Dear Church Family,
I hope you and your loved ones enjoyed the Christmas season. From the “Blues Christmas service” to looking at “Songs of Hope” from the Psalms, I found the scriptural texts and worship together both helpful and hopeful.
This is longer than my typical newsletter article, but I’d ask you to set aside time to read the whole thing.
As I do each year, I’d challenge you to reflect backward and forward with spiritual ‘eyes.’ As you think BACK on 2020, pause to consider where God showed up. If scripture is right, God was and is present with us in both highs and (the unusual number of) lows. I believe that in remembering and looking back sometimes we will see God in ways we did not at the time. As you think AHEAD to 2021, with the past year in view and God’s promises of presence in mind and heart, consider where God might be leading you; consider what it means to listen and follow in the various areas of life and action that you know are coming and those you don’t. Take some time to ask again, “God, what are you doing in and around me and how can I be a part?”
For my part, as I REFLECT BACK: two things loom large. COVID dominated life for all of us, but in the midst of all we couldn’t do, I was reminded of the significance of human contact – phone calls, conversations held 6 feet apart, notes of encouragement, and the blessing of technology to help bridge some of the gaps, even if imperfectly. I am thankful that we have learned how to extend our church worship and ministry via livestream, Zoom, and our website. Even more importantly, I have been reminded freshly of the need for and power of prayer for help, healing, lament, and gratitude. The tragedy of George Floyd’s death opened the eyes of many of us in new ways to the pervasiveness of our racial history. I continue to read, listen, and reflect on how I can grow in knowledge, understanding, and behavior in light of that history. The scriptures the Lord has led me to study and preach in 2020 have reinforced that God’s desire for humanity is grounded in the dignity of all being created in the image of God (imago Dei) and God’s salvation that does not prioritize on the basis of gender, race, or status. God’s Word is packed with God’s heart for justice, compassion, mercy, and community.
2020 SUCCESSES: Despite significant limitations to in-person activities, you have been SO faithful in your financial support of Good Shepherd. It might have been expected for giving to plummet, but you have held steady and enabled us to continue ministries. Our preschool is thriving under the leadership of Melissa Lancaster. Our music ministry has had to shift significantly, but has continued to engage musicians and bless our congregation (and community) through virtual choir and worship team. In fact, the virtual component has enabled us to re-connect with musicians (and worshipers) who have grown up or moved away from Charlotte. It’s been an unforeseen blessing that I hope will continue to bear fruit even as the restrictions of COVID ease up during 2021. Lisa Trevisan and Joni Bailey have continued to work tirelessly for us despite doing so in near-isolation and working at home for nine months now. Thank you for your many notes of encouragement to them! We’ve even managed to welcome several new members and regular in-person worshipers during the latter part of 2020!
As I REFLECT FORWARD, there are several things I’d like to highlight for the coming year. First is our vision and theme – so much so that we re-structured our elder board – grow, serve, steward, care. If you missed the “Vision 2020” messages this past November, you can catch up here (gspc.net/stewardship) or request a printed version that we are glad to re-send to you. In summary, we want to grow our church in faithfulness to Christ, serve our community faithfully, be faithful stewards of all God has given us, and care generously for our members, neighbors, and community. These are not goals for the staff or elders or deacons, but for the whole church family. I hope you will join me in this special God-given purpose! Secondly, as it becomes safe for you to do so, I invite you to jump back in to life at Good Shepherd. As perhaps a whole year may have passed under restrictions, we will all be re-setting our habits and patterns of life. Be sure to prioritize God and church community as you reset! Finally, I recognize that thinking about race and racism can be very uncomfortable for many of us. Those of us in the majority culture can choose to steer away from that discomfort, yet people in the minority cultures have no choice but to face the issues every moment of every day. Yet at the core of our Christian faith is the commandment to love our neighbor, to put ourselves in the other’s place and to choose compassion, mercy, justice, and love. We must not turn away, even when the topic makes us uncomfortable. So in 2021 I challenge you to join me in committing to grow in understanding of race and racism, not because it’s the politically correct thing to do or even because I say you should, but because God’s vision for humanity requires it. Lord, teach us; Lord, teach me!
PREACHING: If you are like me, COVID has not only been challenging socially, emotionally, and financially, but also spiritually perplexing. As I have reflected on what feels lost to us (fellowship, singing, programs, more…) I have been drawn to the experience of exile by God’s people in the Old Testament. In January and February I’d like to dive deep into Jeremiah 29, a chapter I have preached on before. The context of COVID gives me new appreciation of the challenges facing God’s people during the ministry of Jeremiah. I’d like to look again at God’s promise that He was still with them, still had a purpose and mission for them, and still had plans to bless them. I think it will be an encouraging and illuminating series, starting on January 10, called “COVID, Exile, and the Lord’s Blessing.”
Whether in person or via the interwebs, I hope to meet you there!
In Christian love,
COVID, Exile, and the Lord's Blessing
We will look at Jeremiah 29 and related texts to understand how
the Lord meets, calls, and blesses His people,
even when far from the familiar patterns of life and worship.
January 10: All That We've Lost (Jeremiah 29:1-4)
January 17: What are We Supposed to Do? (Jeremiah 29:5-6)
January 24: Now Who is My Neighbor? (Jeremiah 29:7)
January 31: Echo Chamber (Jeremiah 29:8-9)
February 07: I'd Had to Miss the Dance (Jeremiah 29:10-11)
February 14: Coming Home (Jeremiah 29:12-14)