The Foundation of Our Faith

By Pastor Wes Poole

Micah 6:8
8 He has told you, O mortal, what is good;
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
    and to walk humbly with your God? NRSV

Neil Marten, a member of the British Parliament, was once giving a group of his constituents a guided tour of the Houses of Parliament. During the course of the visit, the group happened to meet Lord Hailsham, then lord chancellor, wearing all the regalia of his office. Hailsham recognized Marten among the group and cried, “Neil!” Not daring to question or disobey the “command,” the entire band of visitors promptly fell to their knees!

This past Sunday we were able to offer our first in person worship service since the pandemic lock down began. It was wonderful to see many of you again, especially after barely getting to know most of you! Thanks to skillful leadership here in our commonwealth, and in this congregation, we have progressed to the point where we are now able to have a modicum of normalcy return to our church family. It should go without saying that I am profoundly thankful for such a blessing. Reflecting on this further, I found myself thinking about those who were not able to be there. I felt like it needed to be said, and probably from me, that if you still don’t feel comfortable coming out and interacting even with a socially distanced gathering, that it’s OK. We all have different needs and different issues. If your life’s situation compels you to wait a bit longer before venturing out to worship at Good Shepherd, then not only do I understand, I truly respect your decision to care for yourself and those around you. In other words, returning to in person worship is a blessing to be sure, but it is not a requirement or command. Scripture contains many commands from God and Our Lord Jesus, but risking life and health for Sunday worship is not one of them.

At a time such as this, I feel it important to pay close attention to the essentials and fundamentals of our faith. Thus, the Micah quote above, possibly my single favorite passage in the Bible, spoke to me again, as it has so many times in my personal journey of faith. If you think about it, Jesus’ words in Mark 12 and Luke 10, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself” is just another way to say “Be kind and just with one another, and love God.” THAT is the core, the very essence of the faith we share. Those are transcendent truths that we can carry with us no matter where we are or what our personal circumstances may be. Our Lord’s call to ministry is meant to be practiced out there in the “real world”. As has been said many times, we are the Church wherever we are. So if I see you some Sunday in the not too distant future, thanks be to God! If I don’t, then thanks be to God for keeping you safe and well!

Let us pray…
God of all healing and wholeness, we thank you for the blessing of being able to gather together, once again, to worship you and praise your Holy Name. We pray that you pour your Holy Spirit upon all the members of your Church, whether gathered together or sheltered at home. Strengthen our resolve to practice the essentials of our faith; that we may always do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with you. We ask these things in the name of Jesus, the Living Christ. Amen.

Be well, be kind, and be safe, my friends. I give thanks for each of you, and the unity we share in Christ, wherever we are!

Blessings always,
Pastor Wes †

The Blessedness of Unity

by Pastor Wes Poole

Psalm 133
A Song of Ascents.
1 How very good and pleasant it is 
when kindred live together in unity!
2 It is like the precious oil on the head,    
running down upon the beard,
on the beard of Aaron,    
running down over the collar of his robes.
3 It is like the dew of Hermon,    
which falls on the mountains of Zion.
For there the Lord ordained his blessing,   
life forevermore.

Well my friends, the day for which we’ve been waiting so patiently is almost upon us! This coming Sunday, we will gather again at 8:30 and 11AM to worship God and enjoy fellowship with our church family. While it may not look or sound exactly as what we’re used to, it will, as the Psalmist tells us, be good to be together in unity. We are always the Church, regardless of where or how we worship, but there is no denying that the return of some measure of normalcy will be most welcome. On a personal note, I want to express my heartfelt thanks to all of you for your patience and support during this time. We’re not out of the woods yet, but thanks to our concerted efforts; complying with the common sense safety measures set by commonwealth officials, we have made progress sufficient to be able to gather again. Let us use this opportunity to renew our commitment to keeping each other safe and helping to meet the needs of our neighbors. There is still a lot of work to be done. Feeding the hungry, taking a stand against racism and discrimination, welcoming the stranger and equipping the faithful for ministry, telling the Story of Jesus and love through deeds and words…these are always on the “to do” list for the Church. Regardless of how we worship, that list will not change. Let us all give thanks to Almighty God for helping us to get to this place. Trusting in God’s never failing presence; we will meet the challenges ahead. We are Our Lord’s hands in this world that needs to hear the Story we have to tell. United together in unity as the Body of Christ, we hear Jesus’ command to care for one another, and will continue to make a positive impact on our community.

