Communication, Collaboration, and Encouragement

A devotion by Pastor Wes Poole

Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind. And let them offer thanksgiving sacrifices, and tell of his deeds with songs of joy. Psalm 107 21-22 NRSV

There is a story told about Ivan the Great who ruled Russia as Czar in the 15th century. He was a warrior, a fighter, and a conqueror of kingdoms. The Soviet Union as we knew it a couple of decades back was basically put into place by Ivan the Great.

Ivan was so busy doing battle that some of his comrades became concerned because he hadn’t taken time to get married and have a family. They came to him and said “You’ve got to get married because you’ve got to have an heir to the throne.” But Ivan said “I want to do battle and to conquer more territory, you go find a wife for me.” So they did.

Ivan’s men found a wife for him from the daughter of the king of Greece, a beautiful girl. They said to Ivan, “We found a wife for you, but there’s one problem.” “What’s that?” he asked. “If you’re going to marry her, you have to be Greek Orthodox,” they said. Ivan the Great said, “Well, if you think she’d make a good wife for me, that’s no problem, I could be Greek Orthodox.”

The king of Greece was thrilled with this because it meant that Ivan wasn’t going to invade his territory. So the Greeks sent tutors to Russia to tutor Ivan and 500 of his elite soldiers, everyone a great warrior. The soldiers required tutoring because Ivan said, “If I’m going to be Greek Orthodox, they’re going to be Greek Orthodox.”

They tutored all these men in the Greek Orthodox faith and finally Ivan and the soldiers went down to Greece for the wedding. But before the marriage they had to be baptized into the Greek Orthodox church. It was an incredible sight as thousands of people came to watch Ivan the Great and his 500 soldiers all wade into the water at one time to be baptized by immersion into their new church.

Five hundred soldiers with full armor and five hundred Greek Orthodox priests were standing in the blue water of the Mediterranean Sea for the baptism, when all of a sudden the king of Greece said, “We’ve got a problem.” The problem was that in the Greek Orthodox church you could not be a warrior and a member of the church at the same time.

So they held a hastily-called diplomatic meeting in the water to ask, “How are we going to work this out?” They came up with a simple answer. Just before the priests immersed the soldiers, each man took out his sword, held it high above the water, and allowed the priest to baptize everything but his sword arm. This came to be known as “the unbaptized arm.”

The point of the story?? Well I’m certainly not advocating arranged marriages! I didn’t write the story anyway, but the author was making the point that there are many Christians today who have unbaptized checkbooks. Like the warriors who dedicated everything to God except their sword arm, many of us have dedicated every part of our lives to God except our money. As a wise man once said, “The last thing to be converted is our pocketbook.”

Uh oh…now I’ve gone and done it….I used “the M word”!!!

(Collective groan ensues throughout the congregation!)

Please bear with me on this one! You’ll never hear me berating anyone about money, particularly during a global pandemic with the economy in jeopardy.
My point is that for the church to remain the church, we still must have adequate resources. If it were Stewardship Month, we’d be talking about “time, talents, and treasures”. That’s always relevant, but our situation is different right now. Many are unemployed or underemployed. Personal financial security is not something many of us can claim. So please understand, this is not about guilt…at all! Everyone is doing what they can. God values our efforts, whatever they are. I know I do!

We do have one new resource available though that I’d like to bring to your attention. Thanks to the good work of our church leadership, we now have a link on the church website where you can send in your tithes and offerings electronically. It is safe and secure, and of course…contactless. With many of us not able yet to return to in-person worship, this is an invaluable tool we have to keep our ministry alive and well and ready to roar back when COVID is behind us. May that day come quickly! On a personal note, Christine and I will be using this resource exclusively for our personal giving from now on. Check it out at www.goodshepherdwb.org.

