Tag: faith

Being a Pastor Post Covid-19

What is it like being a pastor of three congregations right now in the midst of such an unusual crisis? What is it like being a rural pastor, where people can tell you more in a hug or a handshake than in an hour of conversation? How has ministry continued in the midst of a complete shutdown of physical attendance in our sanctuaries, and visitation in our homes as we “social distance” from one another? Perhaps I can give a few word pictures of what it has been like as we enter our fifth week of protecting each other from the pandemic while doing ministry.

We usually start off most days with exercise at the YMCA, where I can walk the track and read for upcoming sermons and teaching while the two little ones get childcare and my wife enjoys the gym. Ransom is at school most school days, and Harper is easier when she is alone and can’t bother her big brother. I am usually in the office most afternoons working or doing visitations. Around 4:30 pm, I come home for dinner with the family, then in the evenings there are often meetings or an occasional Bible Study being lead.

There is no such thing as “normal” now.

Days start early with the kids eating, then move into schoolwork, then into play, and then into some cartoons, then into lunchtime, then into outside exercise, then into nap-time. This is the time I am able to have about two hours of uninterrupted writing, reading, communicating, calling, prayer, preaching recording etc. Two hours or less depending on the nap. Amanda is usually gracious when I’m on a deadline but I usually have 3-4 hour blocks to practice guitar, worship, think through problems, pray and meet up. The day goes by quickly, because we are at home more, eating at home more, in spaces more, the house gets messier more which means more cleaning time, more dishes, more time cleaning up after the kids. All things come in randomly, and so work happens whenever it can happen. I have a Kindle I can grasp, Facebook groups for prayer, Live Video at designated times, iMovie on the laptop for quick worship editing, cell phone receiving texts with special music and calls and texts for prayer and comfort while members are going through tough times.

The first two weeks of having no service physically and working from home were two things. (1) A blinding light of “just get stuff done” all over the place. Easter was coming! I watched every news report, read all the articles, followed the Bishop’s communications, prayed with people over the world constantly, and when the smoke cleared, I realized as well that it was: (2) An incredibly stressful experience completely reorienting ministry from a ministry of presence, to being present virtually. Sunday mornings were the toughest. I had to imagine my congregation as I preached, and get into the sense that the Spirit of God would spread the Good News despite the lack of touch – which is the very sign of the incarnation and the center of our theology in Christianity. That God is physical, not just a spiritual entity without a care for our very physical world. I had to learn to give lots of “hearts” on comments, and wish folks “Good Morning” on a video premier and on Youtube comments – while wrestling our very active and loving children, who like myself, are very loud.

And listening to myself preach. Well, I’ll just say that it is very hard to sit and watch oneself – knowing how much better one can be without the distractions. HOLY SPIRIT TAKE THE WHEEL! “Lord I pray you’ll speak through me, but if not, speak in spite of me!” The greatest prayer for a preacher speaking on the word of God.

As pastors, we love our congregations, the people, so much it is hard to convey how it feels to do Zoom meetings that just aren’t as organic or warm as meeting together in a fellowship hall. I also am reminded of the lament of having to cancel our Elder’s Music and Food Fellowship meetings, a Homecoming that would have united one of our church family’s members in dispersal, men’s breakfasts, women’s mission and prayer meetings, youth groups, exercise groups, and servant leadership development, and not to mention the countless ways that God’s saints meet on the side and show love to their neighbor.

But before I lament too long, I have to highlight what the Lord continues to do among us as a Kingdom that is unshakeable. Every evening our young people have been meeting for devotion and prayer and there has been a depth gained from that kind of discipline. Our worship services, which are online now, seem to be reaching between 300-400 people regularly, often with over 1,000 views of the services. Musicians have been sending music, and in the future we will have a stockpile of worship services to share with the community, the homebound, for those in other states of countries. Personally, my mom and dad have joined in worship and Bible Studies on Zoom, and we have had someone from London, England join us regularly.

There is something of a quiet revival happening under the surface, and I pray that the Lord continues to breathe new life into our many currents so that when we return together (oh how glorious it will be!), we will be remade from this temporary monasticism which has been forced upon us by a natural disaster called Covid-19.

God can use this trial to refine us and prepare us for a greater good to come. I say that not to minimize the grieving of the 40,000 people in the us and 160,000 people who so far have lost their lives, but I say it in faith, because I know as a pastor who presides over funerals and also baptizes and also officiates weddings – that God holds us in the palm of His hands in Life and in Death. Nothing can separate us from the love that is in Christ Jesus! Absolutely nothing! See this:

“What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us. Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? (As the Scriptures say, “For your sake we are killed every day; we are being slaughtered like sheep.” No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:31-39 NLT

Right now, I am praying that the Lord would continue to guide us. I also pray that I am being the leader our people need right now. That as we are in this “pause” that we don’t lose the opportunity to reset the clock, and ask the Lord if we truly are doing what God is calling us to do and not our own selfish desires, or what is comfortable. Let us be refined in this fire, and may the same God that got Daniel through the Lion’s Den, and who saved his friends from the firey furnace, the same God who delivered the Hebrews from Egypt, the same God who gave us his own presence through Jesus Christ, and who laid down his own life – lets be listening and ready, because on the other side of this hill is a promised land we can’t imagine. We simply have to keep moving, and we will get there.

