The Cultivation of Something New

“Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”
Isaiah 43:18-19

Hi friends!

If you haven’t heard, we have some exciting news! We are responding in faithful obedience to plant a church! Over the past two years, we have sought the Lord’s discernment concerning the next steps in my (Joe’s) call to pastoral ministry, as well as our family’s ministry journey. And after much prayer & discernment, we are excited/thrilled to share that we will soon be moving to Pinckney to plant a Nazarene church.

Our move will be just one stop on our journey over the next year. On Christmas Eve, we welcomed kiddo #4 (Lydia) into our family! In April, Joe will be ordained in the Church of the Nazarene (he was affirmed as a candidate for ordination last year, but our district’s annual assembly was canceled due to COVID). And in early summer, we will move to Pinckney as we prepare for the launch of our Nazarene church plant.

Why a Nazarene Church? What does it mean to be a Nazarene?

The Church of the Nazarene is a global denomination rooted in the Wesleyan-Holiness tradition, with local churches worshipping in 163 world areas. Nazarenes are known for our commitment to personal holiness and Christlikeness, lived out through a devotion to social holiness. This is said best through the words of the Nazarene website itself, “We believe that the Holy Spirit convicts, cleanses, fills, and empowers us as the grace of God transforms us day by day into a people of love, spiritual discipline, ethical and moral purity, compassion, and justice.”

To be a Nazarene then, is to interpret life and faith through the lenses of Scripture, reason, tradition, and experience; and, to live holy lives through mutual support, Christian fellowship, and loving accountability. In the words of John Wesley, “God has given us to each other to strengthen each other’s hands.”

What is this new church all about?

Simply put, we’re all about following the ways of King Jesus holistically and in community.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve struggled throughout life with compartmentalizing my faith. It’s easy to box up the “church experience” and shift it to the back burner as we move from Sunday to Monday. Yet, Jesus calls us to reframe our entire view of life when we pledge to follow Him, stepping into the heart of His Upside-Down Kingdom. Church, then, is not something we go to, but something we become. We live out our faith in celebratory gatherings on Sundays, and in the mundane and menial tasks throughout the week. And as we live life this way, we come to know what it means to love God and our neighbors with all of ourselves, the entirety of our heart, soul, mind, & strength. We look not just to our own interests, but we commit to seeking the welfare of the community, culture, & creation where we find ourselves rooted.

We echo the words of Tim Soerens, who, in his book, Everywhere You Look, writes that, “[The church is] called to live out this good-news story not as isolated, well-meaning individuals but as a team that is publicly encountered in the ordinary context of particular places.” The church is much more than a collection of friendly acquaintances who cross paths on a weekly basis; it is a living, breathing body, composed of men & women from all backgrounds who walk through life together, speaking the Good News of redemption into the places and people they encounter daily.

It is for these reasons that we’re naming our church Pinckney Community Church of the Nazarene.

At Pinckney Community Church of the Nazarene (PCC) we’re committed to:

  • Open Hearts to God and one another. We believe that God is constantly at work sanctifying us, refining our hearts as He shapes us to reflect His image to the world around us. As such, it’s essential for our hearts to remain open that we might see and hear the work God desires to do in us and through us.
  • Open Hands to serve the communities and creation that surround us. Jesus modeled that everything we have is a gift graciously given to us by God to be used for His glory. And so, we commit to giving generously of ourselves, integrating our faith, life, & vocation as we partner with Jesus to bring about flourishing lives locally and globally.
  • Open Homes to welcome all within our doors. We want our homes to be open as places of rest & refreshment, fun & fellowship. We strive to posture ourselves as hospitable neighbors, seeking the welfare of those we share life with. As we follow Jesus’ example and leading, we, too, ensure that all are welcome into our home and our lives.

How can you get involved?

Join a House Church
The vision of PCC is to be a collection of house churches that will one day dot the countryside from Whitmore Lake to Stockbridge, Hamburg to Ann Arbor. The Christian life is meant to be lived in community with the body of Christ, not alone and disconnected. As a good friend of mine articulated so well, the pandemic has taught us that, “the bulk of Christian discipleship doesn’t happen through large corporate gatherings, but throughout the week in neighborhoods, backyards, porches, and over meals.” Our plan is to gather all of our house churches together on the 1st & 3rd Sundays of the month for “big” church, and on the 2nd & 4th Sundays, we’ll scatter out into the community to gather in our house churches. On months with a 5th Sunday, we’ll convene out in the community, serving our neighbors with our time and talents. Would you consider becoming a part of our community as we follow Jesus together?

