Pastor’s Corner – October

Gleanings…

In last month’s article, I asked you to consider what God might be leading us to do as we look for ways to reach out to our neighbors with the love of God.  We have family and friends that we would love to see active in our churches.  We see people out and about on Sunday mornings who could benefit from a loving encounter with Jesus.  We also have co-workers, the families of our children’s friends, and the people we meet through our extra-curricular activities who would be blessed if they knew Jesus.  There is no lack of people who would be blessed to know that God cares for them and wants them to know it.

That brings us to THE question facing us today: What is our mission?  Why do we profess a relationship with Jesus?  Why do we read our Bibles, pray, attend worship, and order our lives around opportunities to serve others?  There are probably many answers that satisfy most if not all of these questions, but only one has the potential to give life to all: We follow Jesus as disciples because that is the only thing that fills us with the joy we need to survive in this world.

Think about it.  If you did not have the love of God being poured into your heart every minute of every day, you would have a hard time even maintaining the status of church attender.  That some have lost the connection that keeps us living for and loving others is only too apparent when we look at our congregations.  The lack of new faces mixed in with the regular attenders lets us know that we have grown content and complacent.  We are content with our status and place in God’s kingdom, and we are complacent because we believe we have reached the point of having enough without feeling overcrowded.  Both attitudes are deadly.

So, what are we to do?  We have tried the usual things to get more people to join us in worship.  Unfortunately, the action of the COVID-19 virus has cut out activities that draw people together.  We don’t know what new thing we can do to draw people to us.  Maybe it is time for a reset.

The old models of evangelization asked us to put together activities that would make people want to take part.  We had groups for women, men, children, youth, singles, young adults, and empty nesters who were then invited to participate in music, mission, and ministries of every kind.  It took a lot of work, but when this is the center of family life, everyone pitches in in some way.  We don’t see that happening today.

Where are the people today?  Sports events, pursuing a hobby or leisure activity, visiting with family, resting up from an over-loaded weekend schedule; not in worship.  What can we do?  As odd as this may sound, our first step just might be to talk with those who are not worshiping regularly.  We all know people who do not go to church on Sunday mornings (if you don’t, you need to get out more).  Some may profess to being Christians or disciples, but if they are not joining a congregation of believers in worship as often as they are home, they are candidates for a conversation.

Ask them what is going on in their lives.  Have there been changes in their lives that have left them feeling cutoff from God’s love?  Are they having struggles at home, at work, at school, or within their extended family?  Are the situations in their families caused by money, drugs and/or alcohol abuse, grief, divorce, or relationship difficulties?  You know the kinds of troubles that are out there.  How has knowing God’s forgiveness, the love of Jesus, and the help of the Holy Spirit enabled you to make it through each day?  Then ask them: What can I do?  What can we do?  How can I/we help?  Be a friend.  Be the presence of Jesus for them and with them asking Jesus to guide your heart, thoughts, and words.

Most of all, trust God to lead you in the path that enables you to be a friend to the person God places before you.  Ask for help.  Don’t be afraid to try new things that have the potential to open your un-churched friends to experience the love of God every day.  And, most importantly, pray for your friend that God will lead both of you into a transformed relationship that makes the most of God’s love for all.  It is a new world, and we are having to learn new ways of working in it.  Persevere.  The goal of helping people to be disciples is worth every bit of effort we can put into it.

We will talk more,

Pastor Braxton ><>

Pastor’s Corner – July

Gleanings…

Much has been written over the years about the gifts that we receive from God.  There are the fruits of the Spirit.  There are the gifts of family and relationships.  We cannot forget the gifts of this great world we live on with all the beauty it holds.  But there is another gift that I would like to give thanks for and that is the gift to simply BE.

Think about it for a minute.  You ARE.  You are here.  You are loved.  You are a gift and a blessing.  No one else can take your place.  No one else can do what you are able to do.  No one else has the relationships that you do.  You are uniquely you and you are enough.  In God’s eyes and in ours, you are perfect.

When was the last time that you knew the gift of you for the world?  Does something have to happen before you feel appointed to this moment in this place?  Does someone have to speak words of assurance?  We read in the creation stories in the book of Genesis that God spoke all things into BEing.  We have the added visual of God forming humans after God’s image and then breathing God’s spirit into us.  We are carefully and gently made to BE the image of God upon the face of the earth.  With no two of us exactly alike, each person is essential to the seeing and knowing of God in us and among us.  Indeed, nothing else is required.

