Announcements, Changes, and Letters (oh my!)

As a United Methodist Elder, one of the distinctive aspects of our polity is the itinerant system. Pastors serve churches as a part of a larger connection, and a Bishop and Cabinet discern and make appointments for the leadership needs of the whole. Vastly oversimplified, I’ve said I will go and serve where I’m sent, and this is happening this year.

I’m leaving a group of people that I’ve come to deeply love at First Methodist Waco to become the Senior Pastor for another group of people at First Killeen. I have no doubt I’ll come to deeply love them too. I am both honored and heavy-hearted, tremendously excited and grieving.

God has been teaching me the beauty of being obedient and faithful to his call on my life in each season, and I have no doubt that the Lord goes before me here and now. God’s good work and blessing is with each of these special congregations. I am praying for the people of both churches, their leadership, and all the transition to come.

There will be both tears and joy ahead. That’s part of giving yourself to others. And I wouldn’t trade it for anything!

If you want to read the letters with details, dates, announcements, and more, they are linked here:

Announcement and Letter to First United Methodist Waco

Announcement and Greetings to First United Methodist Killeen

Death in His Grave

We worshipped with this song in our Good Friday service last week, and it’s been echoing in my ears for the last several days. I have prayed with some dear people who are experiencing some really hard stuff in life right now, and my heart has been heavy for them. This song has just the right melody and some powerful lyrics that lift my eyes to the triumphant, all-powerful Jesus Christ. I’m glad our lives are marked by the hope of Easter. I’m glad that Jesus is the King, the one on the throne. Take a listen if you are looking for hope today.

Come to the Cross

Holy Week?

I feel like I couldn’t possibly, but I must.

It’s been such an endless stretch of soul-wearying days, who can look forward to more heaviness?

We are a few days away from the beginning of Holy Week, and I’d like to skip ahead to Easter, thank you very much.

Typically during Holy Week, the Church dives deep into her defining story–the Passover with the disciples, the garden of Gethsemane, the betrayal and arrest of Jesus, the trial, the torture, the crucifixion, the death of Christ.

Since this time last year, the pandemic has utterly rearranged our lives. We’ve spent much time isolated from vital community, and we have lost people that we love. We endured an ugly political season. Those of us in Texas got shut in during a snowpocalpyse for 10 days, many without power/water/groceries/etc, and are still picking up the pieces. And now twice in the last week, people have walked into public places and killed a bunch of people. In my conversations as a pastor, I’ve talked to several people who ask, “how do I know if I’m depressed?”

Our hearts are heavy. We are weary. I am weary.

And while Holy Week is typically such an incredible week, I just can’t this year.

But I must. I actually have to–I’m the Pastor of Worship at our church, and it’s my job. But I think we all should come to Holy Week and let ourselves sink into the story. As I went to print the worship order for Good Friday and paused to remind myself why we call it good, I came across this:

“The death of the Lord our God should not be a cause of shame for us; rather, it should be our greatest hope, our greatest glory. In taking upon himself the death that he found in us, he has most faithfully promised to give us life in him, such as we cannot have of ourselves.”

–Saint Augustine

It is through death that Christ brings life. It is through the cross that redemption dawns.

This is our defining story.

It is our greatest hope, our greatest glory.

So show up. Go to a worship service. Read the scriptures. Sit in silence. Find hope in the most unlikely of places.

Come to the cross.

Let’s Get Ready for Christmas

Photo by Anne Nygård on Unsplash

Each year around this time, I get texts from friends and congregants asking “where can I find a good Advent reading plan?” Or “can you point me to something to do with my kids for Advent?” For many, the approach to Christmas begs for a spiritual focus that is more significant than all the parties, shopping, and commercial trappings of the season. Perhaps the longing is even deeper this year (my hand is raised on this). I’ve put together a list of some resources for this year and wanted to share. Whatever you do, don’t miss the opportunity to sharpen your focus on the child born a king, Emmanuel, God with us. God really is with us.

“The Weary World Rejoices” is our theme for Advent 2020 at First Methodist Waco. It comes from the hymn O Holy Night, and it seems to perfectly capture the longing so many of us have for Christmas at the end of this particularly difficult year. A clergy colleague, Emily Hines, shared the devotional resources she put together around this theme—a very comprehensive package can be downloaded for free here. There are daily reading guides, an advent candle lighting guide for at-home use, a children’s resource, song list, and more. Personally, I will be using the Fasting & Feasting Guide to structure my devotional life this season. 

Jesus Storybook Bible Advent Printables and Christmas Ornaments: this family-friendly pack includes ornaments and coloring pages with the scriptures of the season. I love this because it coordinates with the Bibles that we give to all kids in our church. The download does not include a weekly reading plan—that is in a product that they are marketing for purchase. For a list of daily readings to use with your Jesus Storybook Bible, a printable list is here. 

The Society of St. Andrew, a Christian organization committed to ending hunger, has put together a devotional guide with scripture readings and reflections contributed by a variety of different voices. You can download the whole guide or sign up to get them daily in your inbox here.

Not a free, downloadable resource, but worthy of mention—I’ve picked up Honest Advent  by Scott Erickson at my favorite local bookshop, Fabled. I’ve followed Scott on instagram, @scottthepainter, for a while and appreciate his artwork and perspective.

Lastly, there are always great reading plans available on the Bible app. But as for me this year, I’m printing some things and taking my paperback and ditching the screen for a while.

I could keep going with sources, but we all need someplace to start and then to get started. It’s time.

Let’s get ready for Christmas.