Partner with us Financially
We are raising funds as church planters, local missionaries to the greater Pinckney area. We have a goal of raising $3,000 of monthly supporters for a duration of 24 months, beginning in October 2021, to help us launch our church plant. This money will go to offset our salary so our church can use our tithes and offerings for local mission in Pinckney. If you are interested in partnering monthly or through a one-time gift, please donate here (https://fentonnazarene.com/give). Select “New Church Plant (Pinckney)” as the giving designation so that our mother church (Fenton Church of the Nazarene) knows how to categorize the funds. Would you consider partnering with us to provide our salary until our community is financially self-sufficient?

Pray for our Community
We believe that prayer is an essential part of our church plant, both for the church and for the Pinckney community. We believe that God hears our praises and petitions and moves by His Spirit in our midst. Would you consider being a prayer partner, interceding for our church plant, for our community, and for our family?

Pinckney Community Church of the Nazarene is called to be a community that is formed and shaped by holistic devotion to Jesus. We are called to love God and neighbor through opening our hearts to be redeemed and sanctified. We are called to serve creation and our community by opening hands generously and creatively. And, we are called to hospitality as we open our homes to be places of refreshment, rest, & shared life.

As we open our hearts, our hands, and our homes to God and to others, may we do so humbly, yet expectantly, that God will show up to redeem and transform lives and communities!

“Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?”
Isaiah 43:18-19

We invite you to pray and discern if God is calling you to join us!

Blessings,
Joe, Maria, Abigail, Elizabeth, Ian, & Lydia

Interested in learning more? Contact us!
Email: wright.joe.a@gmail.com

Also, if you missed my most recent sermon at FCN where I shared about the vision of the plant, here’s a similar update video: https://youtu.be/f62pD4KCRFA.

Love: The Most Powerful Witness

“I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
– Ephesians 4:1-3

“I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
– John 13:34-35

It’s no secret that words and actions ripe with divisive intentions are daily entering our lives. Be it through salacious sound bytes or memorable memes, it feels as though division is the goal of the day. And yet against this anger-ridden landscape, the Church is called to a different moral standard.

Bear with one another in love, Paul writes at the beginning of Ephesians 4. This call to Christian living piggy backs off Paul’s beautiful prayer at the end of chapter 3, where he prays that the Ephesians would know the fullness of the love of Christ.

By your love for one another, the world will know you are my disciples, Jesus states to the disciples in John 13. As his death looms near, as religious and political divisiveness comes to a boiling point, Jesus reminds his disciples that the world will be watching them, so will they succumb to the ways of the world or will they walk the way of love.

Disagreements and divisions have always existed. We’re humans, it’s inevitable. We think differently. We act differently. We talk differently. We vote differently. We put rolls of toilet paper on differently (talk about a real dividing point!). And it’s ok. It’s normal. Thanks be to God that we are different and unique, that we like different things, that we think differently about things! Honestly, it’d be a bit boring if everything was always the same for all of us (a point we’re trying to teach our daughters right now who always want the same of everything – clothes, snacks, toys, etc.).

But what’s not ok, and I’m speaking to the Church here, is when we use these differences to drive division and stir up controversy. When it’s easier to unfriend, block, slander, or simply avoid those we may disagree with, we need to reevaluate how the Gospel is shaping our hearts.

Paul compels the Early Church to live in peace and unity and love despite their great Greco-Roman and Jewish differences. Notice that Paul doesn’t say: start a Greco-Roman Church and a Jewish Church so that you don’t have to live with your differences. Jesus, on the precipice of his crucifixion, reminds the disciples that the world will know their allegiance to him by the love they show one another. Again, notice that Jesus doesn’t say: pick up your swords and plowshares to forcibly take down the Romans and Jewish religious authorities after they crucify me.

