Happy Fall, Y’all!

Here we go again! We were slowly beginning to get back into the swing of things throughout the summer. Wednesday Night Life Activities, such as our much-loved evening meal, our study of the book of Revelation, and the excitement of seeing our youth enthusiastically gathering for their activities brought joy to our hearts!

Then it happened! The “it” being Covid- rearing its ugly head to disrupt, not only our activities, but the activities of many surrounding churches and organizations. School attendance has suffered. Church attendance has suffered. Several have tested positive for Covid here in the church. And some have been very sick. Thanks be to God though- NO DEATHS! Still, the resurgence has caused a curtailment of some of our activities- hopefully only temporarily.

Our “Moving Forward” team has not met again, primarily due to Covid concerns. But we hope to schedule another meeting soon as we plan for the future. I was so impressed with the obvious thought given by so many in contributing ideas to “move forward.”

Fall has arrived! These cool mornings are a great time to reflect upon God’s goodness to us. Just to sit on the porch or deck with a hot cup of coffee at this time of year helps me, not only to plan, but also remember how blessed I am to be a part of God’s family!

Still there is much for us to pray about. Many in our churches are hurting for various reasons. Health needs, financial needs, and family situations are but a few of the needs represented here at Homestead Church. It behooves us all to make sure we spend time in prayer presenting our petitions before God. Let’s make a special effort during this trying time to make sure we call out the names of those we hold dear to our faithful God.

We also want to give a shout-out to our new pianist Sylvia Hewitt Schneider! She is doing a fantastic job. We are so fortunate that she agreed to come our way. Please encourage those who are not attending right now, for whatever reason, to come on back and hear this wonderfully talented lady!

In closing, I want to reminder you of a scripture that came up in my daily devotions the other day. I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:1-2
Present ourselves as a living sacrifice – holy scripture tells us. Wow! Isn’t that a novel idea! And there’s a saying, attributed to 19th century evangelist D.L. Moody: “the problem with living sacrifice is that it crawls off the altar.” It’s often said, “showing up is half the battle.” Whether we’re talking about finding a job, making friends, staying married, or being the church – showing up is one of the most non-negotiable of ne-cessities. Showing up – body and soul – really is our spiritual worship. Worship only happens when we let God be God, and let God change our minds – transform our hearts – guide us, body, and soul, to where we actually can be non-conforming to the world as it is (this is not something we can do on our own) – and be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Getting into the mind-set of Jesus is how we begin to know the will of God – the good, perfect, and beautiful will of God.

Transformation of our minds begins with showing up for God. As, and only as we show up for God, we are equipped to live into the rest of the gospel message. And it’s humbling, in a good and healthy way, to know that we struggle doing do faith alone. The New Testament’s descriptive term for church is “the body of Christ.” The body of Christ, where all of us are members of the one body and members of one another. No matter what our individual spiritual gifts may be, no member can ever fully function on our own. It’s only as we work together that the greater good can be accomplished in God’s kingdom. Remember, there is strength in numbers!

Happy Fall, Y’all! Pastor Tim

And Now For The Rest of The Story . . .

Have you been in suspense since last month’s newsletter? Today, we continue the story of David and Svea Flood- missionaries to the Belgian Congo- today known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo (known from 1961-1997 as Zaire). As you remember where we ended last month, Svea Flood had passed away from malaria and the very difficult childbirth of baby Aina. As a result, David, weak and disheart-ened, rejected not only his calling, but God Himself. He left baby Aina in the care of another missionary couple- the Ericksons and returned to his native Sweden. That is where we begin this month. So here we go. The story continues. Once again, we’ll learn that God works in his mysterious ways to bring about his will in our lives!

Within eight months, both the Ericksons were stricken with a mysterious malady and died within days of each other. Baby Aina was then turned over to another American missionary family who changed her Swedish name to “Aggie”. Eventually they took her back to the United States at age three.

This family loved Aggie. Afraid that if they tried to return to Africa some legal obstacle might separate her from them, they decided to stay in their home country and switch from missionary work to pastoral ministry. That is how Aggie grew up in South Dakota.

