Christ Is Risen! He Is Risen INDEED!!!

The celebration of Easter is absolutely central to the life of the church and to faithful Christians. Why? Without the new life of Christ touching every aspect of who we are and what we do, we are simply going through religious motions, playing religious games, and puffing a religious veneer over lives that are just like anyone else’s. To live lives touched by the Resurrection means many things, but I’d like you to think about these two:

• It means that we live unafraid of death and all that it brings with it. Many live in such a way that they will do ANYTHING to avoid pain, aging, illness and death. They go to extraordinary lengths to deny the inevitability of it, fooling only themselves and a few select others who are in on the game. We use drugs to lessen the impact of what’s coming, or we choose inappropriate and (ultimately) damaging lifestyles, or we try to fool ourselves into acting or looking (sort of) much younger than we are, or we are simply paralyzed by fear into a kind of stupor that keeps us from doing or being anything.

• It also means that we live free from sin’s power. This is exactly what we have been preaching from Paul’s letter to the Roman church these past few months. Has some-one done something to you that still controls your heart and mind? Have you done something that has clouded or affected your whole life? Have you taken a road of temptation that leads only to damage to you and others? Have you allowed prejudice or fear to warp your heart so that you cannot love and forgive?

• Easter isn’t just about eggs, bunnies, hollow chocolate Easter bunnies, and dressing up. It’s about the new life we have in Christ, in which we are set free to love, forgive and serve, and thereby find a sense of peace and joy in all that we do. By grabbing hold of the cross, we share in Jesus’ victory over sin, death and all that would destroy us.

“What are we doing to grow in faith?”

As I sit here at my desk on this cold, blustery, snowy February morning, I look out the office window and see the majesty and beauty of God’s creation.  Few vehicles pass on the highway here in front – a welcome respite from the usual blasts of the jake brakes of the log trucks rolling by. The stillness and quiet may be maddening to some.  But to me, it’s a time to welcome God’s Spirit to minister to my spirit in the quiet of the morning. Of course, I don’t have to head out to work this morning in this weather.  Those who do might see the quietness of this snowy morning from a different perspective.  Those who must be out in this bluster, electrical linemen for instance, may see it as maddening.  It’s all in your perspective.

But here comes March – known as a time of Madness, “March Madness,” at least in college basketball. Usually there are 68 teams from all over the country vying for four spots in the Final Four tournament. This tournament is known for its excitement and highly competitive action. During the month, there are upsets between teams who have automatically qualified, because they won their conference, and teams that were chosen to an at-large spot in the tournament. All these teams are pulling out all the stops to reach the goal of being crowned the national basketball champion for 2021. This is typically a season filled with disappointment, thrills, and always unexpected surprises. Such things might also reflect God’s take on the Christian walk from a heavenly point of view. Those we don’t see applauded or receiving public acclaim can often be the very ones whose faith provides an example for us to emulate. Sometimes the quiet ones, who come through the battle battered and bruised, are the best examples of what it means to be a Christian. We cannot rely on our own eyesight to determine the one who best epitomizes what it means to be a true follower of Christ.

Yet I think that we all have a role to play in this world. In fact, there is no competition, no scrambling for the top spot, but instead God relies on each of us playing our part to the best of our ability. Just as the teams that rise to the top in March Madness rely on each of their players to effectively execute the role he has on the team in order to win, so God entrusts us with gifts to employ in the building of His kingdom.

In some ways, March Madness is also an appropriate name for the season of Lent, the time from Ash Wednesday to Easter. It is a time when we do things that the world might consider crazy in order to grow in our faith. We give up luxuries that bring us pleasure in order to remember that it is God who gives us all we have. We spend more time in conversation with God to guide us in the way we should go. We are more considerate of those who are more needy than we. March is a time when we reevaluate not only our goals for which we strive but when we also reevaluate our methods for approaching and achieving those goals. We may even change our goals midstream, because we realize the goals we have made are self-honoring rather than God-honoring. We look for counsel from our fellow companions (some would call them our fellow competitors), from scripture, and from the Spirit who was given to us by Jesus who died for us, not because we were good, but because we needed a savior.