The Church is called to a different ethic of living, a Kingdom-centered ethic, where the love of Jesus unites us despite our differences. We are called to Christlikeness, to loving our neighbors (both the ones we like, and the ones we try to avoid by scurrying in the house as fast as possible when we get home) in the same way Jesus loved us.

Division fills our days. It’s always been there, but it doesn’t have to stay there. The world is watching us, Church. What will it know us for?

what makes a life valuable

A life on death row
Is just as valuable as a life in utero
A life fleeing the dangers of home
Is just as valuable as a life safe in a suburban home
A life painted beautiful shades of brown
Is just as valuable as a life that is white all around

What makes a life valuable?
What is a life worth?
Is it someone who has it all – comfort, college, retirement plan…
Or someone who scrapes by, desperately relying upon the earth?

Through keyboard strokes and handwritten signs
We voice our thoughts; our words, we do opine
In colorful vocabulary, through the power of law
We struggle, we fight, to define value for all
We state and demand, “It’s easy to follow laws & orders…why aren’t you able?”
Yet, how often have we thought to invite them to our table

What makes a life valuable?
What is a life worth?
Is it found in the exterior – skin tone, ethnic home, and language?
Is our value determined by our location of birth?

Instead of politics, position, or power
Let us look to the One who arrived at just the right hour.
Friendship was not bought.
Positional power was not taught.
Yet…how often is this our first thought?

Infants & children…valued
The elderly, widows, & widowers…valued
Sinners & saints…valued
Pharisees, Sadducees, & Roman Centurions…valued
The faithful zealot & the future betrayer…valued
Nomads, locals, & refugees…valued
Political leaders & the politically homeless…valued
The healthy, the blind, the lame, the leper…valued
You…valued
You…found worthy

You. Are. Loved.

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

Philippians 2:3-11

“We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.”
1 John 4:19-21

Getting Egypt Out of Us

Over the past month we’ve been preaching out of the lectionary, following the Exodus journey of the nation of Israel as God delivers out of the hands of the oppressive Egyptians. As we’ve walked through the text, we’ve often returned to Pastor & Professor Dr. Scott Daniels’ insight that the Exodus journey for Israel was just as much getting Israel out of Egypt as it was also God getting the ways of Egypt out of Israel. (Here’s a Lenten reflection on the idea).

It’s a pattern we see often repeated throughout the latter books of the Pentateuch – God delivers…Israel grumbles…God delivers…Israel grumbles. This was highlighted again in my devotional time this morning, reading Numbers 11 and Psalm 106, both of which speak to Israel’s grumbling and muttering and rebelling against the journey out of Egypt, because “at least in Egypt we ate fish for free and had cucumbers and melons and leeks and garlic…” (Num. 11:6).

Reflecting on the passage, I see how it speaks prophetically to us today. And while we’re not trying to get the ways of Egypt out of us, we are still lamenting and wishing we could return to the “Church of 2019”.

  • If we only didn’t have to wear these masks…
  • If we only could meet like we used to…
  • If we didn’t have to meet online…
  • Or for some: I won’t return until _______ is like it was because that’s how church should be…

Just as the Israelites longed for 40 years to return to the familiarity and comfort of oppressive Egypt, we long for the familiarity and comforts of pre-COVID church. And when that’s our starting point, when that’s our goal, the way forward is only going to look bleak, and our language will only be full of grumbling.

BUT…what if we’re in the midst of a wilderness moment? What if God is working to lead us out from Egypt in these days, working to rid Egypt from our souls?

I liken it to coaching cross country. One of my biggest coaching pet peeves – not calling out any of my runners who may be reading 😉 – is when the week or two before running on a tough course, the language turns negative. I don’t like it there because I know I won’t PR… There’s SO MANY hills… The trails are too windy… They never cut the grass short…

And I find I’m trying to have to reframe the race narrative for them. Yes, these are all possibilities and realities we will face, but… what if all the hard work you’ve put in for months pays off and you do PR? When we come in with a negative mindset, negative language, and a longing to be somewhere familiar, comfortable, and easy, we’re not going to like the struggle; we’re going to want to flee it.

I, too, have lamented the realities of a COVID world. Church isn’t the same as it was. I miss seeing many of our families on Sundays. BUT…what if God is leading us through a wilderness moment, preparing us for something different, something new?

