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

Donated:

  • Bethel Bible Village  –  Cleaning supplies and gift cards.
  • Christmas Boxes for needy 
  • Hosanna House
  • Ronald McDonald House wish list
  • Regency House  –  birdbaths and birdseed
  • John Calvin Apartments  –  birdseed and storage container
  • Society of St. Andrew
  • Holston Home for Children

Monthly donations

  • Fellowship of Christian Athletes
  • Big Ridge School  –  bananas for children in after school program
  • Mustard Tree Ministry
  • Red Bank UMC Food Pantry

Pastor’s Corner – August

Gleanings…

How many times have you walked through your house/apartment and looked at some electrical device that uses a battery only to find that it has stopped working? Is there no way to stay ahead of this problem? The short answer is, of course, “Yes.” One response would be to create a list of all battery driven devices organized by the type of battery required, create a schedule based upon how long the particular type of battery lasts, and preemptively change them all before the batteries quit delivering power. Is this type of action really necessary? The answer depends on how critical the battery-operated device is for meeting your requirements/expectations. If it is important enough, you will do what you must do.

This is true not just for battery-operated devices, but for other things that you depend upon. Internal combustion engines require regular, periodic service and maintenance. If you grow and/or raise your own food, you must provide nurturing care to gardens and livestock. Children require a loving, nurturing environment in which to grow and flourish. Attention to health needs, social and emotional needs, regular hugs and kisses, and educational challenges enable young people to develop the skills necessary to adapt to changes in their worlds. An alliteration from my Lay Speaker training illustrates the core concept of my ramblings: Prior preparation prevents poor performance.

No one can say that they were adequately prepared for the current pandemic and the changes that it has forced upon how we live. We are all scrambling to find ways to live according to our normal patterns while seeking to avoid becoming infected with a virus we do not understand and cannot control. Some days are better than others. Some days take us down and leave us crying for help and comfort. We never know ahead of time what will be the outcome of any particular day. Now, having made such a absolute statement let me say that it is only partially true.

Remember the earlier alliteration? If one’s preparation has included prayer (another “P” word), usually at the beginning of the day, one can know that God will be with them no matter what the events of the day may throw at them. The Bible affirms what we know in our hearts to be true: God will never leave us or forsake us, neither forget us nor cast us aside; God will be with us through it all. That truth gives us assurance (a.k.a., hope) so that we can walk forward into each day knowing that we will have God’s help for any and every situation that we will face. But, to have this hope, we need to make sure that we are always prepared.

Thankfully, God has provided for our need by giving us the Holy Spirit to let us know there is help and healing available. This Holy Spirit nudges, whispers, and gives us sudden visions of God at work all around us. This Holy Spirit asks us to call for help and trust that we will receive it when we need it. This Holy Spirit is then our prayer partner communicating what we do not know how to say to our God who knows every groan and responds with tender compassion to every need.

I do not know when we will be on the other side of this pandemic. I do not know what new ways of living and relating will come from our current trials and those to come. One thing I do know and that is we will never have to worry whether there will be love to heal us, nurture us, and support us going forward. All that is required on our part is to stay connected to the one who is able to meet every need. O, Lord, may it be so.

In the love of Christ,

Pastor Braxton ><>

Pastor’s Corner – June

Gleanings…

Talk about a strange year, 2020 is one for the record books! Here it is the first of June and we have no plans for a gathering in any form. There are no in-person worship services, no choir practices, no scheduled VBS, no in-person Annual Conference. General Conference and the Southeastern Jurisdictional Conference have been rescheduled for next year so we will keep Bishop Dindy Taylor for another year as she has postponed her retirement. We will get a new District Superintendent (Rev. Reed Shell) to fill the Rev. Randy Martin’s position in the Scenic South District, but we won’t have a farewell gathering. Some congregations will receive new pastors but will have to wait to meet her or him until gatherings can resume. And all this because of a virus.

