November 30, 2020

 

A Word from Walker

As 2020 winds down, most of us probably feel like a victim of a tornado who has devastation all around them but is glad to be alive. In similar fashion, all of us can point to things we are grateful for in the midst of the dual whirlwinds of a pandemic and social unrest. In great trials it is good to know that God always proves to be faithful and even opens new doors for ministry. Now, with the coming advent of vaccines from major drug manufacturers, we have hope that the worst is behind us and that in 2021 we can move more fully into a recovery mode. It would be easy in this context to put this year behind us as fast as possible. I know I want to do this myself. But there are some things that this year has taught us that are invaluable and we need to carry with us as we move forward. Here are two big lessons I have gleaned from this difficult time …

First, I have been reminded that the church is God’s people on mission with him. It is not a building. It is not a religious organization. It is not even essentially a respite center for weary people to escape the difficulties of life. The church exists because of who Jesus Christ is and what he has done. We are therefore his representatives on earth who have been entrusted with the revolutionary message of the Gospel. This good news tells us that Jesus is the Son of God and has come to redeem the lost. He lived a perfect life; died a substitutionary death on the cross on our behalf; and rose again to be the victor over sin and death. Those who trust in him will receive the forgiveness of their sins, be placed into God’s family, and will be empowered by the Spirit to call people to repentance and faith in the same Lord that has transformed our lives.

This is important because some of us have drifted away from these realities. When the crisis hit and we were not able to physically meet together en masse, some of us acted as if the world had ended. Ironically, even as churches began to gather back together on a limited basis many of these same folks have yet to return out of worry over the virus that they claimed at first wasn’t that big of a deal. Others were just as disappointed that they couldn’t at first meet together, but took this difficulty and worked hard at finding other means to connect via technological tools. I have heard testimonies from several churches at how people have been saved simply because the church pivoted and provided the means for people to remotely view worship services. I even heard amazing stories of how people from across our nation and even across the world got to hear God’s Word proclaimed from churches that would have never dreamed of having this wide of an influence. Along these same lines people who had not previously done any missional work found creative ways to work with various organizations in our communities to help those most impacted by the pandemic. These new opportunities have reinforced the truth that God has called us to not retreat during difficult days but penetrate the darkness with the light of his love.

Second, I have been reminded that life on this earth is precious, fragile and finite. All of us have known people who have suffered and even perhaps died from COVID-19. Coupled with this is the overall angst all us have felt as we wondered if we had been exposed to this elusive virus. As a person who deals with four comorbidities, I can tell you that it is something I think about on a daily basis. The real challenge here is are we going to live by fear or walk with wisdom and faith? To live by fear is to be tempted to become a recluse and practically avoiding almost all contact with others. To walk by wisdom and faith means to thoughtfully behave in ways that protect ourselves and others while refusing to let a virus ultimately determine how we will live our lives. I know this is a somewhat difficult balance to achieve, but it is worth the effort. This will allow us to treat this life as a temporary gift. When we do so we actually enjoy the present in a responsible manner while not obsessing over what might occur in the future. This creates within us a sweet humility that allows us to loosen our grips on things that can never provide ultimate security.

But if we were really honest with ourselves, we would admit that at some point most of us (probably all of us) had a meltdown of sorts over the last nine months. COVID-19 has left us clueless and caught us in a profound state of unpreparedness. The truth is that whether we like it or not, even this nation was not ready for a pandemic. We eventually adjusted and responded well to the challenge. But our whole nation and world was brought to an almost complete standstill by something that can't even be seen with the naked eye. If the truth be told at some point probably all of us have been humbled as the virus uncovered the nakedness of our arrogance and ignorance. For instance, I have known churches that have had to shut down after ignoring such things as masks and social distancing. In some cases I am aware of pastors who didn’t think it was that big of a deal who came down with the virus. All of us have had to pause and reassess what we are truly in control of and what really matters.

I hope all of us embrace some kind of reflection that allows us to take in all that God has taught us during this unique season and apply to our lives as we move forward. On behalf of all of our staff and leadership I want to thank you for allowing us to be a source of encouragement during these tough days. I look forward to a new year in which we can work together in even more effective ways to lift up the name and fame of our Savior who came to earth as the ultimate remedy for the human condition.

Happy Holidays!
Walker

November 30, 2020

 

Craig's Comments 

 
God places the lonely in families; he sets the prisoners free and gives them joy. But he makes the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land. Psalm 68:6

Writing an update during the holidays is usually a joyous affair as we celebrate so many of the blessings of life, but I am once again reminded that this year has been like no other. While I do celebrate the many things that God has done among our churches and in missions and church planting, I’m heavily burdened for the suffering in our community and world. Covid has left a scar that will not easily be erased by a second serving of your favorite holiday treat or hearing your favorite Christmas jingle on the radio.

The hard reality is that people are hurting. Many of our children are hurting from months of virtual quarantine, families have lost loved ones unexpectedly due to the virus and other causes, and so many of our sources of comfort and peace have been stolen by a Grinch who is invisible.

So many all around us feel like Charlie Brown as they have tried to kick the football of productive work, family health, faithful church participation, and others only to find themselves lying flat on their backs shouting “Ugh!”

Coming to such conclusions is really not a difficult thing to do and I do not want to ever sound like Chicken Little shouting that the sky is falling, but there has been one cultural reminder that eclipsed them all…Justin Bieber. In his recent song “Lonely” he sings,

What if you had it all
But nobody to call?
Maybe then, you'd know me
'Cause I've had everything
But no one's listening
And that's just (expletive) lonely
I'm so lonely
Lonely
 
Now, anyone who knows me knows that I don’t quote “the Beibs” very often, but when this pop star sings about something like loneliness he is not only expressing his feelings, but resonating with a generation of young people who are struggling as well. The reality of loneliness affects everyone differently. It could be a senior adult who misses their grandchildren (or people in general), adults who have had to alter their lives and work schedules to pivot during Covid, children who rarely engage with other kids due to remote learning, and teens who are just overwhelmed by the prospect of not returning to school, sports, theater, and life for weeks (or months) from now.

Have I depressed you yet? I hope not, because we have hope. I’m not speaking of the hope of a new vaccine, but the hope that is found in Jesus. Have you taken time to consider the difference that it makes in our lives? That is not to say that we don’t still struggle from time to time, but we have vast resources available when we walk by faith in Jesus Christ! It is those resources that I celebrate as I consider the many ways that God is working among our churches. Here are just a few examples:
  • We had a wonderful collaboration of churches, ministries, and volunteers to collect, purchase, package, and deliver over 175 food boxes to feed approximately 700 people across the region for Thanksgiving.
  • Our toy stores have had challenges, but they are on course to serve over 1,000 children this year.
  • We have been blessed to add a new toy store at Rise Church!
  • The number of churches seeking to engage unreached people groups in our region is growing due to a new collective.
  • Church planters are rising from the pews of our PMBA churches to explore planting through a new partnership with Christ Together called the Triad Church Multiplication Initiative.
  • Various efforts are being made to transend racial reconciliation discussions and actually do the heavy lifting of eradicating racism in our community and churches.
  • Our churches continue to effectively and passionately seek ways to love their neighbors and make a difference for the gospel where they live.
And there are so many more. So engage those who may be struggling with the realities of loneliness during this holiday season. Pray that God would give you creative ways to serve your neighbor and connect to be the hands and feet of Jesus right where you live…and while you’re at it:

Have a Merry Christmas!
Craig