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gratitude-rock

Gratitude: Giving Thanks Activites

“Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” – 1 Thessalonians 5: 17-18

Last week we talked about how hard praying without ceasing might seem… especially when we are tied to a particular form of prayer. This week, we are looking at gratitude… being grateful in all things. That might be just as hard as praying without ceasing, right? And yet, we know that gratitude is not only good for us spiritually but it also has scientifically proven health benefits. Gratitude helps us sleep better, suffer less from depression and generally improves our overall health… just to name a few.

So why is it so hard?

Gratitude isn’t a character trait we are born with. We have to flex our spiritual muscles and work at it!  Here are a few simple things you can try at home:

As an individual:

Try keeping a gratitude journal each day. Simply jot down the little blessings in your or day that might go unnoticed. At the end of the day take time to thank God for each thing on your list… it doesn’t need to be complicated and simple thanks to God will work.

When you are having trouble feeling grateful:

Take some time and remember times in your life that you were keenly aware of God’s presence and provision. Perhaps there were times that you felt special care from other people. Try making a list of all of the God moments and grace filled moments you have experienced in your life. Ponder how much of those things you actually earned? Allow yourself to be filled with gratitude to God. Try thinking of a way to express that gratitude in some measurable way. Notice how that makes you feel and how it strengthens your love and appreciation for God.

As a family:

Try having a thank-you morning around the table. Encourage your kids to find as many things as they can to be thankful for. Let it be fun! When one person shares something they are thankful for, the rest of the family responds with three “thank you’s.” It might go like this: For Saturday cartoons, thank you, thank you, thank you… for sleeping in, thank you, thank you, thank you. For pancakes and chocolate milk, thank you, thank you.

Birthday Bonus:

As my children turned 13, we came up with a birthday ritual to mark that special transition into their teenage years. At their special birthday dinner, the family would go around the table and name something they were grateful for about them. What started out to be a little challenging for my children turned out to be a rich time of blessing and affirmation as we each expressed our gratitude for the special person God had created them to be. Try it for any occasion. You may be surprised by the power and depth of meaning that happens when we express gratitude and affirmation for another!

 

small group 3

Multiply Groups Underway

small group 3

The Multiply Small Groups are underway! If you are interested in checking out a group or the series of studies, you can still do so. Multiply was the brain child of Frances Chan and David Platt, authors of the book Multiply. The goals of the Multiply material, which are simple, practical, and Biblical, are to help individuals understand Scripture and to give them the tools to disciple others. The book and related materials are available free of charge online at https://multiplymovement.com/; however, the Multiply materials have been adapted for an intergenerational audience and specific age groups at First Church by members of our Discipleship Coordinating Committee: Linda Logan, Emily Morris, Casey Morris, Pastor Beth, and Derek Young. The Multiply Small Groups are the following:

Small Group Meeting Time Meeting Location Facilitator(s)
Elective Sunday School Class 9:30-10:15 a.m. Sunday 2nd Floor Front Classroom (above Narthex)* John Mark Logan & Daphyne Thomas
Covenant Sunday School Class 9:30-10:15 a.m. Sunday Conference Room* Libby Smith & Roy McCutcheon
Friendship Sunday School Class 9:30-10:15 a.m. Sunday Friendship Classroom* Auburn Boyers & Linda Logan
College/Career Group (post high school to 25 yrs of age)

 

4:30-6:00 p.m. Sunday Conference Room* Derek Young
Multiply Small Group 6:30 p.m. Monday Home of Emily & Henry Morris (child care available) Micah Morris
Multiply Small Group Tuesday Home of Emily & Henry Morris Members alternate as facilitators
Bridgewater Home Group 1:30-3:00 p.m. Wednesday Community Room

Assisted Living 3rd Floor

Bridgewater Retirement Home

Jo Ann Soucek & Brenda Fox
Praize Kidz Bible Study 6:30-7:30 p.m. Wednesday Children’s Music Room in Basement* Sharon Helbert
Multiply Small Group 6:30-7:30 p.m. Wednesday Conference Room* John Staubus
Stickley/Young Small Group 7:30-9:00 p.m. Thursday Youth Room off Gym* Carol & Chris Stickley & Derek Young
Downtown Dinner Group 8:00 p.m. Thursday Various restaurants Abe Shearer

*These locations are in First Church of the Brethren, 315 S. Dogwood Dr., Harrisonburg, VA

If you need additional information or have questions, please call the church office at 540-434-8288.

