Saturday, August 8, 2020

Be Still, My Soul

 “’Be still, and know that I am God! I am exalted among the nations, I am exalted in the earth. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge’ Selah” (Psalm 46:10-11)

We are all living in a time and season of extreme, rapid, and radical change – change in our world to the way we live, eat out, do sports, and even in how we worship and do church.  And while changes such as these usually are uncomfortable, awkward, and unwelcome, they nevertheless need not be things to fear. Instead, as I’ve heard it before, God uses the changes we experience in life to prepare us for a “new normal.”

In 1899, Jean Sibelius read the lyrics of a poem by Katharina von Schlegel from a century earlier and was led to set them to a famous tune that ended up creating one of the most enduring Christian hymns – one that we still sing today:

“Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side;

bear patiently the cross of grief or pain;

leave to thy God to order and provide;

in every change He faithful will remain.

Be still, my soul: thy best, thy heavenly Friend

through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.


Be still, my soul: thy God doth undertake

to guide the future as He has the past.

Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;

all now mysterious shall be bright at last.

Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know

His voice, who ruled them while He dwelt below.


Be still, my soul: when dearest friends depart,

and all is darkened in the veil of tears,

then shalt thou better know His love, His heart,

who comes to soothe thy sorrow and thy fears.

Be still, my soul: thy Jesus can repay

from His own fullness all He takes away.

Be still, my soul: the hour is hastening on

when we shall be forever with the Lord,

when disappointment, grief, and fear are gone,

sorrow forgot, love's purest joys restored.

Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past,

all safe and blessed we shall meet at last.”

[--Words by Katharina von Schlegel (1752), Tune “Finlandia” by Jean Sibelius   (1899), found in The United Methodist Hymnal #534]

May you and your soul “be still” and know that God is with you (and all of us) through all the changes occurring all around us, and that – as the hymn says -- “in every change He faithful will remain!” Whatever change or transition you are facing today, trust that God is with you!  Remember, God loves you and I do, too!

Monday, July 27, 2020

A New Church In the Works

“Behold, I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” (Isaiah 43:19)

Several weeks ago in my blog I described the concept of a new of Church – one that that is at least as focused out where people are scattered (i.e., digitally SENT) as one that focuses on having people come to us (i.e., physically GATHERED).  If you missed that article, you can read it HERE.  While we at McKendree UMC have in our history done a better job than many churches in balancing these two biblical realities, today’s health crisis has highlighted – or should I say, forced – us to be even more intentional about this balance.

So, with that in mind, your staff and lay leadership has been hard at work creating a “new” kind of church for our current “scattered” context.  Some of these initiatives are totally new, while others take existing ministries and “retool” them for our current situation.  Consequently, we not only want you to be aware of them, but also to invite your friends and neighbors to be part of them, where appropriate:

1) All-Congregation Check-In: A team of caring volunteers and staff will be contacting all active families of our congregation over the next month or so to see how they are doing, if they need anything, and see how we can pray for them.  While Pastor Ryan and I made close to 150 similar phone calls to various segments of our congregation during April-May, the availability of a wonderful and dedicated group of caring volunteers will now enable us to check in with our whole active congregation.

2) Digital Learning Ministry (DLD Solutions) for Children of Working Parents: In light of Gwinnett County Schools’ recent decision to go “all digital” to begin the new school year, we are in the process of creating a new ministry called "DLD (Digital Learning Day) Solutions" to provide a safe, supervised space for digital learning for Elementary students whose parents work during the day.  Be on the lookout for more information about this very soon.

3) Racial Reconciliation Team Update:  This recently-formed team has met twice to pray about and brainstorm about the best way for our church to address the challenging issues of racism and racial injustice in our community and world.  Consequently, while our work will eventually include a partnership with other churches, they have felt led that their first initiative will be the creation of an emotionally safe space to share our members' “race stories.”  Look for more information soon about how you can be part of this initiative.

4) Online Worship Enhancements: Since we’ll probably not be reintroducing in-person worship again for a while, look for upcoming improvements and enhancements to our online worship experiences, including more interactive elements, new virtual fellowship opportunities (made possible by moving online worship availability back to Sunday morning), and the possible addition of Facebook to the digital platforms where online worship will be available.

5)  Additional Online Worship Reminder:  look for an additional fun video and/or post in your in-box or Facebook page near each weekend reminding you about the focus of that weekend’s upcoming online worship services.

