Pastor Steve's Blog

February 10, 2019

Pastor Steve’s Blog February 10, 2019 I want to confess one of my sins to you. It is my impatience at distracted drivers who get lost on their cell phones when they are stopped at a red light…and when the light turns green…we just sit there instead of moving forward. After some seconds, and nothing is happening, I am put in the position of having to be impolite and honk my horn. Has that ever happened to you? With some humor, let me go ahead and apologize up front if you were the car I honked at. I was reading in a book this week called “The Jesus Challenge: 21 Days of Loving God and Neighbor” by Justin Larosa and I ran across an interesting heading on page 16 of the book entitled: “Distracted from distraction by distraction.” Obviously it caught my attention since I am blogging about it now. Let me share these few paragraphs with you since Justin makes a good point and is worthy of some considered thought as we live out our lives this week. “T.S. Eliot wrote these words a long time ago. They still fit. Our culture is busier and more technologically connected than at any other time in history. The digital age promised fewer work hours, more efficiency, and a hyper-connected world. It has delivered on those promises—except for maybe fewer work hours. But not without cost. People are distracted and overscheduled. Disconnecting from technology is a constant struggle for everyone, and we don’t yet know the long-term effects of gazing at electronics. But we have seen disconnected living—both subtle and obvious ways—including in the spiritual life. Additionally, twenty-four hour connectivity has delivered non-stop communication about conflict, polarization, and violence, perpetuating fear among many. While we will never go back to the days of rotary phones and answering machines, we must find ways to mitigate distracted living because distracted living diminishes our ability as Christ followers to live out Jesus’ Greatest Commandment. Distraction is a gigantic hurdle.” Has distracted living impacted your ability to live out the great commandment of loving God and loving your neighbor? If so, how? What changes do you think you can make to get a different outcome?

February 3, 2019

Pastor Steve’s Blog February 3, 2019 I was reading a devotional this week by Claire McGarry entitled: ‘We’re All Messengers.” The Scripture she uses for her devotional is Malachi 3:1: “See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me.” She writes: “In college, I joined the theater crowd and began auditioning for plays. I secured my first role as Messenger #1 in MacBeth. During the entire two-and-a-half-hour production, I had only one line. To make me feel more important, my director told me that the message I was delivering would the help the audience make sense of what followed. John the Baptist was cast in the role of messenger by God. He was sent to deliver a message of repentance so people would turn away from sin, ask God for forgiveness and be baptized. All of John the Baptist’s lines were pivotal in helping people prepare for and make sense of Jesus’ coming. Every one of us has a part in life. Whether it’s big or small, if we deliver our lines with the right intention, our message will point others to Jesus. Doing so will help people make sense of who Our Savior is and what he’s done for us all. Prayer: Dear God, please give me the confidence I need to deliver your message to others. Amen.” The author is right. We are all messengers and the Christian messages we share with others should all point to our Lord Jesus and how much He loves all of us. We need more John the Baptists in our society today pointing the way to Christ.