Let us pray…
God of all goodness, we give you thanks for keeping us safe during these truly difficult times. We know that everyone has not been as fortunate, and we ask you to make us ever stronger in our commitment to serving our neighbor. Help us to see the face of Jesus in our brothers and sisters everywhere, regardless of race, creed, or anything else that would separate us from you and each other. We know that you love all of your children equally, and would have us do the same. Make us truly instruments of your Peace. We ask these things in the name of Jesus, the Christ. Amen.

Be well, be kind, and be safe. See you soon!
Blessings always,
Pastor Wes Poole†

The Persistence of Faith

By Pastor Wes Poole

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely,[a] and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, 2 looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of[b] the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-2 NRSV

Perseverance, persistence, conviction, “sticktoitiveness”, the proverbial “stiff upper lip” and Keep Calm and Carry On, as the Brits might say. All of these things have been required of us lately, whether we wanted them or not. At this point, we have spent a full quarter of 2020 locked down and/or quarantined in some way. This has required a great deal of sacrifice and commitment from all of us, not to mention patience! We haven’t been able to gather or worship as we would normally. We’ve had to physically distance ourselves from many of our friends and loved ones. Yet we know that it is what was required of us a community. Regard for neighbor and concern for his or her well being is at the heart of the Christian Vocation. To everyone who has taken this responsibility so seriously and without excessive complaining, (I mean, we’ve probably all complained a little!) let me express my heartfelt thanks and personal admiration. We’re getting through this as a family of faith and I am grateful beyond words that I have been able to be a part of the Good Shepherd community through these trying times. Take heart, our efforts have not been in vain! The numbers are looking somewhat better. As long as we keep the health and safety of our neighbors as a top priority, I am convinced that we will be able to regain some sense of normalcy again. We still have a long road ahead; truly a “race that is set before us”, but trusting in Jesus, we will emerge on the other side as a stronger and even more caring community.
We are in the process of determining when and how we can reopen and worship together. It’s a truly exciting prospect. The new Sunday “normal” may not look or sound exactly like the Sunday services we’re used to, but we are doing everything we can to be able to gather around Word and Table once again. There is more info to come on that, but for now, as the Apostle tells us, we look “to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith”. When our resolve, or patience may falter, Our Lord is right there for us; providing the strength, comfort, and inspiration we will need to run this race. God is always with us, and in Him all things are possible!
For now, as I have been saying since all of this began, be well, be kind, and be safe. Times have been tough, and the days long…but we are an Easter People…and Sunday’s coming!

Let us pray…
God of all goodness, we thank you that you never forsake us, and are always there for us when life gets difficult. Help us to keep hanging in there; caring for one another and building each other up. We know that in Jesus Christ, we are the Church, buildings or no. Inspire us always to greater deeds of kindness and generosity. We ask these things in the name of Jesus. Amen.

Blessings! I look forward to see you all soon!
Pastor Wes †

Tough Words for Troubled Times

By Pastor Wes Poole

For in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.  As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise. Galatians 3:26-29 – NRSV

“Racism is antithetical to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Those who willfully live to gratify the sinful desires of racism “will not inherit the kingdom of God” because they reveal they might be still enslaved to the present evil age and to its seductive powers (Gal. 5:17, 19–21), instead of being freely enslaved to love by the power of the Spirit as those redeemed by Christ and bound for the promised land of new creation.”
JARVIS J. WILLIAMS AND CURTIS A. WOODS – cHRISTIANITY TODAY

Tough words indeed…and while they’re not my words, they represent my feelings on this matter to a tee. Sadly, racism and the violence such ugliness begets are in the forefront of the news once again; even pushing the COVID crisis to second place for the moment. Why must this be? In the past two weeks, I’ve read voraciously, and followed the news and social media probably more than was strictly healthy. Police brutality and murder, riots and looting, hatred and vile language. Is this really where we are in the United States in 2020? Frankly, it’s exhausting and depressing. My spirit is heavy.