You may think this is far-fetched thinking, but remember that the Jew’s patriarch, Jacob, father of the twelve sons who later became the twelve tribes, was given a new name because he wrestled with God. Jacob, renamed Israel, was not one who gave up, nor did he give in to the angel or Lord with whom he was wrestling. In fact, he ended up with a permanent limp after this wrestling match and also ended up with the name which would become the name of the nation which would bless all the earth.

So, during the month of March, we ask ourselves, “What are we doing to grow in faith?” Are we spending time reading the scriptures, or maybe we have our own formal or informal Bible study? Whatever we are doing, now is the time to put our madness into action. Let us look forward to Eastertide when we will celebrate Palm Sunday on March 28th and Easter on April 4th, the greatest holiday ever. And may we truly be mad about God just as God is mad about us. To Him be the glory and honor, amen.

Onward Toward the Goal

Many people are no doubt excited about a new year having arrived – in view of all that we experienced in 2020. There is no way to really overstate the historic nature of 2020 with all that we experienced: the global COVID-19 pandemic, a divisive and expensive presidential and national election, racial and social unrest not experienced since the 1960s, threats of extremism here at home and abroad, economic setbacks not seen since the Great Depression, and general uncertainty about the future among many people. There is a widespread sentiment that 2021 will surely be better – could it be any worse than 2020?

Let me address this important question from the perspective of our Christian faith. No doubt, the year of 2021 will bring its own challenges. While there is “light at the end of the tunnel” relative to the COVID-19 pandemic with the availability of the new vaccines and improved treatments, we must realistically acknowledge that the next few months, and perhaps even beyond, will continue to be very difficult with continuing spread of the virus, high infection rates, and thousands of lives being lost. It will most likely be the middle of the year before a large number of the American population will be vaccinated, which immunologists tell us will be necessary to reach a point of relative safety. Even then, COVID-19 will continue to be a public health threat, but we will hopefully be able to return to some type of “new normal” – whatever that new normal will be in terms of all areas of life. But we hope to be through the worst of the pandemic by mid-2021. That will be a huge blessing of course.

But there will be other challenges as well. Many of the problems I mentioned before will continue to be challenges in 2021 and will continue to require our attention and work as a country and as a people – including attention from the perspective of our Christian faith. Plus there will be the new issues arising in 2021 that capture our attention and consume our time and resources. There may even be moments in time that it will seem that 2021, at least for some people, has equaled, or surpassed, the challenges of 2020. That is the course of life and goes with the passing of time.

Just as I preached last Sunday, there will be good and bad in 2021. But we can look to the scriptures for wisdom and guidance in 2021 as in all times and for that wisdom and guidance to get us through the challenges of this world. A text that comes to mind, as we are settling into 2021, offers hope and perspective for those of us who are believers in Jesus Christ. Think about these words of Paul in Philippians 3:13-14:

“Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press onward toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”

As we move forward through 2021, dealing with COVID-19 and other challenges along the way, let’s hold onto those words of Paul – “forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead…” In Jesus Christ, we are winning the prize for which God is calling us “heavenward in Christ Jesus.” And remember this- GOD IS GOOD…ALL THE TIME! Amen!

A Savior Has Come To Us

We have finally finished the last month of the year 2020. I suspect few were sorry to see it go. I heard one person say, “I’m staying up until midnight on December 31st, not to welcome in the new year, but to make sure 2020 leaves!” I thought that was quite humorous!

It was a difficult and challenging year, to say the least. The turmoil of 2020 was mind-boggling at times. Of course, the biggest disruptor has been the pandemic, but we also endured an impeachment trial, a summer of civil unrest, and the most contentious election season in memory. All of these things have served as catalysts for polarization, and we have become a “house divided” (Luke 11:17). I feel, we are divided more than at any time since the Civil War. In the midst of all the trouble that has marked this as a year we’d like to forget, what we really need is … a Savior.

The major political parties essentially told us the same thing during the presidential campaign, didn’t they? One side maintained that their candidate would save us from socialism. The other side claimed that their candidate would save us from losing our democracy. Though poles apart in countless ways, at least they agreed on one thing: we need someone to rescue us from our distress.

