Celebrating God

Each year in the United Methodist Church, we have an opportunity to share the many ways God is at work in our faith community at a meeting called the Church Conference (sometimes Charge Conference).  The following selection is from my report for 2017.  Enjoy!

PASTOR’S REPORT

“If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples.”  (John 8:31)

cONFIRMATION cOMMUNION 2017

We live in God’s Word so we can live out God’s Word.  That’s what it means to be disciples of Jesus.  Living in the Word means learning what Jesus has to say to us through Bible study, prayer, worship and connection with others.  Living out the Word of God puts faith into practice.  We serve others out of our love for God.  Living in, living out.  It’s as natural as breathing only now, we are breathing in the Holy Spirit of God and breathing out blessing on others.  Thanks be to God for the new life that is in us through Jesus, the Word for the World.

Over the past year, the disciples of Jesus at Weller UMC lived in the Word and lived out the Word in numerous ways.  Every effort was a team effort, and thanks are due to all our team leaders and team members for their faithful service to the Lord.

  • The 2017 Confirmation Class ran over a period of 12 weeks and “graduated” 10 youth, 8 of whom joined the church.
  • Vacation Bible School hosted 15 to 20 “superheroes” for God each night and imparted God’s love in creative and memorable ways.
  • We continued our partnership with Sabillasville Elementary School with several volunteers in the classrooms and a book drive that gave out over 360 books to the 120 students for summer reading.
  • Our handbell choir rang out praise to God while the voice choir sang out the glorious news of new life in Jesus during our Christmas and Easter cantatas.
  • The Missions Team led us out in service to Mission Central, the Food Bank, and other nearby charities.
  • The Renovate 185 fundraising campaign reached the $47,000 mark (out of $100,000) and replaced two air conditioning systems in just four months.
  • We are on track to meet 87% of our apportionment payments for the year, up from 72 % last year and 28% just four years ago, demonstrating our commitment to be in ministry to all the world.

This year was especially joy-filled for me as I completed the requirements for full membership in the Order of Elders and was ordained at annual conference in a service I will always cherish and remember.  I thank the Weller UMC family for the grace and love you have shown me and my family these past four years.

2018 will witness continued growth in Christ as we learn more from Jesus through Disciple Bible Study and sermon series that will inform and form our spiritual journey together.  We will seek a new vision for Weller, and we will continue to welcome all who seek the love and grace of Jesus, equip them for service, and reach wide to share God’s love.  Living in the Word, living out the Word.  It’s as natural as breathing.  Praise God!

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“Time With God”

“But when you pray, go into your inner room, shut your door, and pray to your Father, who is unseen.” (Matthew 6:6)

Here we are at the beginning of August and I’m wondering how it got here so fast.  I know, I know; “time is fleeting.”  And it seems to pass faster the older I get.  There are lots of other truisms about the passage of time; naturally, I don’t have time to quote them.  But seriously now, August?

With seven months of the year behind us, it’s time for a checkup on our use of time.  How have you been using yours?  William Penn, the real estate mogul, Quaker and founder of the Pennsylvania colony, is quoted as saying:

“Time is what we want most, but what we use worst.”  (William Penn)

I’ve found that to be too true.  There are times in my life when I’ve wasted this most precious resource and gift from God.  The excuse I use is that I don’t have enough time to take care of the important things.  But the truth is, you make time for what’s important.

Since I’m finding some great quotes on the internet, here’s one more that’s worth thinking about:

“There’s only one thing more precious than our time and that’s who we spend it on.”  (Leo Christopher)

I like this one.  It turns the question of using time inside out.  It’s not so much how you spend your time but who you spend it with.  Who do you spend your time with?  Family?  Friends?  Are you spending some quality time with God?

2017-06-19_FeaturedArtOneJesus knew the importance of spending time with God.  “After he had sent them away, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray.  When evening came, he was there alone” (Matthew 14:23).  Jesus knew that in spite of his busy schedule with the crowds (or, really, because of it), he needed time with God.  Jesus understood the only way to know the will of the Father was to spend some time away from the busyness of the world.  That way he could listen for the voice of God, receive the affirmation of his loving Father, and draw strength for the work of the Kingdom.

