notes from Pastor Jimmy

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Evange...what?

Have you ever been invited to church? I have been and it happened again recently. I I met very nice gentleman while waiting in line at the  grocery store and we were having a friendly conversation about the weather. We laughed about not minding the wait as it was cool in the store. Others were visibly upset about the wait and the employees were rushing about to make things move more quickly. I guess we struck up a conversation because we realized that neither of us was in a hurry. As we progressed in line and chit chatted, he asked how long I had lived in Nolensville. I told him I had been here four years. Then he asked if I would like to visit his church!

I chuckled a little and told him it would be difficult as I would probably be preaching at another church while he was worshipping at his church. That of course led to church talk and a few laughs. I asked him about his church and that opened a door for me to ask him about his experience of God. He shared his story with me and I shared mine. We were long done with the line when we wished each other well and left the grocery. Right there in the hubbub of people, rushing to do the things we rank as important in life, we were talking about God. Several things struck me about that short time together. First, why didn’t I invite him first? Was I even thinking about that before he brought it up? Aren’t I supposed to be an evangelist?! Then I started to wonder why he invited me. Perhaps he just saw an opportunity or perhaps he is blessed with a gift for evangelism. Maybe it was a reminder from God through a fellow Christian that our duty is to welcome others into a relationship with the God who still transforms lives. 

This past month in worship, instead of sharing our God sightings as announcements, I have asked us to share our God sightings with others around you. I have done this because I wanted us to practice talking about God with other people. I also wanted us to hear how God is moving in the lives of other people. Inviting people to church is a great start, but feeling comfortable and ready to listen and share about God is a deeper and more meaningful follow up. I think that is what all people are really hungering after. Today we are all in such a stressful hurry that it might only be when we are alone that we think about the deeper things of life, but that has never been God’s intent. When I invite people to church they ask all kinds of questions. The most popular question is what do people at your church wear? Then there are questions about music, things for kids, times of worship, and how accepting the congregation is to new people. All of these questions matter because in our harried lives they seem practical, but here is what people really want to know: Does it matter?

People want to know if getting involved with church will help me, my neighborhood, or the world. The only way to answer this question is to share what God is doing and has done in your life. How have you been transformed? How have you served? In short, people really still want to know about the living God. Sometimes, we are in such a hurry that it feels uncomfortable to hear about such deep matters, but — make no mistake — this is what really matters in our lives. Let us not wait until the lonely hours to think on deeper things, but let us create the space wherever we are, so that all people can see and experience the hope of the Lord. My grocery store evangelist inspired me and filled me with hope because he was willing and able to slow down and offer a simple invitation. I want to invite you to offer that invitation and to be willing to both listen and share why it still matters. 

So this month I invite you to create the time and space to both listen and share about God with others. Be invitational. Be welcoming. In short, let’s be disciples. 

Praying for opportunity and being more intentional about evangelism, 

pastorjimmy@nolensvilleumc.org

Sabbath

I just flew back from vacation and, boy, are my arms tired (cue the drums: ba-dum chsh.) In all seriousness, I have just returned and it was a wonderful break. My family and I were able to enjoy some time together and away from our usual routine. I ate too much, spent too much money, and tried my best to soak in every moment. I also slept well trusting that all would be well in my absence. That last part got me thinking. The church goes on, and the church does not rely solely upon me. Instead the church relies upon our Lord Jesus, and all of us play a role in Jesus’ mission. I was able to rest because I trusted the people who helped cover my role and even more importantly because I trusted Jesus.

Times are stressful. Our jobs are stressful. Western culture seems to thrive on the ideas of immediacy and importance. Everything is important and everything needs to be accomplished immediately. I am a worrier. I make lists to help me feel like I have control. I often find myself unable to sleep thinking of something that did not make my list or that was left unfinished on the list. Vacation was the time that I was able to lay down the list. I even made an effort to avoid my phone as much as possible. Technology allows us to have instant access to information and to work from almost anywhere at any time. This year’s vacation made me consider how God intends us to work and rest.

You are probably familiar with the creation story and how God rested on the seventh day. You are probably familiar with how this Sabbath day was given to us to honor and to keep holy. Lots of different ideas exist about which day and how, but let us start with the simple idea that God intends us to rest, just as God rested. Jesus took time away from the crowd for rest and prayer and so should we. God intends for us to keep a healthy relationship with our work because it keeps us in a healthy relationship with God.