More importantly, I want to encourage anyone who needs pastoral care or services to call on me personally. At this time, home and hospital visits are generally ill advised or not allowed at all. Still, if you need to talk to your pastor, or just have a message for me, please email me at pastorwes@goodshepherdwb.org. I will get back to you ASAP. Of course, you can always call the church and leave a message. That might take a bit longer, but only a little, and I’ll still get back with you as quickly as I can.

This has been a long road, and we aren’t at the end of the journey yet. Now more than ever, we must seek to build each other up. The Fruits of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control; these are as important as they’ve ever been. Likewise, the Golden Rule, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is as timely as always. We are a community of kind and caring people. I know we will continue to meet the challenges ahead. Right now, a lot of days may seem like “Good Fridays”. Never fear though…Sunday’s coming!

Let us pray…
God of Peace, we thank you for bringing us this far along our journey. We know we’re not at its end, as yet, but you are walking this entire road with us. Inspire us to even greater acts of kindness and generosity, for when we see our neighbors in need, we look into the face of Jesus himself. We also lift up for you today our Good Shepherd family. Help us continually to recommit ourselves to the health and well being of our congregation. Keep hope alive in us, for hope in you is never in vain. We ask these things in Jesus’ Name. Amen.

Be well, be kind, and be safe.

Blessings,
Pastor Wes †

A Change Will Do You Good!

A devotion by Pastor Wes Poole

Jeremiah 31:31-34
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the Lord,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more. NRSV

We usually read the above passage on Reformation Sunday. The prophet reminds us that our God is never boring or static. He is always doing a new thing; creating something wonderful. In all of the history between God and His people that Scripture recounts for us, God never rests on His laurels. God never settles. God is actively engaged with us; inspiring us to live and engage with one another in the same way. As a church of the Reformation tradition, we subscribe to the doctrine of Sempre Ecclesia Reformanda…the Church, always reforming. We are a community of believers built to thrive on growth and change, for one can’t exist without the other. Right now, there are a lot of changes in the church that we likely didn’t expect or want. Social distancing, online worship, limited in-person worship, new methods of celebrating communion…all of these changes have been forced on us. This has obviously been difficult, yet again, we are a church designed to deal with and even embrace change. Jeremiah was foretelling the new covenant God promised and brought to fruition in Jesus. Yet even then, Jeremiah was reminding his people of the need to trust in God’s creative genius. God promises a new relationship that is deep and eternal. We trust that He will see us through any difficulties and indeed inspire us to even greater acts of goodness in His Kingdom. We’ve heard it said a lot during this COVID crisis that we are the church wherever we may be and in whatever situation we find ourselves. This has never been truer than during these trying times. Will it be difficult? Yes, sometimes, but we face every challenge before us with Our Lord at our side. As a community of faith, we at Good Shepherd are still grappling with how to be the Church in the time of COVID. There are social, theological, doctrinal, practical, and certainly financial challenges ahead. Coming together as a family, social distancing and financial obstacles notwithstanding, God will see us through and we will see each other through everything. We will undoubtedly be changed permanently in some ways…but we will still be the Church and God will still be God. His promises are never in vain and He will continue to create wonder out of even this most trying of times. The Church, Always Reforming. May we continue to trust in God’s creative and redeeming power; showing the world what this new life in Christ looks like. It may not always be easy, but it will never be boring!

Let us pray…
Creator God, we thank you for the wonder of Creation, and for the new life you have extended to all people in Jesus Christ. Through the power of your Holy Spirit, give us a share of your creative genius; for we know that all things are possible in you, and this world will one day call upon you as one people, with your Word in our hearts. We ask these things in Jesus’ Name. Amen.