Well, guess what! A Savior has come to us! His name isn’t Donald or Joe, but Jesus. He entered into our shared human experience not with press conferences and victory parades, but with the gentleness of a baby’s breath. He offers us salvation from problems that aren’t just temporary but eternal. He wasn’t on the ballot on election day, but He invites us to choose Him every day so He can guide us into the kind of life that is abundant and eternal.

While we eagerly wait to see what the new year brings and the promise it holds for overcoming the pandemic, let’s not overlook the hope that Christ provides. Perhaps now more than ever, we need a reminder that God comes to us in our distress. Jesus is our Immanuel, God with us (Matt. 1:23; Isa. 7:14). And God is at work in this very moment to uphold and sustain His people. To paraphrase Zephaniah 3:17, “The Lord our God is with us, He is mighty to save.”

As we move into January, remember that God has already acted through Christ to save us from our greatest threat, and His love and care for us remains undiminished. Be prudent and wise—God expects no less—but trust Him through it all, and He will give you peace. “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God” (Psalm 20:7).

What A Ride!

The year of 2020 is almost gone. We’re coming to the end as December rolls around. We’ve certainly had our ups and downs this year, haven’t we? So, let’s look back, shall we?

January saw the advent of a new year! We hoped and prayed that 2020 would be a wonderful year for our Homestead United Methodist Church. Things were looking bright as we forged ahead with plans for the future in January and February. As pastor, I was jotting down notes and ideas for the coming year. Revivals, singings, VBS, and all the other standard activities which we celebrate each year, plus a few new events for our schedule.
But then, along came March, and we hit a roadblock. And, not only us, but almost every church and institution in our community, county, state, nation, and world. That pesky Covid-19, also known as the Coronavirus, seemed to stop us all in our tracks. Each day, each week, each month after that, we thought things are getting better. But even though there were up-ticks in our optimism from time to time during the year, here it is December, and Covid is still around. Friends, neighbors, loved ones are still testing positive for it, still contracting it, still getting sick from it, and sadly, still dying from it.

Where does it go from here? Perhaps only God knows the answer to that question. We’ve been told by our country’s leadership and the drug manufacturers that a vaccine is ready to go soon. But we haven’t seen it yet. Others say it may take months to even years for everyone to have access to the vaccine. Even though we wallow in our malaise of self-pity wondering what the future holds, we still press on, serving a God who has all things (including Covid) under His feet. We must look to Him as our strength during these difficult times.

Finally, November rolled around. It was a tough month here at our beloved Homestead Church as we lost our supporter, lay leader, administrative board chair, and perhaps his most important title “friend,” Tom Bristow. Tom’s passing leaves a hole in our hearts and in our church. We continue to keep dear Margie and their family in our thoughts and prayers leading up to their first Christmas without him. We also said goodbye to David as he moves on to hopefully bigger and better things. We wish him the best as seeks that new place he feels God is leading him to!

Here it is- DECEMBER! Our hopes are for a better 2021- hoping for an end to Covid, hoping to get back to normal, hoping for all our congregants to be able to worship together again, hoping for Sunday School and Wednesday Night Life to get back to what it used to be.

That word “normal” seems so strange to us now since it seems we have new “normals.” So we pray that God will get us back to our old “normal” or teach us how to adapt to the new “normals” we face.

But December also brings Christmas! Yay! The month we celebrate our Savior’s birth! While 2020’s Christmas may not bring the same “normal” activities at Homestead Church as in past years, we’ll still celebrate and remember “the reason for the season.”