As a young woman, she attended North Central Bible College in Minneapolis. There she met and married Dewey Hurst. Years passed. The Hursts enjoyed a fruitful minis-try. Aggie gave birth first to a daughter, then a son. In time, her husband became president of a Christian college in the Seattle area, and Aggie was intrigued to find so much Scandinavian heritage there.

One day she found a Swedish religious magazine in their mailbox. She had no idea who had sent it, and of course she could not read the words, but as she turned the pages, a photo suddenly stopped her cold. There, in a primitive setting, was a grave with a white cross—and on the cross were the words SVEA FLOOD. Aggie got in her car and drove straight to a college faculty member whom she knew could translate the article. “What does this article say?”

The teacher shared a summary of the story. “It is about missionaries who went to N’dolera, Africa, long ago. A baby was born. The young mother died. One little African boy was led to Jesus before that. After the whites had all left, the boy, all grown up, finally persuaded the chief to let him build a school in the village. He gradually won all his students to Christ and the children led their parents to Him. Even the chief became a follower of Jesus! Today there are six hundred believers in that village, all because of the sacrifice of David and Svea Flood.” Aggie was elated!

For the Hursts’ 25th wedding anniversary, the college presented them with the gift of a vacation to Sweden. Aggie sought out her birth father. David Flood was an old man now. He had remarried, fathered four more children, and generally dissipated his life with alcohol. He had recently suffered a stroke. Still bitter, he had one rule in his family: “Never mention the name of God! God took everything from me!” After an emotional reunion with her half-brothers and half-sister, Aggie brought up the subject of her longing to see her father. They hesitated….

“You can talk to him, but he’s very ill now. You need to know that whenever he hears the name of God, he flies into a rage.” Aggie walked into the squalid apartment, which had liquor bottles strewn everywhere, and slowly approached her 73-year-old father lying in a rumpled bed.

“Papa,” she said tentatively.

He turned and began to cry. “Aina!” “I never meant to give you away!”

“It’s all right, Papa,” she replied, taking him gently in her arms. “God took good care of me.”

Her father instantly stiffened and his tears stopped. “God forgot all of us. Our lives have been like this because of Him.”

He turned his face back to the wall. Aggie stroked his face and then continued, undaunted. “Papa, I’ve got a marvelous story to tell you!” “You didn’t go to Africa in vain. Mama didn’t die in vain. The little boy you won to the Lord grew up to win that whole village to Jesus! The one seed you planted in his heart kept growing and growing! Today there are 600 people serving the Lord because you were faithful to the call of God in your life!”

“Papa, Jesus loves you. He has never hated you or abandoned us.” The old father turned back to look into his daughter’s eyes. His body relaxed. He slowly began to talk.

And by the end of the afternoon, he had come back to the God he had resented for so many years. Over the next few days, father and daughter enjoyed warm moments together. A few weeks after Aggie and her husband returned to America, David Flood died. And a few years later….

Aggie and her husband were attending an evangelism conference in London, England, when a report was given from Zaire (the former Belgian Congo). The superintendent of the national church, representing some 110,000 baptized believers,
spoke eloquently of the Gospel’s spread in his nation. Aggie could not help going to ask him afterward if he had ever heard of David and Svea Flood.

“Yes, madam,” the man replied in French, his words being translated into English. “Svea Flood led me to Jesus Christ! I was the boy who brought food to your parents before you were born. In fact, to this day, your mother’s grave and her memory are honored by all of us.” He embraced Aggie for a long time, sobbing.

“You must come to Zaire! Your mother is the most famous and honored person in our history.”

When Aggie and her husband went to N’dolera, they were welcomed by cheering throngs of villagers. Aggie even met the man who had been hired by her father to carry her down the mountain in a hammock-cradle. Then the pastor escorted Aggie to see her mother’s tomb with a white cross bearing her name. She knelt in the soil to pray and give thanks to God.
Later that day, in the church, the boy turned pastor read….