You are feeling this, too, aren’t you? Family gatherings have been limited or halted out of concern for those who are more susceptible to the ravages of the virus. Many are limiting or curtailing trips to those necessary for health reasons. You may be going without a vacation trip, a weekend outing, or even dinner out with friends. Those with children at home have had to adjust to new schedules for work and play. Adjusting to anything new requires patience and perseverance, both of which can seem to be in short supply these days. We’re not sure we like all of the changes we have been forced to make. There is, however, a bright side to all of this.

With travel limited, we have spent more time with significant others: spouses, partners, children and grandchildren in the home. With previous schedules thrown out the door, we have played games, watched movies, and eaten meals together again. Some are rediscovering the joys of crafts, gardening, reading, and sitting quietly to watch the sun set in a clear sky. The environment appears to be responding positively to the reduction of pollutants from vehicles not grinding out the miles every day to work and back. And we may realize more benefits when we are able to look back on them at some point down the road. For now, though, we take what we can get and give thanks. And pray.

Many still suffer from the loss of jobs (reliable income and self-worth), compromised health, and the ability to be with those in need. Until a vaccine is developed to protect us against this virus, we remain fearful for our future. We cannot be sure that we won’t be open to infection at an unexpected time regardless of where we are or what precautions we have taken. And all of this causes us to worry to the point where we might begin to lose hope. But that is one thing we should never lose.

Sunday, May 31, was the day we celebrate Pentecost and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit upon all people. The giving of a new helper, advocate, intercessor, companion—the functions of the Holy Spirit go on—enables us to have direct contact with God who, more than anything, desires our good. Because God loves us, we never need to fear for God is with us through every trial caused by natural or human forces. With the help and comfort of the Holy Spirit, we can rest assured that we will always have access to the healing, help, and hope that we need. No matter what.

We are struggling as a loving family because of the violence occurring in protests of the deaths of two African Americans, one in Georgia and one in Minnesota, that have the taint of racism. Anything that does not align with our definitions of fair (righteousness, justified) can, and sometimes should, lead us to protest. One difficulty is with maintaining a proper response when we may feel that we are not being heard, respected, or valued. Actions can get out hand and violence can flare up to consume even the most peaceful person. Dealing with frustrations brought on by limitations in freedom due to the coronavirus, can be difficult even if the cause is a closed movie theater. This is a far greater problem that we have been living with for far too long.

We, who profess to be disciples of Jesus, have the responsibility to be a loving, caring, and peaceful response in our world, our communities, and our homes. What we show to the world reflects our heritage as children of God. May we join together in prayer for all who feel trapped by injustice. May we do our utmost to be compassionate, merciful, helpful, kind, and loving after the model of our Lord. May we work for an end to discrimination of any type that lifts one up by pushing another down. When one hurts, all of us hurt and the great collective we are tired of hurting. Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me. Amen.

In Christ,

Braxton ><>

Pastor’s Corner – May

Gleanings…

As I look at the calendar, I see that we have had a whole month apart from each other. Phone calls, video conferences, text messages, and emails have not filled the need inside of us for meeting face to face, sharing smiles and hugs. Though there are efforts underway to restore much daily activity with stores reopening and restaurants providing limited seating for meals, many churches remain closed to protect the health of their congregations. The churches in the Holston Conference will remain closed for all group activity until our Bishop and District Superintendents determine it to be safe to reopen. In the meantime, we will continue to fellowship through the portals that are open to us.

So, of the changes that we have made to how we live, what will we hold on to as we move forward from this time? For one, I believe we will all be a little more conscious of our habits regarding good hygiene. I also believe we will cherish the time we get to spend with those we love more. With no meetings to attend, evenings have become an opportunity to sit with Lyndie and enjoy just being together. Getting to spend time together never grows old and our forced separations at church in the name of social distancing have given us plenty of time at home to focus on each other. I believe I want to hold on to that.

The lack of meetings has also taught me that we do a real good job of communication using the tools that we have adopted during this time. Maybe we want to take time to honestly determine which meetings should remain face to face and which ones can continue to meet over the internet.

I particularly like the efforts we have made to share beauty, joy, laughter, and love through weekly emails. Through these emails we have been able to see a bit more of the lives of our members. Pictures of gardens, walking/hiking trails, pets, families, special trips, and poetry have opened us up to some of the beauty around us that we too often take for granted. Can we expand the reach of these to encourage others by their presence on our website or Facebook page?