  • Maybe this season will help us rid ourselves of the idols of consumerism and pesudo-discipleship.
  • Maybe this season will drive us back into one another’s homes, sharing meals and life together.
  • Maybe this season will help us embrace a life and love that understands and embraces struggle and the laying down of ourselves as we follow Jesus.

And so, my prayer for us is this, that as we walk through these wilderness days, we would remain faithful to God’s guiding presence, walking forward into the unknown and unplannable and uncertain, instead of caving into our desires to retreat backwards to the familiar and easy and comfortable.

Blessed are the Peacemakers

My heart laments in these days at the lack of peace and unity within the Church – at least it appears to be so from my perspective in my corner in the world. And again, the day’s lectionary readings remind me of our call as Christians to seek peace, to seek unity, to place love of our neighbors before love of ourselves. I could comment more, but the passages speak for themselves. May we reflect & meditate & live them out daily.

Psalm 133:1 (CEB)
Look at how good and pleasing it is
when families live together as one!

Romans 14:13-15:2 (CEB)
So stop judging each other. Instead, this is what you should decide: never put a stumbling block or obstacle in the way of your brother or sister. I know and I’m convinced in the Lord Jesus that nothing is wrong to eat in itself. But if someone thinks something is wrong to eat, it becomes wrong for that person. If your brother or sister is upset by your food, you are no longer walking in love. Don’t let your food destroy someone for whom Christ died. And don’t let something you consider to be good be criticized as wrong. God’s kingdom isn’t about eating food and drinking but about righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever serves Christ this way pleases God and gets human approval.

So let’s strive for the things that bring peace and the things that build each other up. Don’t destroy what God has done because of food. All food is acceptable, but it’s a bad thing if it trips someone else. It’s a good thing not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything that trips your brother or sister. Keep the belief that you have to yourself—it’s between you and God. People are blessed who don’t convict themselves by the things they approve. But those who have doubts are convicted if they go ahead and eat, because they aren’t acting on the basis of faith. Everything that isn’t based on faith is sin.

We who are powerful need to be patient with the weakness of those who don’t have power, and not please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good in order to build them up.

Litmus Tests of Scripture

It’s been a few trips around the sun since I’ve opened the small bottle and pulled out the litmus test strip to see if a chemical compound is acidic or basic or to make sure the pH of the pool is A-OK for a swim. Maybe it was just me, but I remember back in middle school when we first started learning about acids & bases and being filled with a sense of wonder if the strip would turn acidic red or basic blue.

While my days of chemistry have come to an end (partly in thanks Organic BioChem…), I’ve found that I’m still utilizing litmus tests in my daily walk with Jesus. Instead of the acid-base pH spectrum, I’ve instilled a new pH (let’s call it personal Holiness) spectrum rooted in a few passages of Scripture, with the spectrum ranging from the kingdom of self/world to the Kingdom of God.

personal Holiness spectrum
kingdom of self/world . . . . . . . . . . . . . . (me) . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Kingdom of God

The first passage comes from the Old Testament and is first found when the LORD describes his character to Moses on Mount Sinai. (Side note: The Bible Project is beginning a great video series on this, here!) The passage reads:
The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness (Exod. 34:6, NRSV).

This is an oft repeated passage throughout the Old Testament, as God shares his heart and character to the Israelites and the nations. Used as a litmus test on the pH spectrum, I adapt it like this:
Joe, Joe, a Christ follower merciful and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.

I find it gives me a daily check to see if I’m living out the character and heart of God. Have I been merciful and gracious to my kids? Was I slow to anger at the driver who cut me off? Am I abounding in steadfast love as I post on social media?

The second passage comes from 1 Corinthians 13. Many of us are familiar with it, the love passage. Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends (1 Cor. 13:4-8a, NRSV).

In premarital counseling & weddings, I use it as a charge to brides and grooms to insert their name where love is, as a check to see if they’re daily living out the love of Christ in their marriage. And so on the pH spectrum, it’d read like this:
Joe is patient; Joe is kind; Joe is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. Joe does not insist on his own way; Joe is not irritable or resentful; Joe does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. Joe bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Joe’s love never ends.