In the Book of Lamentations, the prophet Jeremiah writes,
“This is why I weep and my eyes overflow with tears. No one is near to comfort me, no one to restore my spirit. My children are destitute because the enemy has prevailed.”
Jeremiah was obviously writing for a different time and for different reasons, but his words kept coming back to me. This is how many of us are feeling right now. The feeling of helplessness that we’ve all been dealing with for the past three months is taking its toll, to destructive effect. Where or from whom can we find comfort and the strength to move forward and beyond all of this?

Last week, our own Pastor Jim Parks shared an incredibly moving meditation entitled “The Peace that Heals Hurts”. In it, he reminded us of a universal truth, spoken by none other than Nelson Mandela. “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

“Love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” Of everything I’ve read over the last couple of weeks, those words brought me the most comfort and hope. Hatred is learned, and thus can be unlearned! There is Good News there, my friends. We know a better way! Jesus taught us a better way! Now the question is, what are we, the modern day disciples of Jesus, going to DO to make that Way better known to this world? What are we going to DO to help bring about healing and wholeness and the unity that is supposed to define this country? Now is not the time for just talk. A crisis of humanity and decency requires more than fair words, even if those words are from Scripture. We must, as the People of God, model that better way. Racism, sexism, violence, hatred, Xenophobia in general…these things are not acceptable for the follower of Jesus Christ! There are no exceptions!

One of the other things that has brought me hope and comfort recently is that I realize I’m preaching to the proverbial choir! Even though we’ve had precious little time to get to know one another as pastor and congregation, I’ve seen the spirit of goodness, kindness, and caring that are at the heart of this community of faith. While we’re still struggling with when, if, and how we can open our building again, we must remember that we are still the church, wherever we may be. Even quarantined and socially distanced, we can still show the World the example our Lord left for us. Kindness, charity, generosity; those are some of the ways we can bring some healing to this troubled time. In fact, the leadership of Good Shepherd is preparing right now to formulate a plan of action to bring a modicum of that “peace that heals hurts” back to this community. We have neighbors out there who are hurting, and we can do something about it! What form that takes is yet to be determined, but make no mistake, we are committed to being a church active in this community.

For now, in the sage words of John Wesley, “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can.” Friends, that is the Christian vocation. Pray for those who hate, that they might unlearn such things, and model Our Lord Jesus Christ in all that we say and do. The path ahead may not be an easy one, but Jesus walks with us. Keep hope alive…goodness will eventually prevail!

Let us pray…
We are grieving, Dear Lord, for the ills of our community. Yet we know that we are your hands; working your will in this world. Pour out your Holy Spirit for us in full measure. Inspire us to greater deeds of kindness and generosity, and help us to rid your Creation of the ugliness of racism and violence. We know these things are possible because all things are possible in you. We pray this in the name and for the sake of Jesus, the Living Christ. Amen.

Be well, be kind, and be safe. I hope to see you all very soon.

Your Partner in Christ,
Pastor Wes Poole †

The Peace That Heals Hurts

The following meditation was written and edited by Jim Parks, Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, Shickshinny, PA and a member of Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Wilkes-Barre, PA. Jim is the Financial Secretary of Good Shepherd and also serves on the Executive Committee. The original is being presented at First Church in lieu of not having worship services on June 7, 2020 due to Covid-19.

“The Peace that Heals Hurts”

The Readings: (The New Revised Standard Version)

Genesis 1:27a, 31-—“So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them…God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.”