January 27, 2019

Pastor Steve’s Blog January 27, 2019 I wrote last week about a book being read across the District and the Annual Conference called: “Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory.” To recap, I mentioned that the author, Todd Bolsinger, compared the principles and challenges we face today as a church to those faced by Lewis and Clark in their expedition to find a waterway to the Pacific Ocean. At the end of the article, I provided several questions the author asks each church to consider as it faces the new frontier. Let me reiterate these questions as they are important and relate to our future as a church. Why do we exist as a congregation? What would be lost in our community if we ceased to exist? What purposes and principles must we protect as central to our identity? What are we willing to let go of so the mission will continue? The author says that at the heart of every leadership question lie identity questions that must be answered. Each church must know and be secure in its identity – “who we are” – and that identity must be larger than any success or failure for it’s the compass whereby we, as a church, chart our course and meet our challenges. Our identity must reflect our deepest beliefs, our truest sense of self and church community and our core value(s). We need to know “who we are” when we face a new set of circumstances that we did not forsee in our past such as Lewis and Clark encountering towering mountains with canoes they did not expect. They had to adjust and in order to do so, they needed to know “who they were” and what was their primary mission? In his book, the author discusses a strategy used by Lewis and Clark that can be employed by us in the church today. It is called reframing. In adaptive leadership, reframing is another way of talking about the shift in values, expectations, attitudes or habits of behavior necessary to face our most difficult challenges. It is a way of looking at the challenge before us through a different lens. Lewis and Clark reframed their mission. Out of necessity and in order to move forward, the mission became about exploration (their core value) rather than just about finding a waterway to the Pacific. The author makes his point: “For church leaders facing this missional moment, the reframing of church strategy from a sanctuary-centered, membership-based, religious-and life-service provider to a local mission outpost for furthering the Kingdom of God enables our congregations to discover a faithful expression of our core identity in a changing world.” In other words, what is our core value(s) and what is our primary mission? Are we adaptable to the circumstances we face in order to accomplish our primary mission? The author continues, “But a reframe itself is only a new way of seeing and describing the problem. This is as far as many missional congregations get. They change the labels on the old file folders and announce that they are now a mission and not a church.” There has to be more. There has to be “new learning.” This is where so many church initiatives get stalled. There is no new learning. There has to be more than gathering together and coming up with a list of initiatives such as build a gym, bring in a rock band, give away C. S. Lewis books, change the name of the church or design a cooler website. Nothing wrong with those things, but there must be new learning to accompany these initiatives. When Lewis and Clark went over the Continental Divide was when they started discovering. They entered uncharted territory. They had to start learning all over again, adjusting their expectations, reconsidering their strategies, forming new alliances and partnerships. Our future as a church will require new learning from all of us because we face challenges we have never faced before. Our future survival depends on our ability to learn and adapt. I hope you give some considered thought to how we do mission in uncharted territory as we move forward. Are we ready to dump our canoes?

January 20, 2019

Pastor Steve’s Blog January 20, 2019 One of the books that is being read across our District and Annual Conference is entitled: “Canoeing the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory.” In the book, the author, Todd Bolsinger, compares the principles and challenges we face today as a church to those faced by Lewis and Clark in their expedition to find a waterway to the Pacific Ocean in 1803. The back jacket of the book describes the basic story and theme of the book this way: “Although explorers Lewis and Clark were prepared to find a waterway to the Pacific Ocean, instead they found themselves facing the Rocky Mountains. You too may feel that you are leading in a context you were not expecting. You may even feel that your training holds you back more often than it carries you along. Tod Bolsinger brings decades of expertise in guiding churches and organizations through uncharted territory to help you reimagine what effective leadership looks like in our rapidly changing world. If you’re going to scale the mountains of ministry, you need to leave behind canoes and find new navigational tools.” Let me point out a couple of important things the author highlights in his book. First, at the core of adaptive work is clarifying what is precious, elemental, even essential, to the identity of the church. In other words, “This is who we are.” Lewis and Clark had to adapt to facing the Rocky Mountains with canoes. They had to recommit to their “core value” of exploration rather than just be about finding a waterway to the Pacific Ocean. We, as a church, are facing the unexpected Rocky Mountains so to speak with our canoes. We have found ourselves in a post-Christian era in this country where past models and ideas are no longer working. In other words, we have to recommit to our core value(s) and come up with a new strategy to meet the challenge of the mountains. The author poses some questions for us to consider as we seek to meet this new and changing challenge: -Why do we exist as a congregation? -What would be lost in our community if we ceased to exist? -What purposes and principles must we protect as central to our identity? -What are we willing to let go of so the mission will continue? Look for more in next week’s blog.

January 13, 2019

Pastor Steve’s Blog Jan 13, 2019 I wake up in the morning and I don’t want to turn on the television. Why? Because of all the goings on in Washington these days. It’s all enough to drive you crazy if that is all you hear all day. But I will say this, when I wake up in the morning, the one thing I do want to do, besides having a little breakfast and contemplating going to the gym, is opening up the Bible and turning God on in my mind and spirit first thing. My day certainly goes better when I spend those few minutes starting out with God. Lysa TerKeurst, in her book, Embraced: 100 Devotions to Know God is Holding You Close shares a devotion on “Giving My First Moments to God.” She uses Psalm 86:11 as the foundation for her devotion. Psalm 86:11 says, “Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.” Let her devotion prayer be your prayer this week as you begin each day. “Lord, may nothing separate me from You today. Teach me how to choose only Your way today so each step will lead me closer to You. Help me walk by your Word and not my feelings. Help me to keep my heart pure and undivided. Protect me from my own careless thoughts, words and actions. And keep me from being distracted by MY wants, MY desires, MY thoughts on how things should be. Help me embrace what comes my way as an opportunity…rather than a personal inconvenience. And finally, help me to rest in the truth of Psalm 86:13: ‘Great is your love toward me.’ You already see the ways I will fall short and mess up. But right now, I consciously tuck your whisper of absolute love for me into the deepest part of my heart. I recognize Your love for me is not based on my performance. You love me…shortcomings and all. That’s amazing. But what is most amazing is that the Savior of the world would desire a few minutes with me this morning. Lord, help me to forever remember what a gift it is to sit with You like this. In Jesus name, Amen.”

