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A Cause for Celebration - Video Bonus

We've got a wonderful bonus from our Lenten Devotional series! Check out Mervin Lyle and his family performing his powerful Christ-inspired poem.

 View original post here: https://stthomasumc.org/lent/a-cause-for-celebration.html

About Mervin Lyle
Father and husband of the 3 beautiful women that I live with, share my spiritual gift of singing on the praise band, and head the Front Porch Ministry committee.

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A Cause for Celebration

For God so loved the world, he gave us his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. — John 3:16

A poem that I wrote for you to reflect upon: 

View video of Mervin and his family performing this poem here: https://stthomasumc.org/lent/a-cause-for-celebration-video-bonus

Artwork by Kameika Lyle

When I was just a young kid, sitting in church, flipping the bible and looking at this verse

My little mind couldn’t contemplate the complexity of his sacrifice, what did they do to our lord? our savior, Jesus Christ

But as I grew older and would grow to understand, what makes a sinner into a good man

I would look back to that little kid, and think about all that I did, the paths that I took, at times straying away from the good book, the temptations that I had to overcome, not just one, or two

Let’s just say some, but in the back of my mind I always heard my Grandmother say, “Son you’ll go to hell, if you walk that way”

Many years later I would re-find my faith, got blessed with a beautiful family, in all... things were great

But sometimes the outward look of greatness, don’t tell the sacrifice of the journey made, the dues that are paid, the demons that are slayed, God knows I have made mistakes

So you may be asking yourself, what is the point, where does this lead?

Well back to the begotten son indeed, who sacrificed for you and and for me.

He laid the path for us to fall, get right back up, turn around and do it all.

For us to choose the strength to love one another, and be the caretakers of our sisters and brothers

Now don’t get it twisted, this is not a tale of a letdown, this is a celebration of the one that wears the crown, who our ever-loving God would sacrifice, to give me the chance at everlasting life, for me and for you.

So I celebrate....and that little kid in me, now celebrates too.

So when you're down, and you feel your faith is stuck on the ground, and you need to flip that frown upside down, just remember that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but will live your life to celebrate each year, as you cherish, his gift of everlasting life.

Heavenly Christ, thank you for shining your light, and showing us the way, we give much thanks to all you have sacrificed for us, and are humbled by your presence in our lives, for this we celebrate you as our one true Savior.  Amen.

About Mervin Lyle

Father and husband of the 3 beautiful women that I live with, share my spiritual gift of singing on the praise band, and head the Front Porch Ministry committee.

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Bear Each Other’s Burdens

Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. — Galatians 6:2

Last year we were asked to sign up for a 30-minute block of time during which we would focus on praying for our church and community.  As I walked into the church, I worried that I would be unable to stay focused, that my mind would go blank, that I would not know what to pray for. I find myself talking to God many times throughout the day, but I don't remember ever purposefully setting 30 minutes to focus on prayer. I did not know what to expect; this video shows how deeply moved I was from the experience.

About Jhenny Michalek
My family and I run the food pantry.  I love being part of a church that has so many members that I look up to as role models in my life.

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Why Do We Wash Each Other's Feet?

2 The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. 3 Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; 4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. – John 13:2-5

Original Artwork by Caleb Mathews

1969 was a good year! I got out of the Army in February, I went on my first disaster relief project (Scottsville, below Charlottesville, had a flood that was my introduction to cleaning up messes!), I was hired by IBM in September, and I married Mary in December. 

We moved to Manassas and settled in. Shortly after moving, Mary said that we should find a church. I agreed. Since Mary was already a member of the Church of the Brethren, we decided to attend there. The minister, Rev. Carl Smith, took me under his wing. I was a little rough around the edges in those days. (Mary had to put up with a lot!) Rev. Smith gradually got me involved in the church.

