To Know and Be Known

“No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main…And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”

Those famous words from 17th century poet John Donne’s Meditations XVII remind us that none of us are made for himself, to live by himself, in isolation from others. We are made to relate to one another, to live in community together.

Even as far back as the creation account in Genesis 2, when God made man in His own image and placed him in a perfect environment of the Garden of Eden, He also concluded, “It is not good for man to be alone.” It wasn’t then, and it isn’t now.

And here we are, in 2020, practicing our “social distancing” for the good of our neighbor, to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and keep our community safe. Yet, more and more people are struggling with the disconnectedness that comes with being distant, socially, from others. Yes, we have our 24/7 access to our phones and texts and FaceTime and Zoom, not to mention Facebook. And we are being reminded over and over that “We’re all in this together.” But any way you slice it, we’re still not really “together.” 

Hopefully this time of isolation has reminded us how much we really do need each other. One of our core values at Shelby Crossings, which used to be on a poster on our wall for several years, is “What we do, we do together.” As Donne attested in his poem, we were never meant to live our spiritual lives on an island.That’s what a community of faith is all about–to know, and be known, as we get to know our Lord Jesus in the process.

But even before the coronavirus pandemic, many people were already living their lives in some level of isolation, trying to fly solo in their walk with the Lord. They bought the lie that matters of faith are personal and private and not to be shared in public, and so they kept their spiritual lives to themselves. But God never intended for us to go it alone, to live outside of community.

It is surprising to me that it has become counter-cultural to say that we need each other. In our drive-thru individualistic world, the fellowship of the church is needed more than ever. God created us, with that need for fellowship, and truly it is not good that we be alone. He said so Himself.

So if you’re feeling a little isolated and alone in this time of separation, and you don’t really know how to process the disconnectedness, that’s a good thing. We were never supposed to live like this. Just hang in there, cling to the Lord, use the resources we do have to connect where you can, and remember it won’t be long before we get off the island and experience authentic community in the body life of our church once again.

In the mean time, we are excited to have the opportunity to come together for worship again this Sunday–for those who are able to do so. I am praying for each of you, as I hope you are for me, and I look forward to seeing you again soon.

–Pastor Ken

Together as ‘One’

We are excited to be able to finally gather together as a church body for worship again this weekend, after more than two months apart. We will still not fully be together, since we will be having three worship services over the weekend to spread everyone out for healthy distance requirements. Plus, many in our body are still not yet ready to end their quarantine, for health reasons or other concerns.

But we are at least moving in the right direction, we hope, and we are praying that the Lord will continue to protect us from this virus, as well as from the division that it has stirred up in many circles. 

In fact, because there are so many differing opinions about where things stand, and because this whole pandemic has magnified the divisive rhetoric that was already present in our nation and world, I have been thinking of a solution for keeping the peace when it comes to the novel coronavirus.  Here’s my plan.

Everyone should just give themselves a number which would define their opinion of the risk of the COVID pandemic and whether we should continue to quarantine. A number “1” would mean you have no concern at all about the virus, you probably think it’s all a conspiracy or a hoax, and you think it probably has something to do with bringing the president down. A number “10” means that this is the end of the world as we know it, we should all be in lockdown until 2022, and it all probably has something to do with the failure of the president. 

This means the people you listen to, the news channels you watch, and the articles and blogs you read, are likely to agree with your presuppositions, and form a nice little echo chamber that sounds a lot like what your opinions already are. Anyone outside of that bubble is an extremist (or an idiot) and not worth listening to.

Somewhere in the middle is a sliding scale of opinion, and you have to decide where you come down on the continuum. Most people think they are an open-minded “5”, balancing out all those extremists, though many are actually on either fringe, somewhere between a 1-3, or an 8-10. So it might help if we asked those around us to assign us our number, based on our outspoken comments, expert opinions and social media posts.

Just think about how much easier it would be if everyone just had a number. Maybe we could wear our number on a name tag to identify ourselves, or put it in the corner of our Facebook profile picture. That way the 10’s and 1’s could make sure they never even got around each other–that is, if the 10’s ever left their house to begin with. Instead of ranting on social media, people could just post their number, and we would predictably know what they would have posted anyway, which would save us all the time having to watch their videos or read their slanted articles (if they don’t agree with what we already believe).

It’s not like anyone is ever going to convince someone else who doesn’t already believe like them to change their minds. And it’s exhausting to be condescending all the time, yelling at one another. We could just categorize all those who don’t believe like us as uninformed nuts, science haters, tin-foil hat conspiracy theorists, fear-mongering socialists or whatever other label we can put on them so we don’t have to talk to them any more.

