In Our Weakness

When I was a boy, one of the highlights of the year was when the mailman brought those wonderful catalogs from J.C. Penney and Sears Roebuck to the house.  I remember one year when something absolutely captivated my attention.  It was a picture of a toy that featured a track with two battery operated cars, one a police car and the other a criminal’s getaway car.  A series of switches could be triggered around the track to help the police catch the criminal, or let the criminal trick the police car and get away.  It was complicated, intricate, and I wanted it.  I was too young to bother with reading the entire description in the catalog, so I didn’t get the actual name of the toy.  I knew that there was a dialogue balloon coming from the police car that said, “Catch that car!”  When the time came to visit the mall and tell Santa what I would like for Christmas, I suddenly realized that I lacked some crucial information – I didn’t know the exact name of what I really wanted.  I hesitatingly offered to Santa that I would “like a…Catch That Car.”    Back at home, I began to worry that I had confused Santa.  Perhaps he was unsure of what it was that I wanted and I would get the completely wrong thing.  After all, I didn’t really know the name of it myself.  I showed my mother the picture of the toy track, and hoped that somehow, she could get word to Santa and clear things up for me.  Well, she came through and Santa came through.  On Christmas morning, there was the track with the cars, and it was every bit as glorious as I knew it would be.

I think of that story every Christmas and whenever I read Paul’s passage in Romans:  “..the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.  And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (Romans 8:26-27).  I ask for a lot of things from God, and most of the time I don’t know exactly what I’m asking for or I ask for good things out of not so good motivations.  Like many of us at Christmas I ask God for “peace on earth”.  But is that what I’m really asking for?  If I’m honest, I want peace on earth by means of everyone agreeing with me.  For there to be peace on earth, I would have to love those who hate me, and seek to get along with people who I don’t really like that much.  I can imagine the Spirit saying to God (with perhaps an exasperated sigh), “What he’s really asking for is growth.  What he really seeks is a heart more like ours.  He just doesn’t understand what that means.” 

What all believers want is to be more like Christ.  But we don’t always know how to put that into the right language.  Or we ask for things without understanding the deeper spiritual cost that will come when God grants what we ask for.  We desperately need the Holy Spirit as an intercessor and interpreter to refine our spiritually juvenile prayers and define what we need, much like we sometimes need a mother who can translate our wishes to Santa.  On a Christmas night so long ago, the world in solemn stillness lay, hoping and asking for a word from God.  The world received God’s ultimate and perfect Word.  We wanted a conquering Messiah.  God knew we needed a servant.  We wanted a king.  God knew we needed a baby born to a poor family.  This Christmas I hope you will remember the baby and be thankful that God knew exactly what we wanted and needed, even if we didn’t and don’t.  I pray God’s richest blessings upon you this Christmas time and into the new year.

Grace and peace,

Mike Stallings



A Different Kind of Christmas

For most folks, the Christmas season is a time filled with love, joy, and excitement. It’s a time when our hearts are filled with anticipation of the happy times to come and fond memories of holidays gone by. But, there are also times when Christmas brings to the surface an ache in our hearts. If you’ve ever experienced a difficult year, you know the feeling I’m talking about.
 
I will never forget the first Christmas after my parents’ divorce. The joyful, warm and fuzzy feelings that I remembered from Christmas’ in the past had suddenly turned into a stark contrast of sadness, loneliness, and heartache. The joy of the season seemed to be living in everyone but me, and I desperately wanted to skip right over that holiday season. With the exception of Faith Hill’s “Where Are You Christmas,” I would turn off the radio anytime I heard Christmas music. It was just too painful to watch (or listen) to other people radiate the joy of the season.
 

Maybe someone reading this can relate to the feeling I’m describing. Maybe you’ve suffered the loss of a loved one, and their absence is changing this season for you. It could be that you are dealing with the quiet of an empty nest for the first time, hurting from the loss of a relationship, or struggling to make sense of challenging circumstances. Perhaps you or someone you love has received a difficult diagnosis. Whatever the reason may be, this Christmas won’t be like the joyful ones you have experienced in the past. It’s a new kind of Christmas. Or maybe this time of year always reopens tender aches of your heart. If this is where you find yourself this holiday season, I want to invite you to join us at the Blue Christmas service this Sunday, December 18th, at 5:00pm in the Chapel (near the Fellowship Hall). Come find comfort in the presence of your Savior, and the loving arms of our Church family.
15578344_1114816778616935_7043391750671189766_oRemember that the Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18). He was born into this broken world to be a light in the darkness. Let the star over Bethlehem remind you that you are not alone, and may you feel the presence of his love sustaining you and holding you tight this holiday season.