In my devotions the other day, I ran across this Christmas story that I thought I’d share with you in my last pastoral newsletter article of 2020.
Among the countless Christmas legends, there is one involving a Christmas spider. According to this legend, when Joseph was warned in a dream to flee from King Herod and the massacre which he intended to inflict upon the children of Bethlehem, several animals from the manger decided to accompany the Holy Family on their journey. Each of the animals was determined to protect the baby Jesus, and each felt sure his or her particular talents would prove invaluable in that task. There also happened to be a spider who wanted to come. Yet none of the other animals felt the spider would be helpful. After all, she was only an insect. She had no keen ears or sharp teeth, no strong bones and no claws whatsoever. However, the spider persistently pleaded to be included, until at last the other animals agreed she could join them, provided she did not get in the way.
Unfortunately, as the journey unfolded, all of the other supposedly brave animals either were frightened off or else were distracted. They ended up returning home or embarking on a more appealing adventure of their own. With Herod’s troops on the march, and with the Holy Family growing more and more tired, Joseph and Mary had little choice but to try and hide. Finding a small and inconspicuous cave, they huddled inside, seeking shelter and rest, with the donkey and the spider their only remaining companions. Holding Jesus in her arms, Mary gently rocked him to sleep, and, for a while, it appeared everything would be fine. The only immediate problem was the chill in the air. Seeking to be of help in some small way, the spider carefully wove a web over the opening of the cave to try to keep the baby warm.

The spider had just finished her weaving when suddenly voices were heard outside the cave. The soldiers had caught up with the Holy Family, and they were diligently searching the entire area. When they came to the cave where the Holy Family was hidden, both Mary and Joseph held their breath, certain their doom was upon them. Yet the soldiers passed by the cave. One soldier said it was a waste of time to search it, since anyone who had entered the cave would have broken the spider’s web over the opening. Thus it was that the seemingly insignificant spider saved the day; and the legend goes on to say that this is why we hang tinsel on our Christmas trees … to remind us of the silver strands of the web which the little spider wove … and to remind us that no act of kindness, no act of courage, no act through which we seek peace with justice is ever wasted.

The legend also reminds me that someone once suggested we need not only to keep Christ in Christmas but also, believe it or not, to keep Herod in Christmas, because Herod, like Pharaoh before him, worships the love of power (enforced by violence) rather than the power of love. And in turn Herod reminds us all that we do not live in an ideal world but one where we often face both the threat and the destructive reality of violence. For the followers of Jesus, then, to be alive in him—to be alive in the adventure the Christ Child calls us to—is to side with all those who are vulnerable, even as the Christ Child was vulnerable. It is to live in defiance of those who see the vulnerable as expendable. It is to refuse to bow to any and every Herod and to any and every ruthless regime. It is instead to kneel in the manger before the Prince of Peace and then to go out to weave whatever webs we can as we continue to commit ourselves to acting justly, loving tenderly, and walking humbly with God.

And so, from your pastoral family, we pray that the God of Peace who brought our Savior Jesus the Christ to the world, will bring you joy unspeakable and full of glory during this Christmas season and forever! Amen and Awomen, as Grandpa Walton would say!

Love One Another

Love Your Neighbor

My wonderful Homestead parishioners, Mark 8:37-38 says A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?”

The conversations almost always start the same way. “Hey, how are you?” “I’m…ok. How about you?” “We’re fine…”

The question is not new to us. For many of us, it is the standard greeting we have used in casual conversation for as long as we can remember. Our typically nondescript response has almost always been the same. However, lately I have noticed a change in many responses, perhaps a slight hesitation that hints at something other than ‘Okay’ or ‘Fine’.

Whether the hesitation comes from my side of the conversation or the other, a new response is emerging: “Are you sure? That wasn’t too convincing.” We could list all the reasons not to be ‘Okay’ or ‘Fine’, and sometimes we do: sheltering-in-place for months on end, news reports of the virus spreading and climbing death rates, concerns about schools reopening or not reopening, another disconcerting news story, economic fears, and all kinds of personal struggles and concerns.

Our national equilibrium has been upended, and we may feel almost sick as we are tossed about by rough unpredictable waves. We try to regain our balance, individually and collectively, as another wave has us listing again.

If you remember, I preached on this very passage a while back. You may remember the story of the day Jesus and the disciples were in a boat when storm came up quite suddenly (Matthew 8, Mark 4, and Luke 8.) The disciples held on for dear life as the storm raged. Meanwhile Jesus was sleeping in the back of the boat, that is until they woke him up with their panicked cries, “Do you not care that we are perishing?” After calming the storm, Jesus rebuked them for their ‘little faith.’

