Friday, December 31, 2010

New Year's Wishes

18 Do not remember the former things,
or consider the things of old.
19 I am about to do a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.
--Isaiah 43:18-19

It's New Year's Eve. Lots of people are out partying. Some are playing or watching football. I am, as has been the case of most of my 31 years, sitting at home, probably going to doze off before midnight, and possibly going to drink some hot chocolate. It's not the most exciting New Year's Eve tradition. But then, I don't claim to be the most exciting of people. It's good for reflecting, though, and thinking about the passage of time.

So, I don't know what you might be wishing for in the new year. I have a few things I'd like to take care of--some things I didn't get done in 2010, and some new things I want to try in a new year.

I'm thinking about change, about how we all face change in a new year, no matter what. How difficult is it to change what year we write on our checks (for those of us who still write checks)?! I've just never liked change. Even now, as I type, I'm also listening online to Love 89, a local Christian radio station, which is switching over to nationally-syndicated Air 1 Radio at midnight tonight. I'm savoring the last few hours of the familiar station identifications that even say, "Welcome Home," and the voices I'm used to, even though all that's left is pre-recorded; all the personalities signed off together at 6:00 p.m. tonight. It's a sad, sad thing, to me. And yet, that's what New Year's Eve is all about, in a way. No other time of year, in our culture at least, is so full of nostalgia and promise, so likely to keep us on the brink of tears for what has been and also breathless for what is to be. As I think about it, though, in these moments of tension, of promise and regret, of all that was and all that might be, these are the times we should know most that God is with us. It's not just that we celebrated Christmas Eve only a week ago, that we rejoiced with shepherds and angels about a baby boy that was born. No, what is going on for us right now should be where we are always--right in the middle of being amazed at where we've been and being ready to see what happens next. God is walking with us, whether we can sense God there, or not. On New Year's Eve, when so much is possible, when we look at another year and wonder, what's certain is God. And that will just have to be good enough, I guess. As a United Methodist pastor, I never know where I might be from one year to the next, but what's certain is God. And for that, on this New Year's Eve, even as I say goodbye to Love 89, look ahead to a year of uncertainty--and hope--and wait, I am thankful.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Find us on Facebook!

I've just put up a page for Bethel UMC and a page for French Broad UMC on Facebook, so if you're on Facebook, find our new church pages and "like" us, then let me know what you think! Hope to see you there soon!

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Watch Night Service Canceled

The Watch Night Service, scheduled for 7:00 p.m. December 31st, at Bethel UMC, is canceled. We'll see you at church on Sunday, the 2nd.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Longest Night of the Year

Today, December 21st, is the winter solstice, and the "longest night of the year." For some churches, it is customary to have a service on this night, acknowledging the dark parts of our lives, even during this season of light. Bethel Church hosts that service at 7:00 tonight, with dinner in the Fellowship Hall beforehand, at 6:00 p.m. Though I don't want to ruin the "surprise," I want to share here the meditation I will share there. For those of us who find reason to grieve this season, I pray God wraps us in peace beyond our understanding, so we can also experience the joy of the Christ Child, who is so much more than we ever expected...

“Not What We Expected”—Luke 1:26-38
When the angel came to Mary and told her what was going to happen, Mary responded, “But how?” This was not what she expected. This didn’t sound like an easy way for God to do things. This sounded like a very unlikely story. But Mary listened to all the angel had to say, and when he was done, she remembered: this was the same God she’d known all along, and from what she knew of God, God wasn’t always what she expected.

Mary’s response of obedience and praise, her running off to visit her cousin Elizabeth, an older woman who was also amazingly, surprisingly, with child, is not necessarily what we’d expect. Except for asking, “But how?” Mary asks nothing else. She puts her whole trust in the angel’s announcement, lock, stock, and barrel. She doesn’t check any facts. She doesn’t ask anyone’s permission. She doesn’t even argue that this is not the right way to do this, that this plan will bring hardship for herself and Joseph. Her response is one of obedience, though maybe not of perfect understanding, and it’s not what I think we expect.