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

Blessings always,
Pastor Wes †

A Better Way

A devotion by Pastor Wes Poole

Colossians 3:12-17
As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. NRSV

The above passage is one that I particularly like to read at weddings. The author of Colossians, who quite likely wasn’t St. Paul himself, but rather a later student or devotee of his work, probably wasn’t thinking about marriage in particular, but his words are a great reminder of the need for the People of God to model kindness and forbearance with each other. Last week, as many of you know now, was a tough one for me. I lost a dear friend and I am still processing that grief. A kind word of concern and caring by someone on Sunday at worship really changed the tone of this entire week for me. You often hear it said that kindness should always be our default setting, if you will, as we never really know what someone else is going through. In the same vein as the mutual bearing of each others’ burdens, which was the theme of last week’s devotion, the Apostle here carries it a bit further with some specific advice. It is so easy for us to let anger or stress or anxiety color our dealings with one another. The Apostle reminds us that Jesus has indeed shown us a better way. “Compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience”…that’s good advice for us at any time, in the church or out of it! We will always sin and fall short of the life God means for us, but God is also by our side, and not just in some sort of nebulous, spiritual sense. Perhaps the most powerful and compelling way God comes to us is through each other. Kindness, patience, and forgiveness were the hallmarks of Jesus’ ministry and the model for his people everywhere. Again, I thank God and all of you for letting me be a part of such a caring family. Please know that even though we still have to maintain a degree of distance, you are in my prayers every day. Our unity is always rooted in Christ. I look forward to the day we can resume our normal mode of interaction. It will happen eventually. God will provide a way through this. Of that I have no doubt. Meanwhile, the relationships we build with one another are precious. Let’s cherish them and always strive to build each other up.

Let us pray…
God of lovingkindness, you sent your Son, Jesus to be our Savior and greatest teacher. Help us to make his example our own and to continue to show the same love and regard for our brothers and sisters everywhere that he showed in his earthly ministry. We are strongest when we live in harmony and community. Inspire us to keep our community healthy, safe, and loving. For we ask these things in Jesus’ name and for his sake. Amen.

Be well, be kind, and be safe!
Blessings always,
Pastor Wes †

CHRIST BEARS OUR BURDENS WITH US

A devotion by Pastor Wes Poole

Matthew 11:28-30
“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” NRSV

My heart is heavy this week. A dear friend lost his battle with cancer and passed on Sunday. I just found out last night. Today (Tuesday) would have been his 50th birthday. He was a fine and caring person; a gifted musician and teacher. His loss will be felt for years to come, as he touched many lives in this community. He helped bring art and beauty into a world that always needs those things. As a believer, I know that there is no cause to be concerned for his well being any longer. I will miss my friend terribly, but he is in God’s hands, and there is no better place to be. Right now though, knowledge isn’t enough, and tired clichés or platitudes most certainly aren’t enough. My heart is heavy, and comfort is elusive. The pain of grief really isn’t about the people we lose, but the ones left behind. The burden of grief is truly heavy, as we all know. I am grateful to have a church family who cares for one another, and for this opportunity to share my feelings with you. Sometimes, all we can do is push forward and let God, in His own way and time, allow healing to begin.

So the words of Jesus take on extra meaning for me right now, and I find myself reflecting on the variety of burdens we all carry. They can be collective, like the COVID weight we’re all shouldering, or individual grief, like illness and personal loss. Regardless of the circumstances, we carry pain with us all of the time. Sometimes it looms larger than others, but the human experience is rife with suffering. There is no sense in trying to deny it or pretend it isn’t there. We do however, as modern day followers of Jesus, have one recourse that cannot be denied or overstated. Jesus is with us always…and he understands suffering first hand. He shoulders those burdens with us, and never leaves our side. Here is the really important bit though, even when our faith and devotion might be at a low ebb, Jesus never repays that in kind. His love for us is never transactional. On the contrary, no matter low we may feel, his compassion and care are relentless! That is an astonishingly wonderful truth. We serve a God who has never stopped working on our behalf. St. Paul tells us in the 8th chapter of Romans that there is literally nothing in the vastness of the Universe that can separate us from His love for us in Christ Jesus. The Lord himself spells it out for us pretty clearly in Matthew 11. “Come to me, ALL you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” God does not make empty promises. Pain may always be a factor on this side of the next life, but thanks be to God, hope and comfort are ever present and always available. For now, regardless of my personal headspace or heart space, God’s grace is sufficient.