I don’t want to draw too much of a comparison between our circumstances and that story, but as uncomfortable, disorienting and tragic as it is, the storm we are living through today has forced most of us to pay attention. Not only are we literally concerned for our lives and the lives of others, we see that some ideas and institutions may be perishing.

I won’t speak to the measurability of our individual or collective faith, but I sense that America’s true religion has many gods that include, but are not limited to: the stock market, one political party or the other, major league sports, any number of ideologies, and perhaps even the institutional church.

The Bible doesn’t tell us all the lessons that the disciples learned during and after the storm, but I’d suggest these may have been among them and they may have some value for us in this present storm.

God has not abandoned us. We cannot sail through this by ourselves; we need one another. We will be different when the storm finally ends. When the storm is over, we will still have to work together to get to shore, and once we do, there will be more to do. At a minimum, we have got to make some serious changes to our boat before the next storm.

While this current storm rages on, I hope we will keep asking “How are you doing?” However, we may want to take a minute to think before we answer. “Honestly, I am hanging on with a white-knuckled grip.”

In closing, we have an election coming up in the next few days. I would never tell you who to vote for. However, I’d like to suggest to you that some “effectual, fervent” prayers might be in order before you go to the polls. What about asking God for some advice? After you pray, and respond accordingly, then let’s get back to what God has called us to do. What is that, you say? Jesus said in Matthew 13:34, “Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

I believe this election has brought out the worst in people. I have seen and heard more rancor during this election cycle than any time in my remembrance. I have personally spoken with friends who have lost friends during this time. That grieves my heart, and I know it grieves the heart of God.

So please, I beg you, just follow Jesus’ advice! That’s all I ask. Vote according to what your heart, through the influence of the Holy Spirit, tells you. And then LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR! Even the neighbor whose political beliefs differ from your own.

No More Tricks

The past seven or so months have played tricks with our souls and minds. We think we remember the winter—when we knew where we were, who we were, and how to live. Our daily rhythms grounded us. Our workplaces, schools, churches, wherever—life outside the home helped us identify who and where in time and space we belonged.

For most of us, we always returned home but some of our identity was not just grounded at “home.” The early days of working from home were thought to be temporary as we waited—to return to normal.

Over half a year later, fall is here, and days, even months have passed. We have waited, adapted, zoomed, re-oriented, turned dining room tables into office space, and turned kitchen tables into homework desks. We have done the dance of staying close and venturing out, wearing masks and pulling them away when we are in close proximity to another of our kind. We try to relocate ourselves in the vast contaminated, fiery, flooded bubble called earth. We have changed our understanding of home or homelessness, of work and no work, of play and where we play, of how we listen to music, how we spend our hours, how we cook, what we eat, how we pray.

Are we tired? YES! Are we anxious? YES! If we’re honest, maybe a little self-absorbed? Probably! So, what should we be doing in response to all that we’re experiencing right now?

Well, as I have been saying in the past several Sunday’s sermons, we need to stay calm, stay connected & stay the course. I hope that we’ve really been able to listen and absorb the messages. We need to be intentional in our spiritual growth and persevere through our trials in these un-certain and trying times. Friends, let’s please don’t waste the opportunities we have in front of us to learn and grow. Instead, let’s allow God to use our trials to draw us closer to him and each other; to learn things we might not have learned any other way (Romans 8:28; Hebrews 12:11; James 1:2-5).

Don’t forget that there are many ways that we can do that this fall. If we haven’t done so already, let’s prayerfully discern how the Spirit is calling us to engage with God and our church family. Let’s stay active and alert to what God is wanting us to learn about ourselves, about him, and about our calling to be the church despite the safety measures we have to put in place be-cause of the pandemic.

There is no better time or opportunity than right now to discover how we’re called to function and grow through cultivating our faith in the intimate and personal spaces of the church. Instead of continuing to grieve or be inconvenienced or frustrated by the loss of our familiar public wor-ship services, like Wednesday Night Life or Sunday School, let’s ask each other- Can we just talk to God about that? Why? Because He is the best, and maybe the only, one to bring us peace, comfort, and assurance during these difficult days.