2 Corinthians 13:11-13—“Finally, brothers and sisters, farewell. Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints greet you. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you.”

Matthew 28:16-20—“Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

The Meditation: (Inspired by the multi-cultural band students, Tucker High School, Tucker, Georgia and my 2020 graduate Grandson, Eli Winterscheidt, THS baritone horn player.)

Nelson Mandela once wrote the following words: “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”

And the poet Warsan Shire wrote in her poem,  “what they did yesterday afternoon,”  that pain is everywhere. She wrote:

later that night
i held an atlas in my lap
ran my fingers across the whole world
and whispered
where does it hurt?
it answered
everywhere
everywhere
everywhere.

I wonder what their words bring to your mind today. What hurts your heart today? What are the tender spots of your life? What’s festering deep inside that you don’t want anyone to see? Where do you see another hurting? Can you hold his or her gaze, or do you look away because you just don’t want to see? In what ways have you and I added to the pain of another? 

The TV pictures and commentary over the past several days breaks my heart. I see fear. I see death. I see protests. I see anger. I see violence. I see prejudice and racism. I see arrogance. I see privilege. I see unemployment. I see poverty and economic hardship. Those are the open hurts of our country and we’re hemorrhaging. We’re bleeding out and some can’t breathe.

America appears to be in a hard place these days, and I feel we have been for quite a while. Over the last few months of the coronavirus, many have said that we’re all in this together. Yes, but we’re not all together in this. We are not “all together in one place” today or this past week or so. Our country is divided, fragmented, and hurting. And so is my heart. Maybe yours is too.

It’s not easy to talk about our hurts; whether it’s our individual hurts or our national hurts, whether it’s the hurts we’ve received or the ones we’ve inflicted. To talk about our hurts requires us to look at what we’ve done and left undone. It means we each have to look within ourselves. It means taking responsibility for our lives. It means valuing the life and hurts of another as much as our own.

We might need to confess and we might need to forgive. We might need to reach out to another and we might need to open ourselves to another’s reaching toward us. We might need to offer the ointment of healing to another and we might need to receive another’s ointment for our healing.

We know all that in our heads and it makes sense. But most of the time we don’t want to face or deal with our hurts. It’s too painful. It’s a vulnerable and risky place to be. And maybe we all feel like that too. More often than not, we just want to deny that we hurt. We want to ignore or forget our hurts, relegate them to the past. We want to cover up and hide our hurts so another person can’t see them. Sometimes we make judgments about and blame others. Other times we want to use our hurts, revel in them, and play the victim so we can get some attention or sympathy. And maybe worst of all is when we use them as a justification for hurting someone else. 

But God doesn’t do any of those things. Instead, he said that we are all created in his image. And Paul didn’t do any of these things. Instead, he said “Put things in order, listen to my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.” And Jesus didn’t do any of those things. Instead, in our reading last week, he showed up behind the locked doors, stood among the disciples in the midst of their fear, and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he showed them his hands and his side. He showed them his hurts and then he said again, “Peace be with you.” And in this week’s reading, Jesus instructed his disciples to “Go therefore, and make disciples of ALL nations…”

Jesus’ hurts sit in the middle of the peace he offers. Peace bookends both sides of his hurts. And what if that’s true for us? What if we all live with a hurtful peace? What if the only real peace we can offer comes out of the hurts we’ve suffered?

“Peace be with you,” Jesus said. What does that mean when you’re afraid and you’ve locked the doors of your house, your heart, your life? What does that mean when you’ve locked out another because of their race, their nationality, their economic status, their age, their sexual orientation, their religion, or just their name? What does that mean?

“Peace be with you,” Jesus said. What does that mean as we continue reopening the country and economy in the midst of COVID-19? What does that mean for the friends and family of the more than 100,000 people who have died from COVID-19? What does that peace mean when we continue to draw lines between those who wear masks and those who don’t, between politicians and scientists, between those who are able to stay home and those who have to get out and work? What does that mean?