As a pastor, my jobs is to remind everyone of the faithfulness of God through the ages, so that we might remember and see the future more clearly. Certainly, we now have the time for reflection. Let’s take the deep breath together and feel out what this all means for our churches, our families, and our communities. May compassion flow from these old riverbeds, and may new life grow in the deserted places, as a pathway for the Lord is laid, and the wilderness prepares to bloom again. God is good, and is always with us. Let’s stand and see what’s to come.

-Pastor Daniel R. Griswold,

The Ridgeville Charge of the United Methodist Church of South Carolina

Father’s Day: Sparring with the Spirits

DemoniacOn Father’s Day I was challenged and honored to preach on Jesus’ encounter with the Demoniac.  A man oppressed by a legion of evil spirits.  Jesus came off a boat into the area of the Geresenes, and immediately the encounter brought new life to the man.  The power of our Heavenly Father, God Almighty was made manifest through Jesus Christ.  In this sermon, I explore what that means for us today.

Click to Hear Rev. Griswold’s Sermon: “Sparring with Spirits”

Scripture: Matthew 5:1-19

The Gerasene Demoniac

They came to the other side of the sea, into the country of the Gerasenes.When He got out of the boat, immediately a man from the tombs with an unclean spirit met Him, and he had his dwelling among the tombs. And no one was able to bind him anymore, even with a chain; because he had often been bound with shackles and chains, and the chains had been torn apart by him and the shackles broken in pieces, and no one was strong enough to subdue him. Constantly, night and day, he was screaming among the tombs and in the mountains, and gashing himself with stones. Seeing Jesus from a distance, he ran up and bowed down before Him; and shouting with a loud voice, he *said, “[a]What business do we have with each other, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God, do not torment me!” For He had been saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” And He was asking him, “What is your name?” And he *said to Him, “My name is Legion; for we are many.” 10 And he began to implore Him earnestly not to send them out of the country. 11 Now there was a large herd of swine feeding [b]nearby on the mountain. 12 The demons implored Him, saying, “Send us into the swine so that we may enter them.” 13 Jesus gave them permission. And coming out, the unclean spirits entered the swine; and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea, about two thousand of them; and they were drowned in the sea.

14 Their herdsmen ran away and reported it in the city and in the country. And the people came to see what it was that had happened. 15 They *came to Jesus and *observed the man who had been demon-possessed sitting down, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the “legion”; and they became frightened. 16 Those who had seen it described to them how it had happened to the demon-possessed man, and all about the swine. 17 And they began to implore Him to leave their region. 18 As He was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed was imploring Him that he might [c]accompany Him.19 And He did not let him, but He *said to him, “Go home to your people and report to them [d]what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He had mercy on you.”

Meeting the Need – Health Kits and Love Offerings

Health Kits UMC IMG_6947

After the rains came, and everything started to settle, it became pretty clear that things were going to be alright in much of Ridgeville, Givhans and the Lebanon Communities, but there are many places still dealing with water slowly leaving the state.  Churches and homes still getting rid of water, assessing damage, and beginning the slow process of putting life back together.

Yesterday I drove through Columbia, and it is clear with the bridges still out, and the road closures (and the water systems just coming back into full operation) that this has and will be a longer road than usual.  I’d like to say a few thanks to some of the amazing people I’ve seen helping.

(1) I’d like to thank the South Carolina UMC Conference, United Methodist Volunteers in Mission, and the Emergency Relief Teams already engaged and working across the state.  We’re blessed to have so many people from so many places putting brotherly/sisterly love into action.  (By the way there is a training tomorrow if you’d like to join those teams).  Also, thanks to the Conference and our Bishop for immediately posting information on how to get things done.

(2) I’d like to thank the churches of the Ridgeville Charge.  We’ve already made up 60 Health Kits, which were brought to the Conference Office yesterday.  (See pictures above).  I talked with the ladies there, and they said that they are shipping them out to communities fast, and these health kits are in great need.  We should continue to send them if we can, and I’ll make sure that somehow they keep getting to the Conference Office as fast as possible (drop off in the Vestibule’s of any of our Ridgeville Charge Churches.  Also – thank you for already giving so much to the Canaan UMC church on Route 61.  There are ERT teams working there, and they are worshipping at their sister church Sand Hill UMC until the church is ready to use again.  Continue to be in prayers for them, and maybe check in with anyone you know in that area and see if anyone needs anything specific.  We’ll be giving their emergency fund a love offering after this Sunday.  Make sure to invite folks back out to church for worship, and to maximize how much we can send in aid.  I’ve seen SC people coming together in the name of God, and my hope and prayer is that this will continue.  God is good!