6) Weekly “Got A Minute? Videos”:  Also look for a new, creative, 1-minute mid-week inspirational video from our pastors and staff designed to help you make it through the week.  These will be shared via our church Facebook page, as well as being sent out to our weekly eBlast distribution list.

7) "In the Word" Scripture Posts: Featuring regular short scripture posts in your Facebook and Instagram feeds to inspire and give hope. 

 8) P.P.V. (Pastor's Porch Visits): In this time of social distancing, many of our church’s members and friends have not been able to have company in their home due to health concerns. That’s why Pastor Brian is introducing P.P.V. (Pastor’s Porch Visits) – a medically safe way for you to visit with your pastor(s) at your home.  If you’re interested in a visit, contact the church office and we'll make an appointment for him to bring his own lawn chair to set up to visit with you on your front porch, front lawn, driveway, or another outside space of your choice at the appointed time.  All visits will include him observing proper social distancing and the wearing of a mask/face shield.  He can also bring individual Holy Communion, Upper Room devotional booklets, and Pastor Paula (beginning in September), as requested. 

9) McKendree Parents QUARAN-TEAMa new private Facebook group providing a safe place for parents to share spiritual and emotional encouragement and support during these challenging times.  Click HERE to request to join.

10) McKendree Online Webpage:  a new page on our church website that will list all of our church’s currently available online opportunities in one, easy-to-find location HERE.

As you can see, your church is hard at work to provide you and those around you with the emotional and spiritual tools you’ll need not just to survive, but to thrive through our continued healthcare crisis.  This list is by no means complete – there are other ideas that we are kicking around but have not yet been fully developed.  And you may have further suggestions or ideas to help with any of these opportunities (or new ones) that will help us “be the church” not just for you, but for our entire community.  If so, please contact me HERE.

In the meantime, know that God loves you and I do, too as we seek to be “People. Doing (virtual) life together. Connecting all through Christ”!

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

A Mighty Fortress Is Our God

“God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” (Psalm 46:1)
             “A mighty fortress is our God,
                        A bulwark never failing;
            Our helper he amid the flood
                        Of mortal ills prevaling. 
            For still our ancient foe doth 
                        seek to work us woe;
            His craft and power are great, and armed with cruel hate,
                        On earth is not his equal.

            Did we in our own strength confide,
                        our striving would be losing,
            Were not the right man on our side,
                        the man of God's own choosing.
            Dost ask who that may be?  Christ Jesus, it is he;
            Lord Sabbaoth, his name, from age to age the same,
                        And he must win the battle.

            And though this world, with devils filled,
                        should threaten to undo us,
            We will not fear, for God hath willed
                        his truth to triumph through us. 
            The Prince of Darkness grim, we tremble not for him;
            His rage we can endure, for lo, his doom is sure;
                        One little word shall fell him.

            That word above all earthly powers,
                        No thanks to them, abideth;
            The Spirit and the gifts are ours,
                        thru him who with us sideth. 
            Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also;
            The body they may kill; God's truth abideth still;
                        HHis kingdom is forever.”
                   [--Martin Luther (1529), from The United Methodist Hymnal, #110] 

Though the words are old, they are as timeless as ever: God, and God alone, is the only source of true security and strength that will not let us down in life.  

So, in the midst of our global health crisis -- with all of its unknown consequences for our schools, businesses, churches, and life, in general -- what (more importantly, in WHOM) are you placing your ultimate trust?  Remember that God loves you and I do, too!

Monday, July 13, 2020

GATHERED or SENT? What Is The Church?

“Let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another” (Hebrews 10:24-25) 

“Go into all the world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation.” (Mark 16:15) 

As were many of you, I was disappointed last week when we had to make the difficult decision to suspend in-person worship and events in our buildings once again in light of the continued high incidents of virus in our community. While I have no doubt that it was the right thing for us to do, it was frustrating, nevertheless. Yet, as we prayerfully discern how best to again re-open our facilities, it has caused me to do some heavy thinking, praying, and studying about what it really means to be God’s church.