 

 

 

For my friends at Harrisonburg First Church of the Brethren… the sermon we missed twice in a row.

Since I missed preaching this sermon twice in a row, I thought I would share a few important excerpts with you. It is my prayer that God will somehow use these thoughts on paper to prepare us for our spiritual journey during Lent. Blessings, Pastor Beth

easy access

Today’s story is about John the Baptist whois also preparing the way for the new thing that God wants to do through his Son Jesus Christ. Even though we typically look at this passage during Advent, I think it is fitting that we prepare for our Lenten journey by looking at this text in Mark. It is interesting that the gospel of Mark begins here and skips over all of the traditional birth stories by “cutting to the chase” with John the Baptist. If we look more closely at this text, we can get some clues on how we can ready ourselves for the new things that God desires to do through Jesus Christ in our lives and in the lives of those around us.

The story opens in Mark chapter 1 with this crazy guy john crying out in the wilderness, “Prepare the way of the Lord.” It is important to remember that Israel had been waiting for the arrival of the promised Messiah for well over 500 years. In fact, those 500 years are known as the time of silence. It was a time when people weren’t hearing anything from God through the prophets. Nothing seemed to be happening at all. I am pretty sure that most people had become disinterested, disenchanted and even skeptical about the Messiah’s coming. But now, imagine with me. 500 years later this guy appears all dressed up in some really strange clothes and eating even more strange food. His message? Take heart! The time has finally come! This promised Messiah is about to break into our world and accomplish all of the things we have been waiting for.

I find a real affinity with this story because that is what I sense is going on here at our Church. I believe that the Spirit of God is saying the same thing to us: Take heart! You have been waiting for so long and now I am going to break in and do something among you greater than anything you can think or imagine!

Have you ever wondered why John was in the wilderness to proclaim such an important message? Why not in the temple, or in the town square or at the very least, the top of a mountain? Instead, Jon leads them into the wilderness: a place of solitude, a place where no one would really be able to hear. And yet the scripture tells us that the people came out in droves, multitudes, to hear the message.

John prepared the way for Jesus’s ministry by leading the Israelites into a place where they were familiar with the way God speaks and where God had made himself known in the past. They stayed there until Jesus appeared on the scene. The Israelites recognized the wilderness was a historic place where God met them, spoke to them, and revealed himself to them just as he did in the Exodus. It was also a spiritual place where they were open to guidance from God. By leading them away from the chaos and confusion of the city, John brought them into the place where they were truly receptive to God’s activity; a place where they could listen.

Many of us have special places in our lives where we know that God can get through to us as well as unique ways in which God speaks to us. Perhaps we have dreams, hear his voice, read scripture or journal. Maybe we find God in nature, riding a bike or on a long commute to work. Maybe we find God through worship or through the times of listening in prayer. These are all similar to the wilderness for the Israelites.

During Lent, Christians have a tradition or spiritual practice of giving something up. In a way, that’s like making space for God. So if you are thinking about giving something up for Lent, I want to challenge you to give up something that makes a space for you to meet God. Maybe it is skipping a meal or coffee so that you can listen to God. Maybe it is skipping your favorite TV show so that you can read your Bible. Be creative, but make space. Prepare the way for him. Frequent that place often. Give God the space to speak and move in your life.

Another interesting way we can prepare the way that we see from John the Baptist are these really strange clothes he is wearing and the bugs that he seems to be eating. Don’t worry; I am not encouraging you to eat bugs! And by the way, these are not carob pods or fruit from a special tree. These were actual bugs, or locusts, that were ritually clean for poor persons who could not afford to buy the more expensive meats that were acceptable for the Jewish diet. By eating the same food and dressing in this way, John is actively aligning himself with barrenness of his time. He identified the place of the deepest spiritual and physical need… the very place where Jesus will come and bless and heal. His clothing and diet are a symbol of his rejection of the religious and socially elite and an embracing of the spiritually and physically impoverished.

We can also prepare the way of the Lord, not by eating bugs, but by opening our eyes to the barren places of our times; to the homeless, the spiritually impoverished, the troubled teen whose life can only be redeemed by the shedding of innocent blood in a shopping mall, the latch- key kids in our own community, even some of our friends and family. Jesus’s ministry was characterized by eating and drinking with sinners and ministering to the poor. Of all the places Christ could have chosen to live, of all the people he could have eaten with and fellowshipped with, he was always with the down and out, the outcast, the poor in Spirit and the sinner. If you were living in the time of Jesus, that was where you could find him.