We had been attending for a while and Easter came around. Reverend Smith asked me if I would like to take part in the foot washing ceremony. I had never heard of this ceremony. I had grown up in the Methodist church in Midland and we DID NOT WASH FEET! I asked Mary and she said yes we could go if I wanted. I sort of forgot when the night came around for the ceremony. Rev. Smith never said anything. When Easter came around the following year Rev. Smith asked me again. This time I was a little more curious about the whole ceremony. Once again Mary said if I wanted to go we should. So we went, me with a great deal of trepidation. 

When we went into the church, the men were on one side and the ladies were on the other. Now I was nervous, Mary was my support system here. After a small service, we went to two different rooms. We took off our shoes and socks and sat in a row. Rev. Smith just happened to be next to me. When it came time for my feet to be washed, Rev. Smith washed my feet and then passed the towel to me. I washed the man’s feet next to me. What a humbling experience. I felt like I was at the table with our Lord. We left there and then had a simple meal. I have to admit that it was one of the most meaningful Easters that I had ever had.

I would say that if you have a chance to participate in a foot washing service, please do. I believe that you will receive a blessing from it. 

About Gordon Haines
Mary and I moved our family to the St. Thomas church in 1983. Since then, we have worked on many committees and been blessed and continue to receive blessing from our church family.

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Fill Your Days with Worship!

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness;  come before him with joyful songs.  Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise;  give thanks to him and praise his name. – Psalm 100: 1-2, 4

Photo by Sarah BrunWhat exactly is worship?

Worship is an act of devotion or recognition toward God. It can be performed individually, in informal or formal groups, or by a leader. Worship includes singing, praises, and being quiet. It includes prayer, reading, serving, preaching and evangelism. It takes place on Sunday, but also every other day of the week.

When I thought of writing a devotion on worship, I was a bit trepid. How am I showing reverence to our almighty God? After researching what worship entailed, I realized that my days are filled with worship experiences, and I’m sure many of yours are too!

Most of my days start with a Mary posture, at the feet of Jesus, studying God’s word, praying for his guidance over my day so that my Martha moments are following God’s plan more than my own. As I’m preparing for my day, I listen to Christian teachings on audio or radio to be encouraged by others stories and testimonies. As I go about town I listen to and sing praise and worship music in my car. Many days of the week I sit in the parsonage house folding clothes as I serve in the Clothing Closet, and I love to play my worship music while I work! If you see the light on and hear music playing, come on in and join me in worship!

I see now that my days are spent in worship. I learn more about God as I spend time with Him, praise Him, and listen for His guidance. I’m blessed to feel peace and joy, and I’m open to wherever He leads me, whether it’s starting the Community Clothing Closet, or writing a devotion about worship.

Worship is anything you do that declares the worth of the Lord! Fill your days with worship and be blessed!

About Renee Kinnear
Renee is married to Rob, has 2 kids and 2 grandkids. She enjoys time with her family, traveling, and the beach. She has previously served in Outreach/Evangelism, UMW, Kings Kids and Nursery. She is currently serving in Clothing Closet, Youth Council and Nominations.

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Celebrate Good Times, Come on!

22 But the father said to his servants, “Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet. 23 And bring the fattened calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate. 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.” And they began to celebrate. – Luke 15:22-24

Photo by Matthew & Sarah Hammack

The father in this story knew how to celebrate! Instead of joining in this vision, many times I find myself feeling like the older brother in the story of the Prodigal Son — doing what is expected, not feeling appreciated, and resentful when others who commit “obvious” sins fall astray and then are rewarded. I am struck by the father’s reaction to his son who returned home. He did not criticize, yell at him, try to tell him what he did wrong — instead he loved him. That is how I would hope we each would react if we had a similar situation with one of our children. But guess what? We do not have to “hope” that God will treat us this way. He already does! Romans 5:8 tells us that He loved us while we were yet sinners and Jesus died for all of us sinners. We are all called to celebrate — not judge! 