We, too, need spend time with God every day.  It doesn’t matter when you pray (morning, noon, evening or night); and, it doesn’t matter how you pray (out loud, silently, standing, sitting).  What matters is who you spend the time with.

Be blessed.  “Pray without ceasing, pray.”

Pastor Bob

 

“The Main Thing”

“The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.” Steven Covey, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People

“I have come into the world as a light, so that no one who believes in me should stay in darkness.” (John 12:46)cross_6708c

The last month contained some real highpoints for Weller UMC, and for me, personally, as your pastor. At this year’s Annual Conference, it was a joy and privilege to be ordained as an Elder in full connection in the United Methodist Church. This was the culmination of many years answering God’s call to ministry, and I continue to thank God each day for the gift of ministry and the blessing to be your pastor. By God’s grace, we have come thus far; and by God’s grace, we have more to do together in the years to come.

Two other highpoints in the life of this faith family were the reception of new members through the confirmation class and those who joined the church at the end of June. These were joy-filled moments for us as we acknowledged and celebrated the grace of God at work in these lives as they become/join us in the journey of faith in Jesus Christ.

As I reflect on these moments, I am struck by the powerful, yet simple, questions we answer to profess our faith in Christ. As a refresher, these words from the Covenant for Baptism and Reception into the UMC are:

  • Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin?
  • Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?
  • Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as your Lord, in union with the church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races?

The answer, in each case, is “I do.” And with this, we pledge ourselves to follow the lead of Jesus, to serve God in and through the church by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

These words, and those that follow in the service, focus us on the main thing that God is about in the world: salvation, redeeming what was lost, restoring the image of God in humankind, making all things new. This is “the main thing” that Jesus came into the world to accomplish. And it is the main thing that we, as the church, are called to keep doing in the name of Our Lord.

This month marks the start of my fifth year as pastor of Weller UMC. As we enter this new year together, let us make “the main thing the main thing,” in the words of leadership mentor Steven Covey. Let us, in the words of the book of Hebrews, “fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:2). Let us commit to following Jesus ever more closely in the coming year so that we draw closer to God and we reach out to those whom God sent Jesus to save—the least, the last, the lost.

God’s salvation is for all. Let us keep on following Jesus into God’s future. And may we continue to be channels of God’s grace flowing into the world by the Spirit of Him who came to save us all.

Peace,

Pastor Bob

“A Time for Love”

“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7)

This is the month for love, or so the greeting card companies and candy makers would have us believe. (Personally, I think every month is the month to remember our spouses or sweethearts, and to be thankful that God has gifted our lives with their love). But February stands apart. Come the 14th, on Valentine’s Day, millions of us (myself included) will remember those we love with a card and with chocolate (is there any other kind?) candy.

In the book Forgiveness, Finding Peace Through Letting Go, pastor and author Adam Hamilton encourages us to use special days like Valentine’s Day to tell our spouses just how much we appreciate them. This goes a long way toward keeping our love “ledgers” focused on the credit side. Add up the ways your loved one blesses you this Valentine’s Day. Do away with the debit side of the ledger, those irritating or annoying things your spouse or loved one does. Do this, and you will practice love and forgiveness the way God in Christ loves and forgives us.

img_3258But don’t let your love stop there. Jesus also commanded his followers to love their neighbors as themselves. That is way easier said than done because it means loving people who are not like us, people who don’t look like us or talk like us, people with whom we may disagree strongly on certain issues. (Remember the “Good Samaritan” was a contradiction in terms to first century Jews). Nonetheless, Jesus commands us to love those who are different from us. “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another” (John 13:34). Note that he doesn’t ask, plead or beg us to love others—this is a command.

Learning to love is hard. But learning to love is life. It is learning to see the sacred in another person who is made in God’s image, especially when that image does not conform to our own. When we love one another, this is the life of God in Christ Jesus that is our life as his disciples.

As we mark Valentine’s Day this year, my prayer is that we will practice love the way God in Christ showed love toward us—unselfishly, wholeheartedly, unconditionally.

And I pray that in a time when people in our communities and our nation are so divided, so ready to cast stones at those they perceive as enemies, that we stop and take a fresh breath of God’s Spirit. Let us learn to recognize the image of God in the other; respect the differences, rejoice in what brings us together; and, continue to stand for mercy and justice for all people. Let us learn to love others—it may be the hardest thing we do this year.