It’s a great personal check, and even as I type it out today, I find myself reflecting on if I was truly patient yesterday. Was I irritable at all? Was I boastful or selfish?

These are just a couple examples of litmus tests I’ve integrated into my daily walk with God as I strive to grow in Christlikeness. Feel free to add them to your own daily walk! A few other passages I reflect on in this manner are the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7); Galatians 5:22-26; Philippians 2:1-18; 4:4-9; and Colossians 3:12-17.

Checked by the Lectionary

One of the major changes I’ve made to my devotional patterns for 2020 is following daily lectionary readings. The past few years my devotional time has been spent reading through major blocks of the OT or NT (Prophets, Epistles, Gospels, Exile, etc.), but this year I’ve split my time between the Celtic Daily Prayer and the Revised Common Lectionary’s daily readings.

It took a little while for me to get used to the new rhythms, especially coming from a tradition and faith/family history where these patterns weren’t practiced regularly, and I certainly haven’t “perfected” it. But, I have found it to be refreshing in guiding my prayer time as well as recognizing connections between passages that I hadn’t noticed before. And then there’s also been the occasional day where the readings just check you, like it did for me today.

How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses to help?
1 John 3:17

I know it wasn’t “technically” in today’s readings, but the flow from 1 John 3:11-23 is just so smooth and continuous that I kept on reading. And man, has that verse stopped me in my tracks today.

In the midst of a section on what it means to love one another – in truth and action – in the same way that Jesus modeled his love for us, this little verse has wedged itself into my heart, and in some ways, has helped me to give voice to the laments and frustrations that had been dwelling inside lately. Things that I noticed dissipated during a week of vacation and relative silence, but have come on strong since returning to ministry and media over the past 36 hours.

I don’t need to list them all, because we see them posted, shared, discussed, liked, tweeted, and in some cases, preached upon, on a regular basis. But my laments for the Church, the beautifully mended bride of Christ, are deep and real when I see continual sharing of false, fear driven conspiracy theories or statements; caring more about broken property than even listening to people who’ve endured hundreds of years of broken systems & oppression; turning a blind eye to caring for sick infants and children who’ve been forcibly removed from their parents at the border while singing the praises of the only true “pro-life” candidate; allowing a paper mask to become the object of “oppression” that will keep you from fellowship with your church family; and through what we communicate, preventing others from joining even thinking they have a place at the tables in our lives and homes.

John’s message is pointed and clear: love one another…and we know love by this, that [Jesus] laid down his life for us – and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.

It pains me to see unchurched and dechurched family and friends share that its often the Christians in their lives that show them the least amount of love. And, maybe that’s what spurred this post on today. Because my heart breaks when I read and hear statements like that. It means we’ve failed to love one another well. And I know there’s a lot more to what that looks like in practice, but I’ll end with this – Jesus sure knew how to love the Jews and the Gentiles, the faithful and the sinner, the rich and the poor, the strong and the weak. Church, let us be abounding in love and compassion, rich in grace and mercy, and not driven by fear, hate, & division.

Un-Social Media

I have done many great things in my life that conflicted with the great aims I had set myself – and something has always set me on the true path again.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn, The Oak & the Calf

Has God ever checked you?

Not physically, as if He were skating across the ice to stop your breakaway on net; but, has He ever checked you spiritually, deep in your soul?

For quite a while, I’ve debated about shutting it all down – Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, etc. To be free from notifications and the anxiety that wells up in thinking about how and when and whom to respond to, to be free from the mindless scrolling that consumes more time than I’d like to admit, to be free from watching friends & family fight…

But I’ve hesitated, I’ve resisted the urge; for I recognize how I long for the sense of community each platform provides. Community that seems ever so valuable in days of quarantine & limited physical gatherings. And so, I’ve come up with reasons excuses to stay digitally connected, all the while feeling the emotional burdens of doing so growing deeper and deeper within my soul.

But the time has come, God has indeed checked me, and I will be cutting back severely on my social media interactions.

Now, I know that some of you reading, if you decide to read, might interpret this as: look at Joe, he’s looking for pity; if he’s not emotionally mature enough for Facebook, is he really emotionally mature enough to be my pastor; finally, I don’t have to read his opposing viewpoints anymore; Joe can’t handle tough conversations; or, typical snowflake-millennial, crying out, looking for attention…

And if you do interpret it in one of those ways, or a similar way, my heart goes out to you. It’s this weariness that weighs down my soul.

