We’ve had a long, hot summer. I don’t know if this summer felt hotter than usual because I started running outside for the first time, or if it truly was hotter. But after a sweltering summer, I’m glad fall has finally arrived.
Fall is my favorite time of the year. I’ve heard folks say fall is the reason to live in Middle Tennessee, and I think they are right. With fall comes cooler temperatures, all things pumpkin, football galore, and the gloriously colorful trees of the foothills of Brentwood.
While I look forward to fall’s beauty that’s just around the corner, I also find myself mourning the things passing away. With the completion of summer comes the end of summer vacations, the long, bright sun-shiny days, and the excuse to eat ice-cream at any point of the day to cool-off. Even when good things are around the corner, it’s hard to let go of what has been.
I’m reminded that change is hard. Change brings loss. As we age, our bodies change. While the benefit of age is wisdom and perspective, we also feel the decline of our physical bodies: the aches and pains, the decreased energy. There is beauty in the growth, and yet there is also real loss. It’s important to name the loss and even mourn it.
Change is also difficult because it points to the unknown. In a changing world, we don’t know what tomorrow will look like. What new thing will we need to learn in order to do our job well? In order to communicate with one another? Have you noticed the multiple new ways in which we communicate? There’s Skype, facetime, texting, Facebook and snapchat, and each one requires different knowledge. Anyone find it a bit overwhelming? Anyone fearful?
We live in a changing world. There is a helpful saying, though disturbing as it is to some of us, that change is the only constant in life. We can’t escape change. Change is a natural part of life; it’s how things grow and blossom into something new. Nothing stays the same. Not even the church. I know Forest Hills UMC looks different than it did five years ago or even five months ago. I know that can feel unsettling. There are many things and people we need to mourn. And yet is it possible that we can look to the future with hope? Seeing the possibilities of what is to come?
You see, change isn’t the only constant in life. Thankfully, there is another: the unchanging grace of God. God is always with us, and God is leading us to a season of new life, a season of unimaginable beauty, meaning, purpose and goodness. Things are changing, yes, they always are, because God is always at work, doing a new thing.
As we look to this future, I invite us to let the words of an old hymn be our guide:
My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus Christ, my righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.
When darkness veils His lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace;
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.
On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.
In great hope and clinging to the rock who is Jesus Christ,
Some days are harder than others. Some days the chaos swirls so powerfully around us it’s hard to stay standing. We’ve all been there. Some of us are there now. Troubles at home, difficulties at work. Turmoil in relationships or within our deepest self. What do you do when the going gets tough? When the darkness and chaos seem insurmountable?
A few years ago Brady and I dropped off our son, Thaddeus, at his grandparents' house and we ventured into the mountains of North Carolina for a few days to relax and reconnect. We think it’s important to carve out time for each other regularly— for our friendship and our marriage. Just the two of us.
In those few days away, I fell in love with a t.v. show on HGTV called Fixer Upper. It’s not a new show, but because we don’t have cable at our house, I’d never seen it. And now I’m hooked.
The show is hosted by a married couple, Chip and Joanna Gaines, who help another couple find, purchase, and decorate their first home. But the homes they choose aren’t lookers, by any means. They are raggedy old houses; eyesores that I would never give a second look.
Yet Chip and Joanna see things differently.
They choose a house with a strong foundation, a solid structure. One that can withstand the demolition process. They break down walls, knock out windows, and rip up flooring. But then they begin to rebuild: to cast new walls, to lay new flooring, to add bigger, clearer windows which allow more natural light into the house.
When the renovation is complete, the decorating begins (this is my favorite part!). Furniture is positioned, pictures are hung, dishes fill the new cabinet shelves. Touches of color begin to show up and fill the space with beauty and life. Finally, the couple who purchased the old fixer upper is welcomed into their new home.
At the end of each episode, as I view the before and after pictures, I have to pick my jaw off the floor from amazement. Chip and Joanna have a keen ability to look at something ugly, broken, and seemingly worthless to see potential, beauty, and value of what will be.
I can’t help but think of the connection of this show to my life with God. As I examine myself, I notice that some of the walls inside me need to be broken down. Some of the windows of my soul have become clouded, not allowing enough light to come in.
Thankfully, God is in the renovation business. God chooses me — and you — and begins to work inside of us. God sees beyond what we are now to what we can become. As the Hymn of Promise says, “unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see."
What is God doing inside of you? What do you think God is doing with our church?
While Chip and Jo are amazingly talented, I can’t forget that God is the great Fixer Upper! I’m grateful that my life - and yours - are in God’s hands.