 
by: Channa Brillante


Stored Treasures

In the Gospel of Luke, there is the wonderful story of Jesus and his family going to the Temple, “as was their custom.”  Except on this particular trip something out of the ordinary happened.   As they began the return trip home they discovered that Jesus had stayed behind at the Temple.    After returning to the temple and asking him why he had stayed behind and given them such grief, Jesus responds “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?”  Scripture then says his parents didn’t understand this, but they returned home with a son who promised to be obedient to them, “but his mother treasured all these things in her heart.”

Heart treasures.  Unlike other things we may treasure, heart treasures are not physical things but those things that deeply touch you and are seared into your memory as well as your emotional being.  If you are a parent and/or grandparent, you probably have a storehouse of heart treasures.  Special moments in which your child or grandchild has said something verbally or had an expression that is forever etched in your memory and heart. If you have known love of anyone special, you have those special love moments, treasured in your heart.

These heart treasures are stored and called up when things get tough.  When an adolescent child acts out at the parents, the parents often return to the treasures in their heart to recall why they continue to love this rebellious teen.  When illness or disease takes over the life of someone you love, heart treasures keep you attending to their needs for love of them is embedded in your soul. 

The Holy Scriptures are their own form of heart treasures.  In them we are reminded of God’s great love of us.  We are reminded that his Son, our Savior, is God Emmanuel . . . “God with us.”  In them we are reminded “that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

Through reading and storing these treasures and remembering the assurances of God given in them, we are able to cope with all the challenges, difficulties and stresses upon and within our lives.  We are also then able to be the calm assurance to those who have no spiritual treasures in their own hearts, as we share with them that storehouse of treasure. 

During this Advent season spent time and return to the wealth of love found in the living Scripture so that you too may become that storehouse of treasure and feel the truth warmth of love that flows through them.  Through them discover the best gift of the season, God’s almighty love for you. 
 
Blessings and Peace, Glenna 

 



Sharing Christ at Christmas

Christmas softens hearts just like milk softens Oreos.  I’m not entirely sure why this is the case, I just know that it is. 

Christmas and the glorious vision of the eternal God coming to save his people through taking the form of an innocent child can make cynical people feel hopeful, depressed people feel joyful, and lonely people feel loved.

This year, like every year, many people will consider going to church who would never otherwise darken the door of a church at Christmas time.  People who give little thought to God in their ordinary daily lives will spend a few moments considering if perhaps the promise of Christmas is too good to not be true.

Whether these moments are fleeting or lasting, may depend on how widely we swing open the doors of our church and the doors of our hearts at this sacred time of year. 

Who will you invite someone to come to worship with you during Advent?  Who will you invite someone to come to worship with you on Christmas Eve? 

To help you, this Sunday you will receive a card with all the information about our Christmas Eve services on it.  We hope you will give these cards to your friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, and acquaintances. 

I cannot tell you how many times my hopes have been lifted, my heart has been warmed, and my soul has been calmed by standing in the candlelight and singing Silent Night on Christmas Eve.  I imagine you can relate to the experience. 

Will you share that experience with someone else this year?  All you have to do is ask. 
 
Wil Cantrell


Transitioning

It’s always a challenge coming to a new place. Transitioning from one church to another church has plenty of challenges, let alone moving cities and states. It the past month, I’m pretty sure I’ve seen enough cardboard boxes to last a lifetime, but the

Halelujah Chorus recently resounded as we were able to park Libby’s car in the garage.