An area of growth for me is to not find fault with others or to feel self-righteous and judge others. Instead, in humility, I need to recognize that this is pride, a sin, that I repent of, and that God loves each of us and we are called to reach out to those who do not know Him. I need to not see my sins as “lesser” than others. I also need to remember the words in Galatians 6:9: Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

Lord, help me to recognize my own sins, and in humility to celebrate when others are “brought home” to knowing you. Let me be as loving to others as you are to us, and as celebratory as the father in the story of the prodigal son. Thank you for loving us, and sending us your son. In Jesus’ name, amen.

About Holly Banner
Holly is one of the Lay Delegates for the Annual Conference. She and Rich have three children and have been members of STUMC for 24 years.

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A Modern Psalm

So much of the Bible is poetry. God inspired this, but God didn't have to do it this way. Poetry can give words additional power. 

Paula Harper shares more about the power of God's word through poetry as well as her own experience with poetry in her audio devotional. 

 

About Paula Harper
Paula Harper is a member of St. Thomas, part of the media team, communications committee, handbell choir, worship arts committee, local relief committee and is the front desk volunteer each Thursday. 

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Worshipping Together or Apart

Make a joyful noise to the LORD all the lands! Serve the LORD with gladness. Come into His presence with singing. Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him. Bless His Holy name. – Psalm 100:1-2, 4

Photo by Tracy Spencer

We feel called to worship. One of the best ways I know is through music. Something Earl Amstutz told me stays with me: When you sing you pray ten times. I feel such peace when I am singing with the choir.

Prayer, praise, and thanksgiving are other ways to worship. Reading and meditating on scripture along with prayer is a good daily discipline. If we can take the time to start our day with this kind of worship, it helps the rest of the day go well. While in church, listening to a sermon helps us focus our worship.

Worship was meant to be communal. The Bible tells us to not neglect coming together. During COVID, this hasn’t been possible. Zoom meetings have made connecting at least possible virtually. And when we go to church online, at least we can communicate with others we long to see in person. The Lord sees us in our need and we pour our supplication out to Him and humble ourselves and confess our faults whether together or apart.

We will celebrate as a congregation when we can see each other again. We celebrate various events in our lives: births, weddings and holidays. We even celebrate a life well-lived at funerals as we acknowledge our grief, knowing a loved one is with Christ. And one day when we see loved ones in heaven and are there to greet them with the Lord, what a day of celebration that will be! No more tears or sorrow!

During Lent as days lead up to Easter, we contemplate all these things. Christ took our sins in His body on the cross. He rose again to defeat death. We cast all our earthly burdens on Him because He cares for us. His perfect love helps us to cast out fear and replace it with faith. Sin pulls down; faith soars.

Lord, help us to turn from our wicked ways so that you can heal our land. Help us to love like you love – completely and unconditionally. Let us bring your peace to those we touch. In the name of Jesus, Amen.

About Mary Petrilla
Mary Petrilla is a faithful member of the Chancel Choir.

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New Youth Center Building Tour

Join Will Ameen as he hosts the Trustees and Finance Committees on a walking tour of the Youth Center in order to share some of the dreams the Building & Grounds Team has for the renovation currently being planned.

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Serving as a Youth

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. – Mark 10:45

JNS Service Project – Photo by Tracy Spencer

Serving. It is something that has never really been a big part for me growing up. I have volunteered and served on many occasions, but have never truly "served." Every time I would do something like volunteer work, my parents would sign me up or ask me if I wanted to do it with the only answer allowed being a yes. I would have fun serving at some of the places, but never really understood what it is like to serve spiritually and emotionally.

Whenever I would serve, it would always be something to involve my brother. We would do it for however many hours on the weekend and then go do another activity. I hadn't gotten the meaning of what it is like to serve for God and for your neighbors. 

This all changed when I was in middle school. I was growing up and was understanding more about what being a Christian is truly like. I also learned what serving is all about and how it is to help others and everything is for God without expecting anything in return. Each time I would serve since, I got a sense of satisfaction deep within me that let me know that I was not doing it just to do it, but to do it for Him. I would try to serve for activities that my parents didn't recommend and volunteered to be on a church committee. I have felt great about serving and am glad that I chose to do it.