“Peace be with you,” Jesus said. What does that mean for George Floyd and his family and friends? What does mean in light of America’s racism? What does that mean for the cities that are burning and the businesses that have been looted? What does that mean for those who protest silently and peacefully and those whose message advocates violence? What does that mean for those law enforcement officers who took a knee in support of the protestors and those who shot rubber bullets and tear-gas into a peaceful crowd? What does that mean?

“Peace be with you,” Jesus said. What does that mean for you and me today? What is this peace Jesus offers? What does it look like, feel like? What does it mean?

I don’t have a lot of answers to the questions I’ve asked. Each one of us must figure out how to be peace in his or her community, county, country, and world. I can’t tell you how to do that but I can tell you this. The peace Jesus offers doesn’t mean serenity or lack of conflict. And it doesn’t mean that we necessarily get our way. And I think it’s more than a truce, an agreement to disagree, or the resignation to go along in order to get along. 

The peace Jesus offers changes hearts. It sends people downtown and into the community. It heals lives and let’s all people breathe. The peace Jesus offers will be found next to our hurts. It’s a peace that heals hurts. 

“Peace be with you,” Jesus said. What will you do today with your peace that heals hurts? To whom will you offer it? And how will you let it make a difference in your community, in your school, in your job, in your church and in the life of another? What will your peace that heals hurts mean? Amen.

The Prayer: (Based on “Worship Resources for Sunday, Sept. 6, 2015 of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.”)

Gracious God, we thank you for the human family filled with all the peoples of the earth. We are thankful that you have created such an amazing and wonderful diversity of people and cultures. We pray that you will enrich our lives with ever-widening circles of fellowship, so that we may discover your presence in those who differ from us. Deliver us from the bondage of racism that denies the humanity of some people, and deprives all people of the blessings of the diversity you have created; deliver us from assumptions that we make without thinking, and presumptions that we take without asking. Bless and strengthen each effort we make as individuals when we seek to understand ourselves and others as well as the ways we benefit from personal privilege and power, so that we may be allies who challenge bias and prejudice within ourselves and others. Bless and strengthen each effort we make to change the systems and structures of our schools and educational institutions; our politics and civic policies; and our economic institutions’ methods and models; so that the roots of racism may be recognized and purged from among us. O God of unconditional love, look with compassion on our nation. Break down the walls that separate us from one another. Cast out the spirit of violence that afflicts so many. Cleanse us of malicious ideas and ideologies. Unite us in bonds of love like unto your own. And through all our struggle for justice, work within us to accomplish your purpose and establish your kingdom vision. O Lord, open our hearts to respect and uplift the dignity of every person. Open our eyes to see the injustices within church and society. Open our ears to listen and learn from the experiences of people of color. Open our mouths to speak out against prejudice and injustice. We commit ourselves to work for justice and peace, and to pursue a deeper relationship to you, Lord, so that we truly may be the body of Christ on earth, your church for the sake of the world; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Power of Hope

By Pastor Wes Poole

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. – Hebrews 10:23

Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence. – HELEN KELLER

It’s always something, to know you’ve done the most you could. But, don’t leave off hoping, or it’s of no use doing anything. Hope, hope to the last! – CHARLES DICKENS

We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.- MARTIN LUTHER KING JR

Hope itself is like a star — not to be seen in the sunshine of prosperity, and only to be discovered in the night of adversity. – CHARLES HADDON SPURGEON

Hope is in high demand these days. Frustration is stressing folks past their limits, and we’re seeing some of the results. Violence and discord, always the enemies of hope and harmony, just seem to come into higher relief when times are hard. Right now, it is admittedly difficult. Even with some reopening happening, many of us are still uncertain how much returning to normalcy is even warranted. Should we even venture out at all? Churches particularly are faced with quite the quandary of how to reopen safely, and what worship will look and sound like when we do. These are good questions, and we’ll figure out the answers eventually. For now, as I heard it put so beautifully recently, “God doesn’t need us open church buildings, He needs us to BE the church, right where we are!” I happen to agree..So we’ll continue to live in hope; taking care of each other. God has an infinite amount of hope for us to draw upon. God will lead us through this, and we will be OK.