Many of us grew up learning a children’s song that goes like this: “The church is not a building, the church is not a steeple, the church is not a resting place, the church is a people. I am the church. You are the church. We are the church together. All of God’s people, all around the world; yes, we’re the church together!” (#558 in the UM Hymnal). While I know that most of us intellectually know these words to be true, when we think about “church,” many of us nevertheless still tend to think of it in terms of the worship services, events, activities, and things that take place in and at our facilities. While that is certainly the meaning behind the Hebrews 10 passage above (“don’t neglect to meet together…”), at the same time there has always been a healthy tension in Christian faith and practice between the church being a GATHERED community of believers, and the “Great Commission” calling of Jesus in Mark 16 to be a community which is SENT into the world to share the good news.

Over the last 10-15 years, there has been a increased recognition of the need for the church to do and be the latter (a SENT community) – not necessarily that this takes the place of being a GATHERED community, but just that we have perhaps grown so complacent in our “gathered-ness” that we have failed to “go” or allow ourselves to be “sent” into the world.

Consequently, today’s health crisis has forced the truth of this reality even further – with our buildings and facilities effectively closed to being able to gather in person, we have had to not only re-think what “gathered” means, but to consider more ways to be the church in the communities and neighborhoods where we are “sent” and actually live. Does “meeting together” in heart and spirit for online worship, Bible study, and fellowship count as “gathering”? I think it does, but in a way we’ve never had to consider before. And remember: the early church itself did not meet in its own buildings at all, but in homes and spaces where people lived. Isn’t that precisely what we’re seeing a return to today? Our buildings may currently be closed for a season, but we are not now (nor throughout this crisis have we ever been) “closed” as a CHURCH!

In many ways, at least until this past February, the church in America (including our church at McKendree) was a PHYSICAL church with a digital presence. But today’s crisis has forced us to prayerfully consider that the church of the future (indeed, even of today) must be a DIGITAL church with a physical presence. If that’s true, then perhaps “being the church” is not so much defined by “getting back” to in-person worship in our facilities, but is more defined (or at least is AS defined) by our work and presence in our communities and neighborhoods once again! Don’t hear me wrong – I want to come back for in-person worship as much as anyone. But at the end of the day, if we can’t do that right now (or even for a while), it doesn’t mean that we can’t still BE God’s church!

Instead, the two scriptures above remind me that “being the church” is about being both a GATHERED and a SENT community of faith – neither is more important than the other. But if, over time, one has predominated the other (as perhaps it has), then God may be using our situation today to bring this back into balance by helping relieve us (involuntarily) of the notion that “church” can’t exist without our buildings or our in-person worship services.

Again, I love the praise and spirit that’s present in our in-person worship services, and I love the fellowship and camaraderie that takes place when we are physically together in the same spaces. But in this season of virtual worship and virtual fellowship, perhaps our focus for now should be on recapturing the importance of being a SENT community – on how we can BE God’s church in the communities and neighborhoods where we live!

I don’t have all the answers to know exactly what all that looks like, but I trust that God will guide us to figure it out together, if we will but remain flexible, patient, and trust in the Holy Spirit constantly to remind us of what the church is truly about! Always know that God loves you and I do, too!

Monday, June 29, 2020

Dismantling Racism, One Wall At A Time

“You do well when you really fulfill the royal law found in scripture, Love your neighbor as yourself.  But when you show favoritism, you are committing a sin, and by that same law you are exposed as a lawbreaker. Anyone who tries to keep all of the Law but fails at one point is guilty of failing to keep all of it.” (James 2:8-10)

Some of you may know that in the wake of the recent deaths of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, and related protests across our country, leaders of our United Methodist Church have recently launched a plan of action to encourage and equip church members and others to actively stand against racism.  If you haven’t already, you will begin to see billboards around major metro Atlanta trafficways highlighting “Dismantling Racism: Pressing on to Freedom,” a multi-level effort by our United Methodist Church to initiate a sustained and coordinated effort to dismantle racism and promote collective action to work toward racial justice (Read more about this initiative HERE).

While ending racism throughout our country and world is not a problem that any one of us can solve by ourselves, each of us can do our individual part – we can “tear down the wall” that’s directly in front of us (so to speak), one wall at a time.  And while our church alone can’t fix all the systemic issues that we are inherently part of, we can be more intentional about becoming aware of what those issues actually are, so that we can do better about not unintentionally buying into them or giving them power.

To that end, here are several things “in the works” here at McKendree UMC which are designed to help us both as individuals and as a church to “do our part” in dismantling racism and racial injustice by addressing one “wall” at a time:

We are currently putting together a task force to prayerfully discern exactly what things we can do as a local church to address this systemic problem.  While we have several McKendree members who have already volunteered, if you would like to be part of the steering team for this (or even just an interested member), please email me HERE and I’ll let you know when we are ready to get started.