This is a personal decision for me, but one I decided to step out from the shadows to share and invite you along in the journey with me, for maybe God is speaking something similar to you. May we pray for eyes to see and ears to hear the Spirit speaking to us. And so, here it goes…

For the past 4+ months, as we’ve navigated our way through the Covid-19 Pandemic – yes, it is a pandemic, and not some US election conspiracy theory – I’ve seen and experienced both the incredible highs and lows of social media. It was such a joy to my soul early on in our Zoom-church time to connect with my church family! And more than ever before, I’ve recognized the emotional weight and impact it has had on me – not so much in the anticipation and anxiety rooted in the desire for likes, comments, retweets, & double-taps, but in seeing how these great platforms for connection are being used in damaging, disparaging, & divisive ways.

As such, I’ve reflected on the repeated prayers and calls from Jesus and Paul throughout the New Testament for unity within the Church, despite its diversity…

Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.
John 17:11b

Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they may be sanctified in truth…that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe you have sent me. The glory you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
John 17:17-19, 21-23

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
Ephesians 4:1-3

Only to open up my social media feeds to see beloved churched friends and family behaving and interacting in such disunity…

And I readily admit that I haven’t always been perfect in this my entire life – have any of us? But I will counter with the fact that I do believe in the prophetic nature of the pastoral call to lead us back to Kingdom-centered living. And while it maybe hasn’t been communicated as clearly and concisely as I’d like, it’s where my heart and passion lie.

As one who loves the Church and her imperfect beauty, I long to see us known for unity. As I read recently on Twitter, if Jesus could unite a terrorist (zealot) and a tax collector in his intimate group of 12, he can most certainly unite even the strongest democrats and republicans. May we allow Jesus to reorient us from “me” as the center of our worlds to “He” as the center of our being. As I heard Pastor Rich Villodas say recently, “There’s a difference between being in the world for God and being in God for the world.” May we live out the latter in its fullness.

Last week at FCN, Pastor Ron shared on Psalm 27 and what forms us. Psalm 27:4 has been a key component of my morning devotions for most of the year.

One thing I have asked of the LORD, that I will seek after:
to live in the house of the LORD all the days of my life,
to behold the beauty of the LORD,
and to inquire in his temple.

And God’s check on my soul was that my social media feeds were forming me more than I cared to admit, and it’s time for a break. There are wounds that need to heal, passions that need to be rekindled, and conversations that I long to have, but can’t take place properly on social media platforms.

And so, it’s time to sign off, to become digitally un-social. And as I think about it, there’s a great sense of freedom and fresh air, but also a sense of lament in not keeping up with friends and family. My Facebook will remain active, but I will only be using it solely for the purpose of running the FCN, BreakThru, and Flint Area Team World Vision pages. I will remain on Messenger, Twitter, & Strava, but again, in limited capacities. I hope to write more on here, too, as I continue to pursue my passions & ministerial call.

And so, as I think about the great aims I have for myself, the calling God has so deeply rooted within my soul, I see how social media has become something that’s derailed me, and I’m grateful for God’s grace in picking me up and setting me on the right path again.

Regathering Reflections

As we prepare to regather as a congregation this weekend, I’ve found my heart drawn to the the pages of Ezra and Nehemiah. These two Old Testament books depict the return to Jerusalem and the Promised Land for the Israeli and Judean exiles from decades of exile in Assyria and Babylon.

And while we we’re captured by an oppressive, militaristic force; shackled in chains and forced to march hundreds of miles across the desert lands that surround the Fertile Crescant; or stripped of our culture and heritage; the past 3+ months have been a great shift for many of us in our perceptions of “normal” living, especially in relation to our life and participation in the Church. And as we prepare to regather as a faith community, I believe the words of Ezra and Nehemiah provide us comfort and wisdom as we enter into a “new normal” in the life of the Church.

