Tuesday, March 21, 2023

March 22 - Love, Forgiveness and Gratitude

Love, Forgiveness and Gratitude
By Kerri Ford Jones

Scripture: Colossians 3

Key Verse: Colossians 3:12-15
Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. 13 Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. 14 Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful.

In Colossians 3:12-15, Paul gives us the simplest words with the most potentially complex actions; to both forgive and to love. To be more like Christ, God calls us, his chosen, holy people whom he loves, to first be more loving by showing “tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.”  It sounds so poetic, so inspiring and so easy.  And on surface level it is. At least if we don’t incorporate the second half, to forgive. To “make allowance for each other’s faults and forgive anyone who offends you.”  

When we add the conflict of relationships, the criticism of others, the faults and misunderstandings of those around us, and we are then called to love them anyway—it’s against our sinful nature, at least for most people. Have you ever looked for justification in the scriptures?   My own sinful nature has led me on a hunt to find scriptures to support my irritation, my anger, and or my hurt, but bottom line it’s simple: Love and Forgive.  

Paul doesn’t exactly designate a “How to Love & Forgive in 3 Easy Steps”.  He cautions us with “Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.”  He circles back around to, “Above all, clothe yourselves in love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony.” Love is the beginning of the “How To...”  When our sinful nature is denied reacting, but instead focuses on a loving response, it’s the first step in our own personal journey.  Love and keep loving, and love all the way through until you reach Forgiveness.

Pieta by Michelangelo in St. Peters Basilica in Rome

It's in this process, that Paul tells us about peace.  “And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts.”  He reminds us that we as God’s chosen people, are “members of one body, called to live in peace. And always be thankful.”  This beautiful peace comes through love, forgiveness, and gratitude.  

What I am still learning in my faith-walk is no matter how many times I veer off course; I over-complicate, I rationalize, I pollute these virtues with sin—I have to refocus, and continually re-commit to these simple things of love, forgiveness and gratitude.  It’s in these moments of obedience, that I feel the relief of His perfect peace. 

Tuesday, March 14, 2023

March 15 - Return to the Lord

Return to the Lord
by Rob Stauffer

Scripture: Joel 2:1-17

Key verse: Joel 2: 12-13
"Even now, " declares the Lord, "return to Me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning." Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love.

These few verses from the Prophet Joel are often quoted during the season of Lent--and for good reason. The 40 days of Lent are meant, in large part, to be a time of making our personal relationship with God our top priority; a time of repentance, and a time of turning back to God.

We tend to stray from God and His Word. We find it way too easy to follow our own path and to stray from following His path. And when we stray from His path, it's impossible to grow in our relationship with Him.

"Even now," declares the Lord, "return to me with all your heart..." God wants ALL your heart-100%. He's very aware that we, all too often, give Him only a small percentage of ourselves. It's easy to participate in church service, maybe even be part of a prayer group and attend a Bible study, but it's something else completely to humbly confess our sins and bring a repentant heart to God.

"Rend your heart and not your garments." There's no faking it with God. A repentant heart is the only soil in which a close relationship with God can grow.

God wants you and me to bring "a broken and contrite heart" to Him this Easter.

Maja Lisa Engelhardt (Danish, 1956–), Jesus on the Shore. Altarpiece, Turup Church, Assens, Denmark.

Come, My Light

Come, my Light,
and illumine my darkness.
Come, my Life,
and revive me from death.
Come, my Physician,
and heal my wounds.
Come, Flame of divine love,
and burn up the thorns of my sins,
kindling my heart
with the flame of thy love.

- Dimitrii of Rostov

Tuesday, March 7, 2023

March 8 - Living Sacrifice

Living Sacrifice
by Chuck Zajicek

Scripture: Romans 12:1-8

My all-time favorite scripture for walking the Christian walk, written by the apostle Paul as inspired by the Holy Spirit.