Before Jesus ascends to heaven he says, “When the Holy Spirit comes on you, you will be able to be my witnesses in Jerusalem, all over Judea and Samaria, even to the ends of the world” (The Message). With these final words, Jesus hands off his ministry. It’s now up to a ragtag bunch of fisherman to spread the good news of God’s amazing love for all creation and to continue teaching, healing, and loving like Jesus. In part because of how much Brady and I love the Olympics, I can’t help but think of this handoff as Jesus passing the disciples the baton of faith.
Do you remember who passed the baton of faith to you? Who were the formative people in your life who modeled God’s love, who encouraged you to cultivate a relationship with Jesus, who showed you what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ?
For me, there were many. Most importantly, my parents taught and modeled God’s love. They made sure I understood the most important thing in life is a relationship with God. Because of their commitment to God and the church as top priority in life, I had Sunday School teachers, youth group leaders, pastors, and many others in my home church who helped me develop my relationship with God. Together they passed the baton of faith to me.
Who were the people in your life? Are they still part of your life? I invite you to reach out to them with a simple word of gratitude. A text, a facebook message, an email or even a handwritten note via snail mail. There’s a chance they have no idea how influential they were in your faith. Plus, God might want to use you today to offer them encouragement in their own journey of faith.
The truth is, we need one another no matter how long we’ve been carrying the baton of faith. As a follower of Jesus, and even as a pastor, I need people in my life who keep me accountable, who encourage me when I’m down, who help me understand more of God’s word and what God is saying to me now. I can’t do the Christian life without them. I need the community of faith -- the church -- the ekklesia -- to speak truth into my life and to challenge me to see outside of my own perspective. And I need a safe place to share my struggles and to be united with others in prayer.
Many of you have shared with me that your Sunday school class or Bible Study have been this kind of community for you. If you don’t have a small group, a place to be known deeply, or a small unit of people who encourage you to keep growing in your faith, I invite to you to consider being part of a small group soon. We have several groups starting in the coming weeks, and we will offer more as people show interest. I’m already praying about what kind of small group God would like me to begin at FHUMC, and I’d love to hear your thoughts, hopes and needs.
Peace and love,
In Sunday morning worship, Chris Cummings challenged our church to be the “best you” we can be. He reminded us that we are a unique part of the body of Christ, and that God needs us to be us, not any other church in the world or in our community. As a response to Chris’ sermon, he asked us to write down what we love about our church. Are you curious what others wrote on their card?
I took some time to read through the cards, and here’s the picture of our church that emerged.
FHUMC is a warm, welcoming place to feel at home with God and others.
FHUMC is a place where I am known and I am able to know others.
FHUMC is family. We care about and value everyone -- young and old and in between.
FHUMC is a loving, caring family who shows God’s love at every opportunity.
Is this your experience of our church? Have you found here community, belonging, and acceptance? Has God spoken to you through the ministries of FHUMC helping you cultivate a deep connection to God and live a life of love, service and witness to God in the world?
Maybe you already reflect on what a blessing it is to be part of FHUMC. Do you ever wonder how these gifts are to be shared with others?
Our church, FHUMC, exists to be a blessing to the world. To be sure, there are people in our community, in our homes, in our workplaces, neighborhoods and schools who aren’t truly known by anyone. They aren’t accepted just as they are. They aren’t valued or cared for by another person. There are people in our lives who haven’t yet found their home in God’s love.
What can we do to actively share the gifts of FHUMC with people outside of our church family? These are the kinds of things that I am asking God right now in my prayers. I know God wants to use us, like Abraham, to be a blessing to all the world.
If you think the world needs the gifts that we enjoy each and every time we are together, I invite you to share your love for Forest Hills UMC with someone this week. Pray for God to open the door for you to share with someone the love, acceptance, belonging and community you’ve found at FHUMC. Get on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram and #FHUMCShareLove.
And let’s keep doing what we do --and being who we are-- with great energy, excitement, passion, confidence and commitment. God wants to use us in mighty ways, so whaddaya say we share the love?
How are you today? Have you taken a moment to check in with yourself today? This week? This month? As school begins back, as the summer days come to a close, are you excited or dreadful? As we, as a church, face another transition in staff leadership, do you feel drained and depleted from so much change? As you look at your life and relationships and the world around you, would you consider yourself empty or full?
In my last two reflections, I shared a couple of practices that help keep me full -- gratitude and sabbath. When I look at life with the eyes of gratitude, and when I am rested and renewed, I am a better able to love myself and others. I am a more faithful follower of Jesus Christ.