So much of life is not what we expected. Perhaps you’ve heard the old adage, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.” What we plan and what we expect are so seldom what we receive. Even in this season of merry-making, of happy times and happy memories, of high expectations, we find that what happens is not exactly what we expected. Loved ones get sick, travel plans change, inclement weather grounds us. Perhaps we stop just long enough to realize the aching in our hearts, that familiar feeling of something—someone—missing, that we’ve tried so hard to put behind us, and then we move on quickly, thinking there’s no time for grieving, this time of year. Maybe our loss is a broken relationship, a job we no longer have, a health crisis, or the realization that somewhere along the way, in the midst of the chaos of everyday life, we’ve lost just a bit too much of ourselves. Jobs are demanding. Families take time and energy. Caring for children or parents drains us. Where did those past days go, when we were sure of who we were, of what we were doing, of where we were going? No, this is certainly not what we expected.

Our own stories may not seem much like Mary’s. We most likely face no unexpected pregnancy, no long and arduous journey to an unfamiliar city, no disgrace to our family, perhaps. But maybe the secret to dealing with life, when it’s not what we expected—or a secret to dealing with it, at least—is in how Mary responds. It’s OK for us to ask, “But how?” along with Mary. It’s OK for us to wonder how it will all work out, maybe to be frustrated, afraid, or even angry along the way. Perhaps Mary even wondered what God was up to, if God could have really made the right choice in choosing her. As the popular song “Breath of Heaven” suggests, Mary may have been frightened, worried about the responsibility, the questions, all that went along with this story. And yet, she said “yes” to the angel. She had faith that God was at work, working things out for the best, though it was not at all what she expected.

The brokenness and dark spots of our lives are not what we expected. It’s easy to get drawn into them, to find ourselves trapped in our own grief, or to keep from feeling anything, in case it’s too much. But just like Mary, we can know that God is at work, in our lives, in the world, no matter what sort of tragedy befalls us. It doesn’t always mean things will have the happiest of endings. It doesn’t always mean that the “right” path will be easy. And it certainly doesn’t mean that we will move forward without other experiences of grief. But when life is not what we expected, we know God is with us. God is at work. Our salvation is sure, through the one who chose a lowly peasant girl to give birth to the Savior of the world. It’s not what we expected. But maybe that’s OK. We may grieve for this night, may wonder what will become of us, but we know that joy comes with the morning. And we wait with hope, even when it seems darkest, knowing that light will break through again. That’s the only thing we can expect—that the light will shine on us again, and the darkness will not ever overcome it. And we can rejoice with Mary, knowing that God is taking care of us, too. The dawn will come, and the joy of the Lord with it.

Thank you, Great God, for holding little us close to you, for shining your light on us, for leading us on, even when it’s not what we expected. Amen.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

December Events

Sunday, December 12th: Third Sunday of Advent
Community Christmas Celebration, 6:00 p.m. @ Sand Branch UMC
Monday, December 13th: Parsonage Committee Meeting, 7:00 p.m. @ Bethel Fellowship Hall—this is rescheduled from Tuesday, November 30th
Tuesday, December 14th: Bethel N.O.W. Meeting, 7:00 p.m. @ Bethel Fellowship Hall
Sunday, December 19th: Fourth Sunday of Advent
Bethel Life Group Christmas Celebration, Potluck Lunch following worship
Walk Through Bethlehem, 1:00-6:00 p.m. @ Church Street UMC
Monday, December 20th: Christmas Caroling and Party @ French Broad Church, 6:00 p.m.
Tuesday, December 21st: Longest Night of the Year Service of Healing and Remembrance, 7:00 p.m. @ Bethel Church
Friday, December 24th: Christmas Eve
3:00 p.m. : Candlelight Service at Huckleberry Springs Chapel
5:00 p.m.: Candlelight Service with Communion at Bethel Church
7:00 p.m.: Candlelight Vespers Service at French Broad Church
Saturday, December 25th: Christmas Day
Sunday, December 26th: First Sunday of Christmas
Friday, December 31st: Watch Night Service, 7:00 p.m. @ Bethel Church

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving came and went, and it wasn't too exciting out here on Kodak Road. I thought I'd make a note of a few things I'm thankful for today, though, and I'll post the December calendar of events on the Circuit soon.