My favorite translation for this passage is J. B. Phillips.  The following paragraph is verses 1 and 2   (there are no verse numbers in Phillips’).
With eyes wide open to the mercies of God, I beg you, my brothers, as an act of intelligent worship, to give him your bodies, as a living sacrifice, consecrated to him and acceptable by him. Don't let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold, but let God re-mold your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity.
Be ever aware of the mercies of God.  Worship God intelligently.  How?  By presenting our bodies, as a living sacrifice, dedicated to Him.  This an acceptable offering to Him.

As believers, what is our relationship to the world system we live in?  I like the image of the world squeezing people into its mold.  We are not to fall into this trap, but instead should let God re-mold our minds from the inside out.  Our minds need re-molding because by the time we are saved, we have already been influenced by the world’s non-Godly view.   I was 20 years old when I accepted Jesus, and to the best of my knowledge, had never been in a church.  My parents did not attend.  My world view was completely changed at the time of salvation.

I like practical, and this will prove, in practice, that God’s plan for us is good and meets His requirements. And not only does it meet His requirements, but it moves us in the direction of true maturity.

Christ of St. John of the Cross
Salvador Dali (1951)

The following paragraph is verses 3-8.

As your spiritual teacher I give this piece of advice to each one of you. Don't cherish exaggerated ideas of yourself or your importance, but try to have a sane estimate of your capabilities by the light of the faith that God has given to you all. For just as you have many members in one physical body and those members differ in their functions, so we, though many in number, compose one body in Christ and are all members of one another. Through the grace of God we have different gifts. If our gift is preaching, let us preach to the limit of our vision. If it is serving others let us concentrate on our service; if it is teaching let us give all we have to our teaching; and if our gift be the stimulating of the faith of others let us set ourselves to it. Let the man who is called to give, give freely; let the man who wields authority think of his responsibility; and let the man who feels sympathy for his fellows act cheerfully.
What is our relationship to the church and fellow believers?  I especially like, “try having a sane estimate of our abilities."  This is so clear, that it needs no comments by me.  I have tried to apply these scriptures to my life, and it has worked well for me.

This is the end on the main part of my devotion.  I am going to add a second passage that has helped me in my walk.
The body of Christ  (the Church)
From Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth.  1 Cor 12:14-27  NIV

Now the body is not made up of one part but of many.  If the foot should say, "Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body.  And if the ear should say, "Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body," it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body.  If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be?  But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be.  If they were all one part, where would the body be?  As it is, there are many parts, but one body.  The eye cannot say to the hand, "I don't need you!" And the head cannot say to the feet, "I don't need you!"  On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable,   But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.  If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it.  Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

As I said above, I like practical. This is such good practical advice.  Not only regarding the church, but in business and all of life.  From the Pastor to the custodian, from the CEO to the bottom of the chain of command, every element is needed for the system to be complete and functioning.

Applying this has worked very well for me, especially in the business world.

I especially like the lyrics to How Firm a Foundation.
vs 1 His excellent Word to lead us.
vs 2 He will strengthen and uphold us.
vs 3 The flames will not hurt us & dross removal
vs 4 He Will never forsake us.

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

March 1 - Search Me - Know Me

Search Me - Know Me
by Brian Groe

Scripture: Psalm 139

Key Verse:
Search me, O God, and know my heart;
    test me and know my anxious thoughts.
Point out anything in me that offends you,
    and lead me along the path of everlasting life.
Psalm 139:23-24

Sometimes reading the Psalms makes me smile.  In several of the Psalms, between one phrase and the next David goes from "Smite them, O Lord!" to "Search me, O God!"  This Psalm is a good example of this type of emotional yo-yo. 

How precious are Your thoughts toward me, O God ... (verse 17)
O God, if only You would destroy the wicked ... (verse 19)
Yes, I hate them with total hatred ... (verse 22)
Search me, O God, and know my heart ... (verse 23).  