(3) To those areas outside the affected zone, and those places out of state who have come to help and have sent bottled water.  Thank you for your prayers and generosity.  God is doing amazing things here, and I believe by prayer you are doing the best thing possible.  God is giving us all we need, and the people of SC are strong.  Pray for those without homes, send funds if you can to relief organizations (see my previous blog for more information about giving and making health kits), and keep telling us you’re thinking about us as the work continues in our hardest hit areas.

My favorite scripture verse is: “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for theLord your God is with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9

We have seen His mighty power, we have seen Him work through the love of so many, and our faith is putting our hands to work for our neighbors!  Blessed be the name of the Lord our God!

A Bit of Sadness and a Prayer in Trust: Wesley’s Prayer and Committment

woman and candles

Today, I worshipped quietly at a funeral service for a well loved member of our community.  The music was beautiful, and I was glad to see so many wonderful people there to remember her presence and impact among so many.  I was reminded that we’re born, we live our lives with family, our friends and our communities, and live out our faith in a world where we are interconnected – often in a  winding and confusing but ultimately good way.  We are fragile though, and we age and see and experience the lives of those who’ve entered the world after us who bring change and renewal.  Then, inevitably (unless you’re like the prophet Elijah) we exit to return to our Creator, God, and those who remain feel the deep sadness of loss, but also the bittersweet memories that can be full of goodness and great joy.  I still feel the pain of losing my Grandmother Nancy Sampson, and my Great-Grandmother Alice  more recently as well.  The electric grip of loss still affects me years after these losses.  A few years ago, my wife remembered the life of her sister, who passed much too young, but left a deep and lasting impression on us all.   Also very confusing, but essentially part of being human.

When I returned to the office at Trinity today, I prayed for many people and made a few calls to visit with folks from our churches in the next week, but when I sat down at my computer, some immediate news hit me pretty hard.  I think that news, with the aid of technology always on, has begun to pang life with a constant stream of grief as we become reminded of the evils our world continues to face.  We haven’t made it yet.  This particular story, of at reporter and her camera man, being shot live on air hit me deep in the spirit as many stories lately have, and I walked out to the alter and stood in front of the cross, felt a shiver go down my body and soul, and I spent a moment without words sharing my deep sorrow with God.

In that moment, I knew God felt the same, but more so than I did, and it heightened my mourning over our inability to love one another.  It confirmed for me that God is deeply invested in us and that our work to make “Thy Kingdom Come, on Earth as it is in Heaven,” is a mission worthy of continual and constant emphasis – and that the Good News – “euangelion” – The Gospel, needs fresh testimony among all people who are being pinged by the same reminders of evil in the world that we are.  By actively promoting the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and proclaiming a Kingdom where peace is possible inwardly, through right relationship with God, and through that inner spiritual transformation in the Holy Spirit, we bond together to form this amazing Kingdom without any geographical center, initiated by baptism in water, and through discipleship we’re slowly made whole.  This is the mega-polis where Justice and Peace are practiced (rather than merely preached, or politicized), and we are reminded that the depths of our selfishness and ability to self-destruct are temporary, and through grace and self-sacrifice, God will cap this age with the re-arrival of perfection in our affairs.  God will destroy evil once and for all.

All that and more. I surrender to this future reality, and I pledge to work towards it in my own life and to be more and more like Christ in His ultimate self-sacrifice on the cross.  So at the altar, now, I recommit myself, and I will pray Wesley’s Covenant Prayer because I can’t think of a better one for these times.  If you’d like to pray this with me, I would be honored and humbled:

“I am no longer my own, but yours. Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will. Put me to doing, put me to suffering. Let me be employed by you or laid aside for you, exalted for you or brought low for you. Let me be full, let me be empty. Let me have all things, let me have nothing. I freely and heartily yield all things to your pleasure and disposal. And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, you are mine, and I am yours. So be it. And the covenant which I have made on earth, Let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.”

In all this, in God’s plan, I will not be afraid.  I will continue to celebrate what is good, I’ll mourn and feel these losses knowing that it is temporary, and I’ll actively seek to represent God’s joy and goodness when some desire to bring evil to us all.  Strengthen your people, Lord. Remind us of Your Presence.  Thank you, Thank you, Thank you.  Amen, and Amen, and Amen.

 

Some Questions I Ask Myself When I’m Preparing to Preach

  
Preaching is a huge responsibility and takes some good time and effort each week seeking to properly proclaim God’s word. Personally, I’ve been falling deeper and deeper in love with Jesus Christ and His ministry as we’ve been following the Gospel texts of the liturgical calendar. Yesterday, celebrating Communion after ruminating over Jesus’ words, “I am the bread of life,” really heightened and reminded us of the prominence of the Lord’s Table and the spiritual significance of “The Bread” sent from heaven to us. 