Rev. Teddy Rollins (Senior Pastor of the predominantly African-American United Methodist Suwanee Worship Center on Brogdon Rd.) and I have begun meeting not only to get to know one another better, but also to prayerfully begin considering what our two churches might do together as ministry partners to address this issue in our local Gwinnett communities.  At this point, we don’t know exactly what form this partnership will take:  it might result in an occasional pulpit swap between the two of us in our respective churches; a joint Bible/topical study shared with both congregations; a joint mission project or activity; or something else that the task force I mentioned above may help us figure out.  But please be in prayer that our relationship together bears fruit which will help us as God’s people jointly to address this issue.

We as a church will strive to be more intentional about showing more ethnic diversity on Sunday mornings and on online/streaming worship services.  While we at McKendree are in many ways already a more diverse congregation than some churches (approximately 30% of our active membership is non-white/Caucasian), for the past three months during our time of quarantine, our online services have unintentionally lacked that diversity.  For this we are truly sorry, and agree that we need to be more intentional about reflecting who we actually already ARE as a diverse congregation (as well as what we seek to become more of in the future).
           So, whoever you are and whatever your background, we would love to have you to help us lead a prayer, read a scripture, do a welcome, or something else (perhaps even in a second language!) for either one of our in-person or online worship services (or both).  If you are interested in helping us show who we really are, please contact Nada Long HERE.

To help us as individuals become more aware of the power and unintentional control that “Implicit Bias” already has over most of us, I want to invite and encourage those who are interested and willing to exploring this topic to join me in taking a $20, “at-your-own-pace” short online course sponsored by the Commission on Race and Religion of our UMC called Implicit Bias: What We Don't Think We Think.  You can read about the course, what it offers, and sign up for it HERE. 

(If you’re reading this before July 1st), You’re invited to join fellow United Methodists around the world in a live, denominational online Town Hall meeting Dismantling Racism: Pressing On to Freedom on Wednesday, July 1st at 12:00pm CST (1:00pm EST) HERE to look at the history of our nation and church regarding the issue of race, and how being more aware of the stark realities of our past can help us build a more Gospel-grounded future together for both our church, country and our broader world.

Of course, none of these things alone can solve the depth of pain and hurt in our society caused by racism, prejudice, implicit bias, and racial injustice.  But it’s my hope that as we seek to address them “one wall at a time,” we will be doing our part in the name of Jesus to take down the larger “Wall” of racism in our country and world, and to fully keep the Law of Love that James talks about in the opening scripture for this article.

Always remember that God loves you and I do, too!

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Father's Day Scriptures

As we celebrate Father’s Day, here is collection of just a few inspirational Bible verses that are especially for men and fathers:

Deuteronomy 1:29-31
“Then I said to you, ‘Do not be terrified; do not be afraid of them. The LORD your God, who is going before you, will fight for you, as he did for you in Egypt, before your very eyes, and in the desert. There you saw how the LORD your God carried you, as a father carries his son, all the way you went until you reached this place.’” (NIV)

Joshua 1:9
Be brave and strong... Don't be alarmed or terrified, because the Lord your God is with you wherever you go. (CEB)

Malachi 4:6 
[God] will turn the hearts of the fathers to their children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers. (NIV)

Psalm 103:13 
As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him. (NIV)

Proverbs 3:11-12
Don't reject the instruction of the Lord, my son; don't despise his correction. The Lord loves those he corrects, just like a father who treats his son with favor. (CEB)

Proverbs 10:9
The man of integrity walks securely, but one who takes crooked paths will be found out. (NIV)

Proverbs 23:22 
Listen to your father who begot you, and do not despise your mother when she is old. (NRSV)

Ephesians 6:4 
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (NRSV)

Colossians 3:21 
Fathers, do not provoke your children, or they may lose heart. (NRSV)

This Father’s Day, be sure to take time to thank God not only for your father but also for the father-figures in your life.  Remember that God loves you and I do, too!