Thursday, Brock and I went to the community Thanksgiving dinner at Pleasant Hill UMC, another small UMC in the neighborhood. The 10 or so church members that showed up for that meal were very gracious to us, and were eager to invite us back, though their pastor Amanda Bell Madson explained to them that I am also a pastor, so they realized I wouldn't be able to visit on a Sunday morning. Their hospitality, the good food, and the meals I know they provided for several members of their community with the leftovers were all things to be thankful for.

I had been looking forward to today's Hanging of the Greens services at French Broad and Bethel UMC for quite some time, but I've not been feeling well the last couple of days. When I arrived at French Broad, having missed the Sunday School hour, so as not to spread my germs too much, I was very kindly turned back in the direction of home (just down the hill), and told to go home and rest. The outpouring of care from members of both churches has been so kind, and I hope to be on top of my game again soon.

I am truly thankful for the ways I have seen the community of faith be Christ's hands and feet this past week, as I have been ministered to, even in moments when I thought I was supposed to be doing the ministering. As we begin Advent today, I am hopeful that I will return to health soon, and I know that I will continue to see Christ at work this season. Thanks be to God!

Friday, October 8, 2010

October Happenings

Here are a few things that are going on this month:
Sun., Oct. 3rd-Sun., Nov. 21st: Food Pantry Challenge: Sand Branch UMC challenges members of Asbury UMC and French Broad UMC to bring in non-perishable food items and personal hygiene items, for Sand Branch’s Food Pantry.
Wed., Oct. 13th: Food Pantry at Sand Branch UMC, 6:30-7:00 p.m.
Sun., Oct. 17th: 21st Sunday After Pentecost
1:30 p.m.: Meet at French Broad Church for Fall Fun Day at Oakes Farm Corn Maze. Cost is $10/person. Children under 10, $8.
Mon., Oct. 18th: “Life Group” potluck lunch and meeting, 11:30 a.m. @ Bethel Fellowship Hall: Emmett Thompson of Mission of Hope will present a program on the work that Mission of Hope does in rural Appalachia
Tues., Oct. 19th: Bethel N.O.W. Meeting, 7:00 p.m., Bethel Fellowship Hall
Sun., Oct. 24th: 22nd Sunday After Pentecost
Homecoming at Bethel Church: Combined Service at 10:45 a.m., with potluck lunch following
Mon., Oct. 25th: Deadline for information to be included in November newsletter
Wed., Oct. 27th: Food Pantry at Sand Branch UMC, 6:30-7:00 p.m.
Fri., Oct. 29th: Chili and Tamale Supper at Huckleberry Springs Church, 5:00-8:00 p.m.; $5/person, children under 5 eat free
Sat., Oct. 30th: Fall Festival at Bethel Church
Sun., Oct. 31st: 23rd Sunday After Pentecost
Reformation Sunday
Holston Home for Children 5th Sunday Offering
6:00 p.m.: 5th Sunday Hymn Sing at French Broad Church

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Putting Feet on Your Faith

Sometimes, I think the hardest part about being faithful, living into our baptism, answering the call of Christ, is just getting started. At Annual Conference, Bishop Ken Carder (former pastor of Church Street UMC) exhorted the folks who were about to be ordained and commissioned (and the rest of us, too) to remember that our call all started with baptism. When we were baptized, we were called God's and given the power of the Holy Spirit to do what God calls us to do. Those of us who may have gone through a process to become pastors don't derive our call from anything other than that same Spirit--ordination is a remembering of that power, not some kind of new and special outpouring that isn't available to laypeople. Bishop Carder reminded us that we are empowered by God to live into the vows of our baptism, to become the children God is calling us to be. But sometimes, it's just so difficult to get started doing that! (I think so, at least!) Putting feet on our faith can be very scary. It's easier just to say we believe and not do anything about it.

