Pastor’s pondering

“Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. 13 When they had entered the city, they went to the room upstairs where they were staying: Peter, and John, and James, and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James son of Alphaeus, and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14 All these were constantly devoting themselves to prayer, together with certain women, including Mary the mother of Jesus, as well as his brothers.”  (Acts 1:12-14, NRSVUE)

            At first read, this passage seems innocent enough.  The disciples gathered in the upper room and were praying.  Just what we should all be doing, right?  Yet, we also have to recall the circumstances surrounding this.  This passage comes right after Jesus’ ascension.  It is after Jesus had spent forty days with the disciples, after his resurrection, and his subsequent giving of final instructions to them before he rose to sit at the right hand of God.  How do you think the disciples were feeling?  What was running through their minds?  Jesus had already departed from them once, and here he was – gone again.  What were they to do?

            It has been said that in the days after Jesus’ crucifixion, the disciples were gathered in the upper room, huddled behind locked doors in fear for their lives.  Was the same thing happening here?  Had they once again run back to the comfort zones, as so many of us often do when facing difficult circumstances?  Or was it something else?

            Just before he was lifted up, Jesus told them that something was going to happen.  He said that they would “receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you” (Acts 1:8) and because of that, they would “be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (1:8).  Surely this was running through all their minds as they gathered in that upper room.  Surely these words of Jesus were mulling about in their interpersonal discussions and divine prayers.  Surely this was the promise that they were pondering.

            So, I ponder – is it what we consider as well?  Do we, individually and collectively, consider Jesus’ proclamation that we will receive the Holy Spirit, and with it will come power that enables us to be bold witnesses in our community and surrounding region?  Do we really understand this, receive it, and grab hold of it with all that we are? 

            In just a couple of days we will celebrate Pentecost, the anointing of the Holy Spirit upon the whole Body of Christ – the receipt of that which Jesus promised.  We have been given all that we need to be witnesses for Jesus in the world today.  The question is – are we just sitting around in a room behind closed doors hoping the world will change, or are we using the divine power that we have been given to make a difference, just as Jesus desires of us?

                                                                        Always pondering,

                                                                        Pastor Steve

Pastor’s pondering

Next Thursday, May 16th, at 7pm, the Living Waters District will host a special worship service at the Airfield Conference Center in Wakefield.  I hope you will join me and many other Christians at that time as we gather to “REFRESH.”  Yes, refresh.  Some might call it a revival service, but we have chosen to call it “REFRESH.”  Why?  Well, we all need some refreshing, don’t we?  We all need some reinvigorating, restoration, renewal.  So – REFRESH it is!

This word comes from a passage in Paul’s letter to Philemon, where he wrote, “refresh my heart in Christ” (1:20).  There the word means to give rest, to take ease, to keep quiet, to cease movement in order to collect strength, all with calm and patient expectation.  Now who couldn’t use some of that today!  And the only place we’ll find that in today’s world is in Christ.  Amen? So, won’t you come join us?  Won’t you come be refreshed?  Won’t you come and be reinvigorated, restored, revived, and renewed?  Won’t you come and be refreshed in Christ? 

Bring your family and as many friends as you can fit in the car!  It is free of charge and open to all.  I can’t wait to see what God has in store for us!

                                                                        Pastor Steve

Pastor’s pondering

One of our Parish Bible studies has slowly been working our way through Acts.  I say slowly because, as much as we think we know about what happened in the early church, the more we reread this book of the Bible, the more we discover.  And the more we discover, the more we come to realize that today’s church has a lot to learn from our faith’s humble beginnings.

One such example can be found in Acts chapter 10.  Now, most people recognize this from what many Bibles entitle “Peter and Cornelius,” Peter’s encounter with the Roman centurion.  However, what intrigued me the most was Peter’s vision.  For a quick synopsis, Peter has a vision (three times in a row, in fact) wherein a large sheet falls form heaven holding all sorts of what the Jews consider unclean animals.  A voice tells him to eat of these creatures, to which Peter refuses.  Then the voice says, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane” (Acts 10:15, NRSV), or “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean” (NIV). 

Now, this is revolutionary stuff!  Peter’s entire life and for all the generations before him, these creatures were considered unclean, impure, unrighteous, or any other word you want to insert here meaning that he was to go nowhere near them, let alone touch them.  Yet, the voice from heaven says, as Eugene Peterson paraphrases in The Message, “If God says it’s okay, it’s okay.”  God made it, so it’s good.  After all, that is what God said about everything made in all of Creation, right?  Recall for a moment how often the Creation story in Genesis proclaims that God looked upon what had been made and saw “that it was good” (i.e. – Gen 1:12, 21, 25, 31, NRSV).

