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Weekend of Service Update!

T-Shirts are here. If you are able, please stop by the church today (Thursday 8/20) or tomorrow (Friday 8/21) and pick up your T-shirts. Contributions toward the cost of the T-shirts is voluntary. We suggest a donation of $8.00 per T-shirt for adults and $5.00 for children. There are extra T-Shirts in case you forgot to order one.

Service Projects – We need more individuals for the Brethren Woods project. The team will stain the deck of the new building at Brethren Woods. Depending on the size of the team and time, additional projects include wood cutting and splitting, pressure washing, cleaning, and tree trimming. Supplies for the project are provided. The Trailer Park project will not be held due to a lack of sign-ups. We are still in need of Lollipops, paint brushes, bottled water and a cooler on wheels.

Bike-A-Thon – Friday night from 6:00 to 8:30 p.m. Come support our bikers and donate to help Chloe Fuller, a young girl who has leukemia and who attended our Praize Kidz. Heidi still needs volunteers for the event as well as refreshments. Plan to stay afterwards to fellowship around our camp fire.

Camping tents and equipment can be set up any time during the afternoon of Friday, August 21.

Wear your T-Shirt! And arrive at the church by 8:30 a.m. on Saturday for prayer and commissioning, and to join your project teams. Bring a bag lunch, wear appropriate clothing, a hat, and sun screen.

Consider sharing the event with friends by logging on to Facebook, Instagram and Twitter using the Hashtag #LoveServeRepeat or follow us Harrisonburg First COB. There will be persons available Friday night to help you set up your smartphones if this is new for you! So don’t let that be your excuse! What a great way to share our faith.

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.

 

 

 

Why I want to be a player in the cosmic drama

In the midst of teetering economies, droughts in Africa, and the grief stricken city of Oslo, we may wonder how we as Christians can contribute anything of significance in God’s cosmic plans for the earth. How can Pastor Harry’s suggestion of focusing 400 hours even begin to make a dent? And yet, I am reminded time and time again through scripture that this great God we serve, the very God who stretched the stars across the heavens, chooses to include us in his plans and purposes. Nestled in the opening verses of John 1, in tandem with the creation account and the coming of the Messiah, we find a poignant example of this powerful truth.

Based on outward appearances, he doesn’t seem like a voice that anyone would listen to… this John, with camel skins on… preaching alone in some remote Judean wilderness. Yet, somehow, he has tuned in on the movement of God in his day, and by the prompting of the Spirit has begun pointing others toward the coming of the long awaited Messiah. There are others as well, such as Rahab, who in spite of being a prostitute and a pagan, was able to hone in on the Spirit of God at work in the spies that came to her village. Or, Queen Esther, who through the prompting of her uncle, recognized that God had placed her in that very place to intervene on God’s behalf and save an entire people. Come to think of it, the great players in the Biblical story were all asking how their seemingly insignificant lives could intersect and contribute to the unfolding cosmic plans of God in their times.

I wonder how many of God’s people are asking the questions of how their unique lives could intersect with God’s cosmic purposes? I fear that most of our North American Christianity asks different kinds of questions; questions of personal growth, self – fulfillment, spiritual satisfaction, etc. Our defining question is focused more on how we can get ahead spiritually… a fusion of our North American culture and religious expression. Our worship services are riddled with how our spiritual needs and preferences will be met and our Christian book stores chocked full of self-help books.

I long to be involved with the movement of God in my time… I long for my life to intersect with God’s plan of bringing healing and hope to the world. I believe the world is tired of hearing our religious arguments… I believe that the church is still divided by dissentions and factions that render us ineffective and drain us of our creative energy and potential that God wants to use. The world is literally starving for the people of God to rise up from the ashes and demonstrate that the power, love and healing of God is still at work even in the most difficult times and the most remote places.


It begins with us selflessly asking God how we can intersect with what HE IS DOING and joining… even if it seems insignificant. Eugene Peterson in his devotional book, “A Year with Jesus” invites us to pray in this way:

“By your Word, God, the heavens were created; and by that same word I am addressed. What is going on in the heavens and in my home are equally your interest. Make the connection in my faith between your grand purposes and your specific involvement in my life. Amen.”

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

the inspiration of others

There are moments in our lives when God uses people to inspire us and till up some of the hard soil in order to prepare us for the new growth that he is bringing about. I will never forget attending a recent homecoming event at Eastern Mennonite University and hearing the recipient of the Distinguished Service Award tell her story.

Nadine Brunk, after the prodding of doctors and friends, took an unexpected medical mission trip to Haiti. While there, the suffering of Haitian women during childbirth moved her deeply. Nadine shared a pretty staggering description of truck loads of newborns and mothers that die each week due lack of resources such as prenatal vitamins, medication for worms, antibiotics and training; specifically the training that she had. She was deeply moved with compassion for her Haitian sisters and instead of returning back to the states and settling back into her routine, she dared to ask God the question, what is you invitation to me  with the unique gifts that you have given me in this oppressive situation?