Let me add a bit more confirmation.  The things that you do today will not be done by anyone else.  The gifts you give, the kindness you show, the mercy and forgiveness you demonstrate will not come from another person.  Only you have the relationships that will allow your life to shine with God’s love before your friends.  They may see these qualities in other people, but your presence is what will assure them that it is real and can be trusted.

So, take a moment today to stop and give thanks to God for allowing you to BE a light to your corner of the world.  While you are at it, give thanks for all the other people who are being what God intended them to be in their corner of the world.  God needs all of us to BE the hands and feet of God; the arms and smile of God; lights shining to light the way for others to see God.  I give thanks for all of you and for all the other people who are doing the best that they can to follow God’s call for their lives.

May we allow ourselves the grace to do what God has asked us to do and to be what God has asked us to be without thinking that we are somehow supposed to be more.  Today, and every day, take a moment to give thanks to God for letting you BE.  Then ask God how you can better follow God to help others know their giftedness.  Together we will BE the bearers of the Good News to all.

Be at peace,

Pastor Braxton ><>

Hands on Mission Project

We are collecting home buckets for Children in Zimbabwe.

Hands-On Missions for Zimbabwe

These buckets will go to the Ishe Anesu Project for underprivileged children in Zimbabwe. Our district goal is 400 buckets. You may place a donation, marked Home Buckets, in the offering or you are welcome to collect supplies listed below.

Please send donations to:

Fairview UMC
3901 Hamil Road
Hixson, TN 37343

Pastor’s Corner – March

Gleanings…                                                                                                                     March 2021

Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”  Matthew 11:28-30 NRSV

If ever there was a time that we needed to hear these words, it is now.  Not only are we tired, we are tired of being tired.  We have given this condition a name: COVID fatigue.  All in all, we are tired of having to deal with the restrictions on where we can go, what we can do, and who we can see.  Yes, we know that there is good science behind these limitations on personal freedom, but that does not mean that we want to live this way forever.  When is it all going to end?

Though we apply this scenario to our time and situation, I expect that the Israelites in Egypt fumed in like manner.  Every time a foreign power dominated the people of Israel and Judea, there were grumbles against those who were in charge and responsible for leading the people.

The more history we read, the more instances we see of people being sick and tired of being sick and tired.  So, why are we (a very generic “we”) grumbling, fighting with one another, and seeking to impose our way upon others?  What have we not understood from history?

If we look to the life of Jesus as it is shown to us through the Gospels, we encounter one who paid little attention to the occupation forces.  Disease was a constant reality in their lives.  Issues of  power, position, and possessions caused many to ignore the call to love God and love their neighbor.  To these, Jesus offers an alternative way to live that is focused on thinking less of self and more of others.

In Matthew’s gospel (quoted above) we read Jesus’ call to a lifestyle that benefits the follower by removing the isolation that comes with self-direction.  Instead of rebelling against the limitations being imposed by other forces, the people were asked to submit to the loving care of God who, more than any other power, wants his creation to know his love expressed in his care for all.  This same truth applies to us today.

Few, if any, are comfortable with being told what to do all the time.  We prefer to be encouraged to do the right thing, but that implies that all will respond by doing the right thing.  Maybe that is why we have laws and mandates that we must obey.

Our Lenten journey last year was made with the anticipation that life would soon return to “normal.”  That we are still struggling with moving beyond a period of isolation and reflection causes many to think that they have a better way.  Yet, the pandemic refuses to abate and we face a continuing struggle of knowing what is the best course of action to take.

How about taking Jesus up on his offer to give us rest?  Doesn’t that sound nice?  Sure, there will be some things that we won’t be permitted to do, but releasing the worry and the constant struggling will give us so much peace, it might actually be worth it.

So, here is my invitation: how about joining me in caring more about others—their needs, hurts, pains, griefs, and struggles—and less about what I am, or not, permitted to do.  God knows what we need and it has already been given.  Maybe living with that truth will be the assurance others are looking for, that they are not alone or forgotten, that we will come through this better together than separate.  May we be God’s gift of peace to all.

Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayers.  Amen. 

Pastor Braxton ><>

Lent

Lent

Book of Worship #320

Lent is a season of forty days, not counting Sundays, which begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday.  Lent comes from the Anglo-Saxon word lencten, which means “spring.”  The season is a preparation for celebrating Easter.  Historically, Lent began as a period of fasting and preparation for baptism by converts and then became a time for penance by all Christians.  The First Sunday describes Jesus’ temptation by Satan; and the Sixth Sunday (Passion/Palm Sunday), Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem and his subsequent passion and death.  Because Sundays are always little Easters, the penitential spirit of Lent should be tempered with joyful expectation of the Resurrection.