Now, perhaps, like you, initially Peter was “puzzled about what to make of the vision he had seen” (Acts 10:17).  It is counterintuitive, going against the Law and all that he had ever known.  However, after an encounter with some visitors to the place where he was staying (who were sent to take him to meet with Cornelius), Peter utters some very profound words for us to remember – “God shows no partiality” (v. 34).  In a complete reversal of everything he had been taught, due to a revelation from God, Peter had come to the realization that the Gentiles were no different than the Jews.  He could see that God had made both of them in the same way, and that Jesus had died on the cross for the whole world, not just one group of people.  Later, he reports this revelation to the church in Jerusalem (see Acts 11), and many years later reminds the growing Church of this imperative for ministry during the First Council at Jerusalem (Acts 15).  So, it must be pretty important for us to remember, right?

So, then, why are we so divided today?  Why are there divisions, factions, cliques, clubs, parties and the like which all seem to declare, “If you are not with us then you are against us!”  Why does one group think they are right and everyone else have it wrong?  Why does this happen in the world?  Why does this happen in the church? 

Every generation seems to find something to consider its enemy.  Just in my own years, looking back over time, I’ve watched as we have contended with – Muammar Gaddafi and the Libyans, Saddam Hussein and the Iraqis, Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda, Kim Jung Un and the North Koreans, and Vladmir Putin and the Russians.  Yet, while these international conflicts can bear burdens close to home, here in the U.S. we’ve contended with many of our own internal issues, too, over the decades.  How long did it take for women to have equal rights as men?  What about African Americans to be considered equal as those of Caucasian descent?  Or how about the millions of Mexican and Latin American immigrants seeking refuge, asylum, or just a better way of life within our borders?  When will we learn our lesson? When will we understand what Peter saw in that vision?  What God has made is not evil.  It is not corrupt.  It is not unclean, impure, or unrighteous.  What God made is a human being, a part of all Creation.  When will we stop seeing enemies just because someone is another color, race, creed, culture, gender, sexual identity, nationality, of another socio-economic status, or simply sees themselves as something other than what we do?

Before he would be betrayed and turned over to be crucified, Jesus talked with God, praying these words: “I ask not only on behalf of these but also on behalf of those who believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:20-23, NRSVUE).  That the world may be one – wouldn’t that be something?  One in Jesus Christ – The One who saw no one he didn’t love.  The One who ate with sinners and the worst outcasts of society.  The One who willingly died for all these, that we all might be one in and through him.

Perhaps we all need to ponder that a little further today and every day.

                                                Always pondering,

                                                Pastor Steve

Pastor’s pondering

Today we find ourselves in a time that seems full of turmoil, don’t we?  The General Conference of The United Methodist Church is underway, nearly eight years since the last time they were able to meet, and there is so much to be discussed, discerned, deliberated, and yes, debated before decisions are made which will affect the entire denomination of which we are a part.  What exactly will be determined?  We’ll know in another week, so stay tuned!

Yet, couple this adventure with other news.  News a bit closer to home.  News that directly affects our Parish.  Yes, the word you have probably already heard out on the streets of our community is true.  Our time together is coming to an end.  After nine years in the Waverly community and five years in Carsley, the Cabinet of the Virginia Conference, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, has felt called to send me to a new appointment.  Effective July 1st, I will no longer be the pastor of the Waverly-Carsley Cooperative Parish but will be moving westward to serve Crenshaw UMC in Blackstone.

As these events have unfolded, I couldn’t help but to recall the infamous passage from Ecclesiastes 3:1 (NRSV) – “For everything there is a season…”  Seasons are for but a time, aren’t they?  I mean, thank the Lord that winter doesn’t last forever!  Amen?  Yet, neither does the warmth of summer.  Instead, it is necessary for seasonal changes to occur, so that growth may occur.  How else would we have the abundance of crops in the fields of Surry and Sussex counties?  How else would the beauty of flowers appear in the ground and on the trees?  Seasons must change so that new buds can develop and all of nature can grow bigger and stronger.  This is just as true in the church as it is in nature. 

However, amidst the complexities of change that we may experience, let us also remember this: “I the Lord do not change” (Mal 3:6); “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today and forever” (Heb 13:8).  The One who created the seasons to change is unchangeable.  God has been and always will be the same.