But I have to confess, sometimes I fall short of being the person I want to --and am called to-- be.
Why, after 30+ years of following Christ, do I still struggle with some of the same things? Shouldn’t I be better at slowing down, stopping all the busyness, and simply “being” a child of God? Will I ever learn that judgement keeps me from experiencing God in someone who isn’t like me?
In Philippians 2:5-11, Paul says Jesus emptied himself and became human. Though he was equal to God, Jesus became one of us: human, like you and like me. The Message reads, “It was an incredibly humbling process.” Humbling and transformational.
Because Jesus became human he understands our plight. Jesus faced temptation. He experienced pain. He knew our struggle. And so he doesn’t look upon us with harsh eyes. He gazes at us with compassion. With love. With grace.
When I begin to look at myself with the eyes of Christ, a different picture emerges. I see a child of God who desires faithfulness, who is willing to confess her sins, and seek the strength of Christ living in her. With confidence in Christ’s compassion, I can extend it to myself. And as it shapes me, it begins to transform the way I see others.
If you ever struggle with looking at yourself or others with the eyes of compassion and grace, I invite you to let this be your prayer.
Prayer: Give me courage, Gracious God, to see myself as you see me, and to extend that grace to all I meet. Amen.
Is it just me or does anyone else have trouble slowing down, stopping the busyness, and clearing their schedule to rest? My transition to Forest Hills has been busy. It’s been full and fun and exciting. There is much to learn and many people to meet. I have to tell you I’m loving it! But I’m also realizing once again my need to follow better the 4th Commandment.
It was less than 6 months into our marriage when Brady first talked to me about what he perceived as my struggle to rest. He was right, but until the point when he lovingly called me out, I was completely unaware of my inability to cease work. I mean, there was so much to do. Email. Housework. Grocery Shopping. For some reason, I needed to accomplish it all before I could rest. And that was before we were parents.
Call it the Protestant Work Ethic. Call it my need for order. But let’s be sure to call it what it is: the road to burnout, sickness, and resentment. Not to mention it’s completely counter to the holy rhythm of life which means when I fail to rest my connection to God diminishes. I’m grateful for Brady, how he helped me see clearer into myself in those early days of our marriage, and how he continues to help me focus on the priority of rest in my life.
One thing we quickly put into practice in our relationship is getting away in order to rest. Sometimes it’s a weekend trip to our parents’ homes. Other times, it’s a trip with friends, or our annual vacation together, or even a half-day at Radnor Lake in Brentwood. We have found it crucial, even necessary, to be intentional about getting out of our home, outside of our normal routines to rest from our work (paid work, housework, any kind of work). We believe God’s gift of Sabbath is meant for us to enjoy life, enjoy one another, and enjoy God’s good gifts in the world. And it reminds us that God is the one who keeps the world going. Not us.
How do you make time to rest, to enjoy life, to receive the gift of Sabbath that God gives us?
I know there are a million things to do, but let me encourage you to make Sabbath a priority. God delights in our rest. In our time away, we make special room for God to enter into our lives, replenish us and make us whole. No matter what day it is, I’m pretty sure the 7th day, the day of rest, is coming soon. Won’t you receive the gift that is waiting for you?
Peace and love,
“You, O God, set a table for me right in front of my enemies. You bathe my head in oil; my cup is so full it spills over! Yes, goodness and faithful love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will live in the LORD's house as long as I live.” Psalm 23:5-6 (CEB)
Have you ever felt so grateful you think you might explode? Filled to the point of breaking open? That’s how I feel right now. My cup overflows.
This past week you offered Brady, Thaddeus and me an incredible welcome to the Forest Hills UMC family. The package of cards, the brunch after worship, the smiles, words of excitement about our arrival, and the hugs have been such a gift. With each gesture of welcome we experienced God’s love in a tangible way. My cup overflows.
During a difficult time of transition, your hospitality smoothed the path. Change is difficult. Grief is real. Relationships and routines alter, but in the midst of it all, I found one thing remains: God’s loving presence. God has been with us each step of the way...and conspicuously through you. When we could have gotten lost in sadness, you stepped in and shined God’s light into our lives. With your tangible acts of love, you called us to remember God’s faithfulness. My cup overflows.