January 6, 2019

Pastor Steve’s Blog Jan 6, 2019 As we start out the New Year, I want to share this inspirational thought about “the true standard of success.” “Bobby Jones, one of golf’s greatest players, was only 5 years old when he first swung a golf club. By the age of 12, he was winning golf tournaments. During this time, he was known for his hot temper, and he soon had the nickname “Club Thrower.” Jones became friends with a man named Grandpa Bart, who worked part-time in the club pro shop. Bart had been an excellent golfer but had retired when arthritis gripped his hands. After Bobby lost the National Amateur Tournament at the age of 14, he said, “Bobby, you are good enough to win that tournament, but you’ll never win until you can control that temper of yours. You miss a shot---you get upset---then you lose.” Bobby knew Grandpa Bart was right, and he became determined to improve---not his golf swing---but his mood swings. When Bobby won a major tournament at age 21, Grandpa Bart said, “Bobby was 14 when he mastered the game of golf, but he was 21 when he mastered himself.” Records are always established in relationship to other people’s performance, but the true “standard of success” is established within the competitor. Let your “standard of success” be one that includes controlling your temper and taming your tongue. As a leader, you will be setting a Godly example for others to follow.” James 1:19-20 (KJV): “My beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: For the wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God.” “God’s Little Lessons for Leaders.” Tulsa, OK: Honor Books, 2001, p. 9.

December 30, 2018

Pastor Steve’s Blog December 30, 2018 Well, we are finishing up another year of life. One more year in the books, so to speak. These milestone times are the times we can reflect back on all the things that have happened over this past year… both good and some not so good. It is also a time to remember that no matter what we went through this past year, God was always there with us, never leaving or forsaking us. God is a good God. He does not leave us as orphans. He loves us more than we will ever know and God expresses His love to us through His Son, Jesus Christ, and through the personal presence of the Holy Spirit. He gives us the strength and courage we need to always move forward so that we might continue to grow into Christ’s likeness. With these thoughts in mind, let me ask you the following questions. Take a few moments and reflect on each of these. What blessings did God bestowed upon you in 2018? In what ways did God help you when you needed it most? When did you feel the Holy Spirit’s presence most strongly?

December 23, 2016

Pastor Steve’s Blog December 23, 2018 Cindy and I want to take this opportunity to wish all of you a “Very Merry Christmas.” Many at Christmas enjoy a short liturgy to help celebrate the love of God. Below is one way of showing a response to that great love shown to us by God through his son Jesus by taking a moment to confess our sin and receive positive words of assurance. Prayer of Confession (Based on Titus 2:11-12) “Gracious God, in Jesus Christ you offer us salvation, healing from sin, and the Spirit’s power to live a new life. You long to teach us what is right. But often we are careless and, other times, we are willful in our pursuit of those things that do not honor your name or lead us to a joyful life. Forgive us and teach us to live sensible, ethical, and godly lives right now.” Amen. Assurance of Pardon (Based on Titus 2:13-14) “On this Christmas morning, our waiting is over. Christ is born to us, revealing our blessed hope of salvation. Hear these words and know God’s power to heal, save, and forgive. ‘He gave himself for us in order to rescue us from every kind of lawless behavior, and cleanse a special people for himself who are eager to do good actions.’ (vs. 14).” Liturgy taken from “The Abingdon Preaching Annual” 2017, p. 169.

December 16, 2018

Pastor Steve’s Blog December 16, 2018 Ann Parker, who is a member of our congregation, provided me a copy of her late husband’s book entitled: “Humor and Wisdom: Thoughts to Brighten and Enlighten Your Way” – by Wallace Parker. As I think about Christmas it reminds me of family and the wisdom that is often shared among family members. In his book on page 68, Wallace provided a section entitled: “My Mother’s Notebook: Words for Your Children.” It is a compilation of thoughts from Virginia Wilkinson’s mother’s notebook. After all, mother knows best. Right. Here is some good wisdom we should all take onboard: It must be true that exercise makes us healthy. You have never seen a weak and run down tongue. It is easy to find fault but hard to find what to do with it. When men speak ill of you, so live that no one will believe them. Our heart is the mainspring for the tongue. It takes practice in daily conversation to replace weak language with better language. Do not cheapen your talk for the sake of getting a laugh. I cannot enlarge my soul by finding fault with the other fellow. There is too little thought in most of our thinking. If you are truly rich, you could lose all your money and still be rich. The pleasures that we give to others are the ones we most enjoy ourselves. Happiness lies in having something to do, something to love and something to hope for. The greatest wisdom is kindness.