Posting recordings of our abbreviated worship services on Youtube and Facebook has enabled us to participate when we cannot be together. An unexpected benefit has been that some of our members who are unable to attend on Sunday mornings have been able to feel included in our times for prayer, singing, scripture reading, and the sermon. We are also able to expand our reach to members who have moved away. Some are taking these worship services and passing them on to others. We are reaching more people through these online resources than we were having in Sunday worship. One way or another, we will continue to post our worship services so that our outreach may grow.

Our forced separation has also taught us a very important lesson: we should never take for granted any opportunity to tell each other how much we love them. Our journey through separation has taught us that we do not know what each day will hold. Our response should always be to take joy in every opportunity we have to share the love God has placed in us with those whom God places in our paths.

We will be gathering together soon and at that time, I hope we will take time to evaluate the changes we have undergone to see which ones have been valuable for us, and which ones we do not want to keep. We should always be open to learning new things just as we should remember the lessons we have received throughout our lives. “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old” (Matthew 13:52). In this way, we will honor and bless God for walking with us through these days.

In the love of Jesus,

Pastor Braxton ><>

1. Day Brighteners from Fairview

During this time our members have been sharing “day brighteners” for all to enjoy.

What a beautiful day I’ve had! First, one of my sons dropped by as far
    as my driveway to deliver a couple of item that I needed and that he had,
    so I got a wave and kisses thrown from one of my Ooltewah grandsons.

    Next, a call from Braxton checking on the old folks. Yep, we are still here
    and hanging on as best as we know how.

    I had a pretty severe case of cabin fever so I decided to go over to Greenway
    farm and walk a couple of miles if there weren’t too many people around.
    Very un-crowded for such a nice day so I hit the trails. I bumped (not
    literally) into Kathy and Terry Worley being led around by a furry beast of
    some kind. We had a nice chat at a safe distance from each other.

    Finally, later today I had a driveway visit from another Ooltewah grandson
    who came by to pick up a couple of item that I had for his dad. He sped
    away in his topless BMW, enjoying the bright sunshine. I looked out my
    window and got a big wave from him.

    My point is that we should all thank God for all of these small blessings that
    we receive every day and  don’t even think about them until they are
    missing from our daily lives as we go through troubled times like we are now.

    Praying that we all get back together soon,
    Bill S.

Pastor’s Corner – April

Gleanings…

My, how our lives have changed. Just a month ago we were planning for Holy Week services, an Easter Egg hunt, an Easter morning sunrise service (followed by a hot breakfast!), and for some, a Spring Break mini vacation. Now, we watch the news every day to hear the latest pronouncements related to the novel coronavirus/Covid-19 pandemic. And we worry. What if it gets worse? What if it affects/infects my family? How are going to survive without a regular salary? How will we meet our obligations, make our payments, and avoid bankruptcy? What are we going to do?

To be totally fair, these are not new worries. These are the same worries that affect/infect anyone who has suddenly had a significant, life-altering change in their lives. The death of a loved one, the loss of a job, a house fire, an automobile accident, or the sudden occurrence of a major illness has the same potential to knock us off our feet. Add to that the impact of a natural disaster: flooding, tornadoes, hurricanes, wildfires, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions (to name but a few). The difference is the scope of the disaster and how many people are affected at one time.

What can we do when we suddenly face one of these situations? My first response is to pray. I am not talking about some long, theologically correct prayer using all the right words and structure (whatever they are), but a prayer that expresses my real need: Help. Help me. Help me now. Help me now, please.

I am including a meditation of March 25, 2020 by Richard Rohr that features this excerpt from a book by Brian McLaren, noted author and retired pastor, now working with the Center for Action and Contemplation. I don’t believe that I can say it any better than Brian already has.