Resting is hard for some of us. Resting is hard because we start to believe that if we are just smart enough or work hard enough all will be well, but the truth is that we are not in total control. Resting requires us to trust God. Resting requires us to trust others. Resting requires us to realize that God is sovereign over us and that we need others. Resting or Sabbath puts us in a correct relationship with God. The amazing thing about God’s love is that we, in the grand scheme of history, are insignificant and yet God loves us. God loves each and every person and God loves us communally together, not because of what we are capable of and not because we work hard, but because we are God’s children. None of us are so important that all will collapse without us. God rested so that we might learn to rest and trust God. 

Vacation is great but what I learned over this last week was that I need Sabbath every week. I need time to rest and trust. I need renewal, not just of my energy, but of my faith. I hope that in reading this little article you may consider Sabbath again. I hope that you consider taking a break from life and renewing your trust in God. God’s love for all includes the desire for us to rest in that love.

So I want to encourage you to join me in making time to rest in the love of God each week. Let us set aside some time to remember the love we are offered and the love we are called to share. 

I pray that, whatever stress you are experiencing, you may find comfort in knowing God calls you to rest, trusting God.  Amen.   

Refreshed,

 pastorjimmy@nolensvilleumc.org

Saved?

As we leave the Easter season, I often find myself contemplating salvation and God’s unfathomable love. Several years ago, a gentleman who said he had a question for me visited me at home while I was walking our dog. I thought he was selling something as I observed him go from house to house in the cul-de-sac. I tried to encourage our dog to hurry up, but he was uncooperative. So I braced myself for a sales pitch. Instead I was asked the following, “Are you saved?” This is a profound and important question, which we should struggle with. I struggled with my response for many weeks after this visit, and I continue to struggle with this question still today. My struggle is not because I do not know and place my faith in Jesus. My struggle has to do with the finality of the word “saved.” 

“Saved” sounds like something that happened in the past. There is good reason for this. Jesus’ salvific birth, life, death, and resurrection happened one time for all people throughout time. In this sense I understand the word “saved,” and yet I am still troubled. I believe my trouble comes from the idea that saved might imply that God is done with me, as if I have reached some plateau and all is well with the world and me. My experience tells me something different. So I prefer to think that Jesus’ sacrifice opened the door of the house of salvation and that I, through God’s grace and my faith, have walked in that house. This, however, is a monumental house. This is not a finish line, but an invitation. God is not done with me yet. This place is a home for growing and changing. This growth and change occurs through relationships with the new family I have found in this home. We pray together, eat together, serve together, and even die to our old ways together. God is here, too. In fact, when we are together, it is God who greets us and leads us.

So the gentleman’s question remains, “Are you saved?” My answer is that by the grace of God found and through relationship with God and others, I am being saved. Every day is a new opportunity to grow closer to God and others. Every day is a new opportunity to become more like Jesus who by His great love opened a door for all to be saved, if we will only take that step. By the grace of God, I hope to see myself growing in love while trusting in Jesus’ love. I pray I am attentive to the ways God continues to save and transform us. Salvation is not just a one-time event, it is an ongoing transformative relationship with the God who continues to invite all into this new home. We are saved from perpetual separation from God and saved for union with God in His kingdom. 

So the question we all should be asking ourselves is, “Are we responding to the God who longs to save us?” 

May we answer God’s salvific call and forever respond to the grace that is transforming the world.  Amen.

God is not done with us yet!

 

Easter Hope and Basketball

Easter is upon us. This high and holy time is filled with celebration and splendor. As a pastor, I get really focused on Holy Week and Easter Sunday. It is, after all, the day we celebrate and remember again the resurrection of Jesus with Christians all over the world. Much prayer and preparation goes into Holy Week and into Easter Sunday service. And this year has been special.

This year, like much of life recently, has been different. More time and energy has been put into preparing for this celebration than I can ever remember before. I have been praying and planning. So many others, both staff and volunteers, have been working hard to make Holy Week and Easter Sunday meaningful for all. This work, of course, has been made harder by the pandemic. As a church, we have tried to create the safest environment we are able to create and to provide the best virtual worship we can provide. It has been stressful, but so important. Caring for one’s neighbor is primary in our life together and finding new and inventive ways to do that has been both challenging and rewarding. This has not been easy though. It seems to me that we are living in a time of great stress and great discord. I believe this is affecting us all. I am also keenly aware that my struggle is not unique and that others in our society have been asked to deal with much more, but I would like to share where I found hope.