CS Lewis in Reflections on the Psalms says:
It is monstrously simple-minded to read the cursings in the Psalms with no feeling except one of horror at the uncharity of the poets. They are indeed devilish. But we must also think of those who made them so. Their hatreds are the reaction to something. Such hatreds are the kind of thing that cruelty and injustice, by a sort of natural law, produce.

One of the things that draws us to the Psalms is the raw emotion that David expresses.  Normally our church going is so constrained that once in a while we want to feel the extreme joy that made David dance before the Lord, or the awe at God's greatness that caused David to fall on his face before the Lord.  We don't expect to have it all thrown at us in the span of one Psalm!

This Psalm is also interesting because of the tension that exists between the opening of this Psalm and the conclusion.  David starts this Psalm by saying that the Lord has examined my heart and knows everything about me. He then spends the next 18 verses contemplating all the various ways that God already knows him.
You know when I stand, and when I sit.  You know my thoughts even when I'm far away.  You know the words I'm going to say even before I say them. 

Where can I go to escape Your presence?  If I ride the wings of the dawn, You are there.  If I go to the depths of the sea, You are there!  Even in darkness I cannot hide from You for the darkness is light for you.

You saw me before I was formed.  You knit me together in my mother's womb.  You have seen my unformed being.  

How precious are your thoughts about me, O God.  They cannot be numbered!
I can’t even count them; they outnumber the grains of sand!
Yet we get to verse 23 and David is pleading: Search me, O God, and know my heart.  Test me and know my anxious thought!  Doesn't God already know?  Hasn't David already acknowledged that God knows him inside and out?  

Michelangelo - Sistene Chapel Fresco
God straining to reach out to Adam.
Adam casually reaching back to God.

It is one thing to know that God exists, and acknowledge that God knows me.  Paul says in Romans 1:20 For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God. In the first section of this Psalm, David is acknowledging who God is.  

It is another thing entirely to know God.  Not just know who He is, but have a relationship with Him.  David is demonstrating this here.  He knows who God is, and what God does.  Finally in verse 23 David throws the door of his heart open to God, and says that he wants to know God as God knows all about him.  Lead me along the path of eternal life.  David wants to walk with God the paths of eternal life.  

Many authors say that this is what Jesus meant in the Beatitudes when He said "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God."  Being pure in heart means that I am walking honestly with God, admitting my failings, my sinfulness, my nature while recognizing that God knows everything about me already.  Consciously and purposely opening myself up to God without any hint of hiding.  Taking God's hand as He leads me in paths of righteousness that will lead to eternal life.  

Even a cursory reading of the Psalms will show that for David this was not a "once-for-all" decision that he made.  Instead we see in many of the Psalms that David makes a similar decision to turn to God over and over again (see for example Psalm 22, 25 and 51).  How many times do I need to turn from my sinful and prideful ways, and invite God into my life to forgive, heal and guide me back to His ways?   How thankful I am that God always hears my plea, and has mercy on me.

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life. Amen

This is a beautiful piece by Samuel Barber called Agnus Dei (Lamb of God).  The text is in Latin so I have included the translation of the lyrics:

Latin                                            English 
Agnus Dei                                    The Lamb of God
Agnus Dei,                                   The Lamb of God,
Qui tollis peccata mundi,             Who took the sins of the world,
Miserere nobis.                             Have mercy upon us.
Agnus Dei,                                    The Lamb of God,
Qui tollis peccata mundi,              Who took the sins of the world,
Miserere nobis.                              Have mercy upon us.
Agnus Dei,                                    The Lamb of God,
Qui tollis peccata mundi,              Who took the sins of the world,
Dona nobis pacem.                        Grant us peace.

Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Feb 22 - Ash Wednesday

What is Lent?
by Lori Wheeler

Scripture Reading: Matthew 4:1-11

Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted there by the devil. For forty days and forty nights he fasted and became very hungry.  Matthew 4:1-2

As we prepare to observe Lent as a body of believers, we are once again going to be publishing a series of Devotions written by several people from within our church. At Christmas, we had the opportunity to learn so much about God’s Word and how He can speak through others during their times of meditation on His Word. Preparing for Lent and getting the most out of this special time gives us an opportunity to experience an even deeper love for God. As with Advent, it is important that we understand what Lent truly is. How does it apply to our lives, and ultimately deepen our relationship with Him?

First- let's begin with what Lent actually is. As United Methodists, we believe that Lent is a time of repentance, fasting and preparation for the coming of Easter. It is a time of self-examination and reflection. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and continues for 40 days, excluding Sundays, ending on Holy Saturday. Holy Saturday is the day before Easter.

It is possible to look up creative ways to observe Lent, but as you begin to truly meditate on how you can purposefully observe this time, I want to encourage you to allow the Holy Spirit to speak to your heart. During meditation on His Word and your personal prayer time, God will begin to reveal the potential for a deeper connection with Him. How CAN we self-examine and reflect? Do we really want to? Can we look closely at repentance? Repentance for what? Can we choose something truly difficult to fast for 40 days? Can we lean on Him to control maybe anger, addiction, time management, relationship battles...? And- what keeps us from spending quiet time reading His Word? What if...what if when we do, He begins to speak to our hearts truths that may seem difficult? Looking at the things that separate us from God or keep us from spending time with Him are very personal, and that’s why it’s important for us to truly seek Him and His will as we prepare for Lent; rather than entering into this season reluctantly or half-heartedly, we should allow Him to show us things we can give up that truly will allow us to reflect and that will deepen our relationship with Him.

Some will tell you to do something extra or take on something extra during Lent like feeding or helping others, scheduling time to visit shut-ins, increasing your tithes, practicing kindness, and every one of those things are truly Godly things to do, but I would like to challenge you to do those things in addition to a true fast. Because I truly believe that there is something each and every one of us can abstain from that will draw us closer to God, something that will allow us to look to Him for strength and decrease the things that keep us from spending quality time with Him. After all, that’s what Jesus did in Matthew 4.

In the beginning of Matthew 4, the first 11 verses, Jesus is tempted by Satan in the wilderness. As I began reading and studying these verses to prepare for this devotion, my first question was, why was Jesus in the wilderness? He had just been baptized and His Father’s voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were present, all at one time. And then the Scripture says that Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for a period of 40 days and 40 nights. It then says He was hungry. Hunger can often be a desire for much more than food. We can also hunger for control, power, “things”, position, and so much more. We are told that the devil tempted Jesus by appealing to his physical hunger but also to his position and faith, and what he mistakenly projected onto Jesus, a potential human desire for power and control. Satan twisted God’s words to appeal to Jesus, but Jesus continued to remain obedient to His heavenly Father. Jesus listened but didn’t entertain the offerings of the enemy. He resisted the devil and used God’s words to send him fleeing. He chose His words so carefully, but so did the enemy. The enemy was so careful to try to choose offerings that would appeal to the human ego, but Jesus chose words that would emphasize the truths of God. When I’m faced with temptation, I want to be able to respond as Jesus did, but I can only emphasize the truths of God if I know them, and the season of Lent offers the perfect opportunity for growing in that area.  

The Temptations of Christ

So why did Jesus retreat to the wilderness? He was led by the Spirit to do so. He had had an encounter with His Father in one of the rarest moments recorded of the Trinity as One. A moment when God himself spoke, “with him I am well pleased.” A moment of perfection shortly before Jesus was to begin His ministry and begin to call others in to prepare for what we celebrate as Easter. And as I opened His Word to meditate for this devotion, He truly illuminated this text and that brought with it such a deep desire to serve better, to study with purpose, to seek His presence even more, and to glean His will in my life. This year, I feel He is calling me to a wilderness encounter of sorts, to separate myself from other distractions and intentionally set aside time just for God, and possibly even a battle with those things that I know are preventing me from being a more purposeful and prepared vessel that can lean on God to go through times of struggle.  If these verses don’t speak to anyone else, they certainly spoke to me. Deciding whether to participate in Lent, for the right reasons, is so important, and I think He really showed that to me during my meditations. It is not something to take lightly or choose something that really isn’t a challenge to commit to. For me this year, I feel convicted to choose in a way that will not only free up time to spend with God, but to have a need for Him to help me stay true to that commitment as I repent, self-examine and reflect.

