

May God’s love permeate us and fill us.

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!