On ‘Spacial Distancing,’ etc.

Well, it’s time we have a little talk about Covid-19 again.

If you have been paying attention to the news, you know that the infection rates of the virus have been rapidly increasing of late, and hospitalizations are up to the point that some local hospitals are having trouble finding beds for patients. The new Delta variant seems to be more contagious than the first run, and it appears more younger people are now being affected. And the occurrences of “breakthrough” infections of fully vaccinated people are much higher than had been anticipated.

I know many of us are weary of hearing and talking about the virus. There is no shortage of Covid-fatigue, and I don’t mean a symptom of the sickness as much as the non-stop news and the high-volume arguing about how we are to deal with it. Many of us thought that we were all but finished with Covid back in the summer, and were looking forward to getting back to some semblance of normal as the fall approaches. But it appears that the virus isn’t going away any time soon.

The reality is we will probably be dealing with some version of this coronavirus for the rest of our lives, just like with the influenza virus and the common cold. What we must do as Christ-followers is learn how to live our lives with a proper balance of wisdom and faith, all with a selfless focus on loving our neighbor and being considerate to others.

It is not hard to understand that in a church even the size of ours there are all kinds of beliefs and opinions about what our approach should be to Covid. Even if you remove the politics from it all–which should have never entered into the discussion about a virus to begin with–opinions about vaccines and masks and the level of measures that should be taken range from one extreme to the other. And certainly, as we have seen over the last year and a half, one of the biggest dangers of the virus may be its ability to divide us.

By God’s grace, we as a church body navigated the first year of the virus fairly well. We have had somewhere around 70-80 confirmed cases of Covid, but there have been no hospitalizations from our church members, that I know of. And thankfully we have not lost anyone to the virus, at least not yet. The reality is, in time, that will probably change.

In the mean time, we have a responsibility to ourselves, to our families and to our “neighbors” to do a few things. From all indications, a good majority of the regularly attending adults in our church have already been vaccinated, and as stated above, a sizable percentage of our church family have already had the virus. And though there are so many inconsistent reports about who can spread the virus and how it is transmitted, we still need to take every precaution necessary to ensure the safety of our families and our church family.

As for how all this affects our church gatherings, well there are several measures we need to be sure we are taking. Obviously, as we have said all along–and this should be common sense even if there was no coronavirus–if you are feeling any symptoms of sickness or fever, you should stay at home. Likewise, if you have been around someone who has tested positive for Covid, you will also want to stay away for a period of quarantine, as the CDC recommends.

Also, be sure to wash your hands and use hand sanitizer, which we have available in all over our buildings. We are currently not requiring masks in our services, but we would certainly recommend them, especially if you have concerns about the virus. And no one should be made to feel judged or shamed for wearing a mask, or not.

And we ask that you keep your distance–and refrain from hugs and handshakes for now. We have used the term “spacial distancing” instead of “social distancing,” because by definition we as a church are called to be social. I want us to love one another, care for one another, encourage one another, and bear one another’s burdens–and all those things are “social.” But we can do all of those things even as we try to keep some safe space between us, for now.

Through it all, our calling is to put others first, as Jesus did for us. To be humble, and loving, even toward those we disagree with. And I will add that not only has condescension never worked in trying to persuade others to change their minds, it certainly does not reflect the image of Christ. Don’t give the enemy a foothold! (Ephesians 4:27)

And please pray, both for God’s protection from the virus and from any disunity as a result of it. He has brought us this far, and I am confident He will continue to lead us and provide for us.

I am praying for you, as I hope you are for me, and I look forward to seeing you on Sunday.

–Pastor Ken

Some ‘Telling’ Statistics

How long has it been since you’ve invited an unbelieving or unchurched friend to come and worship with you at Shelby Crossings? How long since you’ve told someone about the difference Christ makes in your life?

Did you know that 82% of unchurched Americans say they would come to church if someone invited them. That polling was done prior to the pandemic, so I am guessing those numbers may be affected some now, but it is still noteworthy that in our increasingly irreligious culture, eight in ten people would come to worship if only there was someone who would extend to them an invitation.