So, as we prepare for changes that will occur in the days, weeks, and months that lay before us, let us remember and rely upon these passages of Scripture:

“Be strong and bold; have no fear or dread of them, because it is the Lord your God who goes with you; he will not fail you or forsake you” (Deut. 31:6)

“Be strong and of good courage, and act.  Do not be afraid or dismayed; for the Lord God, my God, is with you.  He will not fail you nor forsake you, until all the work for the service of the house of the Lord is finished” (1 Chron 28:20)

“do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand” (Isa 41:10)

“remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt 28:20)

            While the world and our circumstances may change, the Lord our God and our Savior and Redeemer, Jesus Christ, will not.  They will always be with us, unchanging and ever-present, to guide and sustain us through Their Holy Spirit.

Blessings be upon you all,

Pastor Steve

Pastor’s pondering

I moved away from northern New York state over two decades ago.  I’ve been back from time to time to visit my in-laws or to see my son and his family when they were stationed there in the Army.  Yet, boy-oh-boy, what I wouldn’t give to be back just a few days from now.  In fact, I’ve heard that a lot of people want to be there on Monday, and probably will be.  Why?  The solar eclipse.  At 3:22pm EDT, for a period of about 3 minutes and 39 seconds, it will be totally dark as the sun goes behind the moon.

Now, we experienced a partial eclipse here in Virginia just a few years ago.  In August 2017, we watched as a large portion of the sun was concealed for a couple of minutes.  Yet, it wasn’t a totality, and it wasn’t for as long as what is expected to occur this year.  So, I can only imagine what it will be like.  Will everyone be frozen in place, staring up at the sky, wondering when the sun will once again appear?

Yet, do you realize, what will take place on April 8th is nothing in comparison with what took place some two thousand years ago?  An often forgotten about portion of Good Friday is that while Jesus hung there on the cross, the sun didn’t shine for three hours.  Matthew, Mark, and Luke all record that from the hours from noon until 3pm, “darkness came over the whole land” (Mtw 27:45, Mrk 15:33, Lk 23:44) and Luke’s Gospel clarifies that “the sun’s light failed” (Lk 23:45).  Now, some have said that this was a massive solar eclipse, something which has never been seen like it again.  Perhaps, perhaps not.  I have no way of knowing whether that was possible. 

But here’s what I do think happened.  People were staring up at the sky, wondering when the sun would once again appear.  They stood there in darkness, uncertain and afraid.  And they are still doing it today.

When The Son died on that cross, people thought the world was coming to an end.  When they placed him in the tomb, they thought his life, and theirs, was over.  Yet, a short time later, the tomb was opened, and he proved that was not the case.  He rose, testifying to the truth that Light will always overcome the darkness – whether it’s three minutes, three hours, or even three days, the Son’s Light will never fail.  There’s no need to stare into the sky and wonder if he’s going to come back.  He has already proven he will.  Are you ready?

                                                            Always pondering,    Pastor Steve

Pastor’s pondering

Good Friday.  What’s so “good” about it?  Jesus was arrested, persecuted, beaten, hung on a cross, stabbed with a spear, and died right in front of his mother and friends.  Sounds like a tale of horror more than anything good, doesn’t it?

Now, there are countless accounts of what makes this day so good.  We could go on and on about this, that and the other.  Yet, here is what really hit me as I was preparing for the service that we will have this evening.  As I was reading Mark 14:32 – 15:47, Mark’s account of this day from the time Jesus was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane to Joseph rolling the stone over the doorway to the tomb, something jumped out at me.  Good Friday is not just a story about Jesus.  Instead, it is a story about all of us; all of us can be found somewhere in the characters of that day.

Perhaps we’re like James and John, praying with Jesus in the hours before dawn, knowing what is to take place, but still questioning whether we can move forward with it.  Perhaps we’re like the crowd that followed Judas into the garden, seeking out someone that is different than us, hoping to cast them aside and end what we think has been the source of our pain and misery.  Perhaps we’re like the council, uttering false testimony against someone so that our side might be seen as the right one.  Perhaps we’re like Peter, denying our relationships in moments of difficulty instead of relying on the connections we have made over months and years.  Perhaps we’re like Pilate, trying to appease the crowd, or like Simon of Cyrene, carrying someone else’s cross.  Perhaps, when the moment arises and the darkness falls, we’re like the centurion, staring up at the cross and realizing that this really is The Son of God.  Perhaps we’re like Joseph of Arimathea, stepping out against tradition and making bold requests so that a need might be met.  Perhaps we’re like Mary, watching, taking it all in, and wondering as the door to the tomb closes.