And we can all live happily ever after. Well, except for the global pandemic.

Okay, I jest. Sort of.

To be honest, the thing that has bothered me the most about this entire pandemic is the division it has fostered and the way people are treating each other. Educated and informed people, exposed to the same data, come down with different opinions, largely dependent on who they are counting on to interpret that data, or their risk-aversion to begin with. Then they disparage and categorize those who don’t think like them.

Of course, social media is feeding much of this, with all the irrational shouting, even between fellow believers. The lines are drawn: either you are reckless because you don’t care about killing grandma, or you don’t care about destroying the economy–as if there’s not a middle ground where we can work together. Can’t we all just get along?

That’s my prayer more than anything these days, for unity in the body of Christ, even in the midst of our “diversity.” Whether you believe like I do or not; whether you diligently wear your mask in public, or purposely don’t even own one; whether you have lost your job in the shutdown or are “essential” and haven’t missed a day of work; whether you think we’re moving too quickly to reopen our church services, or too slowly….we need to come together around that which unifies us, and that is our common bond in Jesus Christ.

And when we sincerely do that, one of the first signs will be our genuine humility instead of pride and arrogance. That will reveal itself in our willingness to admit that we don’t know all the answers, and in how we treat others with whom we disagree. Those who are humbly submitted to Christ won’t need to talk down to anyone, and will realize that the world can survive without our getting our two cents in. 

This crazy season presents to the church an opportunity to display the unified family we were intended to be. Not that we all have to agree on the issues, whether they be on politics or a pandemic–but that we are one as a body of believers. It is good to remember the words that Jesus prayed for us in the Garden of Gethsemane, on His way to the cross:

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one-I in them and you in me-so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (John 17:20-23)

We don’t have to be a 1, a 5, or a 10….but we do need to be “one” in Christ. That’s my prayer for all of us as we gather together in His name this week. In the mean time, please continue to be careful, be safe, be humble and be faithful. I am grateful for you, my church family, and I look forward to seeing you soon!

–Pastor Ken

Turning the Lights Back On

When I was a high school basketball coach at the Christian school level, we played in all kinds of gymnasiums, from college courts to local community centers to YMCA’s to small church gyms. 

One night we were playing a game at a small school, and someone in the foyer outside the gym tried to turn on a light in the hallway. Instead, the switch she flipped turned off the lights in the gym where the game was being played, right in the middle of the action. It was weird the way everything just stopped–and we all knew it wasn’t because our team was “shooting the lights out!”  I can still remember vividly the strange glow of the scoreboard in an otherwise pitch-black gym.

The interesting part of that experience was that when they turned the lights back on they did not come on immediately, but had to “warm up.” So we had to stop the game and wait about ten minutes–which seemed like an eternity in the  middle of the game–until the lights were bright enough for us to play again.

If you have been in many gyms or even stadiums, you know that type of lighting is not uncommon in that setting. We actually have them in the warehouse of our own Kids Crossing building on our church campus. They are metal halide lamps that start with a slow flicker, and then have a dim glow until gradually the light intensifies over time. When you flip the switch to turn them off, they go off immediately. But when you turn them back on, it’s a much longer process for them to warm up.

I bring up the story about that game, and tell you about those lights, because they are a good picture of what it will be like as we re-start our public worship gatherings at Shelby Crossings. When we stopped our services on March 22, it was quick and immediate. When we re-open, it will be a much slower process and we will not be plunging back into our normal routine and activities any time soon. It will take us a little while to warm up.

You have probably heard the announcement we made this week that we will return to public worship next Saturday and Sunday, May 23-24. We considered starting as soon as this week, but we were not fully ready to do so, for several reasons. Just as many stores and restaurants, with the restrictions lifted, still have chosen to hit the pause button for a little longer until they are ready to do business again, we felt that we needed another week to evaluate all sides and be fully prepared.

The fortunate thing is, our “business” is not defined by our building. As we have been reminded over and over through this season, we are just as much the church when we are scattered as we are when we are gathered. There are opportunities for ministry, service, loving our neighbor, and sharing the gospel whether the building is open or closed–and we even have opportunities for worship, teaching, and experiencing some level of fellowship online.

