Pastor’s Corner – August

Gleanings…

What are you doing tomorrow?  Strange question?  I don’t think so.  Each day seems to slip away so quickly and often the most that we have to show for it is exhaustion.  If we are lucky, we will have used the day to be with the ones that we love.  Otherwise, it may have just used us.

Jesus makes a point of telling the disciples (Luke 12:22-34) that our chasing after the “stuff” of this world will have very little impact on the life that God has for us.  “Stuff” will not enable us to live longer, neither will it contribute to any sense of joy.  Instead of striving for the “stuff” of this world, maybe we should be investing our time in seeing that each day is used to its fullest extent through loving our family, friends, neighbors, and yes, even our enemies.

There is a lot of energy expended trying to make sure that we end up in heaven.  Many believe that this is a reward for having lived a good life.  I wonder, though, when Jesus says that the kingdom of heaven has come among you, is he not talking about the here and now?  If that is the case (and I believe it is), then our daily living is actually a part of heaven if we use it to live in and share God’s presence with others.

So, this is a short Gleanings… article because I want you to use your time to do something that expresses your thanks for heaven, here and now.  If you have missed talking with an old friend—don’t forget the young ones—do what will bring joy to both of you.  Find a way to show and share love.  Find a good vantage point and take in the beauty of creation.  Sit quietly with a loved one or sing and dance with wild abandon until laughter overtakes you.

Life is what you make it; choose heaven for yourself and those around you will live in it, too.

Blessings,

Pastor Braxton ><>

Pastor’s Corner – July

Gleanings…

Lyndie and I received news today that a tiny infant we had been praying for died this morning.  Weighing in at 290 grams at birth, he was the tiniest baby every admitted to the NICU.  Though the doctors and caregivers of multiple hospitals gave it all that they could, though this little one was bathed in prayer every moment of every day, and though the parents trusted that God was going to bring a miracle, his little body was not able to sustain life.  Needless to say, the journey for the family is not over.

What were our expectations for what God would do?  Over and over the hopes of people needing a significant miracle are unfulfilled.  Though countless prayers from people known and unknown to the families are lifted faithfully, the prayed for response never seems to come about.  For some families, it is the end of hope and the beginning of despair.

We who watch and pray from the sidelines often find ourselves holding our breath as the affected family struggles for understanding, consolation, and peace.  It is never easy to make sense of such heart-rending loss no matter what our level of faith in God may be.  To see it happen is tragic; to see it happen more than once causes us to wonder what is going on.  Where is God and what is God doing to help us?

How often do we fail to see what is right before our eyes?  When distracted, it is quite easy to miss signs, warnings, and blessings.  When we are so focused on our struggle, our loss, or even our overwhelming success, we can overlook the very thing that we have been searching for.  I don’t know what the next step for this little one’s family will be, but I do know that God is present and ready to help them find consolation and peace.

Will that be enough?  What about the promises of God that if we ask for anything in Jesus’ name, it will be granted to us?  What will they say to those who ask why God did not preserve the life of their little one?  In the great mercy of God, they will not have to struggle with these questions either silently or alone, for we who have been holding them in prayer will continue to seek God’s comfort for the family and all who mourn with them.

Knowing what to pray for can be challenging.  We want specific needs fulfilled.  We want answers to come that align with our expectations.  We want the action we have requested to happen now if not sooner.  Is that what is best for the person or action we are praying for?  Is our understanding sufficient to know all the ramifications of what our request would bring about over time?  Not always.

There are times, when the answer seems long in coming, that we can make it through our self-focused view to the place where we can begin to understand that what we are requesting may not be best in the end.  At those times, our prayers can change from “my will” to “thy will” and we can begin to thank and praise God for simply being there.  At that moment, we begin to feel and appreciate God’s consolation and peace.  And, I might add, we begin to look for how God will redeem this life and situation.

The blessing of life is that all of us are held in love by God.  Every life, whether long or short, has meaning and serves an eternal purpose.  With this understanding, our prayers can become more focused on seeking what God desires and less about what we want.  Allowing God to direct our focus gives God glory allows God’s purposes to be accomplished to the blessing of all people.

Please do not stop praying for God to bring help, hope, and healing to all wherever there is need.  Our praying opens us to receive guidance for how we can help to bring about the answer from God.  Instead, live in constant prayer that every person may sense God’s loving presence and find in it the strength to meet the need before them.  And may God be gracious to allow you a vision of his great love for your faithfulness.

Peace and hope,

Pastor Braxton  ><>

Pastor’s Corner – April

Gleanings…

Are you a worrier?  I am.  I know that I have talked about this before, but I believe it deserves a return visit from time to time.  Why?  I guess that I worry the message of how useless it is to worry will be missed.  So, before I go any further, turn in your Bible to Luke 12:22-34 and read it aloud.  Yes, out loud.  To hear these words with our hearts, we must let them in through our ears.  Our minds fool us into believing that they are the focus of all instruction.  It is not so.

Now, if you did not read the words aloud, go back and try again.  If so, we will proceed.  What did you hear?  What entered your heart and tripped an alarm?  The truth is, if we never accept that worrying is futile, we will never grow past it to where we can take one day at a time and live it fully.  Worrying will not add another day to our lives, the text tells us, so it is important to set aside every foolish thought that we can somehow accomplish more through worry.

Two recent events reaffirmed the truth that worrying is of no use for me.  The first was a request for healing.  Though the doctors were finished with their work, the body still had to journey on to completion of the healing process.  And it was taking forever.  We lifted more prayer, and I began to worry that the doctors might have to revisit what they had done to see if there was anything they might have missed.  Thankfully, the doctors were not tuned into the same song of worry that I was humming.  Instead, they gave the body time to complete its journey of healing.  And it did.  And we praised God.