As part of my process I’ve been asking lots of questions of God, myself and others, so I thought I’d write some of them down in journal fashion. This is not comprehensive, but is more of what is on my heart and mind right now. Some are groupings of questions related so I bunched them:

(1) What does the scripture say? How do I get beyond my own personal interpretation?  Have I asked God to open my spiritual eyesight? 

(2) What does all of scripture bear on this passage? Is it something new, or is it emphasizing and continuing what God has done before? 

(3) Who is the author and what is the theological and practical thrust of the book, letter, prophecy, etc.? Where does this fit in this movement of the writer/speaker?

(4) What does the church and other reliable preaching and exegesis bear on this text?  Church Fathers? Doctors and Contemporary Preaching and exposition? Commentaries?

(5) Who is the word being spoken to, and what is this scripture saying to them today? Know the crowd and seek to give God’s word to them, stand as a messenger bringing Good News. Can it be communicated in a creative and interesting way that can be heard and integrated without distraction? 

(6) How is the Holy Spirit working today and giving us hope that this passage can challenge us today? How can we live out this challenge? Are we capable of disequilibrium and will this inspiration become action? 

(7) After the sermon is given: Was I faithful? Did I guard against accidental heresy? Will there be questions because I didn’t explain well enough or didn’t chew enough to understand it myself? Was the gospel preached and Jesus Christ proclaimed? Was God glorified and the Holy Spirit revered? Lastly, What is the movement of the Spirit as we prepare for a week of action and return as the church to preach once again. 

What questions do you ask when you stand to preach?

Image Source: (http://www.credomag.com/2013/01/03/how-to-preach-the-gospel-from-every-part-of-the-bible/)

Exciting Times in the Ridgeville Charge – Thanks to Trinity, Mt. Tabor, and Cypress UMC

Moving In

It has now been over a month since Amanda, Ransom, Bella and I moved from the hot suburbs of Bluffton and Hilton Head and packed our things for Ridgeville, Givhans, and the Lebanon community.

First things first, we have so many people to thank on so many different fronts that it would be impossible to name you all.  At Saint Andrew, our parting was bittersweet, but it was clear that we would remain in touch through the connection of the Methodist church, and we are so grateful for the encouragement as we entered transition.

When we arrived, the people of our three churches met us at our new parsonage and have been an incredibly welcoming presence.  If all visitors to our churches are welcomed with arms as open as we have been welcomed, we have a bright future ahead as the Ridgeville charge makes disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world!  The parsonage was completely remodeled from the time we visited months prior, and it was like a new home.  Folks from all three churches were there to help us get our luggage in and visited with us as we determined where all our “stuff” needed to go.  Afterwards, as we began opening boxes, the food and sweet tea brought to us by congregants helped us continue the charge, even as our first Sunday of worship was about to arrive and we would be traveling to all three churches and experiencing the Holy Spirit move in each.

We are now getting our bearings, and have visited Summerville, SC almost every third day.  That’s where Target and Walmart and Harris Teeter (and Thrift Stores) are located…so we’ve done a lot of that.   We found a coffee shop that we like thanks to some good folks that work nearby who suggested it to us.  It is Coastal Coffee Roasters, which reminds me a lot of The Corner Perk in Bluffton.  Coffee is roasted there on the spot, they have great drinks, and even use nitrous to spice of their cold brew iced coffees (which have an incredibly high caffeine content)  – Good stuff.

And back to Ridgeville and Givhans, we’re not too far from Vaughn’s General Store, and there is a great pizza place in town called Christina’s.  We actually got the internet for the first time at the parsonage, so our cellular data use has plummeted, and we were recommended to (and did) move from AT&T to Verizon (an ongoing process) because the signal out here in the country wasn’t strong enough…oh, and we got a home phone…never thought I’d do that again.

The only challenge we have come up against is that our house, which had originally been ready to sign and sell, is now back on the market due to a mortgage lender error in our first deal.  If you know anyone searching for a house in the Bluffton area, we have a 4 bedroom home that needs a good owner.  That link sends you to a tropical music 3D tour – so exciting.  We loved that home but need to sell it as soon as folks need it.  All in God’s hands and timing.

So here we are, getting to know some of the greatest people in the world, preparing for God’s will as we serve and love the people of this new area, and experiencing a new and exciting way of life.  I’ve included a few photos, including my biscotti pic from the amazing Ice Cream Social that all three churches participated in (and home made ice cream floweth…ed.”   It was amazing.  God is good.  This adventure suits us, as hard as it was to move, even with the little bits of stress, we are being blessed and hopefully will be a blessing to others.  Pray for us as we discover God’s will and act out the mission He has for us!