If that surprises you, then how about this: 89% of lost, unbelieving people in this country say they would go to church if someone–a friend, neighbor or relative–walked in the door with them. That is, not just inviting them verbally, but offering them a ride or meeting them at the door, and walking in with them.

I don’t know about you, but I’m more than a little encouraged by those numbers. We have often been led to believe that in today’s culture our lost friends and neighbors are antagonistic against all things church-related, when in fact they are just waiting for us to care enough to invite them to join us.

In another survey, people who are actively involved in their churches were asked, “What or who was responsible for your coming to Christ and your church?” Here are the results: Special need, 1-2%; Walk-in, 2-3%; Pastor, 5-6%, Visitation, 1-2%, Sunday School, 4-5%, Evangelistic crusade 1/2-1%; Church Program, 2-3%; Friend/Relative, 79-86%.  

In other words, it was almost always the influence and invitation of a friend or relative that brought them to Christ and church, and had the greatest lasting spiritual impact on their lives. Not a pastor, and not a program–but a friend.

But that brings me to a more disturbing statistic: only 2% of church members in America actually invite unchurched folks to attend on a regular basis. It’s not hard to do the math to realize that if they are waiting on an invitation, and we are not inviting them, then they will continue down the same hopeless path, without Christ and without the loving community we experience in His family.

“But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?” (Rom. 10:14, NLT)

Let’s tell them. Let’s invite them. Let’s reach out to our lost and hurting world with the love of Christ this week. I am praying for you, as I hope you are for me, and I look forward to seeing you on Sunday.

–Pastor Ken

Illuminating a Dark World

Did you know that there is a light bulb at a fire station in Livermore, California that has been burning for more than 120 years? The world famous bulb has shined non-stop since June, 1901. It was first powered up three months before President William McKinley was assassinated, and has outlasted 21 presidents since. Actually there was one brief interruption in May, 2013 for 9 1/2 hours when the power failed, but it has been busy illuminating ever since.

Physicists are baffled at why the bulb continues to shine, and hasn’t burned out after more than a century of continuous use. It has been left burning in Fire Station #6 as a nightlight over the fire trucks. One explanation for the longevity of the bulb is that the filament is eight times thicker than the normal ones. Also, a bulb that is constantly turned on and off will burn out quicker than one that is left on– and this one is always on. Beyond this, it’s just a mystery.

It has been declared the oldest known working lightbulb by Guinness Book of World Records as well as Ripley’s Believe-It-or-Not. Thousands of people visit the fire station each year to see the bulb, and it has been featured in several national and international TV programs, and recognized in declarations from the President and U.S. Congress. A book has been written about the bulb, and it also had its own Centennial Bulb website, including a webcam where you can see it burning all hours of the day.

There is an obvious spiritual parallel for us as Christ-followers. Jesus called us to be “the light of the world,” and said that we are to let our light shine before others in such a way that they see our good works, and thus glorify our Father in heaven (Matt. 5:14-16). Elsewhere, Jesus called Himself the “Light of the World” (John 8:12) so in reality we are just allowing His light to shine through us, bringing His illumination to our dark world.

But what stands out most about the amazing bulb is not the brilliance of its light. It is its consistency–its “faithfulness.” It is not known for its brilliant light–it only burns at four watts–but it is sure and steady, doing what it was intended to do, all the time. That is our calling as Christians, to be faithful and steady, in our place, shining His light into the darkness.

There may not be a non-stop webcam monitoring our light, but the world is watching–and so is the Lord. My prayer for each us is that His light would shine through each of us this week, pointing people to the hope we have in Him.

I am grateful for the privilege of serving as your pastor, and I look forward to seeing you look Sunday.

–Pastor Ken

How to ‘Go to Church’

“I was glad when they said unto me, let us go into the house of the Lord.” –Psalm 133:1

 Let me start off by saying that I know that church is not a place, but a people; and we don’t go to church, we are the church. That is more than just semantics; it is fundamental to all that we are at The Church at Shelby Crossings. It is a biblical mindset that determines how we see church, and how we “do” church week to week, outside the walls of our building.