When we call out for help, we are bound more powerfully to God through our needs and weakness, our unfulfilled hopes and dreams, and our anxieties and problems than we ever could have been through our joys, successes, and strengths alone. . . .  [1]

Anxieties can gray the whole sky like cloud cover or descend on our whole horizon like fog. When we rename our anxieties, in a sense we distill them into requests. What covered the whole sky can now be contained in a couple of buckets. So when we’re suffering from anxiety, we can begin by simply holding the word help before God, letting that one word bring focus to the chaos of our racing thoughts. Once we feel that our mind has dropped out of the frantic zone and into a spirit of connection with God, we can let the general word help go and in its place hold more specific words that name what we need, thereby condensing the cloud of vague anxiety into a bucket of substantial request. So we might hold the word guidance before God. Or patience. Or courage. Or resilience. Or boundaries, mercy, compassion, determination, healing, calm, freedom, wisdom, or peace. . . . [2]

Along with our anxieties and hurts, we also bring our disappointments to God. If anxieties focus on what might happen, and hurts focus on what has happened, disappointments focus on what has not happened. Again, as the saying goes, revealing your feeling is the beginning of healing, so simply acknowledging or naming our disappointment to God is an important move. This is especially important because many of us, if we don’t bring our disappointment to God, will blame our disappointment on God, thus alienating ourselves from our best hope of comfort and strength. . . .

Whether we’re dealing with anxieties, wounds, disappointments, or other needs or struggles, there is enormous power in simple, strong words—the words by which we name our pain and then translate it into a request to God. Help is the door into this vital practice of petition, through which we expand beyond our own capacities and resources to God’s. . . .

Through this practice of expansion and petition, we discover something priceless: the sacred connection can grow stronger through, not in spite of, our anxieties, wounds, disappointments, struggles, and needs. The Compassionate One is our gracious friend, and we don’t have to earn anything, deserve anything, achieve anything, or merit anything to bring our needs to God. We can just come as we are. [3]

I pray that we may use this time to grow closer to God and stronger in our faith. Our God is not powerless, but the strong rock upon whom we build our lives. The world needs to see the strong witness of caring followers of Jesus Christ. May God strengthen and equip us for this service.

Call me if you need me,

Pastor Braxton ><>

[1] Brian D. McLaren, Naked Spirituality (HarperOne: 2011), 104.

[2] Ibid., 116–117.

[3] Ibid., 119–120.

March / April Calendar!!

March – April Calendar

Mustard Tree Meal at First Baptist Church

Thursday – March 12 – 6:00 p.m.  —  Help provide a meal and serve the homeless

Rise Against Hunger

Saturday    March 14    at Hixson UMC Gym  —  Set up – 8:00 a.m. & Packaging – 9:30 – 11:30 a.m.

We will help package 38,000 meals for countries in need.
Invite family, friends, neighbors……to join us!

Family Promise at Burks UMC

Monday    March 16    5:30 p.m.   —  Provide desserts and help serve homeless families

Sign up in the hallway if you can help.

Family Night Dinner

Wednesday    March 18    6:30 p.m.  —  Enjoy a meal and fellowship together

Men’s Breakfast & Fellowship

Saturday    March 28    8:00 a.m.  —  Hot homemade breakfast and fellowship

See Wayne if you or someone you know has a small need the men’s group can assist with.

Easter Cantata – He Is Worthy

Sunday – April 5 – 5:00 p.m.   —  Choral and Video presentation, Refreshments, and Fellowship

Holy Week Services

Maundy Thursday Service – April 9 – 6:30 p.m. – at Fairview UMC

Good Friday Service – April 10 – 6:30 p.m. – At Grace UMC

Easter Sunrise Service & Breakfast – April 12 – at Grace UMC

Easter Sunday Worship – April 12 – 11:00 a.m. at Fairview UMC

Pastor’s Corner – March

Gleanings… March 2020

Why?  Though it has been several years, I can still hear that question coming from my son.  It was his response to any and everything I said during his early years.  Nothing was too powerful or too lame to be challenged with this one-word question.  In some ways, I suppose it was good for me to have to struggle with justifications or expansions on what I had just said, but after a while, it would wear me down to where I could only respond with “Because.”  Interestingly, that question has a lot to teach us about the struggles that the church (any church) is going through.