When I think about gratitude I’m amazed at how powerful it is. We know too well the difficulties of life. The pain, the suffering, the heartache. They can easily consume us. And yet each day gifts of grace surround us. Our very breath. Our homes. A relationship with a friend. A family member. A furry friend. Food. God’s creation. A job. Life is like a cup, filled with both joys and sorrows. Looking for the gifts around us each day is a powerful practice. It can change our perspective, help us experience God’s presence, and remind us of God’s faithfulness.
Gratitude opens us to hope.
What are you grateful for today? Can you name one thing, maybe two? Speak them aloud each day and watch your cup fill, maybe even overflow.
Frederick Buechner has been one of my favorite writers for a long time. I have pretty much all of his non-fiction work on my shelf. He writes a blog that loyal followers keep up with. Here is his latest—I thought it was worth reprinting:
"The nave is the central part of the church from the main front to the chancel. It’s the part where the laity sit and in great Gothic churches it is sometimes separated from the choir and clergy by a screen. It takes its name from the Latin “navis,” meaning “ship”—one reason being that the vaulted roof looks like the keel of an inverted ship or Noah’s Ark. It’s a resemblance worth thinking about.
"In one as in the other, just about everything imaginable is aboard, the clean and unclean alike. They are all piled together helter skelter, the predators and the prey, the wild and the tame, the sleek and beautiful ones and the ones that are ugly as sin. There are sly young foxes and impossible old cows. There are the catty and the piggish and the peacock-proud. There are hawks and there are doves. Some are wise as owls, some silly as geese; some meek as lambs and others ravening wolves. There are times when they all cackle and grunt and roar and sing together, and there are times when you can hear a pin drop. Most of them have no clear idea just where they’re supposed to be heading or how they’re supposed to get there or what they’ll find if and when they finally do, but they figure the people in charge must know and in the meanwhile sit back on their haunches and try to enjoy the ride.
"It’s not all enjoyable. There’s backbiting just like everywhere else. There’s a pecking order. There’s jostling at the trough. There’s growling and grousing and whining and complaining. There are dogs in the manger and old goats and black widow spiders. It’s a regular menagerie in there, and sometimes it smells to high heaven like one.
"But even at its worst, there’s at least one thing that makes it bearable within, and that is the storm without—the wild winds and terrible waves and no help in sight.
And if there is never clear sailing, there is at least shelter from the blast, a sense of somehow heading in the right direction in spite of everything, a ship to keep afloat, and, like a beacon in the dark, the hope of finding safe harbor at last.
Most of us know about ESL—English as a Second Language. These classes are offered at many locations around the city as a way of helping immigrants assimilate more effectively. If you can’t speak English, it is pretty difficult to navigate around Nashville. I’ve often wondered what it was that caused us, as a nation, NOT to teach our children additional languages. I meet people from time to time who have come here from Europe or Africa or Asia who speak 2 or more languages beautifully. Why didn’t we insist on doing this?
This became most real to me when we journeyed into places like Mexico for mission efforts. We wanted so desperately to be able to converse with the children in those places and we couldn’t. The best we could do was to be sure we had at least one person on the team who spoke the language for all of us. It made the experience less rich.
Next Sunday is one of the High, Holy days in the life of the church—Pentecost. We have a tradition of celebrating Confirmation for our young disciples and we will have two of them confirmed next week. But that’s not all that happens on Pentecost. It is a reminder of the promise made by Jesus to send a Comforter, an Advocate to us so that we would not feel like “orphans” when he ascended to Heaven.
I’d like to call it SSL—SPIRIT as a SECOND LANGUAGE.
Pentecost, the day when everyone heard the words they needed to hear and heard them in a language they could understand. The miracle of HEARING. Some believe Pentecost was the final reversal of a curse inflicted on humanity way back in Genesis with the building of The Tower of Babel. Remember? Humans tried to build a tower so high it would reach the heavens and people could actually be in the presence of God. I never thought that sounded like such a bad proposition, but it was determined that their motives were not the best, so God “confounded their tongues that day” and made it so that people couldn’t understand each other.
On Pentecost, people from all over found themselves in one place and there was a “happening.” A rush like a mighty wind. Tongues of fire dancing on people’s heads. But those were mostly good show biz. What happened that day of real import was that they all heard the words of Peter—heard them in their own language and understood all of it.
That’s the real miracle—understanding. Understanding is the source of great power. Unless we are willing to allow the Holy Spirit of God work inside us so that we might understand each other, we will remain as cursed as the day we built a tower.
I like to think of Pentecost not only as a noun, but also as a verb. So my prayer today for us as we make our way to next Sunday is that God might “Pentecost” us.
Kristin Clark-Banks is the pastor of Forest Hills UMC.