Let us pray…
God of healing, your love surpasses all earthly grief. We know that there are always many who need to feel the peace that can only come from you. When that peace seems to us to be far away, help us to remember and take to heart that you never are. As you have promised, as you have always done, you walk with us through this life into the next, turning mourning into dancing, and grief to joy. Inspire us to reflect your compassion to our brothers and sisters everywhere; for we ask these things in the name of Jesus. Amen.

Thanks for “listening”. Again, I appreciate being a part of such a caring family of faith. I covet your prayers for my friend’s family, and for the many, many people grieving his loss. May we always strive to bear each other’s burdens together, and to trust in God’s promise of healing.

Be well, be kind, and be safe!

Blessings always,
Pastor Wes †

The Needs of the Many and the One

By Pastor Wes Poole

Philippians 4:19 
And my God will fully satisfy every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. NRSV

On any given day, people patronize different markets or businesses to acquire goods or procure services. In a society as wealthy as ours, those goods and services are practically omnipresent. Anything we want is basically available at a moment’s notice. If it’s not available locally, we have but to pick up a smart phone or log onto Amazon and whatever we want will be on our porches in a few days tops. Our Western consumer culture is often demonized as promoting greed and selfishness. To be sure, there are elements in our culture that don’t always play well with the teachings of Jesus, but that’s not the point I want to make today. Coming off of the Independence Day celebration, I actually want to give thanks for the people who keep those goods and services available; who truly make this country great. From doctors to grocery workers to the ones working the phones at the online merchants, these Essential Workers are making it possible for us to care for each other. No doubt, we as a society still need to do a better job making those essentials available to everyone, regardless of race, gender, religion, financial status, or any other of the labels we tend to place on each other. Those conversations are always ongoing. For now, thanks be to God for those who have worked so hard to keep our communities healthy! We love you and are truly grateful for who you are and what you do.

1st Corinthians 12:4-5
4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone. NRSV

In much the same way, the church can reflect our consumer culture. Again, while this can sometimes be troublesome, that’s not the point I want to make today. Sure, on any given Sunday, we might come to worship for any number of reasons. Some come for fellowship and social interaction, some for teaching, some for sacraments, or some for (hopefully) good preaching. Truth to be told, we probably come for any and all of the above in various combinations, but we come to have our needs met. That’s OK, because we need to be able to take care of ourselves, spiritually and otherwise, so that we can effectively meet the needs of others. The flip side is equally powerful. A diverse community with differing needs also brings a diversity of gifts to the table. Jesus knew this, and it was reflected in the radical inclusivity of his mission. Jesus loved and valued everyone, regardless of any other consideration. In the end, his sacrifice was for all, even those who had been his enemies. What this teaches us in the church is to value each other the way Jesus always has. The astonishing truth at the heart of the Christian message is that this life is not an “us vs. them” proposition. God is the source of all that we have and all that we can do, and continues to love and provide for us all in Jesus Christ. We know now that we are indeed all in this together, as we are always one in Christ. Thanks be to God for the wonderful diversity of His people and this Creation He has called good!

Let us pray…
God of all that we have and all that we can do, we thank for your manifold blessings. We thank you for the freedoms we enjoy and the opportunity to share those blessings with our neighbors. Help us always to see each other through your eyes, that we may keep celebrating our uniqueness and building one another up. For we know that your grace is sufficient, your forgiveness unconditional, and your love inexhaustible. We pray these things in the name and for the sake of Jesus Christ. Amen.
I hope to see you soon, but whether we worship in our church building or in front of screen, we are still the Church, God’s Hands doing His work in this world. Be well, be kind, and be safe!

Blessings Always,
Pastor Wes †

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 †