We are called to serve each other. “I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.' ”  Acts 20:35.  When each of us serve one other, we are serving God and helping all things good. We are receiving each others' hospitality and our own by giving. We need to give to receive.

About Milan Steen
Milan Steen is a youth who participates at St. Thomas. Milan is part of the PACK and the Building and Grounds Committee, and is excited to serve for the church.

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Row, Row, Row your Boat

Friends love all the time, and kinsfolk are born for times of trouble. – Proverbs 17:17

People were bringing little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, "Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these." – Mark 10:13-14

Photo by Tracy Spencer

“Row, Row, Row your Boat” is a familiar nursery rhyme, often sung in the round, that we learned as young children and have recently rediscovered in a new perspective. As new grandparents, helping with daycare of our one-year-old granddaughter, we have found a blessing, and also a challenge, to keep an active one-year old entertained. New video technologies make it possible to bring these age-old rhymes and songs to life. As we watched the images and listened to the pleasing melody keeping our granddaughter’s attention, we noticed that with each verse, the images of the man and woman gently rowing down the stream in the boat gradually aged. Childhood hair bows became hats with veils, smooth skin took on wrinkles and bright eyes were enhanced with glasses. Following busy careers, full-time childcare was not what we had planned in retirement but 2020 has presented families with many unexpected opportunities to share and enjoy time together. Scripture tells us,“Friends love all the time, and kinsfolk are born for times of trouble.” Proverbs 17:17.

Rediscovering this sweet tune about rowing a boat down a gentle stream can be about life’s journey. For us, it is a journey of faith and family, trusting God’s Word and showing unconditional love and support to our family. As we reflect over our life’s course constantly rowing that boat, whether we’re floating gently along or dipping our paddles in white water rapids, we are blessed to be part of St. Thomas UMC and involved in the lives of our own children and now our granddaughter. While in the Judean region in the area east of the Jordan River, Jesus was preaching to crowds. Once when some mothers were bringing their children to Jesus to bless them, the disciples shooed them away, telling them not to bother him. But when Jesus saw what was happening, he said ... ’Let the children come to me, for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these.’” Mark 10:13-14.

Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, Jesus’ life and His words give us guidance in how to be strong in our faith and unconditionally loving and supportive to our families. We are thankful for the opportunities to share time together and be constantly reminded of our many blessings. Amen

About Barry and Debbie Barnard
We have been members of St. Thomas UMC for over 40 years. We are retired from careers in education and policing. We have two Children and one beautiful Granddaughter.

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Prayer, Love, Service

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. – Ephesians 2:10

Children’s Choir at St. Thomas UMC, 2018When Sim and I joined St. Thomas UMC 52 years ago, we were welcomed into a vibrant, nurturing community of believers. STUMC had ample opportunities to grow within a church family and to serve within the Church, the larger community and the world. Our prayer life grew as we participated in Sunday School and other groups.

At that time, St. Thomas had one children’s choir (K-5th) that was reaching unmanageable. Lynn Painter, the volunteer director of the Sunshine Choir, asked if I would consider directing a choir for K-2nd graders. After lots of prayer, the Seraphim Choir began practicing on Wednesdays at 6 PM. What a joyous blessing God provided for all of us! We started with about 13 children and grew to over 40 K-2nd graders over the next 10 years. (This was before there were so many outside activities competing for children’s time.)

We began our practice with prayer thanking God for our time to sing His praises, followed by each child thanking God for one thing. Then we sang the “Doxology,” a short praise song used in most services. We eventually learned “Gloria Patri” and “The Lord’s Prayer” also used in services anywhere. Most of all, we sang happy, joyous songs such as “Hallelu”, “Arky! Arky!,” “Clap Your Hands,” “Creature Praise,” “Love, Love, Love,” “The Butterfly Song,” “Bu-bu-bu-bu-bubbling,” “I’m A Great Big Bundle,” “ Bullfrogs and Butterflies,” “Just Like You Lord,” “Pass It On” and many more that make me happy just thinking about them. I remember and love each child that loved to sing those songs!!! 