Let us pray…
God of Hope, during times of trouble, it’s easy to forget who and whose we are. Help us to remember that our hope is founded in nothing less than your love for us in Jesus Christ. Jesus showed us how to live with one another in community. May we always use Christ as our right and example; that we might live through good times and bad with compassion, generosity, and peace. We ask these things in Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Be well, be kind, and be safe, my friends. Hope abounds!!

Blessings always,
Pastor Wes †

Patience: A mid-week devotion

And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. – 2 Peter 1:5-7

Patience is one of those virtues that we claim we want to possess, But we can’t really learn it from a book or a lesson. Most of us, I’m betting, would consider the cultivation of patience in oneself as a VERY difficult prospect. It takes massive persistence, endurance, and extensive practice! NOTE TO EVERYONE: My own practice of patience is still a work in process. Ask my wife, she’ll tell you! 😉
Patience particularly seems to be at a premium these days. Tempers are flaring. Financial stressors are through the roof, and many of us are getting stir crazy from being hemmed in either alone or with a few people. We want get back to our work and our lives. We’re tired, and scared, and little bored. It’s OK to admit it. Patience easily can slip to impatience in a instant. Quite the quandary…
Higher sources were needed, so I went straight to Webster! Old habits die hard, and I like to have a term as defined as possible before we discuss it.
The dictionary offers this definition of patient:
1: bearing pains or trials calmly or without complaint
2: manifesting forbearance under provocation or strain
3: not hasty or impetuous
4: steadfast despite opposition, difficulty, or adversity

When I asked it to define patience, it gave me this: “the capacity, habit, or fact of being patient”.
OK, I’ll grant you, that one’s no shocker, but when I looked again, I paid more attention to the word “habit”. The habit of patience. Is this implying that we can act and show patience even we may not feel like it?? You mean we can CHOOSE to practice patience, and to possibly even get better at it?! The answer, is a resounding yes!
Again, not to spend too much time on the difficulties we’re struggling with right now, but now more than ever the notion of developing a habit of patience could go a long way to keeping us safe and sane…and in hope that a vaccine is forthcoming.
We’re still living blessed lives, as we are and always will be beloved Children of God. Our hope, as a great old hymn reminds us, “Is built on nothing less than Jesus’ Blood and Righteousness.” May we focus on what we do have and moreover, how we can share our blessings.
For now, we will continue to meet digitally and virtually when we can. I saw a picture of a church sign that read: “God does not need us to open church buildings, He wants us to BE the Church wherever we are.” To that, I will add a heartfelt, “Amen!”
Let us pray:
God of all goodness and virtue, the are times that are trying the patience of many of us. You know our needs better than we do, but today we humbly ask for ability to keep cultivating the good habit of patience. We know that as we live, work, and have our being, you have commanded us to share our bounty with others and always work to upbuild one another. With patience and kindness always in our hearts and actions, we promise to keep working towards those goals. With you, all things are possible! We ask all of this in the Name of Jesus. Amen.
Be well, be kind, and be safe everyone! I continue to pray for the time we can meet again in person. Live in hope!
Blessings Aways,
Pastor Wes Poole †

Weekly Devotional May 20

By Pastor Wes Poole

Genesis 7:12 
And rain fell upon the earth forty days and forty nights.

Exodus 16:35 
The people of Israel ate the manna forty years, till they came to a habitable land. They ate the manna till they came to the border of the land of Canaan.

Deuteronomy 9:9
When I went up the mountain to receive the tablets of stone, the tablets of the covenant that the Lord made with you, I remained on the mountain forty days and forty nights. I neither ate bread nor drank water.