December 9, 2018

Pastor Steve’s Blog December 9, 2018 I ran across this story on the internet and found it worthwhile for reflection. So I thought I would share it with you. Blessings, Pastor Steve A men's group at a Baptist church in Georgia decided to give away money as a blessing to the community. About 80 families at the Sandy Valley Baptist Church received envelopes with amounts between $100 and $1,000 with one simple instruction. "Take it home and open it with your family and talk about the ways you can bless someone," CJ Holmes, who headed “Project Multiply,” told Fox News. "One family bought a bunch of blankets and gloves and some fast food gift cards and gave them to homeless people with information on the shelters in town," Holmes said. A couple of people joined their amounts together to help pay medical bills for a member of the church who was going through chemotherapy. Another lady was shopping at a grocery store when she saw a woman with a cart filled with food and supplies. She told her, "You must be feeding an army," and when the woman responded that she was "feeding some homeless and veterans, she offered to use the money to pay for the groceries and then donated her time to the event handing out the food for Thanksgiving. One member tipped their waitress $500. The idea came when Holmes was meeting with 14 other men in his Sandy Valley men's group at church a few weeks ago, and the men independently raised $12,000 and presented it to the congregation the Sunday before Thanksgiving. “We’ve been individually blessed and wanted to lead them in a project to allow us to bless many other people," Holmes said. A lot of families in the church matched the amount they had received and give it to some need in their community, which met the idea the group hoped for of multiplying the initial amount of money. A church in Plano, Texas, handed out a total of $125,000 before Easter Sunday in March with a similar approach, sharing stories from the givers and those who received. “People’s lives have been blessed and that’s all we wanted,” Holmes told 13WMAZ, adding that they plan to make “Project Multiply” a yearly tradition at the church. Caleb Parke is an associate editor for FoxNews.com. You can follow him on Twitter @calebparke

December 2, 2018

Pastor Steve’s Blog December 2, 2018 Today marks the beginning of Advent. Advent, for those that come from outside of mainline churches, marks the beginning of the new church liturgical year. The season of Advent includes the four Sundays prior to Christmas Day. It can be as long as twenty-eight days, if Dec 25 falls on a Sunday or as short as twenty-two days, if December 25 falls on a Monday, making Christmas Eve the fourth Sunday of Advent. In their “Overview on Advent” David Bartlett, Barbara Taylor and Kimberly Long, point out “During the Advent season, the church prepares for the coming of Christ. Even as we make ready for the baby to be born in Bethlehem, the themes and texts explored during Advent take us beyond the birth, and even beyond the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, to a new moment of expectancy as the Day of Christ approaches and the reign of God is made fully manifest.” They go on to explain, “The coming of Advent jolts the church out of Ordinary Time with the invasive news that it is time to think about fresh possibilities for deliverance and human wholeness. Peace is at the heart of the promise born at Advent. It is difficult, however, to set out on the journey without repentance and forgiveness.” At Advent, God’s people summon the courage and the spiritual strength to remember that the holy can and will break into daily life. Let us open our broken hearts to God and to His healing grace and God will lead us to His peace. Advent is not a season of passive waiting and watching, rather it is a season for opening up our lives and letting God fill us with anticipation and renewed hope.

November 25, 2018

Pastor Steve’s Blog November 25, 2018 I WILL DO MORE I will do more than belong, I will participate. I will do more than care, I will help. I will do more than believe, I will practice. I will do more than be fair, I will be kind. I will do more than forgive, I will love. I will do more than earn, I will enrich. I will do more than teach, I will serve. I will do more than be friendly, I will be a friend. I will do more than live, I will grow. Think and pray on this…and then act. Dr. John Bardsley, St Paul’s Evangelical Lutheran Church Sassamansville, PA.