We ended our practices with some action game type songs like “Father Abraham” or “The Grand Old Duke of York” and cookies to share. We met for a full hour that went by so quickly because everyone was engaged in what was happening and the Holy Spirit was among us!!!

The Seraphim Choir sang once a month at each of the services, 8:30 and 11:00 AM using their talents to serve the Lord.

Prayer in action is love, love in action is service. - Mother Teresa

Thank you, God, for answered prayers and love that leads us into service.

 In Jesus name, Amen.

About Helen Stidham
Sim and I have been members of St. Thomas since 1969. We have raised two daughters, Ashby and Audra, and have three grandchildren. I have worked as a history teacher, kindergarten teacher, mental health counselor and a mental health lobbyist for the American Counseling Association, and now, in retirement, a wildlife rehabber, specializing in squirrels. I love all God's creatures, even human beings.

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God Knows Best

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. – Romans 8:28

“You Just Have To Believe” Artwork by Caleb Matthews

Twelve years ago, I was a happy stay-at-home mom. Stephen was going to graduate from high school in a couple of months and Brian would follow four years later. College bills were looming, but we had been saving for years. Then that wee small voice of the Holy Spirit told me to enjoy my time now, because I was going back to work. I laughed and asked who would hire someone who hadn’t “worked” for 15 years? He would have to drop a job in my lap because I didn’t know where to look and would want a part-time job.

Days later, I received a call from a former co-worker who had moved to a different company many years earlier. She was reaching out with the opportunity for a part-time position! Now, I would like to say that I immediately sent in my resume, but instead, I struggled with God for a week with the idea of change and guilt over leaving Brian alone for the first time. After she called back indicating that they hadn’t received my resume, I sent it in and got the job. It turned out that it was the most wonderful, challenging job with fellow Christians!

At hiring, I said I would work at least eight years, but enjoyed it so much, I figured I would work there until Matt retired. But the Holy Spirit told me things were going to change again and, at my eight-year anniversary review, my supervisor let me know that my job was going full-time. Most people would rejoice at that, but not me. Because of the Holy Spirit’s voice, I knew it was time to move on to something new and not to fight change again.  

God knows what is best for us. By submitting to Him, I had the most wonderful job ever! I was able to serve Him by doing my best by helping co-workers and customers.

About Sarah Hammack
My husband and I met at Virginia Tech and moved to Manassas after graduation. I worked in the field of microbiology and chemistry. Currently, I am a co-chair of the UMW and head of the Bazaar Crafters.

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Why I Serve

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. – 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

Paula Renfro with the El Salvador Mission Team from St. Thomas

Throughout my life I have been exceedingly blessed even during times when I was less than faithful. To this day I don’t understand why. But I have never questioned God’s love for me, demonstrated by those who served.

For 12 years from the time of a diagnosis of cerebral palsy, a physical therapist played praise music, encouraged Matt through his exercises and offered me encouragement and advice – she served.

When Matt had his first surgery, the doctors, nurses, therapists (OT, PT, Speech and recreational) shared laughter, ideas and encouragement – they served.

During Matt’s school years we had teachers, aides and case managers who looked past Matt’s disability and saw his strengths and helped us navigate the educational system – they served.

When I first began attending St. Thomas, someone anonymously made a mini ramp so that I could easily negotiate Matt’s wheelchair over the sill into the building where the children’s Sunday School classes were held. It was a blessing and a tangible sign of the hospitality and love I would always experience – he served.

In a year of health problems, two friends came to my house and decorated my Christmas tree when I could not. They showered me with laughter, friendship and fellowship – they served.

When I have been confused or frustrated or just needed to vent, I have friends who encourage, provide insight, lead me with love, get me back on track when I stray and make sure I don’t take life or myself too seriously – they serve.