So we will begin at a measured pace, with much prudence and patience, making sure that we provide the safest environment possible for our church family to worship. That will certainly mean some change and inconvenience, and will require some selfless attitudes from each of us. There will be no children’s or preschool ministry on-site, and therefore no nursery, which means all of our services will be “family worship.” To begin, we will all need to do reservations/sign-ups for our services, to make sure we do not exceed a pre-determined maximum for each gathering. That may mean some of you will have to attend worship at a different time than you would normally do so.

We will offer a service on Saturday night with no music, for those who are concerned about the danger of possibly spreading the virus through singing. Our two Sunday services will be somewhat normal, including singing, but they will be shortened some since we will have the little ones with us.

We will also be removing more than half of the chairs in our worship center, and spreading out the ones that remain to accommodate 6-foot social distancing requirements. We will only open Building B, and will completely sanitize the building before and between services, and there will be prescribed entry/exit only plans through the two back doors, which will be propped open to reduce touch points. There will be no bulletins, and we will receive our offering only in the baskets at the back. 

Each of you will be asked to maintain a healthy distance of at least six feet, and we will also encourage you to consider wearing masks, and even gloves if you feel so inclined.  Other measures will also be put into practice, according to recommendations from health officials, to protect our church body. And of course, we would still recommend that those who are uncertain about whether to attend, or “at risk” because of age or health issues, stay home a while longer participate in worship online through our live stream.

The terms have been overused, I know, but this situation is “unprecedented” in our lifetime, and the process of restarting after a pandemic quarantine is truly “uncharted waters” for all of us. We are figuring it out as we go along, trying to make wise and safe decisions, to do God’s will–one week at a time. I hope you’ll continue to pray for our church, and for our leadership, as we seek to navigate this season and determine our next steps with faith, humility, sensitivity and courage.

The good news is, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel–even if it’s coming on much slower than it went off! I am praying for each of you, as I hope you are for me, and I look forward to seeing you soon! 

–Pastor Ken

A Whack on the Side of the Head

Sometimes we all need a whack on the side of the head.

At least, that was the premise of a popular book on creative thinking written by Roger von Oech, which was originally published in 1973 and entitled, appropriately enough, “A Whack on the Side of the Head.” The author is a “creativity theorist” who earned a PhD from Stanford University and has been an adviser to companies ranging from Apple, IBM, Intel, Sony and Disney.

His book has been praised by business people, educators, scientists and all kinds of others who sought to think outside of the box. And the reality is that sometimes we all tend to get into our mental ruts and need a whack on the side of the head–or some might say, a swift kick in the behind–to jar us into a new and better way of thinking.

Sometimes, the proverbial two-by-four that cracks against our cranium is self-inflicted, and sometimes I think it is divinely appropriated. Either way, we get shaken from our doldrums and pushed from our comfortability in a way that forces us to get a fresh perspective and to think a little more creatively.

And as you probably guessed, it’s not just creative thinking I’m talking about. It also applies to our spiritual lethargy and emotional malaise, which often reveal themselves in our going through the motions. After a while we realize our “want-to” doesn’t want to, and that we have lost our passion for the things–or the relationship–that once excited us.

Fortunately for us, we have a God who knows where we are and loves us enough that He doesn’t allow us to stay that way. Whether He gently whacks us across the head, pulls out the props, or prompts us in our spirit with an inner dissatisfaction, He is at work to draw us to Himself so that we find our wholeness in Him.

Which brings us back to the pandemic of 2020. It has certainly jarred us from our apathy, and shaken us from business as usual, as individuals, families and as a church. Hopefully we will see, in the midst of our restlessness for things to get back to normal, that the Lord is in all of this, and that He has a purpose. And I hope, as David Wilkerson used to say, that we don’t “waste our afflictions” and miss the point He is making.

In reality, what we are talking about here is the simple physics principle of “inertia,” the resistance of any physical object to any change in its velocity. Inertia is the tendency of something that is standing still to stay standing still and of something moving to keep moving. In practical terms, we like to get comfortable, and we hate it when something pushes us from our comfort zone–even when we need it.

John Piper wrote about the danger to the church of the “inertia” of everything going along smoothly.  “Comfort and ease and affluence and prosperity and safety and freedom often cause a tremendous inertia in the church,” he said. “The very things that we think would produce personnel and energy and creative investment of time and money in the cause of Christ and His kingdom, instead produce, again and again, the exact opposite–weakness, apathy, lethargy, self-centeredness, and preoccupation with security.”
Which is when God is kind enough to give us the proverbial whack on the side of the head, sometimes even disguised as a pandemic.