Still, in our culture, so many people automatically assume that “church” is the place we go, or the service we attend on Sunday mornings. Whatever we call it, I hope we can all agree with the psalmist that we are glad for every opportunity we have to gather with God’s people in the (ware)house of the Lord. And especially after the shutdowns from the pandemic and all that we have experienced over the past year and a half, we appreciate that opportunity more than ever. 

The truth is, however, many are not so glad. They attend more out of obligation, or religious duty, or guilt management than because they love to celebrate God’s grace in their lives or hear His truth proclaimed. I would suggest that how we “go” determines a great deal how glad we are when we get there. With that in mind, here are a few suggestions this week on how to “go to church.”

First, we should go to church “prayed-up.” No, that doesn’t mean that you always have to be spiritually ready to come before the Lord–He still meets us right where we are when we come to Him. However, our spiritual preparation for corporate worship before Sunday morning will have much to do with how the Lord reveals Himself to us during our time together. Pray throughout the week, and on Sunday morning, that the Lord will be at work in your life and in our church. Then come expecting Him to move. He will.

It is also very helpful if you go to church on-time–or even, a little early! This has several benefits. For one, it gives you a chance to meet and greet other folks you’re going to be worshiping with–especially guests you haven’t met. It also causes less distraction to others when you can get seated before the service starts. You also won’t miss vital parts of the service which are planned to lead you into worship in the presence of God. And finally, you’ll be less stressed and more focused on connecting with God when you’re not coming in late.

And finally, it’s always better when you go to church… with a friend! As we seek to reach our community with the gospel, we want to provide a place where our friends and neighbors can come and check out authentic Christianity in a loving environment of real people. It’s so much more exciting to go to worship with a friend you’ve invited, prayerfully expecting God’s work in his or her life. What a wonderful way to come to the Lord, like the disciple Andrew, bringing someone with you.

So, let the church “go to church” this Sunday–on time, expecting God to move, with a Bible in one hand and a friend on the other. It’s going to be a great day!

  –Pastor Ken

Coincidences Happen

Do you believe in coincidence? I don’t. When you believe in a sovereign God who is active in the every-day details of life, you realize that nothing happens “by chance.” He is in control, and, if we open our spiritual eyes, we can recognize His providential work all around us each day.

Which brings me to an old quote I was reminded of again this week, from William Temple, an Anglican priest and the former Archbishop of Canterbury. I’m not sure if it was delivered “tongue-in-cheek,” but it sure makes a great point. The archbishop said, “When I pray, coincidences happen, and when I don’t, they don’t.”

There is within that simple, yet profound, statement a recognition that God works His purpose in our lives as we pray. Things that would not otherwise happen, do happen–“coincidentally,” the world might say–when we pray. And when we don’t pray–coincidentally enough–they don’t happen.

Quite frankly, I was convicted of that statement, because I realize that often I sit around and wait for things to happen, when God allows me the privilege of being a part of their happening by engaging in the ministry of prayer. There’s no telling what “coincidences” I might have missed because I didn’t pray.

With that in mind, I wanted to remind each of you to take seriously the Christian responsibility–and privilege–of prayer. I believe that prayer is the most important ministry each of us have as Christians. At the very least, I hope you will pray for yourself and your family each day, and also pray for our church family. If you are not sure what to pray for our church, let me make a few suggestions:

Pray for God’s protection for our body from the enemy’s attacks, and for purity and unity in our church fellowship. Pray for the moving of the Holy Spirit in our church, not just on Sundays as we gather in worship, but as we are about our Father’s business throughout the week.

Pray that the gospel would go forth from our church, and that God would empower our witness, as He provides us “divine appointments” with those He would have us to reach. Pray for the Lord’s provision of the financial needs of our church, that we might increase and expand our ministries beyond our walls. Pray that He will open doors for us to meet practical needs and serve “the least of these” in His name. Pray for our staff, elders and deacons, as well as all those who serve weekly in the ministry of our church, that the Lord would lead us, mature us, protect us, and use us for His glory.

