notes from Pastor Jimmy

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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

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

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 

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