Scripture urges us to be rich in, zealous for, devoted to and a model of good works. We are even told we are created by God to do good works. Although all of these are good reasons to serve, none are the reason I serve.

I serve because I have been abundantly blessed. I serve because God loves me and loves us all. I serve because of all the times I have been the recipient of service and of love. I serve to pass on the love and comfort I have been shown. How can I do anything less?

About Paula Renfro
I am retired, live in Haymarket and am one of the three Lay Leaders.

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Let It Go and Open to God

The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for his name’s sake. – Psalm 23:1-3

Statue with a Halo - Photo by Sarah Brun

Losing. 

This word probably first comes to the mind of many people when they hear a word, "submission." In certain situations, like competitive sports or even wars, it is true that to submit is to lose. Similarly, to surrender is synonymous to giving up. It happens when we are weak and powerless and our capacity and the will to continue have been exhausted. 

But, in God, submission ultimately leads us to winning. 

To submit to God is to offer our total trust in God. It is to believe that God is at work to bring goodness into our lives. To surrender to God is to invite God into the moment and let God take the lead rather than to try control it by ourselves. And the shepherding God will lead us to green pastures and quiet waters and guide us along the right paths. (Psalm 23). 

This knowledge is very much engrained into my head. I can even offer numerous testimonies of my own of the times God led to goodness when I submitted to God. Still, I often find myself being caught by an anxiety in an uncertain situation and trying to make a quick turn to a direction where I think it’s the best, rather than humbly waiting for God's lead for the next step. When this temptation arises within me, I remind myself that I must submit to God by offering this prayer: 

Welcome, welcome, welcome.  
I welcome everything that comes to me today 
because I know it's for my healing,  
I welcome all thoughts, feeling, emotions, persons, situations, and conditions.  
I let go of my desire for power and control.  
I let go of my desire for affection, esteem, approval and pleasure.  
I let go of my desire for survival and security.  
I let go of my desire to change my situation, condition, person or myself.  
I open to the love and presence of God and God's action within.  Amen.  

(The Welcoming Prayer by Father Thomas Keating)

My favorite part of this prayer is to “let go.” It captures the essence of what it means to submit and surrender to God and to invite God to work in us and in the moment. I have this prayer written on a piece of Post-it note placed on the edge of a computer monitor in my office. I often recite this prayer out loud with my hands open toward heaven, in a humble attempt to rid of my humane desires and to be open to welcome everything coming from God.

Today, I would like to invite you to join me in this prayer. 

About Rev. Arum Kim
Pastor Arum joined this loving St. Thomas family in June last year as an associate pastor, with her husband Joon and their two daughters, Virginia and Charlotte (who was born shortly thereafter, and now already a happy 7-month-old).

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Don't Run from Silence

11 The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” 

Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. 

Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” – 1 Kings 19:11 - 13

Roslyn Retreat Center.  Host site of Spiritual Formation Academy – Photo by Abi Foerster

The first time she asked me to participate, I flat out said, “No!” The second time she extended an invitation, I gave her a slightly more theologically informed answer, “Let me pray about it and get back to you,” knowing I was really just trying to dodge the question. The third time, I began to warm up to the possibility and said, “Okay, tell me more about the Spiritual Formation Academy.” 

It’s a good thing that parishioners are patient with their pastors. You see Cathy Bowen, the dean of the Spiritual Formation Academy in Virginia and a member of the church where I served on staff, she knew all too well the tactics we take to avoid silence and solitude before a holy God. So, she smiled and kindly explained to me more about the 5-day Academy that she and others were planning:

“Well, the Academy invites participants to spend time apart in a Christian retreat setting with worship at the center. Faculty present on a particular theme and participants are offered time and space to respond to this theme through silence, written and spoken word, prayer, worship, and community sharing. In general, we follow the rhythm of monastic life with 12 hours of engagement and 12 hours of silence.” 