For us, the toughest parts of the move came in watching our children transition. Our youngest, Anistyn, is so young that we could have moved to the moon and she wouldn’t have known the difference. The struggle for her has come in adapting to a new schedule. For two parents whose children have slept through the night since day one, perhaps her struggle has truly been more of a struggle for us. Our oldest, Teaghyn, has truly handled the transition better than any of us. She had one moment, as Libby and I were putting spices into the pantry, she came to us and said, “I want to go home.” Springing into action, her Mom was instantly eye level telling her that we were home, “We’re in our new house.” But let me give you some back-story – when we left Charlotte, I had to disassemble T’s bed for the move. When we began to unpack in Knoxville, I couldn’t find the screws to reassemble the bed. I know this makes us sound like horrible parents, but Teaghyn had seemed happy sleeping on her nap pad in her teepee, but still – WHERE THE HECK WERE THE SCREWS?!?! Fast forward to the moment my heart breaks as my little girl tells me she wants to go home, to the house in another state that we sold to move to Knoxville. I felt so helpless, I couldn’t even offer her a bed to sleep in, let alone “take her home.” That night though, as we continued to unpack, Libby hit gold, she found the screws. The next morning, as soon as Teaghyn was up and going, we set to reassembling her bed. That afternoon as our little girl walked into her room for her nap, she saw her bed and exclaimed, “My house! I’m home!”

 I share all of this to make one point though, “God is good.” Twice now in my life I have tried to discern God’s calling in my life in regards to transitioning into a new ministry setting. Each time, I have found myself being drawn to the stories of Jesus calling the disciples. Matthew 4: 19-20 says, “‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will send you out to fish for people.’ At once they left their nets and followed him.” Every time I read this passage, I always find myself asking, “Was it truly that simple for Peter and Andrew?” We know that these two men had pre-existing knowledge of who Jesus was as the Scriptures tell us that he had already been teaching and preaching in the area. Even so, I’m still amazed at the willingness of these two men to follow Christ with no questions.

As I think about this passage though, I find myself looking at my own life. As we, the Lupers, prepared to move to Concord UMC we considered a lot of factors – what would this mean for the ministry we were leaving; what would it mean for our children, our parents, etc.; what would it mean for Libby’s career? All of these questions and yet no answers and so, just as those first disciples, the only choice we had was to go on faith.

So how are we settling in, we’ll let me simply say, “God is good.” Libby has a job, the girls love their new church, and CUMC’s student ministries are off and running with me at the helm. We go on faith, just like Peter and Andrew, which is not to say that there aren’t some uncertainties, but we have faith. As we continue to settle in, both at home and at CUMC, we go on faith…faith in an amazing God that has never led us astray yet and we trust He never will.
 
In His Name,
 
Chris Luper


Do 4 years really matter?

Do 4 years really matter? –A millennial’s thoughts during this historic election week
By:  Sarah Beth Coppage
 

Today, November 8, 2016 we head to the polls to elect our next president of the United States. As important as this is, it is not my place to talk to you about politics or my own views. If you clicked on this blog hoping to finally understand how millennials think, I apologize for tricking you. The next four years are shaped by your votes this week in the polls but I want to talk about how you have shaped my life the past four years and where Taylor and I will be heading in 2017.

Taylor and I moved here in the summer of 2013 to fulfil a four-year commitment to the University of Tennessee Medical Center-Knoxville. He has spent the time in different capacities at the hospital but mostly training to be a licensed Anesthesiologist. In July 2017 Taylor and I will move to Huntsville, AL where he has been offered a job. We will be less than 2 hours from his parents and about 6 ½ from mine. This will be the closest either of us have been to our parents in over 10 years. We are very excited about the future job, being close to family and the new adventure that lies ahead. But I must tell you we have spent weeks living with the heart breaking realization we will have to move away from our home that we have built here in Knoxville. That home includes our beautiful church family.

When we moved here I had no idea how drastically my life was about to change. I had to look on a map to discover where exactly Knoxville was located, I learned about the four seasons, I tried to learn how to drive in snow, I learned about the disappointing feeling when you can’t find a job, and most importantly I learned how important a church family could be. Jesus led by example, showing us that living in community is not only generally beneficial, it is an integral component to understanding grace and love.

This point leads me to my original blog question: do 4 years really matter? The phrase is “I can’t even begin to describe…” but I so desperately want to be able to put into words how the four years working at Concord has changed my life, my relationship with Christ, my love for music and children and restored my faith with the Christian church and its ministry.

The saddest I get when thinking about moving is having to leave the music program at Concord. I have worked with so many students, from Pre-K to 12th grade and I’m sad when I think about not seeing them continue to grow in music and in their faith. I have treasured teaching your kids and getting to know them. I hold it a high honor to be a teacher to students and moving from my job is not done lightly nor without great heartache. I do look forward to who they will all become and what influence they may have on the next generation. (Who knows, in 2048 I may be writing an actual blog on the presidential election and how I knew one when they grew up in Knoxville.)

