notes from Pastor Jimmy

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A Cozy Christmas

Advent is upon us and Christmas is coming. In years past, this has been a time of preparing and rushing about making sure we have everything ready for Christmas. In the church during this time, I am always calling on us to take the time to reflect upon the true meaning of this time of year. I try to remind us that we are to be preparing to receive Jesus again and celebrating the incarnation of our Lord. Also, like everyone else, I am running like crazy to make sure I have presents bought, cards mailed, and parties RSVP’d. This year is different.

With all of the anxiety of 2020, I cannot imagine adding the anxiety of Christmas to that. Nor do I think that that is God’s intent for Christmas. We have lots of wonderful traditions, but somewhere along the way I think we have lost touch with the meaning of those traditions. We will not be able to worship in our usual way this year on Christmas Eve. We are planning something different and you will hear about that in the weeks to come. Most of us will not be able to celebrate with families in the same way as we have in the past.  Preachers are keenly aware of when Christmas is coming. Most start long in advance thinking and praying about it. So I have had lots of time to pray and, I will admit, to lament Christmas 2020. Then something occurred to me. We spend so much time preparing and trying our best to make things perfect that we forget that things were far from perfect on that first Christmas. 

Mary and Joseph were forced to travel to Bethlehem so that Joseph could be counted in a required census. Mary was pregnant. Can you imagine having to tell your spouse, “I know we are having a baby and He is going to be the Messiah, but we have to travel for a census”? I wish I could have been there for that conversation. So here are Mary and Joseph, who already carry the hope of the world on their shoulders, living by faith, trusting each other and trusting God, and traveling while pregnant. I have always been amazed how God chose to bring the Savior into the world as a helpless infant just as we were. He was born to two unlikely parents. One was a young woman who became pregnant by the Holy Spirit before she was officially married and the other was a simple carpenter who chose to honor God and his wouldbe wife by accepting and protecting her from society’s scorn. Then after accepting on faith that what was happening was of God, they are nearing the time of birth, which was a danger in and of itself, and now they discover that there is no room for them to stay in town. So, basically, they bed down in the stables. Jesus is born there. He was laid in a manger, a feeding trough, as a crib. He was wrapped in scraps. Mom, dad, and baby are okay. A miracle has happened. The Savior has come. Shepherds come on the advice of an angel to be witnesses. I cannot help but assume that this was not what Mary and Joseph were planning or anticipating. And yet God was there. This had to have been the greatest night of their lives. All that pressure and anxiety released for a while with the fulfillment of the promise. Their faith has been rewarded and they must have just huddled there in grace together. 

When I think about that night I cannot help but think how unorganized by human hands it all was. I cannot help but think that of all the amazing Christmases I have experienced, none compare to that first one. Christmas is coming again and I think we are experiencing a little of what Mary and Joseph experienced. We are uncertain. We are stressed. We are unprepared. And yet we are offered faith. We are offered faith that again this year we can remember and celebrate the greatest gift ever given. We are offered faith that God, by the power of the Holy Spirit will show up again in our midst. We are offered faith that our Lord, the same person as that little infant, will return to establish God’s Kingdom on earth. 

When I picture Mary and Joseph cuddling beside a manger with the long awaited baby Jesus finally before them I imagine they were cozy and at peace. I love that word cozy. For me it describes those moments of real contentment and real peace together. We may not be able to be together in our usual way this year, but we can be cozy. We can be content and at peace not because I say so, but because God says so.  God is with us. God is with, for, and loves every human being who has ever walked this earth. We may not be able to control every aspect of Christmas this year, but instead God is calling us by faith to embrace the true meaning of Christmas and find hope, love, joy, and peace again. So I wish you and yours a cozy Christmas this year. I wish you and yours the best Christmas we have ever experienced, not because we got the planning right, but because the One with the real plan will make it right.