Monday, June 15, 2020

WE, not I: A Plea from our NGA Bishop

“But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the part with less honor so that there won’t be division in the body and so the parts might have mutual concern for each other.  If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part gets the glory, all the parts celebrate with it.  You are the body of Christ and parts of each other.” (1 Corinthians 12:24-27, CEB)

As we approach the time on June 28 when we will re-open our facilities for Sunday morning worship, there are some important topics and concepts that I believe we as a church need not only to consider and be aware of, but to practice even more intentionally than before.  I talked about one of them in my previous blog article from last week titled “LOVE, not FEAR” (read it HERE if you haven’t yet). 

But late last week, Sue Haupert-Johnson, the Bishop of our North Georgia United Methodist Conference (aka “Bishop Sue”) shared a video plea for another concept that I believe is equally essential for our future as God’s church.  If you have not already watched/seen it, I want to invite, encourage, and in fact urge you do so.

In her video, she addresses not only issues related to the regathering/re-opening of our churches for in-person worship, but about the vital work that we must do as God’s people to end the scourge of racism.  She does this by calling attention to the important practice and understanding of the concept of “WE,” not only by the early church, but also by early Methodism, and by the church in America during the “Spanish Flu” pandemic of the early twentieth-century.

When we resist the cultural urge to think (and live) in terms of “I, me, and my,” it radically changes our perspective not only on life, but on the issues and relationships around us.  My prayer is that all of us can increasingly learn together to be a people that practice more “WE,” and less of a people who insist on “I, Me, and My” – to put the needs, cares and concerns of the those among us who are most vulnerable and who are hurting before our own.

While it's 24 minutes long, I urge you please to take time to watch the entire video, and then let the Holy Spirit speak to you about what she says. As you do so, please also remember that God loves you and I do, as well!

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

LOVE, Not FEAR: Why I Wear A Mask In Public

“’Food will not bring us close to God.’ We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do.  But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak…. But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.”
(1 Corinthians 8:8-9, 12-13)

“To wear a facial mask, or not wear one”… that has become a hotly debated question in today’s culture.  While I understand the reasoning and rationale that’s used to advance the respective views, what truly bothers me is how the rhetoric on both “sides” usually seems to assume that our motivations have something to do with FEAR:  if one wears a mask, it’s assumed that they are afraid of getting sick; if one does not wear a mask, it’s assumed that they are proud to show to the world that they are not afraid of getting sick.  And whether the “fears” of becoming infected are valid or not, this often creates at least a perception of judgement and a “I’m better than you” attitude by both “sides.”

To make matters worse, some Christians seem to equate the practice of mask-wearing (or not) with faith in God (or lack thereof).  I and others have heard well-intentioned church folk explain that they don’t wear a mask in public because they “have faith in God,” implying (perhaps without realizing it) that those who DO wear one don’t have faith in God.  I hope I don’t have to state how untrue this is, but in case there’s any doubt… it is.  And for me, at least, such a perspective totally misses the main reason why I, personally, think Christians DO need to consider wearing a mask in public:  out of LOVE and respect for our neighbors.

In the Roman culture from which the 1 Corinthians 8 scripture comes, food that was left-over from being sacrificed to idols in pagan temples was often taken to and sold in markets.  As a result, debate arose in the early church (at least in Corinth) about whether or not it was appropriate or acceptable for Christians to buy and consume the left-over idol-sacrificed food.  Some said it didn’t matter, because idols weren’t real, anyway.  But in the scripture above, Paul essentially says that while it is true that idols aren’t real, out of respect for those who don’t know any better, Christians should nevertheless still refrain, so as not to create a spiritual stumbling block for those who don’t understand that.  While today’s health crisis situation and circumstance is, of course, much different, I believe the principle is exactly the same:  consideration and love for OTHERS should be the basis for what we do as Christians -- NOT whether or not we have the “right” to do it, or because we’re afraid of getting sick from others or not.

According to data from the C.D.C., 35% of people who are infected with coronavirus are asymptomatic --  meaning that you and I can be carriers of the disease to others without ever developing symptoms ourselves (Read about this HERE).  As a result, in these last few months, I have tried my best to practice proper social distancing, wash my hands correctly, wear a mask in public, etc., etc..  However, the C.D.C. information tells me that there’s really no way for me to guarantee that when I’m around you, I might not unknowingly pass something to you.   Consequently, I currently wear a mask in public and in close quarters with others NOT because I’m afraid, or lack faith.  Instead, because of my faith, I choose to wear a mask out of love for others and a desire to protect them.

