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.

Back to Church?

“We’re in!” “No, we’re out!” “Going back to church!” “No, we’re not going back yet!” Is your mind spinning like a top yet? I have to say, mine certainly is. This thing called coronavirus, or Covid-19 to some, has certainly disrupted our lives, hasn’t it? We thought when it all started back in the month of March that we might be out of church for a few weeks at most. Then we would go back to church, and that would be that! Now, here we are in June! And, we still haven’t gone back to church yet. We thought June 7th. But the bishop advised that, no, we’d best wait a while longer. Now we’re shooting for June 21st. I know we all are hoping AND PRAYING that it really happens this time.

But as pastor of this wonderful church, I have to say I’m very proud of the way we’ve handled this ever-changing situation over these past months. It was definitely difficult for your church leadership, back in March, to say we’re cancelling in-person worship temporarily. But the decision to start back up again is proving even more difficult. Through it all, you, our faithful members and attenders, have been patient and understanding as we try to navigate through this fluid situation that seems to change on a day to day basis. I would ask that you please continue to pray for your church leaders as we continue to “navigate through rough waters” during this unusual time. Pray that we will make the right decision for the welfare and health of our entire congregation.

I want to give a BIG SHOUT-OUT to our faithful givers! You have really proven yourselves faithful. Many of you have given sacrificially over and above your normal giving. For this, we are truly thankful. I was sharing with our district su-perintendent a few days back that I can know when I go to the mailbox each day whose check will be there. Others, I can expect to pull in the driveway with the weekly gift ready to hand out their car window. Truly, this has been a bright spot in a strange situation.

Another thing that has touched me is the explosive growth of our Facebook Live Stream on Wednesday, Friday, and Sun-day mornings. We’ve had excellent “attendance” and participation in our live Bible studies and messages. There have been so many positive and encouraging comments for which I am thankful! Even more encouraging is the many com-ments I have received about continuing our live streams after everything gets back to “normal.” I assure you, we will make every effort to continue as much live streaming as possible. Obviously, we will be tweaking our efforts in order to maximize the benefits of “online” church. But please know we will definitely continue the Sunday morning and Wednes-day morning live streams. Most likely, the Friday morning live stream will be discontinued when we get back to “normal.” Many hundreds of people have “viewed” the live streams. One broadcast a few weeks ago had, at last count, over 1,400 views. That is tremendous! Furthermore, as a direct result of our live streams, we will be blessed when things get back to normal, to baptize a new child of God! That is enough to encourage us to continue. Praise the Lord!

Finally, I want to say a huge thank you, to all who came out Sunday evening, May 24th, to bless our high schools graduates during the Graduation Parade. Lauren Cole and Kelsey Goodwin were blessed with many gifts and well wishes to cele-brate the end of their senior year which was so unceremoniously disrupted back in March. Our hearts went out to both these sweet young ladies as they suffered the loss of so many end-of-school memories. Hopefully, our church’s efforts to honor them with the Graduation parade made it easier. As Lauren heads off to East Tennessee State University in the fall, and Kelsey heads west to Middle Tennessee State University, they will leave with our love and best wishes. We pray they feel our love in the days, weeks, months, and years ahead!