Wishing you an amazing Advent and a Merry Cozy Christmas, 

Pastor Jimmy Hendricks, pastorjimmy@nolensvilleumc.org

Suspension of In-Person Worship

In response to the recommendation of Bishop McAlilly, we will be suspending in-person worship until January, at which time we will reassess our local situation. We will continue virtual worship. This difficult decision was made with the intent of doing our part to lessen the burden on health care workers in our communities and to help lower the risk.

I have enjoyed our small in-person worship services and I am so grateful for those who have worked so hard to make them possible. I look forward to the day when we can all worship together in person again safely. For now we are going to continue to offer virtual worship, and concentrate on serving our community and growing in our faith (see below.)

Blessings,

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Serving Our Community: Room In The Inn

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You may have heard that we will be participating in Room In The Inn this year by Stuffing the Bus! We are about a week away from the big formal announcement, but Mary Beth had a great podcast conversation with Rachel Hester from Room In The Inn and Pastor wants us to start praying about it. If you have not listened to the podcast, visit www.TheRedSteeplePodcast.org


Growing in Our Faith: Church-Wide Advent Study

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On Sunday, we are kicking off our church-wide Advent study of Adam Hamilton’s Faithful: Christmas Through the Eyes of Joseph. Small groups are forming; they will all meet by Zoom. Please contact the leaders for the Zoom links.

  • Sundays at 9:15am, starting November 29, led by Charlotte & Len Iseldyke
  • Sundays at 2pm, starting November 29, led by Susan Nichols
  • Sundays at 4pm, starting November 29, led by Mary Beth Hagan
  • Wednesdays at 6:30pm, starting December 2, led by Jeff Campbell
  • For youth (middle and high school), Sundays at 1pm, starting November 29 led by Tonia Bush
  • And for children, Ms. Christina will be emailing parents activity ideas so they can participate

Tired

What a year it has been. Things have been so strange and crazy this year that when people ask me how I am, I now just answer 2020. Some good things have come even from these difficult times for me. I have learned to be still. I have learned to listen and watch for the movement of God perhaps better than I ever have before. I have learned to better love people with whom I disagree. I have learned to be calmer. I hope I am learning endurance and the reality of God’s never ending gift of grace. All of these things have really come about because of the negative. I learned most of them by observing the negative and sinful nature of others and myself. Then I got tired. I got tired of complaining, arguing, worrying, and fretting over what will come next. I got so tired that I actually started practicing what I preach better.  I began letting go and letting God.

Recently I was in a meeting with other clergy and we had come to the end of our business. At that point in our meetings we are asked for prayer concerns. There are always several and this year there have been even more than usual. However on this day, no one said anything.  I felt that uneasiness we often feel when a question is asked and no answers from the group. I began racking my brain. I had lots on my prayer list in my journal so I grabbed it out of my bag, but as I read the Spirit seemed to be saying something else. I felt a sense of thanksgiving. I always try to list and give thanks for the things for which I am thankful and for the ways I have seen God moving, but in that moment that was all I could ponder. So I asked for a prayer of thanksgiving for all those who have been praying for each other, the church, the world, and even for their pastor.

That moment opened a flood gate in me. I just shared the one and closed my eyes as I was flooded with emotions. I just kept thinking of things for which I am thankful even during what for many of us has been the hardest season of our lives. I do not think I am ready to say I am thankful for 2020 just yet, but I am grateful for how I have experienced and witnessed God moving. I realized I am still tired, but God is not. As I gave thanks, I wondered how many others were feeling tired and thankful too. It seemed as if at least a few others in that meeting were. They too shared God sightings and prayers of thanksgiving. 

I think the Church, as in the Church universal, is tired too. I also hope we are ready to embrace a time of thanksgiving. Thanksgiving Day is this month, but we cannot wait that long to be thankful. I am asking God to open my heart more to help me see and experience how God is providing even now. I am asking God to turn my tired and broken heart from mourning to celebration. I am asking God to turn my soul from night to day. I am not going to quit praying for healing and transformation, but I am going to start giving thanks for where I have already seen and experienced the Kingdom of God at work.