If you come to church this Sunday, though, you'll hear the story of Naaman, a general in Syria's army during the time of the prophet Elisha. Naaman has what it takes to be a great man, and he eventually converts to Judaism, by the end of the story in 2 Kings 5. Starting out on the road to obedience to God was what was difficult for Naaman, though. He took the advice of a slave girl and traveled into enemy territory to find this prophet of the LORD, so he took that first step. But when Elisha's instructions for healing Naaman's leprosy (or whatever skin disease he had--we never quite know that "leprosy" means in the Bible) were to go bathe in the River Jordan seven times, Naaman couldn't quite believe it. Those instructions were so simple, and Elisha himself hadn't even come out to greet Naaman and give the instructions, anyway, that Naaman thought there was no way getting healed could be that easy. Surely, there needed to be some kind of great ceremony to heal him of this disease--maybe he could take a swim in the rivers of Damascus, that were so much "better" than the Jordan. Could it really be that easy to fix this problem? Could this LORD of all the earth really heal Naaman by such a simple sign? Putting feet on his faith didn't come easily to Naaman--he thought he was much too important to do what Elisha said. When he finally was convinced by his servants to go and do it,though, Naaman was healed, and he converted to a believer in the God of Israel.

So, I guess I'm not the only one who has trouble getting started once God gives me some instructions. Whether they sound easy or difficult to carry out, putting instructions from God into action always brings us plenty of challenges. That's why we remember our baptism, though--it's not our power that can get any of these things done. Putting feet on our faith doesn't mean acknowledging how much we can do on our own. Putting feet on our faith means letting God in, letting the Spirit do the Spirit's work through us. Putting feet on our faith means letting go of who we thought we might be, in order to make room for who God wants us to be. Sometimes it starts with small steps and sometimes it takes a huge leap of faith. Whatever God is calling us to do to put feet on our faith, we know one thing for sure--we go in the strength of our baptism, in the power of the Holy Spirit. Naaman may not have known anything about the ancient custom of baptism when he dipped in the River Jordan 7 times. He probably had no clue that years later, another man would be dipped in the river, and that man's life would forever change the way we think of baptism, of being cleansed by God, of being healed by the power of the Spirit. If we have been baptized, though, we go forth in the strength of that same Spirit, empowered by that same great God, and with the promise that that other man who got dipped in the river--Christ Jesus--is with us, even to the end. Now, that should be enough help to get us started in the right direction!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Annual Conference and other things

Dear friends, here we are in June! Annual Conference begins this Sunday, and I look forward to seeing some friends from around the Conference and worshiping with clergy colleagues and lay members from all over east Tennessee, southwest Virginia, and north Georgia. We'll also do the business of the Conference, so I'm sure there will be interesting news to report soon. Here are the upcoming events on the Circuit. I hope you can join us for some of them, especially Homecoming at French Broad Church this Sunday and the Cookout and Game Night at Bethel in a few weeks.

Wed., June 9: Bible Study, 7:00 p.m. @ Bethel Fellowship Hall
Sun., June 13: 3rd Sunday After Pentecost
Sunday School at both churches, 10:00 a.m.
Homecoming Worship Service, 11:00 a.m. @ French Broad Church
Picnic Lunch following worship
Sun., June 13-Wed., June 16: Holston Annual Conference, Lake Junaluska, North Carolina
Tues., June 15: Bethel N.O.W. meeting, 7:00 p.m. @ Bethel Fellowship Hall
Wed., June 16: NO Bible Study @ Bethel Fellowship Hall (due to Annual Conference)
Sat., June 19: Plant and Rummage Sale (again!), 8:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. @ Huckleberry Springs Chapel
Sun., June 20: 4th Sunday After Pentecost
Mon., June 21: Planning meeting for “Praise in the Park” celebration, 6:30 p.m. @ Lyon’s Creek Baptist Church—everyone is welcome to come help plan details and fundraising for this community-wide outreach and witness event that will happen in September
Tues., June 22: Bethel N.O.W. Meeting, 7:00 p.m. @ Bethel Fellowship Hall
Wed., June 23: Bible Study, 7:00 p.m. @ Bethel Fellowship Hall
Sat., June 26: Cookout and Game Night, 4:00-8:00 p.m. @ Bethel Fellowship Hall
Sun., June 27: 5th Sunday After Pentecost
Wed., June 30: Bible Study, 7:00 p.m. @ Bethel Fellowship Hall

Friday, May 7, 2010

Coming up Soon!