I pray that the Lord will continue to use this time in which we have been shaken from our routine to change our inertia and light our fire again. And as we will be forced to a new level of “creative thinking” when it’s time to restart public gathering of the church, I pray that He will give us willing hearts and open minds for how He can use us to be His church in the 21st century.

Hang in there, my dear church family. This too shall pass, and hopefully we will be better from having walked through this. I am grateful for each of you, and I pray the Lord’s blessing on you and your family. Please continue to be humble, be wise, be safe, and be faithful.

–Pastor Ken

On Quarantines (and ‘Cornteens’ too)

It is not surprising that a lot of new words have been added to our lexicon–or at least to the Urban Dictionary–through this COVID-19 crisis. We always pick up some new terminology during unique seasons, and that is especially true in an age of social media, and in a time when because of the quarantine, people have lots of time on their hands. Our vocabularies have especially expanded during this crazy time.

There are some obvious words and phrases that we had never even heard of two months ago that we throw around now like we’ve been saying them all of our lives, such as: “social distancing,” “shelter-in-place,” and “flatten the curve,” among others. But there are others, mostly humorous wordplay, perhaps born of “gallows humor” in a time of quarantine, that have evolved as we try to cope with stress in a difficult time. 

There are even have multiple words to refer to the virus itself:  COVID-19, coronavirus, or just plain ‘Rona (or even Aunt Rona). We even named our new puppy Rona, since we got her in the  middle of this pandemic. For a little more background “corona” means crown, and she’s quickly established herself as the crown princess at our house, so the name was fitting.

I felt pretty clever and original the first week of our livestream when I referred to the pandemic as the “coronapocalypse” in a sermon, but all the cool kids are saying that now, and it’s become old news. As has “Coronageddon.” It was only a matter of time before that one showed up. (Remember Snowmageddon?) 

For those furloughed workers or students who suddenly had no place to go, it was time for a “coronacation.” Among the other slang terms are “covidiots” and “moronavirus,” usually reserved for those who are not handling the crisis the way you think it should be handled. And then of course, there’s the “covidivorce,” for those who just could not make it through a month or so of being alone with their soul mate.

One of my favorites–and I’m not sure if it was intentional at first–but it has become a fun term, is “cornteen.” I’m thinking that’s a Southern thing. So, you might be a redneck… if you’ve ever had a cornteen coronacation with a bunch of other covidiots that led to your covidivorce.

I guess we need to laugh some in stressful times, especially when we feel scared and confused and isolated. I would dare say that most of us have never been quarantined for anything in our lives, unless it was maybe chicken pox when we were kids. Even that word–quarantine–is kind of scary and not something we have used very often in our lives.

There’s a Facebook post or meme that has been circulating the last week or so about quarantines, which I bring up here because of today’s date. It begins, “The official lockdown started March 23 and will likely end May 1. That is EXACTLY 40 days.”

It goes on to mention that the Latin root of the word quarantine is “forty,” which is correct. In fact, a standard quarantine that was imposed on a human or animal suspected of carrying an infectious or contagious disease usually lasted 40 days, and that’s where it got its name. 

And if you have read the Bible much, you know that there is a significance for the number 40 throughout the Scripture. For instance, Noah’s flood lasted 40 days (and 40 nights); Moses spent 40 years in the wilderness, and later 40 days on Mount Sinai to receive the 10 Commandments. The Israelites’ exodus from Egypt to the promised land, including their wandering in the wilderness, lasted 40 years. And Jesus fasted for 40 days in the desert at the beginning of His ministry.

All of those examples are times of change, and times of preparation. And we can certainly say that about our time of “quarantine” in 2020. It has been a time of change for most of us, and I believe it is God’s time of preparing us in this version of the wilderness for something far greater. 

May He use these 40 days–and the days to come–to work in us, to change our hearts, and prepare us for the ministry He has for us that will impact our community and our world with His gospel. I am grateful for each of you, and I pray the Lord’s blessing on you and your family. Be wise, be safe, and be faithful.

–Pastor Ken

A New Normal

From the loss of tens of thousands of lives to the loss of millions of jobs, the coronavirus crisis has been a great tragedy. I know most of us are growing weary of this whole crisis–the social distancing, the quarantine, the sheltering in place, and all the frustrations and inconveniences associated with the new world of our pandemic. I hear over and over that people are just tired of it, and ready to get back to normal. And I get it.

But as I have mentioned on a few occasions in the last month, my prayer through this crisis is that we never get back to “normal” again. Now I know many people just want to get back to a routine, and I realize that for most, normal was moving along pretty well. We had church, extended family, friends, sports, school, jobs, open restaurants and parks, and a whole lot more of the pleasures and luxuries we have come to expect living in America in the 21st century.