40 days, 40 nights, 40 years…we see the number 40 often in the Bible. The above examples are only three of many. Generally, “40” is not considered to be a literal number, but rather a symbol or metaphor for a “long time”. Furthermore, that “long time” is often associated to difficult or challenging times. For another example, Satan is said to have tested Jesus, as he was fasting in the desert for…right…40 days!

Most of us have now been sheltering in place and keeping social distance for a lot more than forty days. For many of us, it might seem more like forty years!! It struck me though, that I think we’re better able to comprehend the biblical concept of a “long time” better now than in recent memory. Did you know that the word quarantine comes to us through Latin and Italian and means, literally…wait for it…40 days! There is no denying that are many difficulties and challenges facing us and our entire culture right now. We live in hope though that God’s Will always prevails, and that hard times will give way to wholeness and healing.

In pretty much all of the biblical accounts of trying or long times of challenge, one thing invariably remained the same…God…Never…Forgets…His people! That is such a comforting reality to ponder as our own 40 days’ are dragging on. Even during the dark times, even when we may lose sight of who and whose we are, God never returns that in kind. God is with us…always has been…always will be! As we continue to struggle to keep each other safe and healthy, let us strive to remember that God is walking with us. Hope in Christ is never in vain. There is always a Promised Land waiting after wandering in the wilderness! Like the Israelites of old, may we stick together, trusting in God and caring for each other.

Let us pray…
God of all our times, as we navigate difficult waters, help us remember that you never leave our side. Regardless of what the world may throw at us, we know that hope is ever present in you. As we continue to work hard to keep each other well, make us ever mindful that we can always see your face in that of our neighbor’s. May we serve you and each other in the way your son taught us, for we pray these things in Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Be well, be kind, and be safe my friends!

Blessings Always,
Pastor Wes †

The Widow’s Offering

By Pastor Wes Poole

Mark 12:41-44

41 He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 43 Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. 44 For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

Let’s ponder for a moment this image; Jesus, sitting opposite the place where the offerings were put, observing the people make their donations as they come into the temple. He is not alone. Seated with him are the leaders—the Sadducees. It is startling to think of Jesus sitting with those whom he had scorned for their hypocrisy. Remember that as they watch there is no paper money, so all of the offerings make a terrible noise as they roll down this long horn shaped object and fall into the pool of coins. And here comes this little old lady. She has two small coins worth practically nothing and drops them in. They barely make a noise. You can almost see the Temple leaders as they roll their eyes and hope for better results with the next person who walks in the door. Jesus then calls his Disciples over and says, “This poor widow has put more in to the treasury than all the others.” To the Sadducees this woman is a waste of time, but to Jesus she is the stuff by which Kingdoms are erected. Thus, at its heart, the story of the widow’s mite is a strong reminder to the kingdoms of this world that money and power are not everything, they are not ends in themselves and they do not make you greater, wiser, or set you above anyone else.

I selected this passage this week not because I wanted to make a point about money and possessions. We can talk about that some other time. It spoke to me as I was reflecting on how little it seems we can do right now. Movement is restricted. Travel is curtailed. Shopping for groceries has specific rules for safety. Finances are, admittedly, tight for some. Many of us aren’t comfortable going out of our houses at all, and even if we want to, some of us can’t go to work. So it’s stressful, that’s a given. When we find ourselves hemmed in and our options limited, fear, panic, and anger can take hold. At these times, the widow in the above story can teach us again about the value of little things. Jesus said her two small coins were more valuable by far than the large amounts put into the coffer by richer and more privileged people.

Perhaps during a time of crisis like we’re facing now, when we may feel so powerless, we can start to re-appreciate the value of small things. A simple prayer, lifted up to God from the heart. A walk outside in the sunshine. A meal cobbled together from whatever we could find in the fridge, but shared with loved ones. A good book. A song that lifts our spirits. These are our real valuables! Of course, it doesn’t stop there. The smallest act of kindness or generosity is wonderful any time, but it is utterly priceless right now! Remember, we are never alone and we never act alone. God takes our offerings, both the great and the meager, and multiplies them over and over. Like everything else in this life, dark times will eventually give way to the light. No earthly difficulty will last forever. For now, let’s cling to the hope we all share in Christ Jesus, and savor the small things that we have and can do.