There is a peace that indeed surpasses understating when we admit not only that we are in need, but that God is indeed at work. There is real purpose in not only asking God for help, but identifying where God is already providing and joining in that work. I do not have the answers for 2020, but I want to know the One who does even better. We cannot fix all the world’s problems, but through joining in the work of God we can be part of the solution. So as we move into the traditional season of Thanksgiving I want to invite you to move from mourning what we have lost, and embracing what can make us new. I want to invite you to look for ways in which God is at work and to share those God sighting with all who will listen. Lastly, I want to invite you to take the time to recognize the God who has not stopped providing hope and who will lead us to better days. I am still tired, but I think I am resting easier knowing that God is not done with me. I hope you too find that God has been here all along and will not leave us now. I hope you find rest and contagious hope.

Tired but leaning on the One who does not tire,

Pastor Jimmy Hendricks, pastorjimmy@nolensvilleumc.org

Adjusting Every Day

I like to be prepared. I like to be able to help. For instance if someone’s car battery dies, I like to have a flashlight and jumper cables ready.  It brings me some joy and makes me feel useful to be able to help, so I tend to keep things with me to be prepared. All the extra time at home during covid combined with my desire to be ready has caused a bit of an obsession. I have discovered online shopping like never before.

Early in covid, I set out to create the perfect set of tools I need every day or at least that I want to have ready every day. I bought two different leather pocket organizers and in each one I placed a flashlight, a pocket knife, and a pen. One set is larger than the other. This way I have choices based on what I think I will be doing that day. Then I got a new wallet because my pocket organizers were too big to fit with my other wallet. I bought a key organizer that keeps my keys from jangling or poking my leg when I sit. I got a new watch. This watch recharges a little every time I move, so, theoretically, I will never need a battery. For Father’s Day, I got a new multitool that has 21 different tools on it. It was heavier than I thought so I bought a waist pack (formally known as a fanny pack) to carry my multitool in. This waist pack has multiple pockets so I set out to fill them. I have a place for headache medicine, a few Band-Aids, my cloth mask, hand sanitizer, and screw driver bits for the multitool. The pack even has a padded space for my phone and kindle. Just when I thought I had run out of things to waste money on, I decided I need some rain boots. We went through several weeks of rain and I got tired of getting my shoes covered in grass walking the dog or short cutting through the grass to my office. So I bought a pair of rain boots. I also bought a new hat with a brim all the way around for sun or rain. 

One day, Jennifer and I were about to head to town to do some back to school shopping for the kids and it was raining. I emerged from the bedroom proclaiming I was ready. I had on my rubbery rain boots and my hat. Around my waist was my fanny pack and my pockets were full of my new stuff. I had my mask ready and I was excited to venture out into the world for a little bit.  Jennifer just burst out laughing and said she was not going anywhere with me dressed like that. I must admit I was perturbed. I thought I looked okay, but I also felt as though I was ready for a large number of mini-catastrophes. However, Jennifer is the reasonable one in our relationship, so I changed. I did, however, kept my pocket organizer thing, my wallet, and my new watch. We opted for an umbrella to share for the rain and the promise to dodge puddles while staying out of the grass.

When I think back on that day, I admit I must have looked ridiculous. I think I had become so overwhelmed by this year that I had gone a little overboard in my preparedness. I still love my stuff, but perhaps I do not need it all with me at all times. Maybe you have felt overwhelmed by this year. Life has changed significantly. We have less in-person social time and we have had to adjust our lives based doing only what is really necessary in order to help keep others safe. It can feel lonely, scary, tiring, and endless. If you are anything like me, all these feelings can kind of sneak up on you. I really thought I was just doing something I enjoyed as I tried to prepare for every situation, but really I think I was trying to alleviate those feelings.

If this year has taught me anything, it is that God is prepared. I can never be prepared for everything, but God is. God has opened new doors where I could only see a wall. Recording equipment and volunteer hours have allowed us to worship virtually. Our phones, our computers, and even good ol’ letters have allowed us to check on each other and maybe even say things we were afraid to say face to face. God has showed us how to worship in-person while distanced and in a mask. I have been able to see people from our church work together to make worship possible and as safe as we can — something we took for granted before. Vacation Bible School happened and people from our church became television stars for our kids. We had a Pentecost parade where we prayed not just for our church but for our community. All of this, and so much more, has happened because God is prepared. 