She continued to sit with the enormity of the problem, the intense pain and suffering of the women and their unborn babies. She allowed the unsettledness she experienced to open her more deeply to what God might be calling her to.

Read more

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

telling a new story…

Yesterday’s sermon on being an inspirational you really struck a chord with me. Harry spoke about the Genesis account of God breathing life into the dust and making humans. God made something out of nothing.

I am reading through the book of Exodus right now so I found myself reflecting on Moses. Moses was an insecure, stuttering, murder whose parents had given him away to be raised by complete strangers. He really didn’t have a great future ahead of him and he certainly wasn’t our stereo typical ideal church leader.

But… God in his mercy and grace chose to inspire Moses. He breathed life into Moses and made someone who seemed destined to be a failure into someone wonderful. God gave Moses everything he needed to be successful! Moses became a selfless leader who led Israel out of destruction, slavery and a dismal story into promised freedom giving all of the children of Israel a chance to tell a better story. There are few leaders that have ever been as great as Moses.

It strikes me that God is in the business of redeeming people and he invites us to practice this as well. Unfortunately, the church seems to fumble with this call, especially the Mennonite Church, which I love dearly. Read more

It takes some effort to frame our days…

Like Jacob… we can take the time to re-frame our days. Just has he stopped before moving into Egypt to honor God and offer himself to God, we too can take time to do that.

There are many ways to frame our days that have been passed down throughout the history of Christianity. Morning and Evening prayers, the Examen, the Daily Office, the practice of centering prayer are just a few.

I find it helpful to begin my day with reading scripture and then move into a time of centering prayer. I find that it re-frames my entire day. I tend to see things that happen throughout the day with spirit eyes… which is a good thing. I find that if I begin the day centered in God’s presence I have a much better chance of staying centered!

I was never good at praying out loud for any length of time growing up. Read more

sometimes it is just hard to see

Sometimes it is hard for me to see this God reality… especially when I am keenly aware of the war and violence that is currently happening in Egypt. Or, when I am aware of the suffering and unexplained tragedies and illnesses that my church community experiences. Violence, crime, murder is very present in my living room when I watch the morning news… I do wonder, where is this God reality? How can I see? Sometimes it is not as tragic as that… sometimes it is as simple as my own self-consciousness and inhibitions that keep me from seeing the God sightings.

And yet, God is patient with me. He leaves me little signs… hints of his presence all around.

Blogging about Elisha’s  prayer to see beyond the present circumstances into the reality of God’s presence   kind of stayed with me the rest of the day. Shortly after posting that entry, I had lunch with a group of some of our church members who live in a retirement community. We reminisced about a lot of things. How we have experienced God’s presence when we can’t sleep, ways that we can be more playful, change… especially changes that involve the telephone and technology and change that involves their bodies… some good changes and some hard changes. We acknowledged that sometimes it is hard to look beyond our circumstances to see how God is in that too.

One of the group members who is currently under hospice care and is thinking about the changes she is experiencing spoke up, “It is hard for me to think about the future… when I close my eyes… I don’t see anything.” A moment of sacred silence slipped by and there I was with Elisha’s prayer. I told her that I would pray Elisha’s prayer for her, that God would open her eyes to see the spiritual places beyond her circumstances… just as he had done for Jacob and the ladder from heaven in an ordinary field… just as he had done for Elisha’s servant who even though he was surrounded by an army and possible death, God opened his eyes to see the heavenly chariots of fire that were present as well. Our eyes met for a second… and I knew by the softening in her eyes that it is was a good thing to pray for… A quiet nod of acceptance. It is hard sometimes to see the heavenly in our all too real earthly bodies… this is a thing that only God can do.

“O God, quicken to life every power within me, that I may lay hold on eternal things. Open my eyes that I may see; give me acute spiritual perception; enable me to taste Thee and know that Thou art good. Make heaven more real to me than any earthly thing has ever been. Amen” A.W. Tozer -The Pursuit of God

Help my eyes to see

Another cup of coffee and another invitation from God today… I am beginning to see beyond circumstances and recognize just how hard God works at getting through to this overly intellectual, worrisome head of mine! Today’s reading of A.W. Tozer sparked more thoughts on last weeks post, “Are there ladders in your life“. Tozer writes, “The soul has eyes with which to see and ears with which to hear. Feeble they may be from long disuse, but by the life-giving touch of Christ alive now and capable of sharpest sight and most sensitive hearing.”

Tozer speaks to what we as a culture and society have accepted as reality. Things that are concrete, that we can touch, are for that very reason are perceived as reality. However, he challenges us to see that the spiritual realm, the things of God, are just as real. Our ability to perceive them is also as real. The problem is that most of us are out of shape or too cynical… Read more