To you all, blessings and peace,

Dan, Amanda, Ransom and Bella

Extra Pics: 

Worship and Office Trinity UMC Ransom in a Chair Ransom and Bella Cokes on the chairs Coffee at Coastal Boxes and Baby Biscotti for the Charge Social Bella in the Yard Moving In

Sermon: “The Heart of Fire,” April 19th, Hilton Head Campus

Download and Listen to Sermon “The Heart of Fire” Sermon

Hilton Head Campus, Saint Andrew By-The-Sea UMC

Campfire_Pinecone

On Sunday April 19th, I had the opportunity to preach at Saint Andrew By-The-Sea UMC’s Hilton Head Campus on the Gospel of Luke chapter 24:13-35, also known as “The Walk to Emmaus.”  As I studied the text, and experienced how Jesus revealed himself in this very unique story of two men who were “discussing” fervently the loss of hope and possibility, I felt myself in the text and realized that we all have worries and doubts about the future.  As we experience the season of Easter, The risen Christ meets us on the road, and the Holy Spirit blows oxygen onto the spark igniting the fuel, Christ’s presence, that unleashes the Kingdom of God among us now, in anticipation of the fullness of it, when Christ returns.

(Here is the Original Transcript of “Heart of Fire”)

Sermon: The Heart of Fire

Daniel Griswold

Main Idea: “Life is like fire, we need fuel, which is the presence of Jesus Christ.”

Scripture: Luke 24:13-35 (NRSV)

The Walk to Emmaus

13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad.  18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” 19 He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.  Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” 25 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on.29 But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” 33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. 34 They were saying, “The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!” 35 Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.

(The Word of God for the People of God – Thanks Be to God)

Prayer: (Let us Pray) “Open our ears, O Lord, to hear your word and know your voice. Speak to our hearts and strengthen our wills, that we may serve you today, now, and always. Amen.”

Illustration: Have you ever just stared into a campfire? I have. I’ve noticed at camping trips that when the sticks are gathered, a small teepee with kindling is set, and the flicker of smoke wisps upward, people begin to gather. A glow begins to catch and the fire maker puffs a bit to allow oxygen to fuel the flame, and that’s when the big logs of wood are brought out. That’s when people get really serious, and if everyone isn’t there yet, they are when the flames begin to stretch upward and the sound of popping and cracking begins. Twilight descends into darkness, and there is only one light illuminating the faces of those who have circled around the warmth of this burning wonder. Across all cultures, a good flame brings warmth and light to those who gather. Stories are told, songs are sung, friendships are bonded, and the spirit of God often inspires like the people of Israel below the flames of Mount Sainai; but at the center of the campfires are simple things: paper, sticks, logs, (maybe lighter fluid – if you’re a bit crazy) and oxygen; in other words – A good fire needs fuel; And so do we!

On the Text: In the gospel of Luke, we heard the story of two men, disciples of Jesus who had just been crucified, who were now walking on the road from Jerusalem to a village called Emmaus. We’re not quite sure of the exact location of Emmaus, but we know it was seven miles outside of the city, which is a good long walk; and these two men had plenty to talk about. It seems from the language of the text, that they weren’t just having an ordinary conversation, but there may have been a bit of a frenzy to it – a frustration. They were not just talking, they were “Talking AND Discussing,” which may be a way of saying they were deeply invested in what had happened in Jerusalem.

Jesus, the one they’d hoped would save them from Roman rule and a corrupt religious system, who had been talked of as a prophet and a king and perhaps their Savior/Messiah – well, he had just been crucified.   They couldn’t believe what had happened, they didn’t know what to think, their hearts were heavy and full of doubts about the future; and in that they were just like us.

Over the last six years, as I’ve prayed and cared for all our families here at Saint Andrew, I’ve noticed that there is something that all of us have in common, and it is that we all worry about something, Often we are anxious and believe the fear that everything is going downhill, because we don’t know the future. Our hearts are heavy when the world turns in the opposite way we’d hoped for – everything seems lost and we don’t understand – how could this have happened to me? To us? To us all? If Jesus were to come next to us to speak new life into our souls, would we be able to recognize it? (PAUSE)

The two on the road to Emmaus didn’t recognize it at first, when Jesus Christ, newly risen from the dead, came alongside them on the road. I suppose they weren’t expecting him, which is a problem. But Jesus tries to get a pulse on their situation,  saying something so ordinarily wonderful – “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” Their response? “They stood still, looking sad.”

Like a little league baseball team that just lost the match 20 to nothing, they stood there as if they’d about lost it all. Maybe we just ought to fall into the dust and die. The pit of the stomach aches, and we all know that very soon the coach has to tell a really inspiring speech in a really soothing tone to get everyone to rise again for the next game, and the team chaplain’s got a big prayer ahead. Somehow they’ll need to rise from the ashes.

“They stood still and looked sad.” Jesus asked them, what’s wrong? And one of the two, named Cleopas, snapped:

Are you the only one who doesn’t know what happened in Jerusalem? Jesus of Nazareth did miraculous things, and they killed him! We thought he was going to redeem Israel. But he’s been dead three days, and now women have gone nuts telling us he’s not in the tomb, but guess what – it’s true – one of our guys went and his body isn’t there. The whole world is upside down and we don’t know what to make of it.”

That’s my paraphrase, but you can tell, these guys were in the train wreck of their lives and they’d. Just. Stopped.