Just when we think we have it all figured out, the world throws something at us that we think is insurmountable. Then God shows us a way.  My hope is that this month we start really preparing ourselves by turning to the God who has a plan and who makes a way. I admit I do not know what the future holds, but I do know that whatever may come, God will lead us through it. I am grateful to be part of a community and church that takes seriously the call on us to protect each other and care for each other. I am grateful to all the people who have adjusted and helped me see a path when I felt hopeless. I am grateful to God who — no matter what comes — will not leave us and who continues to lead us through. Worship is still happening. Service is still happening. Love is still happening. Let us join together and let God continue to show us new ways and let us find peace in knowing that God is prepared.

Hopeful and willing to adjust,
 

Pastor Jimmy Hendricks, pastorjimmy@nolensvilleumc.org 

Time and the Things Left Undone

It is September already. I find that hard to believe. This year seems to be flying by in all its strangeness.  It seems like just yesterday that we were going along fine and then covid happened. Then at other times it seems like normal was a long time ago. I have always been fascinated by time. We are not great at relating to time. Things can feel longer or shorter than they really are. I have been sitting in my office for what feels like hours trying to think of something to write about this month. It has been twenty minutes.

As I glance around the room looking for inspiration, I am always struck by family pictures. There is one of my wife, Jennifer, and me at our wedding rehearsal dinner. I would really like to talk to that guy. He is afraid and excited all at the same time. Jennifer looks so happy in this photo. Every time I see the smile in this photo, I hope I can make her smile like that every day. When I look at this photo, I get sentimental. I think about all we have experienced together. It is a good feeling. Then I glance just a little bit to my left and there is a picture of our first child together, our beloved Boston Terrier, Riley. I remember all the stress he put us through training him. I remember how he slept in our bed because we could not handle his whining. I remember his great love for Jennifer and how he would wait for her to come home. I also remember losing him to old age and saying good bye for the last time. Just beside the dog picture is a picture of my human children, Abby and Wesley. The picture I have of them in my office is when they were in preschool/daycare together. Wesley is a baby and propped up against his big sister who is both posing nicely and keeping him from falling. This one makes me so nostalgic. They are so grown up now. A part of me will always remember them as they were in that photo and yet another part of me is so excited to see them growing.

Time is a strange thing. I can remember parts of my journey like they were yesterday and yet they seem so long ago. There is much in my life I look upon with gratitude and thanksgiving. There is also much I look upon with regret. This year has caused me to slow down and reassess things like I never have before. I am spending more quality time with my family and having to really think about my work and how to be effective in this time of social distancing. Perhaps, for me the hardest part has been the alone time. Before covid there was always something else that needed doing. I did not have much time for reflection, but now I do. Here is what I have learned and what I hope is helpful for you:

There is time right now. Your age does not matter. If you are reading this article, then there is time and that time is now. Now is the time to repent. Now is the time to ask forgiveness. Now is the time to forgive. Now is the time to love. Now is the time to do that thing that God has been calling you to do. Now is that time to read the Scriptures. Now is that time to really pray. Now is that time to accept that the one who knows you best also loves you most. Now is that time to really say “yes” to God. Now is the time to do what we have left undone. Now is the time.

Our God broke into time itself in the form of our Lord Jesus Christ interrupting what looked like the plan. The real plan is this, in God there is redemption, healing, hope, transformation, salvation, and eternal life. Let us not waste this moment, but instead embrace the grace of God available for all right now. 

Off to do some things left undone and grateful for the chance,

 Pastor Jimmy Hendricks, pastorjimmy@nolensvilleumc.org

Following Mom

I have struggled to come up with a newsletter article that felt appropriate for this time in our lives. We are experiencing – and indeed living – events that are new in our life time. A global pandemic, an election season that never seems to end, a powerful movement for justice and equality, a twenty-four-hour news cycle, and social media that makes everyone feel like they have to be an expert – all these combine to create today. I have thought a lot about what to write and trashed more versions than I care to remember. I decided to come to the office today to write. I was hoping that getting out of the house in a safe way would create an environment where appropriate words would come. On my way here, something happened.

