One of the things I like about the Church of the Brethren is our understanding of God. According to brethren.org, “The central emphasis of the Church of the Brethren is not a creed, but a commitment to follow Christ in simple obedience, to be faithful disciples in the modern world. As do most other Christians, the Brethren believe in God as Creator and loving Sustainer. We confess the Lordship of Christ, and we seek to be guided by the Holy Spirit in every aspect of life, thought, and mission.”
As Christians, we want to experience the love of God, the saving power of Jesus and to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit in our lives, which includes our thoughts. We should strive to be obedient to every person of the Trinity in everyday life and the ministries God gives us.
Stephanie and I have never questioned God called us to Snake Spring Valley Church of the Brethren. We’ve felt nothing but love from you and we’ve seen God working here from the moment we arrived. We also like living in Bedford County.
Still, there were areas in our lives where we needed God to work. Although we loved each other and had a solid marriage, after 30 years of being together there were a couple of areas in our relationship where we achieved the level of “miserable comfortableness.” If you’ve been married for a while, you know what I mean. I’m talking about those areas where you’re not happy but you know things may never change so you find a place where you can endure it. Stephanie and I were aware of these problem areas but we didn’t have the ability to change them on our own So, we kept praying: Lord, make my spouse the person I need and make me the person my spouse needs.
As your pastor, I sensed there were areas where we were too dependent on our church structure with schedules and meetings. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, I too had become structured. But I did sense there had to be more.
A few weeks ago, God began to move in ways I’ve never experienced before. As the writer of Psalm 66:16 says, “Come and hear, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me.”
Through a series of circumstances that could only be timed and orchestrated by God, he put me in contact with another area pastor who has the same view of ministry that I have. He also wants more from God. We started meeting to talk and to pray.
At one point, the Holy Spirit told us to repent of our sins to each other and then pray for each other. We all know how difficult it can be to confess your sins and weaknesses to another person. There’s a fear that person will either judge you or, even worse, gossip. Satan is very good at making us afraid to be vulnerable. So, we hang onto our sins. Satan then reminds us of them and tries to convince us we’re unworthy to serve God.
But the other pastor and I obeyed the Holy Spirit, confessed our sins and prayed for each other. We then spend some time encouraging one another and offering council to each other.
As soon as we did this, amazing things happened. God took away the pain of hurts I received in ministry years ago. Then He said, “You’re not there anymore. Move on.” I felt a spiritual weight lift off my shoulders at that moment.
Stephanie and I had a conversation where we recommitted ourselves to each other. We decided to look for new ways to address a couple of issues since the old ways weren’t working. We also cried out to the Lord for his guidance. After we did this, God gave me a love and patience for our marriage that I haven’t had for 20 years.
Even though I’ve always enjoyed being your pastor, God’s given me an excitement for ministry that I haven’t had in 10 years. He’s also increased my faith in Jesus and in the purpose of the church.
God is also speaking to me in new ways. As a younger Christian, the Lord gave me words of knowledge to give people. When I was taking a summer class at Bridgewater College in the late 1990’s, the teacher gave us an opportunity to study in the college library. As I was sitting in a desk, the Lord directed my attention to the woman sitting in front of me and said, “Go tell her that I know where she is and she’s exactly where I want her to be.” I brushed this off since I hadn’t had any experience with these things before. After about 30 seconds, God repeated it. So, I went up and gave her the message. Immediately, her eyes welled up with tears, she reached up and hugged me and said, “I was just sitting here thinking I don’t belong here and in 3 days I can go home.”
Occasionally, these words of knowledge would come to me but they seemed to be absent over the past few years. I prayed for God to give me more words to share with others. Recently, the Lord has started giving them to me again. Last week as I was praying for a specific person, I sensed the Lord telling me, “Tell her I said it has indeed been me speaking to you in new ways this week. However, because this is new to you, you’ve been doubting if it’s me. I’m drawing you closer to me and taking our relationship to “the next level.” Don’t let fear keep you from hearing me. I’m not mad at you. I want you to know that I love you and I want you to learn to listen to my ‘still, small voice.’”
I thought, “That’s pretty specific, Lord. Is that really you?” After all, this is a lot more detailed than, “I know where you are and you’re exactly where I want you to be.” I formatted a plan. I would ask this person, “Have you been sensing the Lord’s speaking to you this week?” If the answer was “Yes” then I could give this person the rest of the message. If the answer was “No” then I could just shut up. As I thought about this, I heard the Lord say, “No. Give her the message I told you to give her.” I thought, “OK. If I’m wrong, it won’t be the most foolish thing I’ve ever done.” I sent the message and waited for the response. It came later that day. The first sentence was, “How do you know exactly what I’ve been feeling and thinking?”
This is just one example of how the Lord has been speaking to me in new and detailed ways during the past few weeks. There are many, many more stories I could tell you about what God is doing in my life. Why do I share all of this? It isn’t so I can say, “Look at me.” I have nothing to do with all of this. It’s God working.
I share this because two weeks ago we agreed as a congregation that we want to go to the next level in our relationship with Jesus. God is working in your life and speaking to you too. Because this is new to some of you, you’re questioning if this is really God. It is. God wants you to quit resisting him.
God wants to do more in us. James 5:13-20 says, “Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven. 16 Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
17 Elijah was a human being, even as we are. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. 18 Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.
19 My brothers and sisters, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring that person back, 20 remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of their way will save them from death and cover over a multitude of sins.”
When we look closely at this scripture, we see several “if-then” statements. If you are in trouble, then pray. If you are happy, then sing songs of praise. If you are sick, then call for the elders to pray and anoint you with oil. The prayers offered up in faith with bring healing and your sins will be forgiven.
Then, in vs. 16, James changes direction by saying “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” Confessing our sins is necessary if we want to have God rescue us in times of trouble, minister to us in times of joy and heal us when we’re anointed. It was only after I confessed my sins that God moved with such power in my life.
Today God is calling us to publicly confess our sins to him at the altar. Many of you will be hesitant to come forward because you wonder “What will people think?” Please remember that last week I asked, “Who here is not a sinner?” No one raised his or her hand. You confessed to us and to yourself that you sin. We already know you walked in here as a sinner. The question is: Will you leave here as a repentant sinner?
After a time of confession, God is telling me to anoint anyone who wants healing. According to our current Church of the Brethren minister’s manual, “Traditionally, Brethren have anointed for three reasons: the forgiveness of sins; the strengthening of one’s faith; the healing and wholeness of body, mind, and spirit according to God’s grace and wisdom” (For All Who Minister, p. 254).
Please come forward during the closing hymn to pray and be anointed.