Please know that I do not judge or think badly of you if you choose not to wear a mask -- your choice is your own, and I respect and honor that.  But as we approach the time where we will be re-opening our church buildings for in-person worship, I simply want to highlight another way for us to frame the practice of mask-wearing:  that it should be about LOVE, not FEAR.  I want us to prayerfully consider doing what is best for ALL (including the most hesitant among us), rather than doing what’s best for US, individually.  I invite us to prayerfully consider “loving our neighbor” enough to do what makes them comfortable, rather than making the choice a statement about faith, trust or fear. 

So, if you see me wearing a mask in close proximity to you in public or at church, please remember:  it’s NOT because I’m afraid of you or that I lack faith; instead, it’s because I love you because of my faith!  Always know that God loves you and I do, too!

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Racism in 2020 America

"He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God." (Micah 6:8, NIV)

The recent death of George Floyd in Minneapolis has once again brought the issue of racism to the surface of public dialogue around the country, including here. Racism is rooted in fear and ignorance of the other. It often manifests itself in subtle ways of thinking and behaving that we may not even notice (what’s often called “unconscious bias”).

In one of my previous church appointments, I was part of a group of civic and religious leaders dedicated to helping our community heal from the racial injustices of its past, and I remember talking with one of my church leaders about how our church could be involved. Expecting him to understand why it was important for us as Christians to be leaders in that endeavor, his response shocked me. He said, "We don’t need to participate in that. We don’t have a race problem here. We treat our Black people just fine." This was an otherwise good, decent, religious man, but one who was totally unaware of his prejudice and unconscious bias regarding race and ethnic privilege. His was a response to an innate fear of those who were different from him, based upon a set of assumptions he may not have even understood.

Before you write that example off as something that would never happen here in Gwinnett County (one of the most ethnically diverse counties in the entire nation), please remember that inward fear and judgement of “otherness” (even when unintentional) exists in varying degrees everywhere and in everyone. And if left unchecked, these inevitably lead to prejudice and racism in their more outwardly discernible forms. Whether it’s bias in our treatment of, or conversation about, an immigrant from another country, or towards someone who holds an opposing political view, or (in my own case just this past week) catching myself unintentionally passing judgement on people around me who were not wearing a mask or properly social distancing in public (or feeling smug about those, like myself, who do wear one!), the foundations for prejudice and racism exist in ALL of us, even those who claim the name of Jesus as our Lord.

Talking about the difficult and awkward issues of race, unconscious privilege, prejudice and fear is not easy. However, for Christians, at least, silence is not an option. If we are to be an outpost of God’ love — if we are to be "People (meaning ALL people). Doing Life Together. Connecting all through Christ" (our church's Vision) — then we have a responsibility to speak up. While I’ll be the first to say that riotous looting and violence is NOT the answer to this problem — it neither honors the legacy of non-violence espoused by Dr Martin Luther King, Jr., nor of Jesus himself — nevertheless our silence as Christians does nothing to improve the situation, either.

Instead, according to the scripture above, faithfulness in following the ways of God involves at least three things:

1.      We are to “act justly.” Faithful discipleship doesn’t simply involve thinking or believing fair and just things, but also involves us doing things that are fair and just, even if they are outside our comfort zone. That means going out of our way to intentionally treat others the way we would want to be treated, and to bridle our innate, human desire to judge others based solely on outward appearances. Read a perfect example of this kind of action in Jesus’ Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).

2.      We are to “love mercy.” Some Bible translations of this phrase say we are to “love kindness,” have “steadfast love,” or “embrace faithful love.” However it’s translated, it means that we are to show compassion, kindness, and grace to others in our dealings with them, even when we don’t feel they deserve it. Read an illustration of this kind of treatment in the story of Jesus’ response to a woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11).

3.      We are to “walk humbly with our God.” While “humbly” here can also be translated as “wisely,” nevertheless it means that we are to live life with a spirit of modesty and humility towards others that doesn’t puff itself up with arrogance or pride. It is a life lived with a constant awareness not only that we ourselves are not perfect (that each of us possesses some degree of implicit/unconscious bias), but also that we are all living in the presence of Almighty God, who is the only true judge of all things. Read an example of the qualities of this kind of living from the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:1-6.

I may be naive, but I believe that if we all determined to live our lives in these ways, then each of us would be better people, and our world would be a better place. Police officers would have no need to resort to brutality in enforcing laws, and protestors (however justified) would have no need to riot and use violence as a cover for seeking revenge.