As a pastor, I have discovered over this last year that I cannot please everyone. That seems logical, but it has been hard for me to handle. One day last month, I had been to two different meetings where we were making plans and trying think of all the little things we used to take for granted when planning worship. I had also been on the phone with a person who was very sick and alone trying to offer prayer and hope. In the midst of pastoral care and planning for worship, I also got to hear lots of people’s opinions about how things should be and how we were getting it all wrong. Needless to say, I was tired. I was spent. I was wrestling with my calling to pastoral ministry. I was wrestling with whether I am capable of continuing to answer this call when it feels like, no matter what I do, some good people will be unhappy. 

The day had grown late and nothing was pressing and so I made my way to the car dejected. As I cut across the lawn, I noticed a kid playing basketball all alone in the back of our parking lot. I felt the pull to go and meet this young man and welcome him, but I also felt the desire to hide away from the world. I am so glad I listened to the Spirit. I made my way to the back of the parking lot and keeping a distance to not alarm the young man I introduced myself and welcomed him. He told me he was new to town, having moved here with his family. I took a few shots with him and we laughed about how my jump shot lacked a jump. I got him to smile. I hope for that moment he felt less “new here.” I told him about our church and the youth group. Since that afternoon, I have seen him playing with new friends and his family several times on our make shift basketball court and I have waved, mimed my jump-less jump shot, and laughed with him. That day, and each time since, I have been reminded of the hope found in our Lord.

Even when things are hard and we do not have all the answers, God is still calling us to one simple thing. That one simple thing is love. When I am wrestling with what to do and struggling with the undercurrent of discord in our culture, I ask myself the following question: How can I love like Jesus? I do not have all the answers, but I know one thing. That one thing is that God’s love changes the world. When we stop thinking about ourselves and start thinking about others, God’s love transforms us. I am far from perfect, and no matter how hard we work or how well we plan, Easter Sunday will not be perfect. However, if we all would stop and find a way to love others like Jesus does, it just might be the greatest Easter Sunday we have ever known. If we would stop and find ways to love others like Jesus does, every day would be different and we would be closer to living in the Kingdom of God that I think we all are seeking.

I want to challenge us this year to stop trying to make things the way we want them to be and instead start considering and truly loving others, because that is the way God commands it shall be. I have hope that the world, and indeed our lives, can change for the better, because when we love others like Jesus loves, all kinds of miracles happen. I went from an exhausted, defeated pastor to laughing like a child because I took a few minutes to try to make someone else’s day better. Imagine what could happen if we all dedicated our lives to truly living to love God by loving others. If Jesus can be resurrected, then nothing is impossible. If the love of forgiveness can overcome the hate of a cross, then nothing is impossible. If we will live as disciples of Jesus who seek to love God and our neighbor as ourselves, then hope shall abound! 

Easter is all about the hope found in God’s love.  May you remember hope this Easter season and share that love in Jesus name. Amen.

Working on my jump shot and my faith,

 Pastor Jimmy Hendricks, pastorjimmy@nolensvilleumc.org 

Let's Take a Walk

It’s March again! Time truly does seem to fly by. Speaking of flying by, there has been much concern for my safety after I revealed in last month’s article that I am learning to skateboard again. I thank you for your prayers and assure you that, after having hurt both wrists, I am now wearing a full set of pads and a helmet. Unfortunately, it has snowed so much lately that I have not been able to roll around and instead I have had to walk.

Toward the middle of the week during our ice/snow storm, we were running low on food. Please understand we had plenty, we just didn’t have what anyone wanted to eat. So I decided to walk to Dollar General. It felt like ten miles, but it is really just 2.2 miles round trip. I walked during the middle of the day, staying mostly in the snow to avoid the slick roads in the subdivision. I enjoyed seeing all of the people out sledding and playing. People were enjoying our strange weather. There were ATVs, sleds, and even go-karts sliding everywhere. One wonderful man was using a small tractor to clear some of the ice and snow from the roads. I enjoyed all of this on the way to Dollar General.  On the way back, I felt differently and I feel differently now.