Someone once told me that for everything out there in the world, for every one of us in every situation we find ourselves in, we will find it in the words of the Bible.  There we will find someone who has dealt with what we have had to deal with, someone who has felt what we are feeling, someone who has said what we have said.  And, I think, that is true in just these eighty or so verses recounting a single day in Jesus’s life.  When we really stop and think about it, in some way or another we were there.  The emotions, thoughts, actions, and prayers we have today, people were having right then and there as it was happening.  And that testifies to how real it was.  It’s not just a story.  It’s not just some words written down from millennia gone by.  It is a testimony about us, and that is good.  It is good because it helps us understand how real it is, how real God is.

I pray you will join us this evening as we recall these events and these people, because I think then you will really see how real it is and how good it is.

                                                                        Pastor Steve

Pastor’s pondering

This weekend we celebrate Palm Sunday, the recognition of Jesus’s entrance into Jerusalem as the crowds lined the streets, laying their cloaks and palm branches along the pathway he would travel. “Hosanna” was their cry. “Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” (Mark 11:9b-10, NRSV).

Now, for most people, we read this passage as one of celebration. The people are excited to see Jesus. They are shouting for joy. They are preparing the way for his arrival and ensuring that everyone in town knew Jesus was finally there. It’s like watching the celebration parade for a winning sports team after they have claimed the national championship. Shouts of joy. Hands, flags, and foam #1 hands waving in the air.

Yet is that what they were really saying and doing? What exactly were these cries of “Hosanna?” Well, to understand, we need only turn to the Psalms. In Psalm 118:25-27, we read these words: “Save us, we beseech you, O Lord! O Lord, we beseech you, give us success! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. We bless you from the house of the Lord. The Lord is God, and he has given us light. Bind the festal procession with branches, up to the horns of the altar.” This is what the crowds were proclaiming that day, the words of the Psalmist. You see, hosanna is a cry for salvation. It is a short way of saying, save us, Lord…give us success! Accompanying the festive procession of palm branches that day were shouts from the crowd for some light to shine in their midst, cries for a savior to come and deliver them, just as King David had done generations before.

And believe it or not, people are still crying Hosanna today. They may not be using that word, but in a very real sense, people today are still looking for someone to shine a light in their darkness and deliver them from their circumstances, too. People today need Jesus’s presence just as much as that crowd in Jerusalem did.

You see, we know what happened in the days that followed, don’t we? We know what Jesus would do for you, and me, and everyone, everywhere, in every walk of life and every point in time. Jesus would enter the gates of Jerusalem that day and a week later walk out of the tomb, alive, risen from the grave, overcoming sin and death for all of us forevermore. Now that is something to wave the palm branches about, isn’t it? That is something to have a victory parade for – for it is the ultimate victory of which everyone can celebrate.

So, as you enter the sanctuary this Sunday to worship on Palm Sunday – will your cries of Hosanna be in celebration of victories already claimed or of your need for that victory still to occur, your moment of salvation because of Jesus’s mighty presence in your life?

Always pondering, Pastor Steve

Pastor’s pondering

You’re going to grow impatient with me. Why? Because for some reason, the Spirit still has me thinking about time. Yes, I get it. Been there and done that, for the past two weeks! Right? Well, there’s still obviously something for me, and possibly you, to learn in this ongoing pondering. So, let’s get right to it.

Many of us have heard some version of this passage from Peter’s Second Letter: “But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like one day” (2 Peter 3:8). In other words, God’s time is nothing like ours, is it? What we think of being a day, is but a blink of God’s eye. What we think of being a thousand years is but a divine second. And what is a thousand years in God’s presence can also feel but like only a second. So, what gives?

Well, I can’t help but to think about Albert Einstein, for he was once quoted in saying, “Time is relative; its only worth depends upon what we do as it is passing.” In other words, the passing of time all depends on your frame of reference. It is intensely personal. For, when you think something is happening too slowly, I might think it is happening too fast, and vice versa. Now consider for a moment all that God has seen and done as told to us in Scripture. Pretty astounding right? By some accounts, if you were to backtrack dates in the Bible, the dawn of Creation was some 6,000 years ago. Yet, modern science tells us that the earth is billions of years old. So, which is it? Well, are you going by our time or God’s time? If one day is a thousand years and a thousand years are one day, could 6,000 years and billions of years be the same as well?