Yes, we have come a long way over the years in our efforts to become a more racially inclusive and fair society. However, the recent events in Minneapolis and resulting violence around the country remind us how far we still have to go.

For those who want to learn or understand more about the subtle yet very real challenges of racism, prejudice, and unconscious bias, along with their underlying attitudes of fear and judgement, I invite you to consider several good books for a Christian approach to this topic: Fear of the Other by Will Willimon; White Lies by Daniel Hill; Holding Up Your Corner: Talking about Race in Your Community by F. Willis Johnson; Raising White Kids: Bringing Up Children in a Racially Unjust America by Jennifer Harvey; and One In Christ: Bridging Racial and Cultural Divides by David D. Ireland.

All of these are available from and you can either order them for yourself, or there may be some of our Sunday School classes and/or other small groups that choose to use these as resources for virtual group discussion and dialogue about these subjects.

I realize that some of you may not agree with all (or any) of what I’m sharing here in this post. But if any of what I’ve written causes you to feel awkward, uncomfortable, or even angry, then I would lovingly invite you truthfully to ask yourself why, and then prayerfully to seek God’s wisdom about what to do with what you’re feeling.

Regardless of where you are or stand on this issue, know that you are precious and loved in God’s eyes. My prayer is that we will all learn more and more how to live into and respond to that love by loving and treating others the same way that God loves and treats us! Always remember that God loves you, and I do, too!

Monday, May 25, 2020

Introducing Pastor's Virtual Bible Club

"Jesus asked his disciples, 'Who do people say that I am?' And they answered him, 'John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.' Then he asked them, 'But who do YOU say that I am'?"  (Mark 8:27-29)

"Who do you say that I am?"  Jesus' question to the disciples is the same haunting question that he asks of us today. Sure, we might acknowledge him as a great man, a great leader, a prophet of God.  Like Peter, we might even call him the Messiah, the Son of God.  But what do we mean by that?

Is it enough to simply acknowledge him as Christ with our tongues, but then live our lives like we had no such belief?  John Wesley, founder of Methodism, called such persons "practical atheists."   In one of the albums of a Christian rap group from the 1990s (DCTalk) I remember hearing this saying: "the greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, then walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable."

When the way we live our lives doesn't match what we say we believe, then our Christianity is somehow lacking.  At least, that is what the gospel writer of the Book of Mark thinks.  "Who is Jesus?  and how will you respond to him?"  Starting Sunday, June 7th, we'll have an opportunity to find out more about how the writer of Mark answers these two questions in a Pastor’s Virtual Bible Club from 5:00-6:00pm each Sunday via Zoom video conference.

As an interactive, in-depth Bible study on the book of Mark that I'll be leading, this will be geared for anyone who has an interest in delving deeper into the study of God’s word, but may be especially helpful for those who don’t live locally but want to connect with others at McKendree Church.

The only textbook you’ll need will be your Bible, but you’ll need access either to the Zoom app on your phone, tablet, or PC (or you can call in “audio-only” from your smart phone if you prefer).

For further questions, or if you are interested in participating in this weekly pastor-led study, please email Pastor Brian to receive a Zoom-video invitation and link.  And always remember that God loves you and I do, too!

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

The Things That Haven't Been Done Before

“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)

“The things that haven’t been done before,
those are the things to try.
Columbus dreamed of an unknown shore
at the rim of the far-flung sky,
And his heart was bold and his faith was strong
As he ventured in dangers new,
And he paid no heed to the jeering throng
Or the fears of the doubting crew.

The many will follow the beaten track
With guideposts on the way,
They live and have lived for ages back
With a chart for every day.
Someone has told them it’s safe to go
On the road he has traveled o’er.
And all that they ever strive to know
Are the things that were known before.

A few strike out, without map or chart,
Where never a [person] has been,
From the beaten paths they draw apart
To see what no [one] has seen.
There are deeds they hunger alone to do;
Though battered and bruised and sore,
They blaze the path for the many, who
Do nothing not done before.