I believe that is still true today. If we want to see where God is active and moving, if we want to be in the place and setting that Jesus may very well show up, we need to find the place of the greatest spiritual and physical need and linger there.

One thing that blesses me so much about our church is that we have a lot of that going on!! We feed people at the Salvation Army meals every Tuesday night, we open our doors to the community every Wednesday evening, children and youth are coming to our church and not only hearing about Jesus but some of them are having the only hot cooked meal they will have that week. If you haven’t experienced the ministry that is going on here at this church on a Wednesday night, let me tell you that Jesus is present! Just walk into the Jr. High youth meeting and talk with some of the wonderful youth that Abe is hauling over in his car each week. Or poke your head into one of Heidi’s class room and see all of the children. Let me tell you, you will find Jesus working there!

Sharon Helbert was visiting with me in my office this week and shared with me how each year, rather than giving something up for Lent, she actually adds a spiritual practice for Lent. So here’s my challenge to you this Lenten season. Do you want to prepare the way for what God has for us at First Church? Do you want to meet Jesus? Try adding the spiritual practice of serving on a Wednesday Night! Casey made an announcement last Sunday in church that Heidi needs more volunteers. Why not make that your spiritual practice for Lent? Or maybe the fellowship committee needs help with food prep, clean up or service. Why not talk to Julie Kramer about serving as your Lenten practice?

Friends, that is preparing the way for Jesus to show up in your life! And as we look together at the book of Mark and what it means to follow Jesus and be his disciples, we will see the places he invites them and us to come and see, and experience the kingdom of God.

We all know that living together as the body of Christ is important, but if we are so inwardly focused that we miss the barren places where God desires to dwell, we may miss the appearance of Jesus because according to the Gospel of Mark, that is where Jesus showed up… in the desert place… in the barren place… in the place of need. We need to take heart, align ourselves with the need around us, and join God in the new life that he desires to bring. How will we align our resources and vision with the needs of our community and world? Do you still have your puzzle piece from several weeks ago? Maybe that’s the piece of the puzzle that we’re missing and need here at First Church.

Finally, we need to begin this journey by examining our own barrenness. John calls the people to repent and be baptized as a symbol of their consecration to God and their belief in the Messiah’s coming. Jesus came into this world first and foremost to save us from our own selves, the spiritual bondage that keeps us and the rest of the world from being all that God intended us to be. It is difficult to dare to look into the deepest, darkest parts of our own souls.

Have you ever noticed when we have had a good snow or ice storm, where the last places to melt are? (You should have had plenty of opportunities to do that this week) They are always in the shade. Hard ice always forms in the dark places and they are the last places where the warmth of the sun can penetrate. So it is with our souls. It is not until we bring our sins into the light of the son, that we experience the melting of our hardness and the washing away of the things that bind us.

Where are the places in our own lives that need the breath of God blown into them? What are the dark areas where God desires to shine the healing light of his presence? Are we allowing God to see those places? Are we allowing ourselves to acknowledge those places? Do we really believe that God can turn those barren places into something fruitful? That is the true beginning of our spiritual journey this Lenten season; Opening those places to God’s coming. In doing so, we are opening ourselves to the power of Jesus.

 

 

 

Playing with God

Just before I fell asleep last night, I told God that I was looking forward to our visit together the next day. I love to wake up early in the morning, drink coffee, read, and spend quality time in centering prayer. Perhaps it was this genuine enthusiasm that prevented me from finally falling to sleep at a respectable hour.  Or perhaps it was a sense that God was already stirring something in my spirit. Either way, this anticipation kept me awake long enough for me to recheck my alarm clock that faithfully told me that my alarm would ring 5 hours and 39 minutes from then. It would be hard to wake up at 5:30 the next day.

Sure enough, the startling sound of my cell phone awakened me exactly 5 hours and 39 minutes from the time I had checked it last night and amazingly, I jumped out of the bed before I had even turned it off. I put on my favorite bathrobe, brewed a cup of coffee for myself and made my way to my favorite couch. I read, pondered and then spent some time in centering prayer.