Peace,

Pastor Bob

 

 

“Looking Backward, Looking Forward”

slide1“It’s a poor sort of memory that only works backwards,’ says the White Queen to Alice.” Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass

“Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my Gospel.” Apostle Paul, 2 Timothy 2:8

It’s nearly the start of a new year, which means it’s time for taking stock. The newsfeed on my cellphone is full of the kinds of articles you’d expect to read this time of year. There are lists of the years best and worst in sports, entertainment, world politics, food and more. As I write these words, one article from the Wall Street Journal in my newsfeed is titled: “Best and Worst Ads of 2016: The Things We Can’t Unsee.” How true.

Every year is full of things that happen in the life of the church. Most are good things as we proclaim the life-renewing message of Jesus the Christ in a community, and for a world, that is broken and hurting and desperately in need of Good News. Some things we might like to forget. But like the news article about the advertisements, we cannot “unsee” what has happened in the last year. We can, however, redeem what has passed for the future—for God’s future. “I once was lost,” go the words of one of the greatest hymns ever, “but now I’m found; was blind, but now I see.”

So at the risk of overloading you with another list for 2016, here are some of the ways Weller UMC contributed to God’s mission of redeeming what has passed for the God’s future:

  • Missions: We had several trips to Mission Central where volunteers helped sort and organize in their warehouse; donated to local charities; supported Food Bank; Angel Tree for 25 children; Operation Christmas child collected 112 shoeboxes for children.
  • For children: Sunday School classes led by dedicated teachers and the great fun of VBS in June; dedicated a playground behind the Weller House.
  • For Youth: In addition to Youth Group meetings in the spring and fall, several youth and adults went on a mission trip in August; also took part in a retreat at Camp Manidokan in November with Good Shepherd UMC.
  • Puppet Ministry: The Potter’s Hands gave inspiring messages during worship and held a community show at the church in March.
  • For Adults: Three adult Sunday School classes met during the year; several short term Bible studies during the year.
  • SES: Our partnership with Sabillasville Elementary School continues with a lunch for teachers hosted by Deerfield UMC, several volunteers working with children, and our May-June book drive that collected books for all the children to take home over the summer.
  • Renovation: We painted the halls, Fellowship room, stairwell, office, library, and nursery, and we re-carpeted the Education Wing hallway; replaced bad concrete at the church and parsonage; sponsored an Eagle Scout project for the Weller House.
  • Music: Two beautiful cantatas at Easter and Christmas by the gifted voice and handbell choirs.
  • Fellowship: Several events included the ever-fun Talent Show and the delicious Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners.
  • Apportionments: We met our goal for 2016 by paying $15,000 of a nearly $21,000 apportionment that connects us with the global mission of the church. That’s up from paying $6,000 on a $21,500 apportionment in 2013. What great progress!

I’m sure I missed some things but these were a few of the memorable events in the life of the people called Weller UMC in 2016. I give thanks to God for each of you and for all of us together because together, we do so much for the Lord to bring hope, healing and wholeness to our community.

We also need to look ahead to a future full of hope and promise because of what the Lord has done for us. “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the Dead,” wrote the Apostle Paul. When we remember Jesus, we are—in that odd phrase—remembering the future. We remember Jesus is God’s future brought into our present. Jesus shows us what it means to live the life God intended for us from the beginning; a life full of love, peace, mercy and grace; a new life that is ours now and for eternity.

As 2017 dawns, I look forward to sharing another year of beautiful ministry together. I believe God has a lot in store for the people known as Weller UMC in the coming year. Pray for the year to come. Pray in the name of Jesus. Pray without ceasing.

Be blessed,

Pastor Bob

 

“A Christmas Physics Lesson”

After reading Luke’s account of the nativity once again, I was struck by the amount of motion that takes place in the story.  People and events are moving fast as the birth of the Christ child approaches.  And so is God.