I was running later than I had hoped. That cut into my time to write. I was one block from the church already thinking about how I still had nothing to say when a doe ran across the road. I was not speeding, but I did have to get on the breaks a bit. She was doing that awesome leaping thing deer do as they run. She reached tall grass on the other side and stopped. She turned to look back across the street. I had not moved because I suspected there would be more deer. Sure enough, two good sized deer were following her. Up from the grass they came, leaping and bounding across the street to the tall grass. They were too old to be called fawns, but they definitely seemed like her children.  She waited for them. She did not run off. She did not seem agitated. She showed them the way and they trusted her. I sat for a few more moments making sure there were no other critters coming before going on up the road to the church. I could not help but think of God in that moment. It was not so much the shock of deer in what is mostly a residential area. It was not even so much their natural beauty. I thought of God because of the way the doe led and the children followed.

In the midst of today, battling depression, anxiety, desire to help, and a sense of helplessness, I need someone to follow. So much of what we are encumbered by is others telling us how to follow and which way to go. We are also pressured to pretend or to actually convince ourselves that we know best which way to go and how to get there. As a follower of Jesus, I trust that only God knows the path I should follow. In this time of many questions and perhaps too many answers we should be more willing than ever to trust and follow. Like young deer following Mom sometimes we just have to follow with leaps and bounds trusting in Mom’s love. 

I believe it is clear that the overriding attribute of God is love. In the midst of a pandemic, let us love ourselves enough to take care of ourselves. Let us love others enough to take care of them considering their needs as important as ours. Let us answer God’s call to justice and equality. Let us not be blown around and stirred up by every comment of every politician or poster on social media. Instead let us follow God. Let us follow Jesus who went before us to prepare a way and who now looks back with encouragement and grace that we might follow. God even sent us the Holy Spirit that we would not have to follow alone but under the same power as Jesus. The way of love is dangerous. It is risky. Our Lord, who alone holds the keys of hell and death, knows that the real risk is not what might happen when we choose love, but what will happen if we do not.

I do not want to give the impression that I think this choice to follow God is easy. It is not. I know many of us are experiencing hardships like we have never known and I fully admit I am too. I hope that in reading this little article you might remember that God’s way may look risky, but that the yoke is easy and the burden is light. I can image Jesus out just ahead of the next daunting day, beckoning us forward in love. I can image the possibilities of love that abound today. How many people could we help? How much change could real love create in our society? I can also imagine – but I do not know – where crossing the road of fully following God will lead us. I am, however, wiling to trust that it will be a better place than were we are now. 

So let us join together this month in recommitting ourselves to following the way of love like young deer following Mom. Our God has shown time and time again that God is trustworthy, willing, and able to lead us to greener pastures and to transform this world with love. 

Let us follow leaping and bounding,

Pastor Jimmy Hendricks
pastorjimmy@nolensvilleumc.org 

Summer Heat Again

Summer Heat Again

It is hot today as I write this article. It is so hot that I am running both the air conditioning and a fan. It is just too hot and we have not even seen the real heat of summer yet. It is coming though and you may begin to see its familiar signs. People are a little more likely to blow their horns. Lines at the store are less cordial. Summer heat has a funny way of bringing out our divisions and our willingness to argue about them. When we are tired and hot we are irritable. 

The climate of our culture seems to have been experiencing summer heat for several years. People seem more willing to disagree, argue, and insult then we are to understand and forgive. The Church is no different. This, too, is nothing new. From the very beginning, the Apostles had disagreements and debates. However, what we find particularly in the Book of Acts was a willingness to seek understanding and find common ground on which to continue to serve together. 