 

Who I am as a person has been so formed by this community that I will always take Concord with me in my heart. You are a part of who I am and I am so thankful for that. And the good news (at least for me) is that I am not leaving until the summer. Please know and believe I am approaching every rehearsal, every concert, and every program with all the passion I have in me. I am so grateful for being able to be a part of each of your lives and the immense impact for good each of you have had on me.

Love,

Sarah Beth Coppage


Abundance is God’s Gracious Gift

Our church has been blessed this week by the opportunity to host the Ugandan Kids Choir during this leg of their North American tour.  These are wonderfully sweet children who present concerts in order to raise funds and sponsorships for Childcare Worldwide, an organization that helps lift children out of poverty in Uganda and other countries throughout the world.  The children have been staying in host homes, and the tour director had a meeting with the home hosts to explain some possible cultural differences that might come to light.  One of the pieces of information was about food.  The Ugandan children come from a culture in which food is understood as a means of nutrition rather than a way to satisfy a desire for a particular taste.  They are very conscious of portions because it goes against their cultural norms to waste food or have so much food on a plate that some must be thrown away. 

That’s not a bad way to think about food.  In fact, it’s probably what God had in mind when God was designing humans and their nutritional needs.  The problem comes in that we Americans have access to so much easily obtainable food, that we no longer have to worry about consuming more than is available.  We can load our plates up and either eat more than is good for us, or toss the rest in the trash can.  We’ll just get more at Kroger or Ingle’s.  There used to be a Doritos advertising campaign that had the slogan, “Crunch all you want – we’ll make more.”  We believe it’s that simple.  We tend to eat to the limits of our means, and because those limits can be so high, we easily create an imbalanced perception of our rate of consumption, which can lead to health problems later.

Now surely you’re wondering at this point why I’m going on and on about food.  Well, the reason is that the food issue is a clear example of how we tend to behave with another resource – our finances.  This Sunday is our annual Commitment Sunday, on which we are asking our membership to prayerfully consider their estimated giving in the upcoming year.  We hope that you will be able to approach the traditional and biblically endorsed 10% of your income.  For a lot of us, that’s just not possible.  I admit that I’m in that camp.  For too many years, I “overate” and consumed to the limits of my financial resources, and even beyond.  To be financially responsible and to be responsible to my family and to fulfill my obligations to my creditors, I have to make progressive steps toward tithing.  It’s a goal that my wife and I are trying to reach, and we get a little closer each year.

The reason that God wants us to be good stewards of our resources has nothing to do with what God needs.  God is God.  God needs nothing because God is the cause, reason, and creator of everything.  Stewardship is about our  health; physical health in the stewardship of our diets, and spiritual health in the stewardship of our financial resources and the time and talent we share with the church.  When we commit to tithing, it makes us realize that with a little bit of faith and just a smidgen of discipline, we can live quite well on 90% of our income.  There is no need to consume everything available to our financial plates.  We can be comfortably filled and even healthier when we share.  It also helps us remember that God is faithful to provide what we need, although God may not provide everything we want.  Again, discipline and good judgement are key.
 

Abundance is God’s gracious gift.  There is no sin in being prosperous, and there is no sin in living the best life that we can.  The problem enters when we overconsume and thus lose our generosity and reliance on God in the process.

 

Grace and Peace,

                      Mike Stallings 

 



A Hypocrites’ Prayer for Politicians

By:  Rev. Wil Cantrell

Following the first presidential debate Monday night, the tenor of casual dialogue about politics reached such a low point that it seemed the only thing anyone, myself included, could do in person or on social media was criticize and bemoan both presidential candidates. 

We seem especially disillusioned by the fact that politicians often appear to be much more focused on gaining and maintaining power than promoting the common good.  And to the extent that is true, we have the right and perhaps the responsibility to complain.

All this complaining got me to thinking about what frustrates me with politicians most: it’s hypocrisy.  They claim to be public servants and then they serve special interests.  They claim to work for the common good and then they spend most of their energy taking care of their political party’s base.  They claim to have a big vision, but much of the time their vision seems to barely extend passed the next election cycle.   

Just as I was about to give up on our hypocritical politicians (who by the way face the difficult task of functioning within an increasingly unhealthy political system which encourages and rewards hypocrisy), I began to question where I could find a worse hypocrite than our politicians.  I had to look no further than the mirror.  It’s me.