For instance, Luke begins his telling of Christ’s birth with a word going out from the Roman emperor: “In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered” (Luke 2:1).  That command set people in motion—they must go to their appointed towns and villages to be registered.  We always focus on Mary and Joseph traveling to Bethlehem, but we seldom stop to think they were not alone.  Many others must have been on the move in those days trying to get to their hometowns.  People in motion.  That was a lyric from a 60s song: ¹“All across the nation/ Such a strange vibration/ People in motion.” A word goes out; people in motion; and they come home.

Then there’s the part about the angels and the shepherds.  The angels go out to the shepherds in the fields.  They have a word too—a word from God: “I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:11).  The shepherds respond by going “with haste” to find the baby lying in a manger, just as the angels foretold.  The word goes out; shepherds in motion; they come home to the love of God in the Christ child.

Each of the actions in the story has a response.  It’s almost like Matthew is rewriting one of the laws of physics—“for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction”—to fit the nativity story as God’s law of love: “for every action of God’s love, there is a human reaction.”

What reaction?

“When [the shepherds] saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them” (Luke 2:17).

“But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:18).

“The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen…” (Luke 2:19).

Amazed.  Treasured.  Pondered.  Glorify.  Praise.  How else to respond to such great Good News?  Christ is born in Bethlehem.  Emmanuel!  Now God is with us.

image001As we approach Christmas this year, I’ll be thinking about all the motions we go through to get ready for the big event: the shopping, the cooking, and the traveling (for some).  But I’ll also be thinking about the God who set in motion the greatest love story of any and all time.  The Word from God goes out into the world: “to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”  And once again, I will be amazed.  I’ll treasure this word and ponder it in my heart.  I’ll give glory to God and praise my maker for this exceptional act of love and grace.

And I’ll sing a new song: “All across Creation/ there’s a new vibration/ God in motion.”  And I’ll come home to the love of God in Christ Jesus.

How about you?  God is moving in your life.  Are you ready to come home?

Pastor Bob

¹Scott McKenzie, “San Francisco,” 1967, Metro Lyrics, article on internet, http://www.metrolyrics.com/san-francisco-lyrics-scott-mc-kenzie.html

 

 

“Watchwords”

450px-roman_watchtower_bad_honningen_reconstruction

Chances are most of us have not had to stand a watch; that is, a shift were you were on guard or responsible for something. Those who’ve been in the military or worked as a first responder (police, fire, EMT), however, probably have had plenty of experience on watch.

Standing watch was very common in the ancient world. People on watch worked through the night to make sure an enemy would not sneak up on their town as people slept. Watchtowers were employed to guard important locations or to keep an eye out for approaching enemy forces. Those who stood the watch were given words to use as passwords—anyone with the right word could “pass” or enter the town. Those without the right word, well…good luck.

Over time, watchwords became more like guiding principles for people to follow, kind of like a motto or guiding principle. For someone standing a night watch, “vigilance” might be a good watchword to encourage them to stay awake (although “Caffeine” might be a more appropriate choice). Colleges and universities have their own form of watchwords in their school motto. Mine was a French word, “Essayons,” which means, “I will try.” Maybe that sounds better in French. My class motto is a good one: “By Courage and Strength.”

Watchwords are meant to tell us something about what we value, about what is (or should be) guiding principles for us. They are sometimes handed down by those with a track record of wisdom and experience.

In the letters to Timothy, the Apostle Paul provides some sage advice to his younger protégé about how to be an effective pastor. Paul likely was in prison in Rome, having suffered much for the sake of the Gospel for many years. Before he departed this life, Paul wanted to pass on worthwhile advice to Timothy and to encourage him to stand firm in the faith.

The Second Letter to Timothy contains several passages with guiding principles for Christian life and ministry. Three of those passages are the subject of October’s sermon series entitled “Watchwords.” Watchwords for the faith we can discern from these passages are:

  • Unashamed, 2 Timothy 1:1-14. “But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him” (2 Tim 1:12).
  • Remember, 2 Timothy 2:8-15. “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, a descendant of David—that is my gospel, for which I suffer hardship, even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But the word of God is not chained” (2 Tim 2:8-9).
  • Breathe, 2 Timothy 3:14-4:5. “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:15).

We will explore these watchwords for the faith, what they meant to the first generations of Christians, and how they can inspire and strengthen us today.

Beloved, may you always remain in the love of God, the grace of Jesus Christ and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.

Peace,

Pastor Bob