I can’t wait to see the “coincidences” happen in our lives individually and collectively as The Church at Shelby Crossings as we get serious about praying for God to do His work in His church.

I’m praying for you, and I look forward to seeing you Sunday.

–Pastor Ken

The Golly Hole…and a Firm Foundation

Normally, this time of year we would be languishing in the heat and humidity, and praying for rain. This year, the heat’s not as bad, but the humidity is still there, and we have more rain than we could ask for. It’s sure making out lawns and vegetable gardens grow like crazy, but sometimes it also means it’s hard to find a time to mow the lawn or pick the veggies.

There’s also been plenty of flooding of late, as well as some other issues caused by the rain. I saw one of our local weather heroes post on social media this week some photos of a couple of cars that had collapsed into a huge sinkhole in a parking lot in my hometown of Midfield. Sinkholes are also quite common in Shelby County, including in our area.

I don’t know if you are aware, but one of the largest sinkholes in the United States is located right here in our own little metropolis of Calera. It is located in a rural area off of County Road 84 and Overhill Road, no more than a couple of miles as the crow flies from our church campus. It gained national attention in December, 1972 when the massive hole just opened up one evening, after the roof of an underground aquifer collapsed.

At the time, nearby residents heard the sound of the collapse, but didn’t know what it was until they discovered the huge hole in the ground while hunting in the woods days later. It is referred to as the “Golly Hole”—and it’s not hard to imagine where it got its name. It has been measured as more than 325 feet long, 300 feet wide and 120 feet deep.

Sinkholes are an interesting phenomenon.  They are basically a geological problem, and occur for various reasons when underground streams either dry up during a drought or wash out during times of heavy rain, causing the ground at the surface to lose its underlying support.  Mining can also lead to the same effect, especially when it produces voids beneath the surface of the ground and causes shifts in those underground streams.  Suddenly, and often unexpectedly, everything just caves in, leaving people with the frightening suspicion that nothing–not even the earth beneath their feet–is trustworthy.

There are a lot of people whose lives are like one of those sinkholes.  At one time or another, you feel like you’re on the verge of a sinkhole-like cave-in, just a moment away from a collapse that will threaten to sweep your entire world into a bottomless pit. 

The question is, do we have something “solid” beneath the surface of our lives that will provide a strong foundation whatever comes our way?  Or have we just spent most of our time and energy focusing only on that which is visible, while neglecting the subterranean matters of the heart?

It’s an easy temptation, especially in a world that focuses so much on how we project a surface-level image instead of deeper, “below-ground” issues.  But God calls us to do just the opposite, to make sure our heart is in order as our top priority. The challenge for us, as usual, is to go against the flow of our society and invest our lives more on internals than externals.  When we do, we find that the matters of the heart are truly the heart of the matter.

My prayer for you is that God will shore up your life from the inside out, so that you will never have a cave-in, no matter how much pressure you face.  When He fills your life, all the weight in the world cannot overwhelm you.  As the old hymn reminds us, He is the Solid Rock, and “all other ground is sinking sand.”

May He be your firm foundation this week. I look forward to seeing you Sunday.

–Pastor Ken

Thinking…About Serving

Many years ago, when IBM was on the cutting edge of the computer world, they encouraged their employees to always be innovative and always be thinking.

One day, in a restroom at IBM’s Watson Center, a supervisor had placed a sign directly above the sink. It had a single word on it: “THINK!”

The next day, when he went into the restroom, that same supervisor looked at the sign and right below, immediately above the soap dispenser, someone had carefully lettered another sign which read: “THOAP!”

That’s some pretty creative thinking!

I was reminded of that story when I read that back in the early days of the pandemic, someone wrote a little bathroom graffiti that turned into a good spiritual lesson. In the restroom at a coffee shop, someone had scribbled on the mirror, “What Would Jesus Do?” Sticking with the sanitizing narrative of Covid, someone else wrote underneath, “Wash his hands.”

And under that, someone else came later and wrote, “And your feet.”

Again, a pretty creative–and accurate–response.