This time of prayer left me with the most unusual vision which I fully intended to blog about today… but as I began to put it into words, it came out as two poems:

Part 1
hopping, skipping, cartwheeling
across the beach
in my bridal gown
with the Groom
the earth is a trampoline
the sand under our feet
is as playful as the first snow
and yet
the sea is so calm and big
it soothes my soul
we fall into the sand
laughing
we make snow angels together
we look up into the heavens
and I wonder
before I ask, the Groom says
enjoy this thing
I am doing
this thing your heart has been longing for
we resume
our cartwheels, skipping, hopping
jumping
but the sea catches my eye
and I stop
to ponder its vastness
what am I to do?
I ask
He says in a gentle but probing voice,
play with me…
play with me

Part 2
It has been so long since I last played
I think I forgot how
there is a lifting in my soul
a memory flickers
of innocent times
sitting in the grass
and I remember
a place in me
of carefree rest
wonder
enchantment
play…
play with me, He says

When the going gets tough

I think that we as Christians skip over the immense pain and suffering that Jesus experienced the week leading up to his death. Though there are many stories in between, we tend to move from the shouting Hosannas in church on Palm Sunday to the Hallelujahs of his resurrection on Easter Sunday. Yes, many of us do have a Maundy Thursday meal and even a Good Friday service… but we rarely live with the Gethsemane experience for any length of time.

Immediately following his triumphant entry into Jerusalem, with the crowds cheering and blessing him, Jesus enters into a very dark week. He goes into the temple only to be heart broken and angered by the disrespect and corruption of his father’s house… it should be a place of prayer but instead, it had become a place of deceit, bribery and corruption. Humanity truly needed a savior and he was fully aware of what the price would be.

The following day he was harassed by the chief priests and teachers of the law. They questioned his motives behind his actions. They wondered who gave Jesus the authority to behave the way he did. They threatened him and ridiculed him with poignant hatred, “Who do you think you are?”

The next day, one of his closest friends agreed to betray him and hand him over to the authorities for 30 pieces of silver… the common price of a slave. Perhaps Jesus could have anticipated this from someone else, but one of his own?

The heaviness of what was to come must have been heavy on his heart as he celebrated his last passover meal with the persons he had lived with, taught and loved intensely for the past several years, his disciples.

It was in this immense, dark place that Jesus found himself struggling to pursue God in the garden.

We may never have a week like that of Jesus, but many of us do enter into dark and difficult times. We all experience deep disappointment, despair, loneliness, dread, heart brokenness, depression, anxiety… you can fill in the blanks. The question is, what will we do in that dark place?

Jesus pursues God even when he doesn’t want to do what is being asked of him. He surrounds himself with persons who will help him, he prays and waits for God’s assistance, and he relinquishes his desire and control over the situation.

When we find ourselves in difficult times or in a dark night experience we can learn from our Savior who has walked through the darkest of nights. We can share our struggle with one or two close friends, we can sit and pray our laments honestly in God’s presence, and we can relinquish our brokenness and darkness before God knowing that only God can deliver us.

It is comforting to know from the Gospel of Luke that angels of light came to Jesus’ after he prayed. God didn’t take the cup away from Jesus. He would still drink from the cup of death and suffering, but God did come to his aid in the dark night.

What then are we to do? Try to muster up enough strength to take a few baby steps toward others and God and then wait for him to find us.

today’s invitation?

As I strained and struggled this morning to glean some thoughtful meditation from my readings and prayer, one small, unsettling invitation came, cease and rest. This is not an easy thing for me being a type A personality… driven to perfection and accomplishing the next great thing life may bring.

As I spent time in centering prayer, I noticed the invitation to the quiet meadows of Psalm 23… a favorite meeting place for me and God… and yet it was so difficult for me to stop this morning… to allow myself to fully absorb the presence and provision of God… to let myself off the hook for a moment and fall into the presence of God.

In some ways it can be like the first time you jump off the diving board as a child… there is usually a parent or trusted person waiting for you in the deep water of the pool… but you are the only one who can trust enough to step off the security of knowing where you are and controlling how you are.

Todays holds many things that need to be done, thoughts of tasks not yet accomplished, ghosts of shortcomings and mishaps. Yet, God invites me to be still and breathe deeply his life giving presence. That is enough.

The Invitation

fall back
into soft green meadows
fresh
with promised spring
let the sun’s warmth
seep
into the cold places
restrained and hidden
from day

let the lungs
expand
with life’s air
pure
clean

breathe deeply
the song
heaven sings
inviting
little me
into
the Creator’s
rest

making it through the storm

As Harry preached this past Sunday on Jesus walking on the water, I was deeply moved as I realized that recently  I had been weathering my own storm… it is hard to know where these storms originate and why. Sometimes they arrive as quickly and as unexpectedly as they subside… like a squall on a lake… unpredictable and  unforseen but powerful enough to take you down.