May God continue to bless our Homestead Church as we keep our hand to the plow and follow Jesus toward God’s good future. Have a great October, church!

Guess What?

I suppose the first and foremost thing occupying our minds these days is still the corona-virus. We are moving back inside the building as of Sunday, September 6th. Will it be permanent? Will the bishop postpone in-building services again? Who knows? This Covid-19/Coronavirus has, if nothing else, shown us its resiliency.

I seem to recall back in March when the “experts” said it would be gone by summer because it could not live in the heat. Guess what? They missed on that assumption. Here we are in September, and there are more cases than ever. We can safely say our wonderful medical professionals have, in some ways, learned how to treat it. But, at the same time, the number of people testing positive has increased exponentially. And deaths continue to occur. Thus, I don’t think anyone, including the “experts,” can predict for sure what the future holds.

But as the old hymn goes, “I don’t worry o’er the future, For I know what Jesus said, And today I’ll walk beside Him, For He knows what lies ahead. Many things about tomorrow, I don’t seem to understand, But I know who holds tomorrow, And I know who holds my hand.”

In reality, isn’t this true in all aspects of our lives? We really don’t know what the future holds. Covid-19 is scary, for sure. But we cannot let it paralyze us with so much fear that we stop living our lives and totally isolate ourselves from everyone we love. I have heard of so many elderly folks, confined to assistance facilities, unable to visit with their loved ones, who have simply given up on living. Many have gone on to be with Jesus. How sad that these precious people could not be with their loved ones during their final hours.

I am reminded of the words the Apostle Paul who wrote to his spiritual son Timothy, “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”

So let’s live our lives, do the best we can, follow John Wesley’s “do no harm” advice to the best of our ability, mask up, glove up, whatever is necessary. But through it all remember that we know who holds our hand!

Thus, what have we learned with Covid-19? Don’t you wish that this virus would have been a blizzard? Let’s pretend we had 24 inches of snow. We might be stranded in our homes. We might be stuck eating our own food. I don’t mind that at all, but some do. Our backs may be sore from shoveling all this snow. We might miss a few days of work. All our activities may be cancelled. In the end, we camp out inside for a few days (unless you’re a farmer). Then, it’s over.

Listen to what Elihu tells Job about snow, “He (God) says to the snow, ‘Fall on the earth,’ and to the rain shower, ‘Be a mighty downpour.’ So that all men he has made may know his work, he stops every man from his labor’” (Job 37:6-7). Why does God send the snow? He desires for all people to know His work.

How can God get people to know his work? Sometimes He stops our labor. Now I realize the virus and snow are two different things.

But why does God allow the virus? Ultimately, you must say it is God’s sovereignty. Yes, our free will may have been part of its creation and may be part of its spread, but God has allowed it. And, yes, sickness and death entered the world with our sin. How can God get people to know his work? Again sometimes, He stops our labor. While we are stopped, what should we learn? Who is in charge? We humans are not in charge, but God is. We don’t know how the virus began or how it will end.

Quite frankly, it almost sounds like a plague from the Old Testament. God allows these events to occur to remind us of who we are not; we are not God. Dr. Os Guinness recently stated that “the loss of control is at the heart of the fear caused by the pandemic. We have no control, though Westerners are control freaks.”

What is our view of death? Do we recognize our own mortality? We will all die. Do we know what happens after death? Do we know the source of eternal life? What occupies our soul? It is when we have “free” time that we learn what we love. That is the focus of our soul. What we fill our time with shows what we value. Think about this: Who or what is on the throne of your heart?” Are we learning humility the hard way?

As I was exploring a quote from Pres. Bush during 9/11 last week, I found these words of his in the Guardian, “There is no textbook on how to steady a nation rattled by a faceless enemy.” Now we all know he is referring to the terrorist attack that just occurred and not the face-less enemy of a virus. Unfortunately, this virus has become so very politicized. Rather than joining a side, why don’t we pray for wisdom and guidance and humility before God for our leaders. What is the church? If you haven’t noticed, the church is not a building. We haven’t met inside the building since March and the church continues. We have met in the yard. We worshiped by Facebook Live. We have made and received calls, emails, and even cards or letters by snail mail. I’ve even got to see a few people, can you believe it, in person!