I’d like to say that Jesus was kind and gentle with these two in their darkest moment, but something else happened. – Jesus called them out. How foolish and slow of heart, don’t you understand what the prophets had spoken? Hmmm. Fair enough. They’d definitely lost the plot. BUT thankfully the story doesn’t end there. After a good slap to the senses, Jesus began to explain the scriptures to them starting with Moses and pointing them towards a renewed hope that the Savoir had to suffer, that he would rise, and salvation was at hand.

So slowly they began walking again, and before they knew it they were in Emmaus inviting this teacher (remember that they didn’t yet know it was Jesus), to stay the night and to eat and drink with them. And as they started the meal, Jesus broke the bread and their eyes were opened – Jesus was with them all along.  And as quickly as he came, he was gone from their site. When they realized that they were with the Lord, their Savior, who had been the subject of all their hopes and fears, and then hopes again, they exclaimed:

“Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” 

Their hearts were pumping again – they were not still – his presence fueled the rejuvenation of their breath and passion so much so that they ran that day all the way back to Jerusalem (7 MILES!!) to tell the other disciples, and in doing so were some of the first witnesses to the risen and living Lord, Jesus Christ. Their hearts burned with a living fire This new beginning is something amazing, and there’s something here for each of us seeking the same kind of renewal. We need fuel for the fire – but where is that fuel?

Illustration: Saint Andrew By-The-Sea UMC is a church in the Methodist tradition of being disciples of Jesus Christ. John Wesley, the founder of the movement, once had a crisis of faith much like the two we’ve already met on the road. John, however, had just experienced a failure all his own after a brief few years as the minister and missionary to the natives for Governor Oglethorp. As a minister he would have too heavy a hand with the parishioners who were not ready for his intense methodical religion. It was after a relationship with a woman he loved deeply had ended and she married another, he eventually denied her communion. Her father, the magistrate of Savannah stirred up charges against Wesley, who was forced to leave covertly or else be arrested. Having been run out of Savannah; Wesley returned to England feeling the weight of his failure, but also feeling spiritually dead and he said in his journal at this time “This, then, have I learned in the ends of the earth, that I ‘ am fallen short of the glory of God ;’ that my whole heart is ‘altogether corrupt and abominable;’ . . . that my own works, my own sufferings, my own righteousness, are so far from reconciling me to an offended God, that the most specious of them need an atonement themselves; . . . that, ‘having the sentence of death’ in my heart, . : I have no hope . . . but that if I seek, I shall find Christ, and ‘be found in him, not having my own righteousness, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith.'”

Despite his depression, he was still seeking the assurance that he was truly saved. Like the two travelers, he looked sad, he was still, and the weight of his sin and the world’s guilt pushed his hope into the ground. But that would not last, because Christ comes near in many ways. On May 24th, 1738 Wesley wrote, “In the evening I went very unwilling to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”  

Application: What had happened to him? John Wesley encountered the presence of Christ in that room, and he felt the fire of God’s spirit revive him. And those words, “I felt my heart strangely warmed,” have inspired millions to seek that same presence, the same presence that those travelers on the road to Emmaus experienced as they exclaimed, “Were our hearts not burning!” Their hearts ignited and the scriptures were opened up in new and exciting ways. We too can be people who experience the real presence of Christ – in fact He is with us here. We can ask Him to open up understanding and wisdom as we study and pray. As we come together as the community of faith – as His very body, we are His members and He is here.

We all want to hear good news, and there is no better news than to see what was once dead come back to life. Jesus Christ died, defeated death, and rose again so that through Him we could become the people of new life. His presence is the fuel like a mighty campfire that never goes out. He is with us, and always will be, and he lifts our eyes to the heavens. Let us experence that walk not as a text of two legendary figures, but let us walk with Jesus ourselves, and in His power, we become conduits of life and grace to a world in desperate need of warmth. “He is alive, He is my fire, and I want to be with Him forever.” Amen.

Facing Life’s Giants, Having Courage and Making a Way

When you’re facing life’s giants, remember who you can rely on for courage

BY DANIEL GRISWOLD

danielgriswold@gmail.com

First Published in Bluffton Packet: January 22, 2014

“Slay your giants!” That was a tagline for a sermon series I heard at my childhood church long ago. It referred to David, the young boy who had courage enough to stand up to Goliath, the behemoth Philistine soldier who was calling out David’s country’s greatest warrior.

It was odd that a shepherd boy, who brought his older brothers meals on the battle lines between the Hebrews and the Philistines, would ultimately be the one who ended a standoff. The defeat of the giant showed how courage can come from unexpected people, and how God uses us if we are willing to do great things.

What giant stands in your path? For me, it’s trying to imagine fatherhood while everyone reminds me that I have no idea what’s coming with our new child due in February. Our church is also “birthing” a new campus in Bluffton, and we’re learning the ropes of simultaneous worship at two campuses. I’m charged with some of the vision of being one church, two campuses. In many ways, my giants are not named Goliath, but rather “transition” and “change.” My roles are shifting month-by-month with very little stability, and I’m trying to figure out which rocks I’ll be able to stand on once the storms of uncertainty pass.

