Written on the Heart
I was saddened recently to hear of the death of Fred Craddock, a renowned preacher and teacher from whom I once had the privilege of learning a bit of wisdom. Rev. Craddock was a master story-teller and someone who revolutionized the art of preaching and influenced entire generations that have followed him in the pulpits of this nation. Since his death, I've gone back to read some of his sermons that have been published, and I can still hear his voice speaking those masterful words.
In reading his words, I am convicted of two things. First, I am reminded of the awesome power of mere words and their ability to inspire, to motivate, to comfort, and to cut to the heart. No wonder it is that God could create our world through speaking just a few words. Second, I realize that I do not read nearly enough Scripture. In Rev. Craddock's sermons, the words of Scripture are not just the basis of his sermons from which he draws points; they are the very words of his sermons. Scripture is so deeply rooted in his way of thinking and of speaking that the images and phrases of the Bible seem to flow naturally from his mouth. How much he must have read before his mind and tongue were molded to the words he read! You find the same thing in the writings of John Wesley, the founder of Methodism. His language was not just English but also the language of the Bible - its images, its thoughts, its phrases, its very essence. For both men, Scripture was much more than simply something to be quoted by chapter and verse as deemed applicable. The words of the Bible had become something written onto their hearts and indeed as much of a part of who they were as anything else in their lives. I wonder if that is not even more of the point of our reading the Bible than studying and trying to discern its life application today. How much is Scripture a part of who we are? How much has it shaped and formed how we speak, how we think, how we act, who we are at our core? For myself, I can say that I need read more Scripture simply for the sake of the joy of reading it.
Blessings on the journey,
Faith Facts: Why Easter Eggs?
Why do we color eggs for Easter? First of all, boiled eggs likely came to be a part of Easter traditions because of fasting during the season of Lent. Rich foods, like eggs, dairy, and sugar, were commonly given up as a part of the fast. For this reason, all the eggs, butter, and sugar were used up before the season started to keep them from spoiling. This led to the celebration of Shrove or Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras) before Ash Wednesday with foods like pancakes. During the season of Lent, of course, chickens would continue to lay eggs. To keep them from spoiling before the fast ended at Easter, the eggs were boiled. With several weeks' worth to use up, boiled eggs became a staple for many dishes served around Easter time.
In the early church, these eggs were often dyed red to symbolize the blood of Jesus Christ shed on the cross. Legends grew up around this tradition. In one, Mary Magdalene had a basket of boiled eggs for the women to eat on Easter morning as they went to Jesus' tomb. As they came close, the eggs miraculously turned red. In another, Mary Magdalene visited the Roman emperor years later to share the message of Jesus' Resurrection. She had in her hand an egg. The emperor, always a skeptic, said, "Christ is no more risen than that egg is red." At that moment, the egg turned red. While they are likely no more than legends, these stories connect our tradition of coloring eggs to the great truth of Easter: Jesus Christ is risen - what a beautiful and miraculous sight!
Living in Community
Teamwork or Star Power?
This week, the spring soccer season starts up, and the team Zach plays for actually starts its practices tonight... oh yeah, the team I'm coaching. I don't even remember how many seasons I've coached now. How a guy like me with minimal soccer skills and no experience playing soccer as a kid wound up as a coach for this long - well, that's a story for another day. Let's just say God has a good sense of humor and a way of humbling us.
I have come to enjoy coaching the kids and encouraging them to have fun, to grow, and to do their best. At the beginning of the season, I sit here and wonder what kind of team we will have this year. Will it be a team with a lot of individual talent and skill that struggles because it is short on unselfish teamwork? Will it be an average team that steadily grows in their ability to work together through anticipating where the others will be and trusting their teammates to do their job? Will they become a team that can take on the undefeated league leaders in the last game of the season and pull off the upset through teamwork rather than star power? Yes, this really did happen one season. The kids knew they were underdogs going into the game, and I could tell they were skeptical about the chances I told them that teamwork had in the face of a more skilled opponent. Despite falling behind early, they did not give up on each other, and they eventually came back. It was amazing to see them as they started to believe in teamwork. Win or lose, they truly could do anything through teamwork.