Then we sat there in silence for a good long while. She waited patiently for me to respond. I fidgeted and looked off into the distance. Clearly, one of us was more comfortable with silence! When I gained my composure, I asked, “What in God’s name do you do during the 12 hours of silence? Honestly, that sounds awful.” She responded, “You pray. You walk in nature. You sleep. You listen for God to speak… I know it might seem foreign to you now, but you’ll actually learn to love it, and maybe even long for it when you return home.” 

Of course, she was right. The fourth time she asked, I relented and said, “Okay. I will try it. But, I doubt I’ll like it.” As it turns out, the 5-Day Academy was exactly what my soul needed. Silence. Solitude. Time away from all the noise to ponder the goodness of the Almighty. An invitation for me to stop talking long enough that the Lord might get a word in edgewise. To remember fully that I am beloved as a child of God, worthy of the life and family and church that God has blessed me with every day.

I wonder when was the last time you sought out a place to be still and quiet before God. For it is often here, like the prophet Elijah, that we discover God speaks to us most clearly in a gentle whisper. 

Dear God, help me to seek the quiet places where I may hear your voice speaking directly to me. I know that if I can sit still long enough by myself, I might discover healing and new life indeed! Amen.

To learn more about The Academy for Spiritual Formation, go to https://academy.upperroom.org/.

About Rev. Abi Foerster
Abi serves as the senior pastor of St. Thomas, is married to Lacy, and is an unashamed "work in progress." She is an avid reader, enjoys traveling, and catching the Wahoos play sports with her family.

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Embracing Solitude

But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. – Luke 5:16

Photo of Mt. Rainier by Matthew and Sarah Hammack

There are many instances in the Bible where Jesus goes off alone to pray.  Even Jesus needed to get away from others and everyday life in order to communicate with God.  

For the longest time, I struggled to find the perfect place for me to communicate with God.  A few years back, I finally realized that my best connection speed was while hiking.  It’s like going from a dial-up to a fiber-optic connection.  I love to hike and often feel close to God while hiking. The outside world melts away as I hike and experience God’s wonderful creations. I see, feel, and smell incredible things while hiking.  I thank God for what I experience while hiking.  

I find it extremely easy to pray while hiking.  I know that God is with me with every step I take.  I have had numerous moments of extreme clarity and epiphanies while hiking. I know that these are thanks to our Father. 

I encourage each one to find and embrace your special place or moment when you are closest to God.  

About Joe Steen
Having recently retired, Joe spends his time hiking and volunteering as well as cooking for his lovely bride and two teenage sons.

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Let go! Let God!

So we fasted and prayed about these concerns. And he listened. – Ezra 8:23 (The Message)

Photo of Hawaiian sunset by Matt & Sarah Hammack.

I can honestly say I have experienced a very special “God moment” in my life. 

The year was 1972, the year I turned 18. 

I awoke early on a winter Sunday morning and found myself unable to eat breakfast AND restless. I put on my robe and fuzzy slippers and headed down to the quiet basement of my loving, Christian home. I turned the TV on to a low volume and found my own United Methodist pastor was giving a televised sermon. I was drawn in to the worship and his words. At the end of the sermon, the Reverend encouraged his viewers to seek God through prayer and petition.   

WOW! I asked myself, “When was the last time I prayed?” I wondered, “Did I even have a relationship with Christ?” (At Methodist Youth Fellowship, we teenagers affectionately called ourselves “warm, fuzzy” Christians in jest!) I believed I could take on life by myself. I thought I had, maybe, a mustard seed of faith. Christianity was truly being challenged in the late ’60s/early ’70s and I was “fasting” – I was  taking a break from Jesus to conform with the world I had come to know and love!

But, in that quiet Sunday space and time, I realized something very painful — my heart was so heavy with some very personal decisions I had, for months, struggled and struggled to make. I just could NOT wait any longer. All of a sudden, I yearned for Him.

I prayed and silently called out to Him.

In response, He spoke to me.