But on the other side, there have been many signs that even in these times of prosperity, things were not all good. Our nation has been in a steady downward spiral morally for some time, and it’s not been hard to see that we have lost our way. And though the economy has been great for a while, we have become more materialistic than ever, and many have been over-committed and often too busy for God. Across the board, there’s been a steady erosion of the foundations of our society–including church and family life–and the worst part, we have come to accept all this as “normal.”

Many of us have said for years that we wanted the Lord to turn the tables over in our churches and in our nation, and bring revival. Even a few months ago in our sermon study of Acts 4, we joined the early church in praying that the Lord would “shake us” out of our comfort zones, and move us to where He wants us to be. I’m sure many just thought that was Sunday sermon talk, but I believe it was more than that. It was a heartfelt desire for change. For repentance. For an awakening. And things can’t all stay the same, if you really want it to be different.

I know this season has produced major upheaval in most of our lives. Many have been separated from family. Some have lost jobs. Others have had to work from home, while also trying to teach their children. Sports seasons have been lost, and graduations cancelled. And so many of our public church gatherings have come to a screeching halt. Truly, the Lord has “shaken” us. 

As we are starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel, with the possibilities of some of the restrictions coming to an end soon, I think we would all do well to pay attention to what the Lord has been doing in our lives over the past month and a half, to move us from our comfort zones, to shake us from our normal, to bring us to a “new normal.” What the new normal will look like remains to be seen. But I hope we don’t waste this opportunity to re-evaluate our lives, re-prioritize our schedules and re-focus on what really matters, as we re-boot our routines in the coming weeks. 

Even when the time comes that we are able to resume public church gatherings, we don’t know what that will look like, but I can almost guarantee you things will not be like they were before the quarantine. It will be much more difficult to restart things than it was to stop them. It won’t be like we can just flip a switch and everything returns to “normal,” as it was in early March. I would expect there to be an incremental opening, with necessary changes in schedule, as well as limitations on what we can and should do for a while. There will also be some new opportunities for ministry brought on by our  move into the realm of “virtual church” over the past month. Through it all, I hope you will be patient as we seek to discern God’s will and navigate through the changes ahead.

But more than just the logistics of schedules and programming, I pray that the Lord will have reshaped us, individually as Christ-followers and collectively as a church. That in this time where many of us have had to “be still,” that we have come to “know that He is God” in a whole new way. That in our time of forced “shelter,” we will have found where our true shelter and hiding place is, in Christ. That in our time apart as a church, we will come to appreciate the value of face-to-face community, of “one-anothering” one another, and public worship.

Imagine the joy, the tears, the celebration when we do get back together!  I can hardly wait. In the mean time, do not grow weary, or get discouraged or frustrated. We will get through this, together, and I think we will be better from going through it. I am praying for you all, as I hope you are for me, and please, continue to be safe, be wise, and be faithful. We love you.

–Pastor Ken

Blessed Be Your Name…Anyway

Matt Redman is a gifted Christian musician, worship leader and songwriter. I suspect you have heard a few of his songs, several of which we have sung over the years at TCASC. One of my favorite of his songs was written right after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Matt and his wife Beth co-wrote a worship song called “Blessed Be Your Name.”

They wrote the song to help inspire worship–and hope–in the dark and tragic times of our lives. They found their inspiration from the words of Job, who continued to worship God even in the face of devastating loss. In Job 1:21, he said, “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Here are the familiar lyrics to their song:

Blessed be Your name, in the land that is plentiful, Where Your streams of abundance flow, blessed be Your name.

Blessed be Your name, when I’m found in the desert place, Though I walk through the wilderness, blessed be Your name.

Every blessing you pour out, I’ll turn back to praise. When the darkness closes in, Lord still I will say, Blessed be the name of the Lord, blessed be Your name. Blessed be the name of the Lord, blessed be Your glorious name.

Blessed be Your name, when the sun’s shining down on me, When the world’s ‘all as it should be’, blessed be Your name.

Blessed be Your name, on the road marked with suffering, Though there’s pain in the offering, blessed be Your name.

You give and take away, You give and take away, My heart will choose to say, Lord blessed be Your name!

I have two distinct memories of singing that song, and they are both very emotional. The first came on October 31, 2004 on the last Sunday of the previous church I pastored. We had come to the conclusion that, for reasons we did not understand, that season of ministry was over and it was time to close the doors on the church we had planted. It was probably the most painful day of  my life. But, at the end of that service that day, we sang “Blessed Be Your Name.”