The Great Three Days—sometimes called the Triduum or Pasch—from sunset Holy Thursday through sunset Easter Day are the climax of Lent (and of the whole Christian year) and a bridge into the Easter Season.  These days proclaim the paschal mystery of Jesus Christ’s passion, death, and resurrection.  During these days, the community journeys with Jesus from the upper room, to the cross, to the tomb, and to the garden.  They should be seen as a great unified service beginning with a service of Holy Communion on Holy Thursday and concluding with the services of Easter Day.  These services may be connected with a prayer vigil lasting from Holy Thursday evening (or Good Friday) until the first service of Easter and may be accompanied by fasting.

Pastor’s Corner – February

Gleanings…

If the purpose of a journey is to travel from one place to another, what is our destination when we travel through any time of disruption?  Disasters, both those created by human action (or lack thereof) and those of natural origin, have the effect of forcing those affected into making decisions and taking actions that few are prepared for.  One problem with surviving any disaster is we begin to think that we can make it through anything only to have to relearn that we are neither all powerful nor all knowing.

We have been on a journey since COVID-19 grew to afflict much of the world.  The impact of this virus upon the people of the world has created panic, fear, uncertainty, rumor, speculation, misinformation, and a frantic search for anything to help us fight against its effect.  Given that we have never experienced this strain of novel coronavirus, we have scrambled to find anything that would offer a cure, relief from the suffering, and a way to prevent it from infecting more people.  We have also struggled with how we can protect ourselves against infection.

Where are we now after a year on this journey?  Some are grieving the sudden death of one or more loved ones who succumbed to the effect of COVID-19 upon their systems.  Some have survived with varying conditions on their health both physical and mental.  Some remain isolated hoping to lessen the chances that they will become infected.  And some by choice or necessity are taking their chances—some availing themselves of the best practices for limiting exposure and some not—and going out into society to do what they feel is essential for themselves and their families however they are constituted.

Though there are now vaccines available, there is considerable distress over the limited amounts, various schedules for administering available doses, and unanswered questions of effectiveness, length of protection, and any long-term effects.  Added to these unknowns are the assertions of some that all of this was manufactured to further some unidentified purpose or agenda by parties unknown.  In other words, some are spreading far more fear than help resulting in some being afraid to do anything.  Who should we believe when there are so many sources of information and limited means for verification?

While I do not have answers to these questions, I do have hope.  As I write this article, the sky is grey, the temperature is in the thirties, and the wind makes being outdoors very uncomfortable.  Yet, the bare and lifeless appearing trees and plants are preparing for spring, and the sun continues to shine above the clouds and warm the earth.  Birds found some of the bread that I broke up and threw into the back yard and carried it to a protected perch for eating.  Our Father continues to watch over all of creation and, I am assured, will continue to do so.

As followers of Jesus, we have the responsibility to love our neighbor as we would ask that we be loved.  Having received that love, we can understand the needs of those around us.  With the calm assurance that the Spirit gives us, we can relieve the anxieties of those who are struggling to find help in these trying times.  The brokenness that shows itself in our fear of being worthy of God’s care can be healed by the knowledge of God’s persistent efforts to show us compassion, consolation, mercy, and forgiveness.  These are often expressed through the loving presence of another who has traveled that same road.

Thus, we have hope.  All that can beset us is no match for the overwhelming love of God.  We are never alone.  We are never forgotten.  We are not cut off from God’s presence.  We are never denied God’s love because of who we are, where we came from, what we look like, or how we came to be.  This journey is but the latest iteration of travels from one place to another that have been part of every person’s life throughout history.

I pray, as we all do, that this journey will soon come to an end so that we can move past the chaos of these days.  My hope is that we will all find strength in our faith to persist in doing what offers help, hope, and healing to all.  May God’s love guide our efforts to care for those around us.  May our lives proclaim peace.

Pastor Braxton ><>

Pastor’s Corner – January

Gleanings…

Here we are at the beginning of another calendar year.  Happy New Year!  Before the year 2020 came along, I would not have expected much change to come with a new year, but all that has changed.  I am not sure if it is a sign, but the calendars that TVA sends to every household within ten miles of a nuclear facility had at least two errors.  Hopefully, we will be able to make it without January 29 and May 29 (just kidding).

So, let me ask: How much do we depend upon others to order our lives?  Who decides what you do with your time, your resources, and your gifts?  Most, if not all, of us would like to believe that we control these things.  They are, after all, our resources, but I expect that the truth is a little closer to “no one.”