I am a Christian and I have spent more time recently criticizing our politicians than praying for them.  How hypocritical can you get!

Jesus did not spend much time complaining that Caesar failed to implement Kingdom values throughout the Roman Empire, but He sure expected his disciples to exhibit Kingdom values in their lives. 

So, I’d like to invite you to join me in a spiritual discipline that I have just recently begun: Each time you complain about a politician, stop and say a quick prayer for our politicians including the one you just complained about. 

I am already seeing the effects of this discipline in my attitudes and actions.  I am slowly beginning to see politicians in more human terms.  I am trying to understand the great pressures they must feel and difficult compromises they must make to move society forward.  And I am becoming thankful that there are people who will dedicate themselves to being a public servant knowing full well the criticism they will hear from the very people they are trying to serve. 

Some of my greatest hopes for our society come from working with teenagers in our church and seeing the talent, hopes, and dreams they possess.  But would one of our talented teenagers who was exposed to my attitude toward politics still consider public service a noble calling?  What world changing potential will we lose if our best, brightest, and most trustworthy young people no longer view politics as a worthy career?  The more I pray for politicians, the more I find myself talking about them in a respectful, noble way: a way that a young person might just decide is the way they want to spend their life giving back to their community.

These are just a few of the benefits I believe we will experience by a renewed commitment to pray for our politicians.

So will you do it?  Will you join me in praying for our politicians as much or more than we complain about them?

I am okay with living in a country where our politicians do not always articulate Kingdom values.  I just want to be a part of a church that does.   



The Search for Peace

By:  Rev. Glenna Manning

Last week I accompanied our daughter to an appointment in St. Louis.  Traveling north, we spent the night in Paducah, KY then on the following morning made the additional 2.5 hour trip on to St. Louis.  Following the appointment we headed south for the 8-hour trip home.  As we traveled we listened to the streaming broadcast of the Weather Channel’s continuous news regarding Hurricane Matthew.  It was a long day, made longer by a traffic jam that reduced traffic to various starts and stops.

When the traffic jam released us to flow freely again, it seemed that every vehicle was attempting to make up for lost time by speeding.  Vehicles began to speed past one another going 85 – 90 mph, following each other at very close distances, and passing continuously.  I felt like I was part of a NASCAR race and found my hands gripping the steering wheel ever tighter, while at the same time listening to impending doom being forecast along the southeast coast to cities and places to which we have traveled and enjoyed vacations.  Needless to say I found myself getting more and more tense, more and more anxious, and felt somehow threatened and vulnerable and longed so much simply for the peace and respite of home.

Upon returning home I continued to watch news of the hurricane, while also catching up on the latest and breaking news regarding our current political situation.  No matter to which political side one leans,  one is overwhelmed with displays of angry and hate-filled words, words of divisiveness, words of distrust, cover-up and conspiracy, words designed to destroy not edify, words of separation instead of unity, words of self instead of concern for others.   Again, I felt myself and our nation feeling threatened and vulnerable; and again, I experienced that longing for peace and respite.

We live in anxious times.  We are affronted with troubling news from around the globe, we are pressed for time to complete all the tasks before us, we experience grave concerns over those we love and care for, and even times meant to be relaxing can be filled with tension and angst.  For example, I find it very hard to relax during each nail-biting UT Football game!!  Even in taking a lovely walk, my steps are being counted . . . am I fit enough??   You get my point. 

Yes, these are anxious times, but then again, when have they not been?  As long as humans have occupied the world, there have been concerns.  Each tribe moved from one area to another looking for suitable land to farm and to find adequate game on which to survive.  Weather conditions have always been outside our control and as long as we live in community, there will be strife and stress among us. 

Jesus knew all about our feelings.  He too knew what it was like to feel anxiousness and concern, which is why He and those Godly-people before him practiced the antidote . . . prayer.  In the New Testament there are over 60 references to Jesus going away to pray.  He knew that to face life on this earth, one had to stay connected to the author and creator of all that is or will ever be.    It is only in life with God that we know the peace and respite that does indeed come from being home–home with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. 

I have no power over weather, time, politics, health of loved ones, and other outcomes out of my control.  But I am gifted with the power to bring all those anxious thoughts, concerns and feelings to the One who desires to be in relationship with me.  May we all learn the joy and peace that comes from “going to the mountain by ourselves to pray” (Matthew 14:23).   Blessings and Peace,  Glenna