I believe the best path to success in all these endeavors is perseverance. A perseverance of the soul that rests its weight in the greatest giant of all, rests on the true behemoth, which of course is our father in heaven.

Psalm 121 begins: “I lift up my eyes to the hills. From where does my help come? My help comes from the lord, who made heaven and earth.”

True perseverance comes from trust in the maker of our being, whose spirit seeks out those who desire goodness and justice, who reveals himself through the wonders of the universe — specifically in the amazing unique creation of your own self.

Practically, we can have confidence in the future. Whether we live or die, we are able to face the world’s biggest problems because we are not working alone. Many early believers die for simply worshipping and loving God. Today in the free world, we can live out good stewardship of our home planet; we can foster peace in our neighborhoods by spreading goodwill; and we can live lives that advocate for the oppressed and those who live without freedom.

When Moses’ successor Joshua was taking the reins of leadership he was charged with leading God’s people into their new home. It was guaranteed to be a land of warfare, a land where they could lose their identity easily among the varying cultures, and where much harm was done from person to person, city to city and nation to nation. It would be easy to have left that giant alone with the challenge from God unmet. But in Joshua 1:9, God gave a word that resonates through the ages, “Do not be afraid, be bold and courageous, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” I keep those words in my memory. When I face giants, I hear God’s words recorded thousands of years prior, and I take courage that I can find the way through. You can too.

 

Columnist Daniel Griswold is the director of youth at St. Andrew By-the-Sea United Methodist Church. Follow him at twitter.com/dannonhill. Read his blog atwww.danielgriswold.wordpress.com.

A Short Guide to Visiting Churches for Worship and God Forbid…Fun

I can’t hide the fact that I love visiting different churches.  While I sometimes get frustrated by the fragmented nature of Christianity post-1000-ish AD, I’ve also found that the diversity allows for what may be lightly called “Church Tourism”.   While I believe that when you’re home, you should have a home church where you live out your calling and pour everything into, when I’m traveling, I take the opportunity to check out the landscape.

I’ll end this article by giving a few accounts of churches I’ve visited lately and how the experience went (including my personal reactions).  But first, I’ll drop a few thoughts on the “HOW TO” of respectfully visiting churches.  Yes, there is an etiquette to this.  It may help you especially if you are seeking a church home and don’t want to burn bridges prior to deciding where God is bring you.

Some Principles for Visiting Churches:

(1) Don’t judge anything.  When going to a new church, it is easy to criticize and in your mind say a lot of “Well, at our church we do this..” etc, etc.  Don’t fall into this trap.  Every church is different and has a slightly different expression of culture and worship which can be offered to God.  Go thinking “I’m going to become part of this place and worship amongst this people”.  You can give yourself to it and have a great time.

(2) Don’t be uncomfortable.  I think that many people who say a church just wasn’t welcoming were likely giving off “uncomfortable” signals.  If someone comes into your home and they’re frowning, acting like they don’t want to talk, and just keeps to themselves, its going to be an awkward visit and those folks might not really want you there after a while.  In a church, I think at least on the sociological level, its the same way.  Go in with a smile and shake some hands.  People will likely be friendly and want to talk. If you’re intentionally friendly and no one returns the favor, then you know somethings up, but I don’t think that’s the case most of the time.  Someone wants to say hello to new people in just about every church.

(3) Compliment and thank the pastor.  Pastors get a lot of flak and critique.  In smaller churches, visitors are big deals, and when a visitor says something nice it eases relationship building and allows everyone to get to know each other.  Focus on the positive and smile.  Pastors are sometimes introverts so they may not naturally come and say hello, but most want to meet you.  Don’t guage the pastor by posture, but keep an open stance and let happen what needs to happen.

(4) Spend some time in worship.  All the evaluation stuff can keep you from remembering that ultimately you are looking for a place of worship – not just a place to find a best friend.  Focus on the Big Guy, pray some, close your eyes and seek Wisdom.  Picture Jesus and spend time in His company.  I think most folks would enjoy a church more if they realized and practiced actual worship in the church rather than thought about whether they’re going to be accepted or not.  If you want to find God, He’s there.  Spend time with Him and let the church be who they are – also – let them worship too.

Lastly (5), go with the flow.  All churches have quirks.  Learn em, and learn to love them.  All the grumbling I see in churches tends to be in bad spirit.  Rather than grumble, learn the history of the church.  Learn why there are so many sections.  Experience and understand that generations have come and gone in most churches and there is an abiding love for the spaces created for learning, fellowship, worship and partaking in the sacraments.

I think if you follow some of these guidelines you’ll have a great time on vacation going from church to church. Try it out and see.  Its actually quite refreshing.  And if you don’t have a church home yet, I hope you find one too!