Yes, I believe that we allow last-minute guesses (Guilty!) and unthought-out actions (Guilty, again!) to determine how and where we use our time and talent.  This does not always present a problem as not everything has to be done intentionally, but what about the rest of the time?  I have a wealth of resources to help me—calendars on paper and electronic, to-do lists, sticky notes—but they are only effective when I remember to use them.  (I don’t know whether they offer any help for those of us who need a reminder to enter an appointment or schedule an activity.)

I expect that what needs to happen is to set aside a bit of time to look at the coming year.  What do we absolutely need to have happen this year?  What would be nice if we could get around to it?  What do we consider to be essential for personal and relational development?  What improvements do we need to make in our lives?  Then, with these items before us, consider ranking them in importance and setting up times when we will best be able to accomplish them.  Write it down.  Post it somewhere that you will see it every day.  Looks good, doesn’t it?  Now, what about the rest of your time?

All of us have something that we are really good at doing.  If it is not how you earn a living, what about a favorite hobby?  God has given all of us gifts to use; some are even useful for earning a living.  But that is not the only way we can use them.  Whatever gift or talent we have can be used to help others.  Educating others, manual tasks that build or repair, creative activities (arts, cooking/baking, music, sewing), growing food and ornamentals, team and individual sports, and the list goes on, are ways that we can use our time to bless and benefit ourselves and others.

Let me also suggest that the church is an excellent place for you to use and hone your talents.  The church (body of believers) can always use people who like to lead, teach, and help.  There is always need when it comes to building and maintaining communities.  How about checking with your committee and council leaders to learn where your help can be best used?  2021 does not need to be a repeat of any prior year.  Let’s see what we can do to make it one we will remember for all the best reasons.

Blessings,

Pastor Braxton ><>

Pastor’s Corner – October

Gleanings…

So, what have we learned about ourselves over the last six months?  Maybe this: Though we may not like to go without some things and certain activities, we can persevere through.  I am told by those who experienced the absence of supplies, services, and mobility during WWII, that we have had it very easy.  We may grumble and we may fume over the unfairness of it all, but all in all, we are doing very well.

What have we learned about our neighbors over the last six months?  For the most part, they are little different from us.  Some have followed the guidelines passed on to us from our government and some have not.  Some remain kind and caring while some react with varying degrees of displeasure even to the point of acts of violence.  To understand why would require a great deal of investigation into histories and backgrounds, and that is probably more than most of us want to know.

What have we learned about our church over the last six months?  Despite not being open to in-person worship or gatherings beyond family groups, it remains a symbol of our connection to God.  We take pride in it when we hear or read its name.  We are thankful for its presence and impact upon our lives when we drive by.  We give thanks for all that it has meant in our lives and we look with anticipation to how it will be part of our future.

At the same time, it has resisted our efforts to bend it to our will.  We have desired a place of safety from the coronavirus; it has not protected us.  We have wanted it to be a symbol of our independence; it has offered us no such standing.  Instead it calls us to release our hold on self-direction and walk in the way of our Lord.  Instead of our personal wisdom, it calls us to listen to the one who has our greatest good at his heart.

So, what have we learned about God over these last six months?  Personally, that God has the intention of blessing us at every point in our lives.  When our kicking and struggling are quieted, when our mouths cease protesting, when our hands change from clenched to open, when our breath slows and is evident only in a sigh, God steps in to comfort and reassure us.  When our needs rise from our hearts, God hears and gives us what is best though it may not be what we thought we needed.  In this we are reassured that God remains the one who loves us, heals us, helps us, forgives us, and strengthens us to go into the world, to those who are hurting as we are, crying as we are, and seeking answers as we are.

There we bear witness to grace and mercy beyond measuring.  There we point to the one who has been help when we could not accomplish it ourselves, healing for all of our hurts, and the source of hope that we will make it to the other side.

This Sunday is World Communion Sunday and a perfect time to remember that we are all in this together, wherever we live on this planet we call earth.  May our worship be praise to God for the mercy we have known.

O Come, let us Adore Him!

Pastor Braxton  ><>

We are actively reaching out to help!

RECENT OUTREACH

The Crafty Critters group makes heart pillows for cancer patients to use following surgery.

They recently donated pillows to the Mary Ellen Locher Cancer Center where they give out between 5 and 10 pillows a week.

They also make prayer shawls and prayer hearts to give to those in need of prayer, hand knitted booties, adult caps, bibs, and walker caddies. 

Thank You to the ladies in the Crafty Critter group

Shelia Hixson, Lily O’Neal, Joan Lewis, Yvonne Laing, Betty Reed, Alma Henderson, and Beverly Gooding.