“I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” John 12:24 “Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy.” Psalm 126:5

It’s Summer !

Here we are…SUMMER AGAIN! The dog days of summer are upon us. Slowly, slowly, I think we are getting back to normal. But, that said, we’re also in the slower activities of summer. Schools out! Family vacations begin. Activities slow and the temperature rises. Thankfully though, our Wednesday Night Live is back on and hopefully we’ll be gathering once again for food and fellowship!

Since we’ve hit the slow days of summer, I wanted to share a story with you that was shared with me recently. I think we can all agree that as followers of Christ, sometimes it feels like we’re “treading water.” It’s so easy to feel like nobody responds to our invites to attend church with us. No one is interested in our offers to lead them to Christ. It seems that the seeds we’re trying to sow fall on rocky, hard ground.

I’m reminded of the words of the Apostle Paul in I Corinthians 3:6-9 about our seed sowings. “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building.”

So many times, we feel that our efforts to spread the gospel are for naught. But why should we be surprised when evidently Paul, at times, felt the same as us?

But, after you read this, I believe you will agree with me that, even though many times our efforts seem fruitless, God is still moving and working in lives. Frankly, if this doesn’t build a fire under us, our wood is wet!

But here’s the catch! I’m going to share only half the story this month, and I’ll share the rest of the story next month. Where we end the story this month, will reflect the way we feel many times about our own efforts- dejected, sad, discouraged, and so on. But hang onto your hats. Next month, we’ll learn once again that God really knows what He is doing!

THOSE WHO SOW IN TEARS

In 1921 David and Svea Flood went with their two-year-old son from Sweden to the heart of Africa, to what was then called the Belgian Congo. This missionary couple met up with the Ericksons, another young Scandinavian couple, and the four of them sought God for direction. In those days of much devotion and sacrifice, they felt led of the Lord to set out from the main mission station to take the gospel to the village of N’dolera, a remote area.

This was a huge step of faith. There, they were rebuffed by the chief, who would not let them enter his town for fear of alienating the local gods. The two couples opted to build their own mud huts half a mile up the slope.

They prayed for a spiritual breakthrough, but there was none. Their only contact with the villagers was a young boy, who was allowed to sell them chickens and eggs twice a week. Svea Flood—a tiny woman only four feet, eight inches tall—decided that if this was the only African she could talk to, she would try to lead the boy to Jesus. And she succeeded!

Meanwhile, malaria struck one member of the little missionary band after another. In time, the Ericksons decided they had had enough suffering and left to return to the central mission station. David and Svea Flood remained near N’dolera to carry on alone.

Then, Svea found herself pregnant in the middle of the primitive wilderness. When the time came for her to give birth, the village chief softened enough to allow a midwife to help her. A little girl was born, whom they named Aina. The delivery was exhausting. Svea Flood was already weak from bouts of malaria so the birthing process was a heavy blow to her stamina. She died only 17 days after Aina was born.

Something snapped inside David Flood at that moment. He dug a crude grave, buried his 27-year-old wife, and then went back down the mountain with his children to the mission station.

Giving baby Aina to the Ericksons, he snarled, “I’m going back to Sweden. I’ve lost my wife, and I obviously can’t take care of this baby. God has ruined my life!” With that, he headed for the port, rejecting not only his calling, but God Himself.

(To be continued in the July Newsletter)

More To The Story

For the month of May, I thought I’d share with you a little information about the pastoral appointment process in the United Methodist Church. This process is hundreds of years in the making, and personally I feel it is one of the best, if not THE best, method of matching pastors and churches. Does it always work perfectly? Of course not! Why? Because the process, even though done by human beings under the leadership of the Holy Spirit, still is not mistake-proof. Obviously, I have only been a part of this process since 1997. But, for the most part, it has always worked well for me and the churches I’ve served. That said, we were happy this last month to receive the news that we have been appointed to Homestead and Dorton for at least another year. Here is the announcement that was shared with both churches.