I took a backpack with me so that I could carry things efficiently and I am sure I bought more than was appropriate for me to carry. So as I started my journey home my backpack was stuffed, and I had Dollar General bags tied to my front to keep my hands clear to catch myself in a fall. I must have looked like a pack mule. I was sweating and breathing hard too. As I made my way back, I thought maybe one of these cars will stop and offer me a ride. I thought maybe — just maybe — one of the people would see my struggle and see that I was carrying food and think, he must live here and I could do a good deed. You can probably tell by my bitterness that it never happened. One sweet family out playing with their toddler did stop and speak to me. I stopped when they spoke to me, and it was a nice break. Then I was back at it trudging bitterly through the snow. 

I started to get what some would call “high and mighty.” I started thinking that Jesus must have felt this way walking with that cross. In other words, I was way overdoing it in my moral superiority! As God often does, God corrected me. I stepped where I shouldn’t have and went down. It wasn’t a hard fall. It was just one of those that make you feel dumb. Honestly, I was being dumb. I walked the rest of the way home and when I could sit down without the load of groceries I came to a realization.

Sure, maybe someone should have offered me a ride, but I never asked either. In fact, there I was in my own neighborhood with so much opportunity to speak to people and I never did. Not only did I never ask for a ride, I did not even wish anyone a good day or laugh with them while they enjoyed their unexpected day off. I did nothing to show the love of God I long to know and claim to share. I wasn’t like Jesus on that walk at all! Jesus shared God’s love everywhere Jesus went. Even on that walk to Golgotha, Jesus was walking for others. Jesus was walking for you. Jesus was walking to Golgotha for all. I was walking for frozen Totino’s Pizzas, Honey Buns, canned soup, and some Coca-Cola. I realized, sitting there in my chair, that I had seen Jesus in my walk. Jesus had been there when a mom and dad playing with their toddler took the time to speak to me. I must have looked like a real mess, but they saw a person and said hello. I had failed to do that all the way there and back. Replacing that feeling of righteous, I felt the need to ask forgiveness. I also asked for a heart that thought less about me and more about those around me.

I want to ask you to join me in taking a walk this month. I am going to purposely take the time to walk around my neighborhood and say hello to those who are out and about. As I walk, I am going to pray that each and every home I pass knows that they are loved by God. If I strike up a conversation along the way, I am going to enjoy it and do my best to make sure whoever I am talking to feels appreciated. In short, I am going to take a few walks this month and see if I can be a better disciple of Jesus. I am inviting you to do the same in your neighborhood or if you live outside a neighborhood feel free to walk around the neighborhood around the church. Let’s spend some time, right here where we live, letting people know they are seen and loved.

Still finding the path,

Skating Toward Something Better...

I cannot believe that it is already February. That means Lent is coming. My amazing daughter (my son is amazing too) just celebrated her fifteenth birthday. She asked for a skateboard. I researched skateboards because I have not been on one since I was a kid. I found one I thought would be good and she was excited. A strange thing happened during my research. I started reminiscing about my time on a skateboard as a kid and how I never was able to master the Ollie (that is a little jump for those unfamiliar). I can vividly remember skating with the cool kids as they popped Ollies and I can vividly remember not being able to do it. I quit skateboarding pretty soon after not mastering that trick.

This wild time we are all currently experiencing has left me pondering life perhaps too much. When my daughter’s skateboard arrived and after she got to check it out, I decided to show her how it works. Let me tell you even on the carpet, I nearly fell from just trying to stand on it. I felt very old as we all laughed. It is not lost on me that February also means that I will get a year older. I will be 44 this year. For some, that seems like a child. For others, I seem pretty old. For me on that skateboard in our living room waving my hands like a madman, I felt very old. That night after dinner and a birthday cake I spent some time reflecting.

Lent is coming and will be here on Ash Wednesday, which falls on February 17 this year. In the Church, Lent is a time of reflection and preparation for Easter. We mark ourselves with ashes to remember our mortality and to begin reflecting and repenting in preparation for celebrating the resurrection at Easter. Let me tell you that I definitely felt my mortality on my daughter’s skateboard! I also thought about how I gave up so long ago. 

Lent does not receive the fanfare of Advent, Christmas, and Easter, but it is vitally important. If we never reflect and honestly admit our failures, we cannot grow. If we never confess our sin, we cannot be forgiven. If we never repent, we cannot really follow Jesus. Lent is not a time to beat ourselves up, but a time to admit we are mortal, fallible sinners in need of redemption. The joy of Lent is the realization that we are forgiven and capable of change because of the grace of God. We should do that every day, but Lent reminds us and allows us to focus our efforts. 