The question is, what do we do in these unpredictable and uncontrollable times in our lives when we can quickly become overwhelmed? In Matthew 14, Jesus invites Peter to join him as he walks above the water in the storm… Peter joins him but as we know, he quickly begins to sink when he removes his gaze from Jesus and fixes himself on the trouble at hand.

This practice of gazing at Jesus, fixing our eyes on him, can be elusive at best. When we find ourselves caught unexpectedly in a squall, panic sets in and we can quickly become harried. Slowing down, listening and waiting seem nearly impossible, especially noticing where Jesus is in all of that. Everything in us wants to do the opposite. Read more

The spirituality of words…

The creative work of expressing my spiritual insights and longings into words has become a meaningful spiritual practice for me over the past several years. It began with a prayer journal that I sporadically kept written in pen and pencil. It then evolved into something more freeing and creative, poetry.

It seems that I feel more free to express myself in a form that is basically limitless. It doesn’t need to have proper punctuation, capital letters or even make literal sense. I find this especially freeing when I want to write about spiritual things… which can be so abstract. My poetry tends to be as much about the visual aspect  as the choice of words. I like for the verses to look the way I feel about what I am writing.

Writing has become a form of prayer for me:

words
a mere human
invention
clumsily strung together
describing
the mystery
God
unfolding
around me
in me
yet
unleashing the power
of memory
stories
of the Holy One
and
me

“Since my youth, O God, you have taught me, and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds. Even when I am old and gray, do not forsake me, O God, until I declare your power to the next generation, your might to all who come”

Psalm 71:17-18

Should blogging be added to the list of classic spiritual disciplines?

Recently, I have heard the comment that  perhaps blogging takes away from the pastoral role… that maybe if the pastor spent less time typing away at the computer, they would have more time to… You can imagine all the things one could say to finish the sentence.

For me, as a pastor, blogging has become somewhat of a spiritual discipline. It is one of the ways that I practice the Presence. Because I don’t have time to do it during the day, I choose to wake up earlier. So, in the wee hours of the morning with coffee in hand, I begin to search my soul for what has inspired me during the week or month. You could even go as far to say that it is a form of an Examen.

Because Harry and I have chosen to blog about our practicing the presence, I do not blog until I have spent time in centering prayer and meditating on scripture. I begin my time with God each morning by naming the persons in my life and in my congregation that are needing healing or guidance from God, then I move to thanksgiving for the persons in my life and congregation who have inspired me or co-labored with me recently.

During this time, I practice noticing in prayer and in reading what inspires me to blog. I find great inspiration and creativity in blogging each day. I also find it personally inspiring to read again and again the things that stirred my soul and drew me into deeper understanding of who I am as a child of God .

One of the practices that I value as a pastor is beginning any meeting or rehearsal with a time of centering ourselves in God’s presence. Before I began my adventures in blogging, I would read from various books and devotionals but now, I use my blog as my own resource for devotionals and prayer times with members of the congregation. I find that it fosters transparency and intimacy between myself and the persons I am working with or leading.

I am convinced that blogging keeps me accountable, keeps me focused on the spirit’s movement and helps me to stay refreshed spiritually. All of these are qualities that foster a healthy spiritual life for persons in ministry or anyone for that matter.

Journaling has long been accepted as a spiritual discipline… perhaps we need to add blogging to the list.

What does it mean to be playful?

As I continue my practice of prayer, Jesus continues to invite me to play. Recently as I prayed through Psalm 23, I noticed that in my time of centering prayer, Jesus was with me in the green grass by the still waters. It was a beautiful place. Instantly I saw that we were moving around a lot… I was a child, which I often am when I see myself with Jesus. He was happy, turning around and around with me in his arms; tossing me up towards the sun. His smile was warm and there was great delight in his eyes and we skipped through the meadows by the still waters.

“What are you doing, Jesus?” my thought interrupted my prayer…”I thought we were supposed to be resting?” I inquired.

“We are playing…”

“Oh… is that what this is” the thought took my breath away. Jesus was gently, playfully reminding me of his invitation to play. I realized in a brief moment that I didn’t even recognize that that is what we were doing… because I am so serious sometimes… and because somehow in my spirituality there is no room for this playful Jesus who keeps showing up. Read more