Fast forward a few years. It was July of 2006, and my family and I were active members at Shelby Crossings. I was working in the mortgage business, which was starting to crash, and I wasn’t making much of a living. I was still grieving the loss of our church, trying to discern the Lord’s will whether I still had any kind of future in ministry, but not finding any answers. I had two terminally ill parents, a wife and six kids–including four teenage daughters–and we were broke. We were walking in the proverbial wilderness, and I could not have been any more miserable.

I was asked to go as a sponsor with the youth group to Daytona Beach for a Student Life conference. Chris Tomlin was the main worship leader and one night he led us in that song. I remember having to get up and walk to the foyer, where I was overcome with emotion and wept almost uncontrollably. I remember so vividly the pain, the doubts, the confusion, the frustration with God, as I stood in that arena that night. And yet, through the tears, I did my best to sing along. “My heart will choose to say, Lord blessed be Your name!”

Sometimes we live in the land of the plentiful, where the streams of abundance flow, and other times, we find ourselves in the desert. Sometimes it seems the sun is shining down on us and the world’s all as it should be. Other times the road is marked with nothing but suffering. Through it all, as Job discovered, He is still with us, and we must make the choice to say, “Lord, blessed be Your name”…anyway.

In this time of pandemic, when there’s plenty of frustration, confusion, isolation and for many, some pretty dark times, I pray the Lord will give you a faith that endures, even sometimes through tears. The Lord gives, and the Lord takes away–and He is still Lord! Blessed be the name of the Lord!

Hang in there, friends. We will get through this, together, even as we are currently apart.  I am praying for you all daily, as I hope you are for me, and I can hardly wait to get to the other side of this thing so we can gather together again in His name. For now, let’s make the best of what we have, to be His church, wherever we are. And please, continue to be safe, be wise, be careful and be faithful. We love you!

–Pastor Ken

Because He Lives

“…because I live, you shall live also.” –Jesus (John 14:19)

This Easter falls in one of the most uncertain times in American history. The anxiety associated with the coronavirus crisis ranges from our being disconnected from many of our loved ones, to job loss and financial insecurity, to literal concerns about life and death for ourselves and our family members. If ever there was a time when the church needs to loudly proclaim our message of hope, it is now.

The apostle Peter wrote in his first epistle that we should “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” (1 Peter 3:15). This presumes that people will notice our hope, and that they will ask about it. Not our opinion about the pandemic, nor our politics, but our hope.

Something should be setting the church apart from the world all the time, but especially in times like these. Our beliefs, which are grounded in God’s word, remind us that we have other-worldly hope that supersedes circumstances. That we have peace that doesn’t succumb to worry, and faith that overcomes fear. And if we really believe what we say we believe, it should be so obvious that people will notice.

And that is never more true than at Easter, when we are reminded that our hope comes because of Jesus and His redemption and resurrection. On this Good Friday, we stop to reflect on His sacrificial death for us, and on Easter Sunday we celebrate His glorious resurrection from the dead, defeating death and the grave once and for all. And that’s more than just a historical event, but something that has very real application to our lives today.

One of my all time favorite “old” hymns was not written in the 18th or 19th century, but in the late 1960’s. It’s a simple message, and is especially relevant during these uncertain days this Easter season. Bill and Gloria Gaither wrote the song together during a traumatic time in their own lives. Bill was recovering from a serious health issue, Gloria was facing a period of anxiety and depression, and they were also expecting their third child. All the while, the world around them was filled with social upheaval, racial tension, and betrayals of national and personal trust. The cover of Time magazine had even declared “God Is Dead” for all to see.

Gloria tells the story that on New Year’s Eve, she was sitting in their living room, in agony and fear. Then suddenly, and quite unexpectedly, she was filled with a gentle, calming peace. It was as if her heavenly Father saw his child and came to her rescue. The panic gave way to calmness and an assurance that only the Lord can impart. She was reminded of the truth of Christ’s resurrection, in all of its power, and the assurance that the future would be just fine, in God’s hands.

And she wrote the lyrics to one of the most famous Christian songs of our time, “Because He lives.” 

God sent His son, they called Him Jesus,
He came to love, heal and forgive.
He lived and died to buy my pardon,
An empty grave is there to prove my Savior lives.

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow,
Because He lives, all fear is gone.
Because I know He holds the future,
And life is worth the living, just because He lives.