Let us pray…
Lord Jesus, you have showed us that God values even the smallest acts of kindness we can manage, and has blessed us in a myriad different ways, both small and great. Give us the peace, the patience, and the clarity of thought to regard and give great thanks for these “small” blessings. You will always be with us; leading us through the storms of life. Help us to be more like you, mindful even of the smallest good we can do in the world, and in the lives of our sisters and brothers everywhere. We pray this in your most holy name. Amen.

As always, my friends, be well, be kind, and be safe. I look forward to seeing you all again in person!

Blessings,
Pastor Wes †

God’s Love in Christ Jesus

Posted on behalf of Pastor Wes

Romans 8: 31-38 NRSV

God’s Love in Christ Jesus

What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else? Who will bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.[a] Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Who, or what stands against us?
What stands in our way?
How do we overcome obstacles in our life?
These are questions that all people ask themselves everyday…these days, probably more than ever!
None of us can truly say that any day is trouble free.
Most of us would like to say this, but we know it’s not true.
Some days we feel like nothing can go right and everything and everyone is against us.
Unfortunately, this is, all too often, exactly what happens.
We live in a world that is not perfect.
Sometimes it’s painful.
Sometimes it’s scary.
Sometimes it’s just not fair.
Sometimes it’s might feel simply awful and unbearable.
We wonder if there is anyone or anything that could possibly make any difference.
Maybe even if just one little thing would go right or if just one person would tell us that we were OK, maybe…just maybe things would start to turn out better.
When we’re faced with times like this, we can remember one very important thing.
There is someone who cares.
There is someone who loves us totally and completely…no matter who we are… no matter how bad it gets… no matter how bad we think we are.
It’s God who stands for us…all of the time.

In this passage from Romans, which is easily in my top 5 favorites from scripture, St. Paul testifies to us about how much God really loves us.
Paul tells us that nothing or no one has the power to condemn us.
Nothing or no one can come between us and the love that God showed us in Jesus.
Even though sometimes we are faced with more crises and catastrophes than we can believe…
Even though we still sin and fall short…we still forget about and even ignore our special relationship with God.
Even though we may feel like we absolutely do not deserve such love.
Even though we sometimes find it hard to even believe in such a love!
Well…too bad!!!
God still cherishes and values each and every man, woman, and child in the entire world…you and I…everyone!!!!
And because of this, God sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to prove to us, once and for all, that we are his beloved children.
That’s not to say that we won’t still hurt from time to time. Again, right now this is more evident than ever.
Everything still won’t always go our way.
We’ll still get angry and frustrated at the way life seems to treat us.
But just think…those frightening and frustrating things NEVER have the final say!
Jesus Christ died for us and rose again to be our link…our very lifeline that connects us to Almighty God.
Christ has given us the power to overcome all of the difficulties of life.
It’s not always easy…but Jesus is with us all of the time.
St. Paul tells us that Christ has made us conquerors.
We are conquerors who cannot be separated from our relationship to God, and cannot be defeated by the troubles of the world and our lives.
Nothing, not one single, solitary thing in the vastness of Creation can change that relationship.
All that is hurtful or painful has ultimately been conquered through Jesus.
So during these trying times, when we’re undoubtedly feeling afraid and helpless, we can go about our lives in the confidence that God is for us…nothing else in creation can stand against us, because God is with us…every step of the way.
As we face life’s pains and setbacks, we know that they are never equal to the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Thanks be to God!

Let us pray…

Lord Jesus, strengthen our faith and resolve in this time of difficulty, that we might continue to place our ultimate trust in you. We know that you conquered sin and death for our sakes, and that nothing can ever change that. Help us to reflect that love around us; that all people may come to know you and the healing power of your love. Amen.