We have a busy few weeks coming up on the Circuit, and as I'm not doing such a good job of updating our events on each church's website (the ones you can link to through the pictures on the right sidebar of this page), here's what we're up to these days. I hope you'll come and check out some of these exciting events--and join us for worship any Sunday, too!

Sunday, May 9
: 6th Sunday of Easter
"The Prayers of Jesus" Bible Study, 6:00 p.m. @ St. Paul East UMC
Tuesday, May 11: Bethel N.O.W. Meeting @ Bethel Fellowship Hall
Wednesday, May 12: Bible Study, 7:00 p.m. @ Bethel Fellowship Hall
Saturday, May 15: “I Love East Knox County” Festival, 10:00 a.m.—3:00 p.m. @ Food City on Asheville Highway
Sunday, May 16: Ascension Sunday/7th Sunday of Easter
Special Offering for the Sudan taken at worship services
“The Prayers of Jesus” Bible Study, 6:00 p.m. @ St. Paul East UMC
Wednesday, May 19: Bible Study, 7:00 p.m. @ Bethel Fellowship Hall
Saturday, May 22: Annual Plant and Rummage Sale at Huckleberry Springs Chapel and Administrative Center, 8:00 a.m. -??
Sunday, May 23: PENTECOST! Celebrate the birthday of the Church!
“The Prayers of Jesus” Bible Study, 6:00 p.m. @ St. Paul East UMC
Tuesday, May 25: Bethel N.O.W. Meeting, 7:00 p.m. @ Bethel Fellowship Hall
Wednesday, May 26: Bible Study, 7:00 p.m. @ Bethel Fellowship Hall
Thursday, May 27: Wells for Sudan Golf Tournament in Kingsport, TN.
Sunday, May 30: Trinity Sunday
Peace with Justice Special Sunday Offering
Fifth Sunday Holston Home for Children Offering
Monday, May 31: Church Office Closed
Wednesday, June 2: Bible Study, 7:00 p.m. @ Bethel Fellowship Hall

Friday, April 16, 2010

Ahhhh, Spring...

Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia! Happy Easter!

What? Easter has come and gone, you say? Not so, my friend! In the church, we celebrate Easter as a SEASON--for 50 whole days! So, if you've put up your little bunny and chick figurines, and if you thought the egg hunts were over, get 'em all back out--you have five more weeks to have your Easter fun!

But seriously, it does seem pretty easy to forget all about the ways the church does things, when the stores have all moved past Easter and are looking forward to...well...whatever holiday they can think of that comes next, I guess. We are called to be Easter people every day, though--always proclaiming the good news of Jesus' death and resurrection, living without fear of what may happen to us in this life. Sound good? Well, I know it's not that easy. Sometimes, I think I spend a lot of time caught up in details of the church, and I'm completely missing out on the joy of knowing Jesus, of getting to know God better day by day, of living like it matters to me that God made me and everything else, and that God wants us all to experience shalom. How do I keep in mind that I'm supposed to be focusing on loving God and my neighbor, when I have so much "stuff" to do? Being faithful is such a chore, sometimes!

As people who are supposed to know the risen Christ, though, I think there's one sure-fire way to keep our heads in the game: make taking time for God a priority every day. You don't get to know more about friends by just thinking about them--you have to take time to talk to them, to read what they write to you (if they write letters or emails), to make yourself comfortable with who they really are. So, in these 50 days of Easter--a good part of which has already passed us by--are you getting to know God more? Are you taking time for studying scripture? For prayer? For seeking God in other people and places--in the world around you?