How do we at Port Church work as a team? Do we rely on a few "stars" with lots of gifts, time, and money to keep everything going? Do we work together to overcome the insurmountable challenges we face and to make God's big dreams for us come to fruition? If we are like most churches, I imagine it is a little bit of both. Some ministries survive because of the individual work of a small group of people, and others thrive beyond our expectations because of the teamwork of the church as a whole. I pray that, as we work together in ministry, we may all have fun, grow, and do our best in the name of Jesus Christ!
Blessings on the journey,
Faith Facts: What is Holy Week anyway?
Holy Week is the last week of Lent. It begins with Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter - this Sunday, and continues until Easter Sunday. Palm Sunday recounts Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem upon the back of a donkey’s colt the week of his death (Mark 11). The people waved palm branches as he passed and cheered, “Hosanna! Hosanna!” meaning “Save now!” We often celebrate Palm Sunday by waving palm branches of our own in praise of Jesus.
The Passion narrative is continued with Maundy Thursday. This day’s worship focuses on the events of the last meal Jesus had with his disciples on the night before his crucifixion (John 13, Mark 14). The day gets its name from the Latin mandatus, “commandment,” because Jesus gave the disciples the commandment that they should love one another at that meal. We remember how Jesus washed the feet of his disciples as a servant and shared a meal that we now continue in the sacrament of Holy Communion. A Maundy Thursday service is traditionally concluded by removing all decorative things from the sanctuary—paraments, candles, etc.—as a solemn symbol of Christ’s exit from the world.
Good Friday is the observance of the Crucifixion of Christ. The traditional color for this day is black, the color of mourning. On Good Friday, we retell the story of the Passion. We hear of the struggles of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. We listen to the story of his trials, remembering that the same ones who shouted “Hosanna!” on Palm Sunday were the ones who shouted “Crucify him!” on Friday. We hear of his journey to Golgotha and his death upon the cross there. We are called to remember how we have participated in Christ’s crucifixion. Holy Saturday is the day that Jesus remained in the tomb. It is a day of lost hope.
Living in Community
If there is one thing I have learned about Port Church over the last nine months, it is that we certainly know how to dream big - a VBS three times as big (counting kids and volunteers) as our Sunday morning worship, a free meal for the community twenty times a year, supplying many of the extra needs at South River Elementary, and offering a quarter yard sale to help folks out with the necessities of clothing to name just a few. In fact, our dreams are often bigger than we are, and so we have to rely on the help of others to help us see them through. This is exactly what we do with VBS as we invite folks from other churches and our community to be a part of what God is doing here.
This is the point, though. These dreams are bigger than us because they're not just about us. There's more to our dreams than keeping our doors open and making ourselves comfortable so that our church will survive just as it is. These dreams are about reaching out beyond our building and spreading the good news of Jesus Christ in a bold way so that our church will serve and thrive just as God wants it to become. These dreams are bigger than we are because they are God's dream for our church and our community, and God has great plans for us all - plans greater than anything we could dream on our own.
While it is exciting to be a part of such a large dream as God has given us, it can also be daunting. How can we possibly find enough resources - people, time, money, talents, gifts - to fulfill God's vision and keep everything going? How can we think about growing our ministry when there is always an unexpected maintenance cost around the corner, not enough volunteers to do all the tasks we already have, and so little spare time as it is? Many days, these questions fill my thoughts. I have come to believe that the answer lies in faithfulness - both our faithfulness to God and the big dreams entrusted to us and God's faithfulness to us. Through God's power and our faithfulness, we can continue to live into the vision God has set before us.
May the Spirit continue to challenge and strengthen each of us to fulfill God's dream that is bigger than us all! Dare to dream big!
Blessings on the journey,
Worship This Week: Unforgivable
We finish up our Lenten series "Sin" this Sunday by looking at whether we really can be forgiven of everything we do wrong. Is there anything that is unforgivable? What does Jesus mean when he said that it is unforgivable to blaspheme against the Holy Spirit? If I've ever said something against God, especially the Spirit, can I ever be forgiven? Join us as we explore whether there are limits to how far God will go to forgive us.