“Bishop Bill McAlilly and the Nashville Area Cabinet of the Tennessee/Memphis Conferences worked prayerfully together to make missional appointments to every church in our Annual Conference. As Chairperson of the Pastor Parish Relations Committee, I give thanks for the ministry of our pastor, Tim Lewis, who continues to be a servant leader among us and am happy to share that he/she will be returning as our pastor for the 2021/2022 conference year. “

While we are thrilled to receive this wonderful news, there is really more to the story. Earlier in April, we received the following information from the bishop and his cabinet concerning pastoral appointments. This gives a wonderful insight into the pastoral appointment process. But first, you may say, “who is this ‘cabinet,’ and what is their function?” The cabinet consists of all the district superintendents in the Tennessee Western Kentucky Conference. So, the “cabinet” is evaluating hundreds of churches and pastors to make sure there is a good fit, and pastoral gifts are being utilized where they are most needed. So, as the late Paul Harvey would say, let’s hear “the rest of the story.”

This week, the Nashville Area Cabinet met to continue the work of the appointive cabinet for this conference year. We began by praying for each pastoral family and each congregation, seeking the wisdom of the Holy Spirit. We are far too mindful of our own human shortcomings as we do this work for we “see through a glass darkly.”

Still, it is the task for which we have been called and which we believe offers us the best opportunity to give the best leadership available to the congregations under our care. Over the last several weeks, District Superintendents have been in consultation with pastors and congregations seeking wisdom and understanding for the work that is before us. We ask for your prayers.

Perhaps you will recall reading the covenant around which we order our lives. The following excerpt relates to our appointive work:

Remember that we belong to the Annual Conference and, as so, our individual contribution to Cabinet Work is toward the economy of the whole. The mission of the Church is our first priority. In our appointive work, we hold these convictions in common and allow them to characterize our work:

• We cannot do enough consultation.

• It is better to make no appointment than to make the wrong appointment.

• We will only reward those who have been fruitful with the responsibility they have been given.

In all our work, we will maintain the practice and spirit of confidentiality by adopting the following practices:

• Hold all cabinet meeting conversations in strictest confidence unless/until permission is granted to share information with others.

• Hold all personal conversations between the bishop and cabinet members in strictest confidence unless/until permission is granted to share information with others.

• Ensure that Administrative Assistants hold conversations with the superintendents and communications between superintendents and episcopal office in strictest confidence.

• Embrace the most confidential use of technology for cabinet and district office communications.

Always during this season, I am reminded of God’s call to Abraham in Genesis 12.

Now the LORD said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great so that you will be a blessing.

From the beginning of the Methodist Movement, pastors have been sent. It is one of the most distinguishing characteristics of the United Methodist Church. Since 1746 when John Wesley appointed lay preachers whom he called “helpers” to definitive circuits, we have followed this practice. I suspect that sometime in the future, this practice will be modified to address the changes in life patterns of 21st century people. Until then, we continue to practice the gift of itinerancy.

May each of you be a blessing in the places God has called you. Bishop McAlilly

Finally, this prayer was prayed after the reading of the announcement of our reappointment to Homestead and Dorton. Personally, I am deeply humbled when I hear this prayer each year. I hope and pray that you are as happy as Mrs. Preacher and me. Each year, I pray and seek God’s will as to whether or not to ask for reappointment or a move. God is not quite finished with us here. Someday, as we have said many times before, we will be gone, and “all good things must come to an end.” But, while we are here, let’s continue to work together “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

Lord Jesus Christ, our Living Savior, we give you thanks for our church. It is a gift of grace to us. We are deeply grateful for the leadership of Tim Lewis, who will continue to serve us as pastor, teacher, leader, and friend in Christ. May your grace be upon him/her and his/her family, giving peace and joy and confidence as we begin the new conference year together. Open our hearts and minds to receive the gifts you have for us in these days as we give thanks for what has been and anticipate what will be. Our life is in you, O God, and through the Holy Spirit we pray this day. Amen

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.