You see, the church is people united in Jesus Christ. Are our hearts hurting for the broken? People are grieving. People have lost loved ones. Some have lost their health. Some have lost jobs and incomes. Some have even lost businesses right here in Crossville.

Much loss leads to much grief. Today, let’s ask the Holy Spirit to keep our hearts and our eyes and our ears open to ways we can serve. This can be a great Spiritual Exercise. Dr. Os stated in a recent webinar that he prays these words almost daily, “Lord, teach us to count our days so we can make our days count.” And, so should we!

Can We Talk?

I follow a blog written by Pastor Craig Nieuwhof from Barrie, Ontario, Canada. He is the founding pastor of Connexus Church in Barrie. He is also an author and speaker. As I contemplated what to write to you for the August 2020 newsletter, I remembered this post from one of his recent blogs. I think it basically says a lot of what most of us pastors want to say to our parishioners in this crazy, upside-down world in which we live. It is a bit long, but it really covers a lot of our thoughts as pastors.

FIVE THINGS YOUR PASTOR WISHES THEY COULD TELL YOU
By Carey Nieuwhof

I don’t know why I wanted to write this today. But I did. Other than a brief time in law, pastoring a church is what I’ve been involved in for my adult life. I’ve probably had thousands of conversations with people (and so have you), but if you’re like me, there are some things you just never get around to saying out loud.

It’s not that you don’t want to…it’s just that you don’t. Yet saying them could help you and maybe even help scores of great people who are working so hard at your church. They might even make things…better. Here are five things I think most pastors wish they could tell their congregations:

  1. I’M TRYING TO STEP OFF THE PEDESTAL PEOPLE KEEP PUTTING ME ON.
    I’m not better than anyone else. Really. I have never believed I’m better than anyone else. And I promise you if we got to hang out more, it wouldn’t take long for you to see I don’t belong on a pedestal either.
    I’m not in ministry because I’ve got this all figured out, or because it was an ambition of mine. I honestly feel I was called into it. Believe it or not, I tried to resist the call. But people kept affirming what I couldn’t stop sensing—that God was calling me to serve in the local church. So I obeyed.
    It gives me a lot of comfort that the heroes in the scripture were flawed people. Peter barely got it right. Paul had his critics. Noah was a flawed leader. So was Moses. But reading their story gives me hope for my story. And—you know what—it gives me hope for your story and for the church. God doesn’t use perfect people. His grace flows best through broken people. God belongs on the pedestal. So why don’t we keep him there and keep ourselves below it?
  2. I ALSO HAVE DOUBTS
    I realize you might think my faith is rock solid. And in the end, it actually is quite strong. But I have days when I’m not sure my prayers make it past the ceiling. I have days when I read the scriptures and it seems like just another book. And I have days where I wonder where God is in the middle of this. Just like you. But I’ll tell you why I can’t let my faith go or shake it. Because God’s faithfulness keeps overshadowing my doubts.
    God has been consistently patient, kind, gracious and giving toward me. And he has been toward you too. And the days where the prayers seem empty and the scriptures seem cold are inevitably followed by the days in which God’s presence is almost palpable and the scriptures read me.
    So, don’t let your doubts do you in. Persist through them. I have and I do, and all I keep finding is the faithfulness of Christ. You will, too.
  3. I DON’T ALWAYS KNOW WHAT TO DO
    I don’t have all the answers. I don’t always know what to do. I know you know that. But there’s something in all of us that wants our leaders to know what’s next. I’ve become committed to telling you when I don’t know, and I hope you can accept that. You also need to know I’m doing my best to surround myself with incredibly wise people. Together, we are far smarter and wiser than any of us is alone.
    The Israelites wandered in the wilderness for a generation. No one understood why Jesus was so determined to go to the cross. And the birth of the early church in the first century probably made many peoples’ heads spin. But God was in all of it.
    I’m sure as we pursue Christ as best we can, we’ll figure out where he is in the middle of all this.
  4. I SO APPRECIATE IT WHEN YOU CUT MY FAMILY SOME SLACK.
    It’s fine for you to put me under a microscope. I get that. I got called into this and I’m accountable. But this church is a place where my family is growing up. It’s a place where my kids are asking their own questions and where my spouse comes on their good days and bad days.
    When you treat them as people who are on their own faith journey and hold them up to no greater standards than you do any other family, you give my family an incredible gift. We are pursuing Christ together, and when you give us grace, you actually make that journey richer.
  5. I’M MORE GRATEFUL FOR YOU THAN YOU REALIZE.
    I realize how demanding life is and how busy you are.
    I know you worked late on that project this past week….and still came to the event at the church.
    I realize you haven’t had 8 hours sleep in about three years and your kids are driving you crazy…and you took time to seek God today.
    I realize your family argued on the car ride to church and still walked through the door anyway (we do that too sometimes).
    I realize the school trip cost more than you thought and you’d really like to get to Disney this year but you’re giving anyway.
    I know that you serve in a number of organizations in the community but you still throw your weight behind this mission at the church we’re in together.
  1. Thank you. Really.
  2. The church is the most blessed organization in the world. We have an eternal mission that will make far more sense when we stand before Christ than it does most days now. I think only then will we see how important what we’re doing now really is. We rely on the goodwill and the hard work of dozens, hundreds or even thousands of people to be the church.
  3. And I want you to know how incredibly grateful I am for you. I am.