It's always a challenge to grow in our faith. Just when we get comfortable, it seems we learn something about God that makes us a little bit uncomfortable. It just hardly seems fair! But the God whose story is revealed by the Bible is still in the process of revealing God's self to us, in new ways, every day. And we can't know how that is unless we keep trying to catch whatever glimpse of that God we are privileged to see that day. We may only see God's backside--like Moses did--but still, it's something. And it's part of the story we have to share, as Easter people. God interrupts us. God does what we don't expect. God doesn't let death win. It's amazing. It seems too good to be true. And it's the story we have to share. How will you tell that story today, in word or in deed?

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Prodigal What?

Sometimes I think it's hard to be glad that spring is finally on its way, in the midst of Lent. Maybe I take the season too seriously, or perhaps I don't quite get what it's about, but I feel like enjoying the warm weather and reveling in the abundance of sunshine is somehow out of place right now. Maybe it's just because it's been so much colder this year that enjoying the weather seems like a guilty pleasure! Well, whatever it is, I've found myself recently thinking that I should be a little more sober during this season of Lent. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm always able to tell you the places where I need to improve--sometimes to such an extent that I wouldn't be able to tell you what I'm even doing well, but that's another matter, entirely. It seems like in the last several days, though, I've had reason to think about some things I find myself repenting for, time and again. I guess you could say I've gotten good at keeping God out of just a few areas of my life. And if I manage everything else, shouldn't it be good enough to keep it down to one or two vices? I mean, we all have to have our faults because we're all human, right?

But no, the season of Lent reminds me, more than usual, that God isn't really interested in my excuses for why I've not gotten myself right in one area or another. Last Sunday’s gospel lesson, Luke 13:1-9, reminded us that our time here is short and it's a gift from God. And Jesus admonished his hearers that they were in need of repenting just as much as the people they judged to be worse sinners than themselves. In my sermon, I mentioned that Jesus was effectively saying, "Don't worry about what those other folks are doing wrong. Worry about your own selves first." And whew--that's a message I need to hear myself, too. How much time do I spend trying to justify what I'm doing by judging someone else and finding myself better than that person? What a waste of time! I thank God that I've gotten the gift of another day today, to try to get it right! Gotta keep working on getting my own self right, so I can shine God’s light to others…

Still, as I approach this Sunday's lections, I am faced with the story that we usually call "The Prodigal Son," and I can't help but wonder why this lection made it into the Lenten season. Why do we read about God's gift of life last week and God's abundant mercy and love this week, at this season of the church year? And what's in that story about a man with two sons that matters much to me?

Well, the answer to that question may remain to be seen, in some respects, but what has struck me, since I heard this passage preached at a retreat recently, is that I need to rethink who is the prodigal in this story. I've spent much of my life clucking my tongue at that wayward son, thinking that I will never be like him. I've worried for the older son, wishing he would just be happy for his brother and his dad. I've wanted to write my own ending to this story--make it a happy story for everyone involved, erase the greed and selfishness of the younger son, the bitterness and indignation of the older son. But what have I thought of the father here? He was always a stock character to me--a man who loved his sons, a quaint and reassuring portrait of a forgiving God. That’s all.

But when I heard this parable preached recently, the preacher pointed out that it's not really all about the sons--it's about the father, too. The father is the one who's prodigal here! This father is willing to waste almost all he has, to disgrace himself in front of his community, to risk ridicule and look foolish, just because he loves his son so much. He not only willingly hands over half of his stuff to this selfish son, who heads off into the sunset, basically forsaking the family name, but the father then spends lavishly on this same son when that son returns home. What kind of father is this? Do I know any father like this? Have I come across a love so lavish, so extravagant, so wasteful, even, that all of those sins I'm spending so much time scrutinizing right now are completely laid aside by the one who loves me? Is that kind of love even possible?!