It’s been right at 50 years since that song was first introduced to the church, but its meaning is as relevant as ever at Easter 2020. Jesus came and lived and died to purchase our pardon. He was resurrected on the third day, and because He lives there’s nothing we face in this life that cannot be overcome. 

The grave is empty, so our lives don’t have to be! That is our hope, for Easter, and all the year ’round. And I hope…that you know that hope today.

I can’t even begin to tell you how much I miss seeing my church family. I am praying for you all daily, and if you have a need, or if there’s any way we can serve you, be sure to let us know. In the mean time, please continue to be safe, be wise, be careful and be faithful.

 –Pastor Ken

Open for Business

You have probably seen on the news this week the stories about pastors across the country who have been arrested for going against quarantine and social distancing orders during the coronavirus crisis to hold public worship services anyway. I will admit I am torn on this issue, mainly because of religious liberty implications as it relates to the church’s fundamental Constitutional rights.

My main concern is, in this time of pandemic, the government establishing a precedent in determining that churches are “non-essential,” and shutting them down. There are chilling implications any time government authorities start making decisions about any religious services, and I fear this may come back to haunt us later when those same precedents are used against the church for other political or cultural motivations.

Now, let me say, I believe that churches in the current pandemic should do the responsible thing during this time, and participate in social distancing to help prevent the spread of the virus. In that light I have no problem canceling our services at Shelby Crossings. And for the record, I think most of those pastors who are in the news are grandstanding more than they are standing up for their first amendment rights. They certainly are not providing a good example of loving our neighbors as we love ourselves. But I will try not to judge their motives or their hearts.

Having said all that, it is very sad not to be able to meet together each week with our church family. You have probably already heard the news that this week we extended the postponement of our public worship services two more weeks, until at least April 19–and it could very possibly stretch out longer than that. Fortunately, our livestream services have gone very well and seem to be having a positive impact, both for our members and those outside our fellowship. In fact, we have had over 2,000 views of the last two weeks’ services–and often one view included whole families. It’s been a wonderful opportunity to extend our ministry beyond our walls to people literally all over the world.

Whatever the case, if and when you hear that church is “closed” because of the pandemic, don’t believe it for a minute. You can’t close the church, because as we have been talking about for some time, we are not a place, but a people. We are the church, wherever we are. Likewise, we are not defined by weekly services at specific times, but by 24/7 relationships grounded in our common bond with Christ. Yes, we miss our weekly gatherings–for now–though it’s been cool to see people adapt to the quarantine and incorporate technology into weekly meetings with small groups and friends. 

And in so many ways that are good, like Elvis, the church “has left the building.” This crisis has stopped our busy schedules in their tracks, and with that many have found time to reach out and serve our neighbors in some creative ways, all while practicing responsible social distancing. I’ll share a few examples of people being the hands and feet of Jesus, serving others in and around our community.

Some made sack meals and took them to the Walmart parking lot in Calera, where the truckers park, and gave them away. It was an opportunity to serve those who couldn’t go through the drive thru, but also a way of saying thanks to some of those unsung heroes who serve us behind the scenes every day. Others made “bored bags” of crafts and games and distributed them to families in their neighborhood who have children. We heard from several families who were blessed by this simple act of kindness.

We got a huge supply of fresh Starbucks goodies donated last week, and spent several hours distributing them to those who are shut-in and at risk, as well as taking a bunch of them to the nurses and medical personnel working tirelessly and selflessly at Shelby Hospital. That very Sunday morning, I had mentioned in my (livestreamed) message that some of us don’t even know our neighbors two doors down. Well, that afternoon I took some of those Starbucks pastries and walked door to door in my neighborhood–at safe distances, mind you–and gave them out, meeting several neighbors I didn’t know, and hopefully opening up doors of relationships that the Lord will use to allow us to serve them again, and share the love of Christ.

And of course many of us have been able to use technology to stay connected within our church body. Several of our small groups have met using Zoom or Skype, or even FaceTime, and our youth group and children’s ministries have had some great “virtual” meetings, to do Bible studies and fun activities together. We’ve had moms getting together for encouragement online, and others doing one-on-one discipling through Bible apps, and we are continually looking at new ways of stretching our ministry to connect with more people. It’s not perfect, and you can’t replace the experience of face-to-face community in real life, but it’s still the church being the church where we are with what we’ve got. 

Some of the saddest news for all of us is that we have already had to cancel our public worship services for Easter Sunday, coming up next week (April 12), as well as activities we had planned for families on the Saturday before. But make no mistake, Easter has not been cancelled, nor could it ever be. The church building may be empty that Sunday, but so is the tomb! Jesus is still risen, and as we often say, when you serve a risen Savior, every Sunday is Resurrection Sunday, wherever you are! 