I have made two decisions for myself this year. First (just for fun), I have ordered a skateboard for my birthday. I am going to master my Ollie and redeem myself for quitting. Secondly and much more importantly, I am going to spend time thinking about how I have sinned. I am going to spend time thinking about who I need to forgive. I am going to spend time asking forgiveness from God and others. I am not quitting this journey of following Jesus and I want to make my faith the priority all the time. My hope and assurance is that in these practices of reflecting and repenting I will again encounter the living God who is beckoning us all toward the Kingdom of God.

I want to invite you to join together with Christians all over the world and across time in making Lent a meaningful time of growth. Let us face our mortality and our sin so that we can experience the forgiveness and grace of God as we grow in our Lord’s likeness. 

PS. If you see me around town on a skateboard, say a prayer and try not to laugh.

In the midst of a mini-midlife crisis and longing to grow in faith, 

A New Year, Again

I am excited about the prospect of a new year and the hope of overcoming this pandemic. As a kid, I was always so excited about New Year’s Eve. Staying up late, watching the ball drop, and eating junk food was an event I always anticipated with excitement. Now that I am older, it holds less appeal. I think, in some way, we all experience this decrease in excitement over a coming new year. It is not that we no longer see possibility, it is just that we have seen so many go by already. This letter is getting depressing fast. Let me explain:

Each year, time seems to move more quickly and we become more aware of how long term change in us and in the world is difficult to accomplish. We set goals around this time of year and we call them resolutions. We seem to think giving them a fancy name might help us accomplish something, but, if you are like me, our resolutions seldom see February. Change is hard. Even good change is hard. As we get older, time seems to go faster and change seems even more difficult. Perhaps this is why New Year celebrations do not hold the same joy for me as they once did.

I believe the problem is that the older we get, the more caught in our own will we become. We start to believe the culture’s message to us, that we are the center of the universe. We start to believe that we are responsible for and capable of making the changes needed in our lives and the world. We may even start believing that we understand the way things should be. In essence, we start believing that our power is the ultimate power. When we discover our powerlessness, we give into hopelessness. 

A friend of mine, Rev. Tommy Ward, once said to me that powerlessness does not have to equal hopelessness. I think he really nailed our problem. We have started to believe that the hope of a New Year hinges on our power to change things. This was never God’s plan. Let me repeat for you and for me so that this is clear: The universe does not depend upon, or revolve around us!

Instead, we have come to know the One for whom it does exist. We have come to know the One around whom it all revolves. The Good News is that this Being loves us. This Being wants us involved even when we are part of the problem. This Being will not leave the universe unperfected. This Being came and lived as we live. This Being experienced powerlessness and even death. This Being also said things will not remain this way. I hope you understand that this Being is Jesus. Jesus does have a plan. Jesus is at work. Jesus does want to change us and the world. However, this happens not through our power, but through His power. Our duty is to submit. Our duty is to set our will aside and seek His will. Our duty is to let go of the lie of our power and seek His power.

So what does this mean in practical terms? It means that instead of setting our resolutions we should be asking in prayer what it is that Jesus wants to change in us. It means instead of devising our plans to change the world around us we should be asking Jesus how we can be part of what He is already doing. Lastly it means that instead of trying to save ourselves we ought to let the Savior do the work He longs to do. This year when the ball drops my prayer will be, “Come, Lord Jesus, come.” This year I pray for the strength to see my powerlessness not as a weakness but as an opportunity to see the power of God. 

In closing, I am excited again about this New Year. I am excited because, while I may feel powerless over war, hunger, disease, sin, and death, I know the One who is power. I have hope and I pray that when times are hard and we feel powerless in this coming year, we might remember Jesus and choose hope. Following is a prayer form The United Methodist Church’s Book of Worship for this time of year when we can renew our covenant with God. I hope you pray it in sincerity and find that God has been waiting all along.

O God, Searcher of all our hearts,
  You have formed us as a people and claimed us for Your own.
As we come to acknowledge Your sovereignty and grace,
  and to enter anew into covenant with You,
  reveal any reluctance or falsehood within us.
Let Your Spirit impress Your truth on our inmost being,
  and receive us in mercy, for the sake of our Mediator, Jesus Christ,
  who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
  one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Grace and Peace,

pastorjimmy@nolensvilleumc.org

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