I listened and valued the plans He had for me. 

We — He and I together — set in place a simple, love-filled path for me. 

I trusted in Him. 

I followed Him.

My faith in Him did not waiver.

I did not disobey. 

Even today, a warm glow of God’s love washes over me as I think back to this very special turning point in my life. 

I will forever be grateful. Let go! Let God!

In our home, we have a print up on a wall. This message of simple words still rings true; He remains a present and patient Father in our lives.

“Make time for quiet moments, for God whispers and the world is loud.” (Author unknown). 

Let us ALWAYS remember and use the AWESOME power of prayer!       

About Diane Ameen
Where have the years gone? I have personally grown so much in my 25 year faith walk here at STUMC!

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Time Well Spent?

But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed. – Luke 5:16     

Original art by Jennifer LewisI’ve fasted before, with varying degrees of success, but wasn’t sure I had anything meaningful to say about it. I trusted God had something in mind for me when this topic fell in my lap, but being unsure where to start, I decided to read up on biblical fasting and I’m glad I did.

Fasting isn’t just about abstaining from food, but isn’t that what most of us think about when we hear the word? There are many ways to fast, and the Bible has much to say about it. A biblical fast is a matter of giving up something that satisfies you in order to pursue a deeper relationship with God.  As Christians, I think we know that, but how often do we think about it?

As I read, it occurred to me that I’ve missed out on an opportunity this past year. We’re living in a very different time, which has created many challenges. Not being able to get out much has been difficult, and boredom has set in for many of us. I spent a good deal of time in 2020 working on my house. I purged a great many belongings that no longer brought me joy. I painted, updated, renovated, and redecorated several rooms in my home and felt good about my results, but it was only a superficial victory. I failed to view this as a gift of time to be spent with God.

COVID has taken much from us, but it has also given us the perfect opportunity for an Isolation Fast. Think about it. Instead of binge-watching something on Netflix, Hulu, or any number of viewing options, turn off the TV.  Let’s turn off our radios and podcasts, close our books – other than the Bible, and take a break from the Internet.

Luke 5:16 says, “But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” While we are social distancing, God is inviting us to spend more time alone with him. I plan to accept that invitation and pray you do as well.

Love and HUGS to all!

About Deb Crawford
I think I’m fairly well known to most folks as your former Lay Leader (2019-2020). I am also part of the team bringing you our livestreaming services and am the current chair of the Worship Committee. I’m married to Gary and mom to Kara.

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Do You Want to Fast This Lent?

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter — when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? – Isaiah 58:6-7

The central idea in fasting is the voluntary denial of an otherwise normal function or activity for the sake of drawing closer to Christ. In the Bible, fasting is always associated with prayer and food. However, as Pope Francis points out, there are many things we can “fast” from in order to be closer to Christ – especially during the season of Lent. Richard Foster, in his book “Celebration of Discipline,” encourages Christians to fast from the following:

People – we have a tendency to devour people.  Silence and solitude (disciplines we will explore later) can actually help us love people more. 

Media – and the constant barrage of endless noise.

Cell phones – you do not have to answer every time someone calls or texts.

Billboards and Advertising – who determines what you need in this life to feel happy?

Consumer Culture – Consider using your buying power to do without and instead bless those in greatest need.

Fasting is a spiritual discipline ordained by God for the good of Christian fellowship. May God find our hearts open to his means of receiving grace.

Here are a few questions to ponder today:

1. What is the primary purpose of fasting?

2. How can fasting reveal what controls your life?

3. What is most difficult about fasting for you?

About Paula Renfro
Paula is the newest Lay Leader (2023) and serves as the Head of the Altar Guild.

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Worship

We offer both in-person and livestream services on Sundays at 9 am (Traditional) and 11 am (Contemporary)  Please join livestream worship here: Worship Livestream Event 

Contact

St. Thomas UMC
8899 Sudley Road
Manassas, VA 20110
703-368-5161
info@stthomasumc.org 

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