Sing For Joy!

A few days back, I was sitting on the front porch of the parsonage and noted the happy singing of several robins, cardinals, and bluebirds (at least they were the ones I could identify). I thought to myself about all those birds, “You have no idea what is going on in the world, do you?” The correct answer is they most likely do not. They’re thinking about one thing – “Let’s eat!” Winter and spring are now in the past, some are keeping their babies fed in their nests, and still others have already sent their babies out into the big bird world. Still they must eat. They must keep up their own strength.

Truthfully, I don’t really know what birds think, otherwise I could reasonably be considered “bird-brained”, but the scripture that immediately came to mind was a reminder of why birds sing so joyfully: “Look at the birds of the air . . .” With those words from Jesus in his Sermon on the Mount, the Holy Spirit reminded me that I was really the clueless one. If the birds don’t worry neither should I. Here is more of what he said: “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink; nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? Matthew 6:25-27 (NKJV)

Here is my point, and what we need to constantly have in mind: no Christ Follower should allow worry and/or anxiety to consume them. Yes, we can be concerned about a terribly contagious virus called Covid-19 that we thought would be subsiding by now, but instead is still sweeping the globe, killing thousands, endangering the more vulnerable members of the population, and making so many hundreds of thousands miserably ill. But, we serve an all-powerful God whose eye is on the sparrow and we know he watches over us too.

Speaking for myself, I’m tired! But you may say, “how can you be tired, Pastor? You’re not doing that much.” Oh, it’s not so much a physical tired as it is mental, emotional, even spiritual. I miss the ways things used to be. Can we all just be honest with ourselves? I want church back like it used to be. I want us all to gather INSIDE God’s house, sing the songs of worship, hug and love one another, and I want to pastor. I want to visit your homes, sit at your tables, drink coffee on your porch! That was my promise to you when we came to HUMC. But, except for a few instances here and there, I can’t keep my promise to you. I can’t do all those pastoring things. Covid-19 has disrupted all of our schedules, all of norms and routines. But as much as all this causes me consternation, I’m reminded that God doesn’t change. He’s the same yesterday, today, and forever! And just like His eye is on the sparrow, His eye is also on you and on me- even during this time of change and disruption. Through it all, I just have to look for alternative ways to show that Godly love to others through whatever means possible- even when that means not being physically with the ones I love.

So, in the midst of this pandemic that has caused the world to come to a screeching halt, and has brought so much disruption of every kind, let’s remember whose we are and whom we serve. And as we do, let’s be contagious in our own way by spreading the Good News of the One who causes the birds to sing for joy.