The things that haven’t been done before,
Are the tasks worth while today;
Are you one of the flock that follows, or
Are you the one that shall lead the way?
Are you one of the timid souls that quail
At the jeers of a doubting crew,
Or dare you, whether you win or fail, Strike out for a goal that’s new?
[-- Edgar A. Guest (1881-1959)]

In the wake of our current health pandemic, there will certainly be many ways that life will change for each of us – in our restaurants, stores, schools, sports events, home life, and even in and through our churches.  While these changes will undoubtedly feel uncomfortable and awkward at first, over time we will see how God’s hand has moved through them to offer us not only more of Himself, but also often an even better way to do life and ministry together, if we will but open our hearts and minds to those “new things”. 

So, what “new thing” is God calling you to do or participate in today?  Not only do we serve one who constantly calls us forward, but who has also been there ahead of us and walks with us every step of the way.  As God’s people, we don’t need to be afraid to step out and do whatever it is that God is calling us to do that has never been done before, but to trust that He is with us in every change that happens.  Remember that God loves you and I do, too!

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Spring Garden

“For everything there is a season, and a time for very purpose under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted…(Ecclesiastes 3:1-2)

Springtime is the time to begin to plant things.  Some of us plant flowers, bushes, grass, trees, etc. We fertilize them, water them, and hope that it doesn’t turn cold again before they begin growing.  It’s a wonderful time of the year, when plants and trees begin to bud and eventually bloom, and when we prepare for the coming of summer.

But in addition to planting physical gardens, have you considered that Springtime is also a great time to plant spiritual gardens for ourselves, as well?  This year may be especially helpful in this regard, as the time we’ve had in quarantine has hopefully encouraged us to do some self-introspection.

The following is a playful rendering that’s been around for a while of this kind of “self”-planting, but I share it again in the hopes that it will not only bring a smile to your face but also a warmth to your soul in this midst of our continued social distancing.  This Springtime, in your heart…

Plant three rows of peas:
            Peace of mind; Peace of heart; Peace of soul

Plant four rows of squash:
            Squash gossip; Squash indifference;
            Squash grumbling; Squash selfishness.

Plant four rows of lettuce:
            Lettuce be faithful; Lettuce be kind;
            Lettuce be happy; Lettuce love one another

Plant at least three rows of turnips:
            Turn-up for service when needed;
            Turn-up to help one another;
            Turn-up the music and dance.

Also plant five rows of thyme:
            Thyme for fun; Thyme for rest; Thyme for yourself;
            Thyme for your family; Thyme for worship [even when
            It’s vritual worship].

Then, after you’ve finished planting, water freely with patience and cultivate with love.  Remember that you reap what you sow, to plant lots of good seed, that there may be much fruit in your spiritual garden!

Always remember that God loves you and I do, too!

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Honoring Our Mothers

“‘Honor your father and mother’—this is the first commandment with a promise: ‘so that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth.’”(Matthew 13:45-46)

The angel shook her head slowly and said, “Six pairs of hands... no way.” “It’s not the hands that are causing me problems,” said the Lord. “It’s the three pairs of eyes that mothers need to have.” “That’s on the standard model?” asked the angel.

The Lord nodded: “One pair that sees through closed doors when she asks ‘What are you kids doing in there?’ when she already knows. Another here in the back of her head that sees what she shouldn’t but what she has to know, and of course the ones here in front that can look at a child when they goof up and still say ‘I understand and I love you’ without so much as uttering a word.”Come to bed, Lord. You can finish tomorrow,” said the angel, touching God’s sleeve gently. “I can’t,” answered the Lord. “I’m so close to creating something so close to myself. Already I have one who heals herself when she’s sick.... can feed a family of six on one pound of hamburger... and can get a seven-year old to stand under a shower.”

The angel circled the model of a mother slowly. “It’s too soft,” she sighed. “But tough!” said the Lord. “You cannot imagine what this mother can do or endure.” “Can it think?” “Not only that, but it can reason and compromise,” said the Creator. Finally the angel bent over and ran her finger across the cheek. “There’s a leak,” she said. “It’s not a leak.... It’s a tear” said the Lord. “What’s it for?”It’s for joy, sadness, disappointment, pain, loneliness and pride.” “You’re a genius!” said the angel. “Now you know why I want them honored!” replied the Lord.

This Sunday, May 10th (2020) is Mother’s Day, and it’s a great time to thank God for the mothers of our lives – both those who gave us birth, and those are like mothers to us.  Whenever it is that you are reading this, please take time to thank God for your mother!  Remember, we honor God as we honor them!  And never forget that God loves you and I do, too!