John Wesley, who is largely responsible for the Methodist movement, lived his whole life experiencing these disagreements. He faced physical threats of death for his views and was banned from many pulpits in the beginning of his “Methodist” ministry. In fact, the word “Methodist” was meant as an insult against those Christians who sought to live holy lives, because they were said to believe they had a method of salvation. Today, John Wesley is celebrated not only in Methodism but also in the Church of England as a reformer. While Wesley certainly disagreed with many, he always believed in what he called the “catholic spirit.” 

Wesley was well aware that loving, caring people were capable of disagreement, but he believed that we could agree on the fundamentals of our Christian faith. Wesley used the word catholic in its original sense. He meant it as a universal unity. For Wesley, it was love that allowed people with disagreements to not just tolerate each other but to grow in understanding and love of each other and to work together for the kingdom of God. When it gets really hot and my irritability is up, I try to remember how love demands I care for the heat and irritability of my neighbor. In this way, I remain part of Christ’s Church, which is not yet perfect, but is perfectly capable of living out the Kingdom of God in diverse ways by the grace of God.

I hope this month you will join me in being aware of our heat and being aware of Christ command to love. This month we will have the opportunity to read the Book of Acts together. I hope you will take advantage of this opportunity to read, study, and pray. 

May the God of love open our minds, cool our Spirits, and lead us down new paths of understanding and love. 

Cooling down, 

Pastor Jimmy Hendricks, pastorjimmy@nolensvilleumc.org

Hurting But Not Hopeless

Recently, my family and I went camping. We went to get out of the house. Camping was to let us stay out of crowds but still have some time to be away and rest. We have not camped in our camper since last year, but theoretically the trip was going to be easy. We just needed to pack, pick up the camper with my truck, drive to the campground, and try to enjoy nature. So here is what really happened: We got a late start with packing and driving, but we made it to the campground by late afternoon. In setting up the camper, we discovered that there was a terrible smell in the camper. It was one of those rotten egg smells. After some accusations, we discovered it was the hot water heater. While investigating that problem, I also discovered the sink was leaking heavily. We were not too deterred yet. We just cut off the water. I mean, it is camping after all. We ate dinner late and went to bed.

In the middle of the night, the power went out, which is not the end of the world but it was also storming. Everyone else had power in the campground, so I began to worry it was due to water reaching electricity. That is a big deal, so when morning finally came, I set about trying to find what was wrong. I had to venture out to get parts. During the first full day of our two day trip I repaired leaks, fixed a hot water heater, and solved the electrical problem. My wife and kids enjoyed their time swimming and painting river rocks. That night when I was done, my wife said she was so sorry I had spent the whole the day repairing things. I have thought a lot about that since. I was not sorry.

I think I was not sorry because there was a problem I was able to fix. I can fix a camper, but I cannot fix covid-19. I cannot simply get the right tool to make things better. I cannot get people back to work or heal all those who have suffered or died. I cannot fix racism or hate. I cannot bring back George Floyd or any of the other countless victims of hate. If this time of isolation has taught me anything, it has taught me that I can feel helpless. 

My only answer is God. By the grace of God, I can do my part to keep others safe from covid-19. By the grace of God, I can help those who are out of work. By the grace of God, I can walk with those who suffer. By the grace of God, I can work against systems of racism and hate that still exist. By the grace of God, I can repent for all the ways I have failed to live into God’s call upon my life. By the grace of God, I can work for and anticipate the fullness of God’s Kingdom where sickness, sadness, and death will be no more. I can anticipate and work for the Kingdom where all will be welcomed, but sin and death will have no power. 

I am trying. I am praying. I am crying out for God’s presence. And I am not giving up. God is not done with us either. There is more to be done. As I write today, I pray for every person who will read this little newsletter article. I pray that, if you feel helpless, you will remember God. I pray that during these difficult times, instead of wallowing in hopelessness or ignoring the pain of others, you will instead remember Christ who showed us that love can transform. I hope you will remember that God turned the death of Jesus into eternal life. I hope you will remember resurrection. I hope you will remember that God called us to carry the message of love and hope into the world. I believe that God can fix this world and that we are the tools. 

Praying God will use me, 

Pastor Jimmy Hendricks

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