Will you join me?


We hope that you enjoy the following selection titled New Wine by  Brooke Ligertwood

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Feb 15 - A Note From the Administrator

Holiday Devotional Blog
By Brian Groe - Site Administrator

We received such a wonderful response from our Advent Blog that the church staff has decided to do something similar for Lent.  (You could say that we are a victim of our own success!)  

Next Wednesday, February 22 is Ash Wednesday which begins the 40 day celebration of Lent.  Unlike Advent (which is 28 days) we are not going to try to do a devotion every day of Lent.  Instead we will have a devotion each week on Wednesday.  Then during Holy Week (from Palm Sunday, April 2 until Easter Sunday on April 9) there will be a devotion each day.  Once again Bambi Wheeler is coordinating members of our church to submit the devotions over the next few weeks.

We will use the same blogspot address with associated email list (fumc-wp-advent.blogspot.com/).  So when you see the term Advent in the name, just think Holy Holiday Season instead.  If you do not wish to receive these emails, there is a way to unsubscribe at the bottom of the email.

The format of the devotion will remain very similar.  Either the author or I will include artwork appropriate to the theme of the devotion. 

The Sacrificial Lamb by Josefa de Ayala (ca 1670-1684)

There will also be some type of musical selection included with each devotion.  As an example I have included a link to the Brahms How Lovely is Thy Dwelling for your enjoyment.

We hope that you will enjoy these Lent Devotions.  If you would like to volunteer to do a devotion, please contact Bambi at the church office.  

Sincerely - Brian

Saturday, December 24, 2022

Dec 25 - Music Filled the Air

Music Filled the Air
Sunday, December 25, 2022
by Brian Groe

I know that we said this would be an Advent Blog, but since it is Christmas Day I wanted to add one more post as a farewell to Advent for 2022.  

I have really enjoyed selecting music for the blog over the last month, and there were a few more choral pieces that I wasn't able to get included into the daily devotions.  These are all pieces that are traditionally done during the Christmas Season, and ones that Diana and I have performed in the past as part of choirs.  I hope that you enjoy these pieces as much as we do.

First from The Messiah.  There are so many rich and treasured songs that we remember and sing during this season.  For Unto Us a Child is Born is one of the most memorable.  

If you want to hear the entire Messiah, please click HERE.  This video presents all 3 sections of The Messiah (about 2.5 hours), and when I played it there were no commercial interruptions.  It is worth listening to the end to hear Worthy is the Lamb and the final Amen chorus.

I love singing choral music from Russian composers.  They really know how to write a bass line!  Salvation is Created by Pavel Chesnokov is a beautiful piece that both Diana and I have enjoyed singing in the past.

A few years ago, the Community Choir did the Pinkham Mass with David Hall.  Diana and I have sung this mass a couple of times, and it has always been a challenge, but it was a joy to sing it with David.  Here is the Gloria In Excelsis Deo

Randall Thompson's Alleluia is a wonderful expression of praise and joy.  As we celebrate this wonderful Christmas season, may we all raise our hands to say Alleluia.

Let me end this with one of my favorite Christmas hymns, In the Bleak Midwinter by Gustav Holst.  What can I give Him poor as I am?  What I can I give Him, give my heart.

I hope you have enjoyed these songs.  Thank you all for your support over the last month.  We would love to hear your comments about this effort.  You will find the comment box at the bottom of this post.  

May God richly bless each and every one of you in the coming year!