Think about it for a moment.  When was the last time you thought about why you do certain things with your time?  Everyone has the same amount of time; it is just that we choose to use it in different ways.  This is particularly true when it comes to deciding how to serve God and work to further the Gospel in our daily lives.  Many of us have long practices of attending worship, reading the Bible, praying, sharing out of our gifts, volunteering, and living as we believe a disciple should live.  But if you had to explain or justify your words, thoughts, and actions, what would you say?

Suppose you invited someone (a non-Christian) to attend worship with you one Sunday.  What would you say that would convince that person to go with you?  Now, expand upon that event to include any activity that has a religious connection.  Who, what, when, where, and how are easily answered, but “why” does not so readily spring from our lips.  All of you have chosen to attend this church.  When you can answer why you worship here and not somewhere else, you have the beginnings of an answer to the questions of others.

In this way, the question “Why?” is a blessing to us.  Only by looking intently at why we do the things we do are we able to offer another person the help we have received, the healing we have known, and the hope that sustains us through every trial.  These are the gifts of God to creation.  Nowhere has it been written, and no one has ever said that we would be able to do everything and know everything so as to avoid hard times in our lives.  Instead, the message is that if we will look to the creator, the redeemer, and the sustainer, we will have all we need.  Why?  Because God loves you.  And that is something I believe the world

wants to hear.  See you Sunday.

Grace and peace,

Pastor Braxton ><>

Pastor’s Corner – February

Gleanings…                                                                                                                                                     February 2020

I am not sure where this is going, but the question I have before me today is simple and complex at the same time.  I am wondering how far am I willing to go to help someone else?  Would I buy them food or cook them meals?  Would I arrange for lodging at a motel, hotel, or extended stay facility or would I welcome them into my home?  How much would I donate if they were experiencing a lack of money for any reason: sickness, loss of job, or natural disaster to name a few.  Like many I expect my answer would be that it depends on who it is whether family, friend, acquaintance, co-worker, someone who looks like they could pay me back, or other.  Maybe this question is tougher than I thought.

We are surrounded every day by people who are experiencing a “hard stretch of road.”  Some are easy to see while others do a good job of hiding their issues, but the needs are there.  We have, as a caring society, established programs, facilities, agencies, and relief organizations to help others.  Our nation provides a minimum of security through Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, SNAP, FEMA, and, I am sure, others.  Each of these can help because the population of citizens in this country is willing to be taxed to support them.  At the same time, religious institutions and relief agencies support relief efforts to assist when the need arises.

Added to these visible efforts are a multitude of organizations who facilitate the work of mission teams around the world.  Youth groups, family groups, mission teams, and medical teams go into the world every year to provide what care and help they can.  The number of people who participate is staggering.  The amount of money that goes to support their efforts is overwhelming.  And year after year the work goes on because the need is constantly before us.

Now, back to the original question of how much I am willing to do to help.  Do you realize that your church is one of those organizations that facilitate the efforts of helping others in emergencies, crises, and disasters?  Because of our locations, we can provide needed resources to our communities.  Because we are part of a district in Holston Conference, we can support agencies that help with medical care, nutrition, after school care, summer camp, and others.  Because we are part of the Holston Conference, we can offer homes for children with no home or family, care facilities for the aged and infirm, and send missionaries to teach, help, and heal in many parts of our world.  Now multiply all of that by the number of Annual Conferences around the world.  What you do through your church truly has global consequences.

And so, I want to start by saying, “well done.”  You are making a difference through your support of your church.  At the same time, we could be doing more.  The opportunity to help others grows with the number of disasters and emergencies that occur every day, every year.  When we give to support our church, we participate in efforts to help others both at home and abroad.  By choosing to support these efforts, we model the mercy and compassion of God to others.  By modeling God’s mercy and compassion, we say “thank you” to God for God’s grace toward us.  We are blessed because we have blessed others.

This year as you consider your support of your church, think about the ways you are helping others.  As members of The United Methodist Church, we commit to support it through our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service, and our witness.  May God lead you in discovering how you can grow your support that the Kingdom of God may come upon the earth.

Grace and peace,

Pastor Braxton ><>