  1. It is okay to grieve the loss.
    As the Israelites returned to Jerusalem, many wanted it to be the same as when they left – the temple, in all it’s architectural beauty, full of the dwelling presence of the LORD. Instead, they find a city in ruins and the presence absence from the physical temple. And throughout Ezra & Nehemiah, we see the full range of emotions of a people group who struggle to adjust to their new reality in their old home.
    Things will be different when we return. But that doesn’t mean it’ll be easy to walk through. Even as an introvert, I lament not being able to give a handshake, hug, or a high five as we gather again. Gathering as a church family for worship is a celebratory part of the week, and so let us work together to find new ways to celebrate on Sunday mornings!
  2. Familiar faces will be absent.
    As the exiles returned home, they were faced with the reality that not everyone was with them. Neighbors, family members, & friends either perished in the Assyrian & Babylonian conquests, or remained, for some reason, (maybe financial, political, oppresion, etc.) in Babylon.
    For some in our church families, regathering is a great health risk, and we are grateful for the technological abilities that allow them to join us from home. Even though COVID-19 cases are down for the moment near us, they are still present, and so we should lament that our entire church family is unable to gather. At the same time, let us extend grace and love to those individuals and families. Send them a note, give them a call, find some way to encourage them that even though they are physically absent, they are still a vital part to the life of our church. (If you need an FCN directory, let me know, and I’ll gladly send it your way!)
  3. A People of Worship and Word.
    One of the most interesting things to happen to the Israelites upon their return to Jerusalem is that most scholars believe it is around this time period that Israel becomes known as a “People of the Book” (The Life with God Bible [NRSV] Study Notes). The Scriptures remind the returned exiles of their covenant with God, as well as the duties and obligations of faith. But as my Study Bible notes comment, “the Scriptures are not just a book to be used for information; the written word is, rather, an agent of transformation.” Additionally, for a people group who, for so long found their identity as a people who had the LORD’s dwelling place in the temple and a covenant carved on stones, in exile, the Prophets speak of the creation of a new covenant that will be written on the people’s hearts. These two defining moments rewrite the rules on “normal” for the people of God.
    As we enter into a new day in the life of the Church, let us find encouragement from our ancestors in the faith who became known as a people of Worship and the Word. Though worship will look different, worship is vital and essential to the life of a believer. Worship provides space for prayer, confession of sin, fasting, celebration, singing, hearing the Word proclaimed, and observing the sacraments. As a local church, we commit to “meet weekly (whether online or in person) in the shared experience of God’s awesome presence, to glorify God and be transformed by His Spirit.” At same time, let us known as a people who are deeply informed, formed, and transformed by the written Word and the living Word! Again, from my Study Bible notes, “The story of faith is a story for our family. And it has the power to changes lives.” And to that I would add, beginning with our own!

Sunday will look and feel different. And it’s okay to not only wrestle with those emotions, but let them show. But thanks be to God this is not the first time in Church history that the people of God have stepped into a “new normal” for the life of the Church. And thanks be to God we have the accounts of Ezra & Nehemiah, among others, to read and reflect upon as, we, the people of God, enter into a new day in the life of the Church.

Therefore, as God’s choice, holy and loved, put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Be tolerant with each other and, if someone has a complaint against anyone, forgive each other. As the Lord forgave you, so also forgive each other. And over all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. The peace of Christ must control your hearts—a peace into which you were called in one body. And be thankful people. The word of Christ must live in you richly. Teach and warn each other with all wisdom by singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs. Sing to God with gratitude in your hearts. Whatever you do, whether in speech or action, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus and give thanks to God the Father through him.
Colossians 3:12-17 (Common English Bible)

Poems of Quarantine – #4

“I assure you that unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies,
it can only be a single seed. But if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

John 12:24 (CEB)

“Listen carefully: Unless a grain of wheat is buried in the ground, dead to the world, it is never more than a grain of wheat. But if it is buried, it sprouts and reproduces itself many times over.”
John 12:24 (The Message)

Mini-Deaths, A Haiku

God, honestly, I
Flee: pain, hurt, suffering, and…
I run from all death.

Death brings loss, sorrow…
But, you speak a new story…
Resurrected life!

A new life springs forth!
Help me see the many things
That need mini-deaths:

Selfishness and pride
Anger, greed, envy, and doubt.
Washed away by You.

Hark! The living God!
Breathing life into dead bones!
Resurrected life!