I am not trying to encourage you to go spread the gospel on bathroom walls–some refer to that as “evandalism”–but that’s a pretty good message the word needs to hear. That our Lord Jesus came not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:28) And He demonstrated that by literally washing the feet of His disciples, thus demonstrating the way in which His followers are to carry themselves in this world.

When the kingdom you are a part of has a King who serves His subjects–even to the point that He dies for them–then you should stand out in today’s world. That is certainly an other-worldly mindset, that seeks to serve and love others first. I wonder who the Lord has placed in your path and my path today that we can serve so that in doing so we can share Christ’s love and point people to Him.

So THINK about it…and go and SERVE someone today, in Jesus’ name.

I am praying for you, as I hope you are for me, and I look forward to seeing you on Sunday.

–Pastor Ken

“All Things Without Grumbling…”

“I don’t want to complain, but…”

If you’ve ever heard anyone preface their complaint with that disclaimer, you probably realize that they do, in fact, want to complain. Some people just love to do it, every chance they get.

In fact, just scroll across any local community Facebook page and it appears that just about everyone wants to chime in with their complaint every chance they get. It may be about fireworks, bad food or service at restaurants, train delays, or any number of other topics (including politics, of course), but it seems that the only way some people are happy is if they have something to be unhappy about.

I have a theory, mostly from reading product reviews and comments sections and the aforementioned community pages. That theory is, most of the people who leave reviews or get on Facebook to complain are telling you far more about themselves than they are about the products or services or people they are complaining about. As in, they are pretty miserable people who always see the glass half full (or empty and shattered on the floor) and want to drag you into their misery.

I read about a man in the middle ages who became fed up with humanity and decided to spend the rest of his life in a monastery. The abbot warned him that he would have to take a vow of silence and live the rest of his life as a scribe, to which the man replied, “No problem. I’m sick of talking.”

Ten years went by, and the abbot called for the man. He told him that he was a model monk and perfect scribe, and that they were very happy to have him. As per their tradition, he was allowed to say two words. Asked if he had anything to say, the man nodded and said, “Food cold.”

The abbot sent him on his way. Ten years later, he was brought before the abbot again and once again told how pleased they were with his performance, and that he was again allowed two more words if he so chose. The man said, “Bed hard,” and was sent back to work.

Another ten years went by, and again the abbot sent for the man, telling him that he was the best monk they had ever had, and that he was allowed another two words. The man nodded and said, “I quit.”

To this the abbot replied in a disgusted tone, “Doesn’t surprise me. You’ve done nothing but complain since you got here.”

Just in case you didn’t get the memo, we as followers of Jesus are supposed to be different from the world, and one of the things that should set us apart the most is our refusal to join the chorus of complainers around us. The apostle Paul instructed the believers in Philippi to “do all things without grumbling or disputing.” Some translations use the specific word “complaining.” He goes on to say that in doing so we prove ourselves to be “blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shines as lights in the world.” (Phil. 2:14-15)

There’s that expression we keep reading about of late, just as Jesus called us to be “the light of the world.” But when we choose to grumble and complain, our light just hits the dimmer switch instead.

And that’s the reality about complaining: it’s a choice. If we do it. it’s because we want to. Contrary to popular belief, you can choose not to complain, regardless of your circumstances. Sometimes it’s still best to follow the old advice, “If you don’t have something good to say, say nothing at all.”

Let’s make the effort this week to not complain. I’ll pray that for you, as I hope you will for me, and we’ll watch the Lord shine His light through us. Have a blessed weekend. I look forward to seeing you on Sunday.

–Pastor Ken

Thanksgiving on the 4th of July

Last Sunday, our elders announced in our worship services that we have paid off our mortgage and now own Buildings B & C on our church campus. When we made the decision last August to purchase those buildings, we paid a substantial portion of the purchase price down, and negotiated a mortgage for four years for the remaining balance. We had hoped to pay it off earlier than that, but never expected to be able to be debt-free within ten months, especially during a pandemic.