But here it is—here’s the answer I’ve been looking for: YES, it is possible. No matter how often I try to earn some grace, to get my ticket punched for heaven by my own good works, during Lent I have to take a long look at myself and admit that I’ve failed. I’m human. But during Lent I have to admit that it isn’t about me, anyway. Whether I’m the wayward son or the reliable son, whether I’ve just wasted the gift of this day or I’ve used it wisely, God wants to love me and welcome me home, just the same. And when I can get myself turned around and headed back home—whether just from out in the fields, or from a far away place of famine—there’s the fatted calf on the spit, the best robe waiting for me, the signet ring—the mark that says I’m the father’s child—once again. I’m welcome. That father is there, waiting for me to make it back home, waiting for me to receive that love he so wants to give me, even on my worst, most miserably brokenly human days. Thank you, God, for wasting your love on me. Help me to learn how to waste it on others, too, with every moment of every day that you’ve given me. Amen.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Lent is right around the corner...

Some thoughts, as Ash Wednesday draws near...
Well, it's almost here--that time of year that seems to strike suddenly and without warning, surprising us when we were just going along, minding our own business--LENT. It begins this Wednesday, when we observe Ash Wednesday. We'll have two services on the Circuit--one at Bethel at 6:00 p.m. and one at French Broad at 8:00 p.m. Both services will include the imposition of ashes, along with the call to repentance and self-examination that characterizes the liturgical season of Lent.

So, raid your cupboards; eat up all your fatty foods. (Tomorrow is, after all, Fat Tuesday--Mardi Gras.) Prepare yourself to experience God's glory again this year, glory as you've never seen before, perhaps, or glory in your everyday existence. What will you do in preparation? What will you learn about yourself and your God during this time of self-examination? What will you turn from, in order to turn back to God? It may not be a big change. It may even be something you've done before. You might try to find time to add something new to your daily routine. And you may just fail at whatever you try to do to observe this Lenten season. The point of all of it, though--whether we give up something as monumental as the internet, or whether we try to add just 2 minutes of prayer to our day--is to get back to God, or closer to God, if we don't feel too far away from God right now. What would it be like to be that disciple God wants you to be? You may not get there between now and April 4th, but the point of Lent is at least trying. Nothing we do--during Lent, or any other time--earns us God's love. The purpose of what we do during Lent--and every day, if we're really trying to live out our faith--is to be faithful to the love we've experienced, to share it with the world, to listen to God's word, to see God in and around us, and to honor that word, to be transformed by it. Will you work on that this Lent?

Some Upcoming Events
Wednesday, Feb. 17:
6:00 p.m.--Ash Wednesday Service at Bethel Church
7:00 p.m.--Bible Study at Bethel Fellowship Hall
8:00 p.m.--Ash Wednesday Service at French Broad Church

Thursday, Feb. 18:
11:30 a.m.--Bible Study at Huckleberry Springs Center

Sunday, Feb. 21: First Sunday of Lent
--The Bethel Church Council meeting originally scheduled for today has been changed to the 28th, due to the IMPACTING MINISTRY 2010 event at Middlebrook Pike UMC, which has been rescheduled for today.

Monday, Feb. 22:
7:00 p.m.--"Getting God's Attention" Lenten Study on Joel at the parsonage

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Schedule changes and other miscellany

Breaking news: The IMPACTING MINISTRY lay leadership event, scheduled for this Sunday, has been postponed until Sunday, February 21st, due to impending bad weather.

Other news: I will be out of the office this weekend for Divine Rhythm in Pigeon Forge and also for Holston Annual Conference Pastors' Convocation at Lake Junaluska next Tuesday through Friday. If you have any needs while I am gone, please contact me by cell phone at 865-332-1626. If you need to speak with a person who is nearby, please contact Betty Newman at 865-933-1345.

Have a safe and blessed week,
Pastor Betzy

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Health Kits for Haiti

The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is accepting health kits to be transported to Haiti as part of UMCOR's disaster relief there. You can bring these health kits to church next Sunday and they will be delivered to the Knoxville District Office next Monday, February 1st, in time to be taken to the UMCOR Sager Brown depot in Louisiana, where they will be gathered and shipped to Haiti. Please consider donating money for the health kits (they are projected to cost about $12 each) next Sunday or bringing any or all of the items listed below. Also please note the other information below about these health kits.