So know this, things may be different for now, and they may be for a while to come, but the church is “open for business.” We are out of our comfort zones, for sure, but I pray we never get comfortable again. Lord, help us to be Your church, faithfully living our lives on mission, wherever we go, long after this crisis has passed.

I do miss you all, and I am praying for you daily. If you have a need, or if there’s any way we can serve you, be sure to let us know. In the mean time, be safe, be wise, be careful and be faithful. And remember, God has got this!

–Pastor Ken

Who We Believe In

It’s been an interesting case study in social dynamics to watch how our country has reacted to the COVID-19 crisis. There’s a segment that has been exceedingly concerned from the beginning, always believing the worst possible projections, and ready to shut down everything to avoid those apocalyptic scenarios. On the other side, there are those who haven’t taken the whole pandemic seriously at all, convinced that it’s all an over-hyped over-reaction.

I tend to fluctuate some from one side to the other several times a day. Sometimes I think it’s overblown and everyone will figure it out soon enough, and other times I think it’s about to get very bad for all of us. I get most of my “news” from social media, which I have to constantly remind myself is NOT real life, and doesn’t reflect where most Americans live. I also know that social media tends to blow everything up, and feeds off of high drama and bad news, so I’ve tried to filter what I read with that in mind.

But the reality is, we all have access to the same facts, the same data, the same daily reports, and yet we come down on completely different sides as to how bad we believe the crisis is, or is going to be. And it’s pretty predictable how most people will respond by which camp they were in when it all started. People usually bring their presuppositions and biases with them when they read the “facts,” and many choose to live in their own echo chamber, listening only to those who already agree with them.

I would submit to you that the issue is really one of faith, for all of us. Not necessarily biblical faith, but faith nonetheless. As in, who we “place our faith” in, who we believe, the sources we find credible, the news channels we choose to watch, the websites or social media accounts we follow. Most people, even those who would say they have no faith at all, practice faith daily on what they choose to believe on a hundred different topics. And the COVID-19 crisis is a classic example of that very thing.

The reality is most of us live by faith far more than we ever realize. Let me give you a few examples. For instance, when we fly commercially, we get in an airplane, with no clue how the aerodynamics work to allow a huge, heavy metal tube to get off the ground and move across the sky safely at several hundred miles an hour. And we trust a pilot to fly that big tube, though we don’t know him, and have no idea about his credentials and training to fly. That’s faith.

Or, how about this one? We are referred to a doctor that we have never met, who does tests on us we don’t understand, gives us a diagnosis we have never heard of, and writes us a prescription we can’t read. We take it to a pharmacist that we can’t see, who gives us a chemical compound that we can’t even pronounce, and we go home and obediently follow the instructions without hesitation. Again, that’s faith.

I was thinking about this recently when I was making a turn across a busy intersection. My side had a green arrow, allowing me to turn, and I assumed the lane coming toward me had the same. As we came to the intersection at a pretty good speed, both of us in the respective turning lanes were basically heading right at each other, playing chicken. Except we both trusted that the other would be turning instead of going straight. If one of us decided not to turn, a nasty head-on collision was all but guaranteed. And even though I knew nothing about the driver coming at me–I didn’t know if he was a good driver, was awake, was paying attention, was not impaired–I assumed he was trustworthy enough that I placed my faith in him and turned right in front of him. (And he did the same in front of me.)

This kind of thing happens thousands of times a day, where we place our faith in something or someone else, without really knowing whether they had ever earned that kind of faith. We trust people who may or may not be trustworthy, because it’s what we do, out of habit. And we never even give it a second thought.

Since we walk by faith so regularly, you would think in times where faith is most needed and most required–as in, when we face a potentially life-threatening pandemic–that we would have no problem placing our faith in a God who loves us and has consistently proven Himself faithful. Yet, people fret and worry and try to take things into their own hands, instead of trusting the pilot who has everything under control.

So, as we face another day of confusing news reports and disturbing predictions, not knowing who to believe, be careful who you listen to, and who you believe in. I will offer you these words, from the apostle Paul, from Philippians 4:6-7:  “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication  with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And  the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

We are going to get through these crazy times, and I hope we come out with stronger than ever faith in our faithful God. I miss you all, and I am praying for you, as I hope you are for me.  Be safe, be wise, be careful, and stand firm!

–Pastor Ken