Considering that 19 months ago, we had no idea what we were going to do and where we would be, in regard to church facilities, it’s especially exciting news that we now own the buildings outright. Add to that the uncertainties we faced financially just over a year ago when Covid came and we weren’t even able to meet in person, and that’s all the more something to celebrate. The Lord provided, as He always does, through the faithful giving of His people, even during a pandemic.

Speaking of which, things seem to be getting more and more back to “normal” in our church, on this side of the pandemic. Yes, we are not fully out of the woods yet, and unfortunately there are still some who are unable to return to in-person worship because of health concerns–and we do miss them. And we certainly want to make sure we continue to be wise and careful to protect the flock every way we can. But all in all, we can look back over the last year and celebrate that we survived–as individuals, as families and as a church–and again, God has been so faithful. We prayed diligently for His protection, and He answered our prayers, and for that we are thankful.

Needless to say, it’s also been a tumultuous few years in our nation. There is still much division, and in so many ways it seems like our country has lost its way. But, we have survived a pandemic and civic upheaval, and again, God has been faithful. As we celebrate America’s 245th birthday this Sunday we do so with a recognition that we are so very blessed to live in a country where we have the freedom to worship together.

All that to say, there is much to celebrate this 4th of July: faith, family, freedom; God’s provision and protection, and so much more. I, for one, am so grateful for God’s blessings over the last year, and I praise His name for His faithfulness.

I know many have plans to be out of town this holiday weekend, but if you are around, I hope you can be with us on Sunday as we celebrate His goodness to us with a churchwide breakfast fellowship at 9:00 a.m., followed by a combined worship service at 10:30. It promises to be a great day.

But more than that, I hope you’ll take some time this weekend and count your blessings as well, and be sure to thank God for His faithful work in your life. This 4th of July could be the best Thanksgiving you ever had!

What a joy it is to be your pastor. I am praying for you, as I hope you are for me, and I hope to see each of you on Sunday.

–Pastor Ken

The More Things Change…

I’m sure you’ve heard the old expression: “The more things change, the more they stay the same.” At first glance, that makes no sense. But if you’ve observed life very much you realize how true that statement can be.

I bring that up in a world that is rapidly changing, and usually for the worse. Over the last year or so, it seems we have seen a constant unraveling of the very fabric of our nation, and an undermining of value systems that have lasted for generations. The cultural upheaval that we are facing has left many of us reeling, wondering what is coming next.

It is at times like these when something so old-fashioned as a Vacation Bible School comes as a breath of fresh air. To watch so many kids with their childlike faith singing, playing, doing crafts and quoting Scripture together reminds you that not all is wrong in this world, and that there is rock-solid hope, even if when it seems there is chaos on every side.

Our children have had a blast this week, and our VBS leaders and staff once again did a great job planning a fun and creative theme that filtered into every area of our Bible School. More than anything, it has centered around the key word in that title--the Bible. Our primary objective, amidst all the craziness and fun we’ve had, is to teach children the word of God and introduce them to a relationship with Jesus Christ. He is the only hope for transformation not just for us but for the generation to come. 

And yet, for our Bible school in 2021, the more things stay the same, the more they change. We teach the same Bible we’ve always taught, but we do so using all the creative means we can, pointing kids to never-changing truth in an ever-changing world. Ask your child how God makes our messes beautiful, and you might hear stories about God’s creation, the man after God’s own heart who made a pretty big mess of his own life, the short guy in the sycamore tree, or the Son of God who died on the cross for our sins.

The point is, the God of the Bible has a long track record of taking “messy” people and impacting their lives with truth, so that those same lives are transformed. And He is still in the same business today: He makes all things beautiful in His time. Our goal this week has been to share the hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and in the end that’s what the whole messy theme was about, pointing people to Jesus. He “is the same, yesterday, today, and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8) The more things change, the more they stay the same.

My prayer is that the children and workers who have been a part of our Vacation Bible School this week will each allow God to change our lives through His word, and that we’ll become instruments of change to our generation.

I count it such a privilege to be a part of such a wonderful faith family, and I look forward to seeing each of you on Sunday.

–Pastor Ken