Place these items inside a sealed one-gallon plastic bag.
• 1 hand towel (15” x 25” up to 17” x 27”, no kitchen towels)
• 1 washcloth
• 1 comb (large and sturdy, not pocket-sized)
• 1 nail file or fingernail clippers (no emery boards or toenail clippers)
• 1 bath-size bar of soap (3 oz. and up)
• 1 toothbrush (single brushes only in original wrapper, no child-size brushes)
• 6 adhesive plastic strip sterile bandages

(NOTE: UMCOR Sager Brown is now purchasing toothpaste in bulk to be added to health kits before shipping to ensure that the product does not expire before it is sent. Please include $1 for each kit you send toward the purchase of toothpaste.)

Important Kit Assembly Information
All items included in kits must be NEW items.
All emergency kits are carefully planned to make them usable in the greatest number of situations. Since strict rules often govern product entry into international countries, it is important that kits contain only the requested items and nothing more.

Do NOT include any personal notes, money or additional materials in the kits. These things must be painstakingly removed and will delay the shipment.

We will also need a $1 donation per kit for shipping costs.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

What's the Word?

This Sunday, we'll be looking at Nehemiah 8:1-10 (selected verses will be read in worship, but it's this whole section) and Luke 4:14-21. Both of these passages illustrate important and intense experiences of scripture being read and interpreted within the worshiping community. As you think about worship this week, I wonder if you would think about the last time (or any time) you wept when you heard scripture read and/or interpreted to you. How does the Word of God change your life? When you read scripture or hear someone else read it, are you willing to let it change you? Do you believe the Word transforms people and makes us into the creations God intends for us to be? Do you believe the Word has something to say to you right now, in this moment? Do you believe the Word is alive? Is it alive in your life? If not, what would it take to make it so? How will you seek God in the Word this week and let God change you through the Word?

If you are seeking ways to get into the word more, I invite you to attend Bible study at Bethel Church at 7:00 p.m. on Wednesdays or at Huckleberry Springs Administrative Center and Chapel at 11:30 a.m. on Thursdays, and to join us at French Broad Church at 9:00 a.m. on Sundays for Sunday School or at Bethel Church at 10:00 a.m. for Sunday School.

Many blessings to you, as you let the word shape you this week!

P.S. A great book on this topic is Shaped By The Word by M. Robert Mulholland, Jr., published by Upper Room Books in 2000.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Changing Plans

With the cold weather and questionable roads last Sunday, some of you were unable to make it to church, and I'm glad you stayed home and stayed safe! We will do a little catching up this Sunday, talking some more about the baptism of the Lord. Due to the tragedy in Haiti, and because this Sunday is designated as Human Relations Day by The United Methodist Church, we'll consider how our baptism connects us with our neighbors this Sunday, rather than begin our sermon series on discipleship. That sermon series will take place after Easter, when we will have more that 3 Sundays to think about who disciples are and what they do.

So, this Sunday, we'll have our reaffirmation of baptism and we'll take time to pray for the people of Haiti, among other things. I hope to see you there!

Friday, January 8, 2010

Coming This Sunday...

This Sunday, we observe the second part of Epiphany, the revelation of God in human form, when we celebrate Baptism of the Lord Sunday. Our lections all focus on water and wind, Spirit and fire: Isaiah 43:1-7, Psalm 29, Acts 8:14-17, and Luke 3:15-22. During the worship service, we will contemplate the meaning of our baptism and our call to get caught up in the fire of the Holy Spirit. We will take time to consider the ways our sins are washed away in baptism, as we listen to Kyle Matthews' song "Been Through the Water," and we will reaffirm our baptism as a congregation, part of the body of Christ. I look forward to this celebration, even in the bleak midwinter (to steal phrase from Christina Rosetti), and I hope everyone can make it to church on Sunday, despite our recent accumulation of snow--a very unique thing in East Tennessee, indeed!

Blessings to all! Catch on fire with enthusiasm as your prepare for worship this Sunday and for discipleship every day!