Faith Facts: What's in a Name? Part 2
In 1968, the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren joined to form The United Methodist Church. Over two hundred years before, in 1767, a Mennonite farmer named Martin Boehm was preaching at a revival at a Pennsylvania farm. Phillip Otterbein, a Reformed minister who was in attendance, heard his message and recognized a kindred heart and spirit. Although the men were of different denominational and theological backgrounds, Otterbein approached Boehm, shook his hand, and declared in German, "Wir sind Bruder!" - that is, "We are brethren!" The two men began to work together and eventually became friends with Francis Asbury, one of the first Methodist bishops. In 1800, Otterbein and Boehm formed the United Brethren in Christ, a forerunner of the Evangelical United Brethren based on an adaptation of the Methodist theology and church structure. The "United" in The United Methodist Church comes from that sense of unity and brotherhood that Otterbein and Boehm felt despite their differences. May we always live up to the spirit of their unity no matter what differences we may have.
Living in Community
The Promise of Spring
It is hard not to be excited by the warm (downright hot compared to February) weather we are seeing today and that the forecasters promise us for the foreseeable future. After all the cold and the layer of snow after snow, the white is melting away to reveal the first signs of the beautiful greens of spring that replace winter's brown. In another month, Easter will be here, and we will be in the throes of spring flowers and budding trees.
That is promise of the Resurrection! Where there is barrenness and lifelessness, God can bring forth new life. Just as God renews the earth each spring with the beauty of blossoms, new leaves, and buzzing bees and floating butterflies, God renews our lives, bringing forth fruit where there was only emptiness, shining forth hope where there was only despair, and promising new, abundant life where there was only death.
Praise be to God for the promise of spring and Easter while we sit in the midst of melting snow and Lent!
Blessings on the journey,
Worship This Week: Sin - Forgiven
We have all done things we have known were wrong, and we know the guilt, shame, and fear that we carry because of the weight of those sins. Is there anything that can relieve us of that burden? We know how hard it is to forgive someone who has wronged and hurt us deeply and repeatedly. Does God really forgive us so freely and easily? This Sunday in worship, we will look at the forgiveness of sin that God offers through Jesus Christ and what God expects of us in return. Join the community of forgiveness as we talk about what it means to be Forgiven!
Devotionals by Email: Upper Room and Daily Bread
Daily devotionals can be an important part of our faith lives that help us to keep our focus in the right place throughout the week, but sometimes it can be hard to get in the habit or to find the time when our booklets are near. Having a devotional emailed to you each day can serve as a reminder and help you find the time when you are out and about and have a few moments to spare. Both the Upper Room and Our Daily Bread offer free email devotionals - the same ones found in their booklets. All you have to do is sign-up with your email address at the Upper Room or Our Daily Bread sites!
Faith Facts: What's in a Name?
Have you ever wondered why our church is called "Methodist"? When John and Charles Wesley, the founders of Methodism, were studying at Oxford University in the 1730's, they wanted more from their faith. They formed a group that they called the "Holy Club" to help them focus on both their personal faith and their acts of kindness and mercy to the poor and the imprisoned. Because of the strict methods they practiced to grow in faith, others teasingly nicknamed them the "Methodists." John Wesley eventually took this attempt to poke fun at those who were serious about their faith and made it a name of honor as he addressed them as "the people called Methodists." What had been intended for evil was used for the good as Methodism became a movement that would transform millions of lives (see Genesis 50:20).
Living in Community
Please continue your prayers for our Confirmation Class as they wrestle with questions of what our faith means for our lives.
Give thanks for our Trustees and the hard work they do to keep all of our facilities in good condition - Davida, Bob, Kerry, Jennifer, Randy, Keith, Perry, David, and Lauren.
News and Updates
Find out what is going on at Port Republic UMC this week and in weeks to come!
8525 Water Street
PO Box 116
Port Republic, VA 24471