I know, getting pretty confusing and over-whelming, isn’t it? So, let’s call a “time-out” for a moment and consider this – what does it really matter? Is it just to prove whether faith or science is in the right? Is it just for one side to say, “I’m right and you’re wrong”? Well, I certainly hope not, because then all of it would be just a total waste of time. In the Gospel of John, Jesus said: “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now” (John 16:12, NRSV). I think God has always been saying that. God has always revealed to us in God’s time, not ours, for there are so many things we couldn’t understand from one age to another. I mean, people have tried to explain the 1960’s to me, but I wasn’t there and

I’m sure I’ll never really understand!

Time is relative, because it’s meant to be relational. It is relevant in a certain setting with a certain person or people, which another cannot understand. Yet, God has a way of working things out – in due time, God’s time not ours.

Well, until another time…keep on pondering. Pastor Steve

Pastor’s pondering

March is here. Can you believe it?  Yet again I find myself noticing how quickly time is flying by.  As I study my calendar for March, it is packed – Lent and Easter, family visiting from out of town, a friend getting married – non-stop action from start to finish.  So, once again another month will fly by.

During a conversation with someone over lunch the other day, we both noticed how quickly time does go by, especially as we get older.  As children the days seemed to drag on, didn’t they? We couldn’t wait for school to be over so that we could get home to play with friends and/or toys.  When I was in high school, although I liked school, I couldn’t wait for the educational hours to wrap up so that I could get to sports practice.  But then we grow up…and have children…and we beg time to slow down.  We want to spend every moment we can basking in the magnificence that they are.  We don’t want to miss a single thing and have this Peter Pan-like hope that they won’t grow up.  But they do, and they move on with life – off to college and/or career.  Off to engagements and marriages.  Off to have children of their own, making us grandparents – and now time just seems to go into double-time, doesn’t it?  Next thing we know they’re grown, too…and we’ve gotten even older.

I’m sure all of us at some time or another have hoped we could experience what Joshua did one day on the battlefield – “The sun stopped in midheaven and did not hurry to set for about a whole day” (Joshua 10:13, NRSV).  Joshua got a little extra time. The sun did not set, the next day did not hurry to come.  He got a little more time to do what he needed to do for himself, his family, his army, his people.  The Lord headed his voice and for the one and only time in recorded history, time stood still.

You hear that – the only and only time.  It never happened before and will never happen again.  For everyone else, well, we just have to keep moving on, watching the seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and years tick right on by.  So, shouldn’t we make the most of every one of them?  Shouldn’t we not waste a single second, let alone minute, hour, day, week, month, or year?  They are going to keep right on passing by. We won’t get a single one of them back.  So, what can you do today to ensure that each one is precious – for you, for your loved ones, for your church, and for God?

                                                                        Always pondering,

                                                                        Pastor Steve

Pastor’s pondering

Last week I found myself pondering about how quickly time goes by. This week I once again found myself pondering some of the same. This is probably because of the bi-annual changing of the clocks that we will undergo this weekend – the springing ahead of time, as we enter Daylight Savings Time. Think about that for a minute. As much as we already think time flies by, this weekend, we are going to lose an entire hour of time! As we spring ahead at 2am on Sunday morning, it will suddenly be 3am in the flash of an eye. Most people won’t notice because they will be sound asleep, but some will. Those working overnight shifts long for this particular day – one less hour that has to be worked! Hurray!

Yet isn’t that one less hour we have to make a difference in the world? Isn’t that one less hour we have to do the tasks that have been given to us to do – whether it is in our lives, family, workplaces, etc, etc? Ephesians 5:15-16 reminds us that we are to, in all wisdom, make the most of the time that we have. This is because we’ll never get it back once it’s gone, will we?

I look back on life and see a myriad of opportunities that I missed because I didn’t use the time that I was given properly. Due to a multitude of unwise decisions in past years, I missed out on special events with family and friends. What a lesson to learn. What an obstacle to overcome. If only it was the season of “falling back,” turning the clocks backwards to recapture those sacred moments and do something differently…

But this is no movie. Doc Brown is not going to put us into a DeLorean and whisk us away in a flash of light. No, we have to do something here and now. We have to make choices that make a difference here, now, and for the future that still lies ahead. We have to, in all divine wisdom, make the most of what time we have been given. So, how is God calling you to do so today?

Always pondering,

Pastor Steve