November 18, 2018

Pastor Steve’s Blog November 18, 2018 As Thanksgiving nears Cindy and I want to take this opportunity to give thanks to God for the consistent witness St Paul United Methodist Church has been to the Arlington community for decades. And when I say “consistent witness” I mean you, the people, who have been a part of this church and make St Paul what it is…a warm, accepting and loving congregation. And I might add enjoys a good humorous story. I was reading the meditation for Thanksgiving in “The Upper Room” and thought I would share it with you since I found it spoke to my heart and provided me some perspective and wisdom. The Scripture is I Chronicles 16:34: “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.” The meditation was written by Lisa Braxton of Massachusetts. She writes: “When I saw the email, I braced myself. For nearly a year, I’d sent sample chapters to different publishers, praying that one of them would give me a contract for my novel. But so far I’d gotten only rejections---dozens of them---and this email proved to be another one. A few days later, the publisher of an inspirational anthology accepted an essay I’d written, but I didn’t enjoy the good news. When a friend congratulated me, my response was to complain that the novel had not been accepted. I later realized how ungrateful I was being. I was focusing on what I didn’t have, rather than on God’s blessings. Paul tells us, ‘Always give thanks to God the Father for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Ephesians 5:20 CEB). God had answered my prayer—just not in the way I’d hoped. My essay would be read by hundreds of subscribers of the anthology. For that I am thankful. Sometimes we can become so focused on one particular disappointment that we don’t see the many blessings we receive every day. By being grateful for God’s blessings even in the face of disappointment, we are able to invite peace and joy into our lives and open our hearts to the many more blessings God has in store for us. Prayer: Dear God, give us grateful hearts so we may appreciate the work you do in our lives. Amen.”

November 11, 2018

Pastor Steve’s Blog Nov 11, 2018 Well, it’s official. I am now a veteran after 22 years in the Navy and this is my first Veteran’s Day as a veteran. I must say that it has been and is an adjustment after being on active duty for over two decades. For those veterans who read this blog, I want to personally thank you for your sacrifice on behalf of this great country. Having served, I know the sacrifices you had to make. Your service is greatly appreciated. We are a better country because of you. I know I speak for the entire congregation when I say: “Happy Veteran’s Day!” Let me lift up this Scripture, Micah 4:3 “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruninghooks.” I read a story this week by Chaplain Norman Nygaard when he was serving at the end of WWI. He writes: “I was in France about eight kilometers behind the front lines when WWI stopped. My brother and I took a walk out in the countryside in the Argonne Forest. We came upon a bonfire about two miles out of town, there being no further need for a blackout. The boys around the fire were singing hymns. The chaplain led in prayer, and then gave a short message telling the soldiers what peace could mean. We left that scene of peace and good fellowship with “Blest Be the Tie that Binds” ringing in our ears.” This Veteran’s Day pray for peace and remember those serving at the tip of the spear defending our rights and liberties.

November 4, 2018

Pastor Steve’s Blog Nov 4, 2018 One of the events mainline churches celebrate every year is All Saints Day or All Saints Sunday. We have a tradition in the United Methodist Church of celebrating those saints who have died over the past year since the last All Saints Day or All Saints Sunday. It is also a time to recall the previous loss of a loved one no matter when they passed from this life unto eternal life. All Saints Day or All Saints Sunday is a gift that has been handed down to us from our forefathers in the church. It gives us permission to reconnect once again in a spiritual and affirming way with our loved ones and recall the precious memories they imparted to us along the way, particularly in matters of the faith. I read an online article this week at UMC.org by Joe Iovino entitled: “All Saints Day: A holy day John Wesley loved.” Let me share some of it with you. “John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement, enjoyed and celebrated All Saints Day. In a journal entry from November 1, 1767, Wesley calls it ‘a festival I truly love.’ On that same day in 1788, he writes, ‘I always find this a comfortable day.’ The following year he calls it ‘a day that I peculiarly love….’ From the early days of Christianity, there is a sense that the Church consists of not only all living believers, but also all who have gone before us. For example, in Hebrews 12 the author encourages Christians to remember that a ‘great cloud of witnesses’ surrounds us encouraging us, cheering us on…. Charles Wesley, John’s brother, picks up on this theme in his hymn that appears in our United Methodist hymnal as ‘Come, Let Us Join our Friends Above, #709. In the first verse, he offers a wonderful image of the Church through the ages: ‘Let saints on earth unite to sing, with those to glory gone for all the servants of our King in earth and heaven, are one.’”