Recent Visits:

(1) First United Methodist Church, Waynesville, NC (Late August 2013)

My wife and I had been given the opportunity by some amazing good people in our church to use their cabin in Lake Junaleska, a United Methodist gathering area, for a personal holiday/vacation.  As we enjoyed long walks around the lake, talked about possibly seeing elk, and enjoying small town coffee shops, and visiting Ashville, the conversation came about which church to attend.  I checked some websites and First UMC Waynesville (where a nice coffee shop and some local shopping were located) came up quickly.  We’d see the church on our journeys so we decided to attend.

Finding parking was easy.  They had a visitors parking lot and that made it easy.  Not so easy for a visitor, however, was finding the sanctuary.  We ended up in the Youth Center (we could tell because it was the oldest part of the building and there were pool tables).  I knew that if we kept walking something would lead us there, so we went up some stairs and ended up in a large gym, where perhaps an contemporary service had just ended.  There were a few families lingering, so I walked up to someone who looked friendly and she introduced herself.  She brought us through a few corridors and we went up some stairs through some welcome areas (it was quite a complex due to local hills/geography) and we came out into an airy wide open completely new sanctuary.  Lots of bright colored woods, non corroded metals aluminum in color, and banners hanging all around with a well dressed choir.  The families sat up in the balcony (where we sat), people helped us get up there and smiled a lot, and older people sat together down below.  It seems that every UMC with a balcony does this.  Young people and families up top, older folks below.  Seems strange to me.  The service started, and it flowed much like our home church (which is also UMC), and we sang hymns, listened to an awesome choir, a children’s sermon went probably a few minutes too long and the kids wiggled, robed ministers administrated the service, and there was a well done sermon.  We left, not really knowing anyone, which makes sense for a first visit, and we went back to vacation.  I got a good picture which I’ve added.  Beautiful and well done church/service at FUMC Waynesville.

(2) Trinity Assembly of God, Derry, NH (Just before Christmas 2013)

My brother was getting married in Ipswich, NH and so we were near where I grew up and also near the church in MA where I worked in High School ministry (Grace Chapel).  I wrestled a bit, but we were going to visit my parents in Derry, (my hometown) so I ultimately decided to attend my first church – the Pentecostal Trinity Assembly of God near Pinkerton Academy where I attended High School.  I was wondering who would still be there, and how the church was faring, so we went.  We parked, and then entered the same warehouse like church structure that had been built while I was a child.  We were welcomed by a good friend of my family and former Royal Rangers (sort of like scouts) leader, who warmly greeted us and made us feel at home. The pastor wasn’t there so the worship leader (who I’d never met) led worship and I looked around and saw a few familiar faces.  A sprinkling of families I know, and many new people.  It was near Christmas, and apparently the youth and the children had charge of parts of the service, and they announced that young people would be playing instruments.  One young man, who had only played 30 days on the clarinet, was introduced.  I was about to cringe – 30 days?! But it was fantastic.  I think Pentecostals have music in their blood.  Its born in them.  I don’t really understand it – it just happens.  Pretty amazing.  Granddaugthers of the man who was preaching this particular week also played piano and it was great.  Then a whole children’s pageant happened.  It was hilarious, but accurate Biblically, and got the Christmas juices flowing.  Then a great sermon on living out life seeking Christ like the wise men happened.  I remember this guy who preached from childhood, and he was again amazing.  Lots of passion and a great backstory to share.   We ended up staying after service (and after my wife experienced a whole church alter call), and met up with Jenny, who is now the Youth Director there (we were in Youth Group there together).  She brought me to the old sanctuary, which had been converted into a Youth Center, and she was doing an amazing job!  It was encouraging so see so much.  Loved visiting – and hope to return.

Bethel Baptist

(3) Bethel Baptist Church, Bethel, NC (Just after Christmas 2013)

Amanda and I are visiting her parents for Christmas and New Year’s and her sister is moving into town.  Her sister’s family will be looking for a church, and we all decided to check out the Baptist church within walking distance.  It was raining, but we drove around the corner.  We went in the wrong door, but a kind man shook my hand, greeted us and brought us into the sanctuary from the back door.  We walked in and sat near the front (in this church most people sit in the back – interesting), and we looked around.  Children were in one choir area by the piano.  Some men in the opposite side.  The pastor sat in a chair and ordered the service.  Worship started and the Pastor (who we found out was interim until a pastor was called) gave announcements and called the worship to order.  We sang a few hymns with a Christmas theme, the children sang Christmas songs, there was a Children’s Talk calling them to be Transparent and show Christ in the new year, and a mens group sang O Holy Night, which was actually pretty good.  I was worried.  The pastor then got up and spoke a well thought out sermon on the Magi and gave lots of background of what may have actually happened between the wise men and young Jesus and them worshipping him.  He talked about why Gold, Incense, and Myrrh – which I thought was great.  We then sang a few more hymns and we were done.  We hung out a while, and many people (and children) greeted us.  There were a lot of families.  And afterwards we headed home after a pleasant experience.