The second was an administrative issue that was causing no small amount of distress for me and a few others.  Always knowing what to say and what to do are difficult to discern.  At the same time, I worry that I have understood the meaning and intent behind the words of others correctly.  Worrying that I might have misunderstood what was said, or that I said something that might have been misinterpreted causes me to fret.  Thankfully, God reveals answers that surprise and amaze me (you, too?); it just took a little longer than I was allowing.

The fact that Jesus addresses this issue in his teaching sank into my heart this morning when I read this passage as part of my devotions.  Jesus knew the disciples were human and thus were prone to worrying.  That we do not control everything can cause us to worry that no one is taking care of our problem or issue.  Then, when it seems to be taking too long, we start to worry instead of addressing the work that is there for us to do.  Worrying redirects our thoughts inward and thus we miss sharing the love of God outward.

So, I am asking you to do one thing for yourself and one thing for God: Stop worrying.  Yes, that will benefit both you and God at the same time.  If we can set aside our worries, we will discover that God is already at work on the issue.  Allowing God to handle it will mean that it will be handled in the best possible way and achieve the best possible result.  And we get to go on about the business of sharing the gift of God’s loving presence with everyone we encounter.  And that is one thing no one should ever have to worry about.

Peace and hope,

Pastor Braxton ><>

Pastor’s Corner – March

 

Ideas for a more meaningful Ash Wednesday

(These are good Lenten practices, too.)

By Joe Iovino 

Ash Wednesday is an important day in the church calendar. It marks the beginning of Lent, a season of preparation for the celebration of Easter.

This holy day is not a holiday from work, school, or most other obligations, so if we are not intentional in our observance it is likely to resemble any ordinary Wednesday.

To help us find ways to remember the holy in the midst of our routines—something we should strive for every day—we offer some ideas to consider.

1. Worship

Many congregations typically offer worship services on Ash Wednesday (which will not be in person for most churches in the U.S. in 2021). 

In a typical United Methodist service, expect times of prayer, singing, confession and pardon, a sermon, and the imposition of ashes. The somber tone helps us reflect on our own mortality and the need for us to confess our sins.

If your congregation does not offer Ash Wednesday worship, Find-A-Church will help you locate United Methodist churches that do.

2. Serve

On Ash Wednesday, we remember that we are part of the human family, making it a great day to serve others. If possible, find a place to volunteer for the day. Or simply use your lunch hour to hand out sandwiches and sports drinks to the homeless in your city, take an hour to mow a neighbor’s lawn, or shovel the snow from their driveway.

3. Give

We encourage you to give to your congregation, the United Methodist Committee on Relief, or a service project advance

Alternately, leave your server an above-and-beyond tip. Put money in the instrument case of a street musician. Purchase a paper from the homeless woman on the corner. Find ways to bless others with that which God entrusts you.

4. Abstain/fast

Giving something up for Lent” is a common practice for many Christians. Often, we give up a favorite food or try to kick a bad habit during Lent. Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, is when this begins, but don’t confine yourself to food or habits.

Can you abstain from gossip or complaining for Ash Wednesday? What about defensive attitudes, fear, or anxiety? You probably won’t be perfect at this, but when these attitudes begin to take hold of your day, pause for prayer.

5. Pray your day

Pray for the drivers of the vehicles and fellow mass transit passengers with whom you share your commute. Pray as you pass the hospital, police station, and government offices. Lift up the trash collector and mail carrier. Offer sentence prayers throughout the day thanking God for your coworkers.

6. Make something

Some of us reflect and pray best when our hands are busy. Get back in the workshop and spend time cutting, sanding, and gluing. Sit at a piano and let the music flow. Take out the paints, glue, clay, and other supplies to create a work of art. As you create, give thanks to our Creator who longs to be in relationship with you.

7. Be still

Others find meaning in stillness. Light a candle and pause before the presence of God. Take a holy yoga class. Enjoy a cup of coffee on your deck. Listen for the voice of God.

8. Clean something

Ash Wednesday is a good day to get a jump on your spring cleaning. Spend an hour with the junk drawer, that cabinet at work, or organizing the files on your computer.

As you remove things you no longer need and reorder those you do, be mindful of the ways God “cleans” us. The Bible tells us “As far as east is from west—that’s how far God has removed our sin from us” (Psalm 103:12, CEB). As we get things in order, we remember that Jesus gave his life so that we might be free from our sins and know new life.

9. Burn something

When you finish cleaning, take some of the papers you no longer need to the fireplace. Light them and watch as they turn to ashes. 

The ashes in the fireplace are not the same as the ones used in worship, but can serve as a similar reminder that your sins are forgiven. As the smoke rises up the chimney, know your prayers are rising to God as well.

10. Forgive and seek forgiveness

As we pray for God’s grace, we should also seek forgiveness from those we have wronged. Ash Wednesday is a great time to go to those you have hurt.

It is also a wonderful day to forgive another. Jesus taught us to pray, “Forgive us for the ways we have wronged you, just as we also forgive those who have wronged us” (Matthew 6:12 CEB). Maybe while you are burning those old papers, you might also burn a grudge. If appropriate, let the person know you forgive them. Remember, however, that forgiveness has much more to do about us than the one who offended us.

Joe Iovino works for UMC.org at United Methodist Communications. Contact him by email or at 615-312-3733.

This story was first published on February 21, 2017, updated January 2021 and February 2022.  

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.