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Coronavirus Update

First, let us acknowledge that these are challenging times. There is a pandemic happening in our midst, and it has probably not reached its peak yet. Although currently, its effect seems to be worse for those over 50 and those with compromised immune systems, we must all be conscientious of our choices because we have a responsibility to one another.

Currently, the guidance from both the CDC and PA regarding this crisis, is that people gather in groups of no more than 10 and that they keep to distances of 6ft between one another. Additionally, Governor Wolf has mandated that all non-essential businesses shut down until further notice. While the detailed list which the governor’s office released, lists religious organizations as exempt from the mandate because they are essential, there is still the expectation that they operate in accordance with the other guidelines.

Guidance from the EMC Superintendents has been to move forward with courage and wisdom. In the face of crisis and tragedy and suffering, it is not enough to say that we want to live by faith; we must do the right things in the right way. Recognizing that every congregation is different in its composition and community context, the appropriate response to this crisis in one place, may not be an appropriate response in another.

So this has left us in an interesting position as a Church, because while we have worked very hard to keep ourselves open, at this point we lack the ability to do so. We will continue to record services for Sunday mornings to put up on YouTube and Facebook.

Yes, this is a tragedy, but it is no different than that which every generation since Adam ate the fruit has faced. And yes, we will suffer, just as every generation since Adam ate the fruit has suffered. Perhaps not this time, but at some point, we will all go through the fire of adversity.

When that happens, each one of us will face the choice to go from talking about trusting Jesus to actually trusting Jesus. For some, that moment is now. If that is you, you know where you can find me.

Grace & Peace,

Pastor Joshua

Living Life: Quiet, Godly, Dignified

We live in an increasingly polarized environment. Political tensions are spilling into Social tensions, & everywhere you turn the unwillingness to think outside one’s own box and evaluate their own biases seems to be getting worse. It hurts my heart to think about how even though everyone claims that they want to know what is true, often they suppress the truth when it doesn’t confirm their bias. We have become a psychologically fragile & emotionally volatile people.

So What Is The Way Forward?

For a myriad of reasons that we don’t have the time to unpack, the Roman Empire was much the same, and it was into that situation which the Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy commanding his Son in the Faith to teach the Church to pray for those in Authority so that they could live Quiet, Godly & Dignified lives (1 Timothy 2:1-2). 

We cannot overemphasize this:

The Biblical Goal of Our Faith in Jesus Christ is to LIVE a life that honors God.

Everything else flows out of this.

The Apostle Paul’s instructions here are, in many ways, taken straight out of the commands to the Jews in Diaspora who were told to Accept their Exile for what it was, to Respect the Authorities that had been placed over them & to Work for the Good of the places they were exiled in to (Jeremiah 29:1-7).

Are the People of God called to be a Prophetic Voice crying out against injustice and oppression, against immorality and deviance? Absolutely… but Judgment always begins in God’s Household first (1 Peter 4:17). So in general, this simple principle holds true: Before You Try To Fix Everyone Else You Should Deal With Yourself

The reason why God sets His own Household in order first, is because according to the Apostle Paul, all True Ministry flows out of the local Community of Faith as each disciple loves and sacrifices themselves for others, first in the home and then in the workplace and finally with all men (Ephesians 5-6). 

You see, the Kingdom of God doesn’t operate by the same principles as the Kingdoms of Man. The Kingdom of God advances slowly, steadily; conquering the Hearts of Men with Truth wrapped in Love. From one Generation of Family, telling the stories of Redemption to the next. From one Neighbor, extending the grace of a listening ear to another whose burden was growing heavier by the day. From one Stranger, whose unexpected kindness to another refreshed their thirsty soul.

This Is The Way Forward.

Clifford The Big Red Dog

As you know, I am a father with a small quiver full of children. As such, I have had the chance to watch many hours of children’s programming over the years. To date, one of my favorites remains the old cartoon “Clifford the Big Red Dog”.

I think what I love most about the story, is captured beautifully by the theme song which played at the beginning of every episode:

“Clifford needed Emily, so she chose him for her own; And her love made Clifford grow so big, that the Howards had to leave their home…”

I smile every time I think about it, because through the interaction of Emily Elizabeth & Clifford, this simple cartoon illustrated the heart of the Gospel of the Kingdom of God.

For just as Clifford was a small puppy whom Emily Elizabeth loved & took for her own, so also each of us were lost – without God & without Hope – but our Heavenly Father sought us out, choosing us in the Son before we were ever even born (Ephesians 1:3-2:9). Thing is, it is not just that God chose us which correlates. In the same way that Emily Elizabeth’s love gave her tiny puppy his massive size as an adult, it is God’s love for us which transforms us as well (Ephesians 2:10).

As an added layer of beauty to this illustration, it is worth noting that Emily means “Loyal” & Elizabeth means “the God of the Covenant”. Romans 5:8 says that even while we were in Rebellion against Him, God loved us, was loyal to us, redeemed us from Sin & Death, so that He could bring us into covenant with Him through Jesus & Restore us to His Image. For just as Emily Elizabeth gave Clifford her heart & because she did so, Clifford gave her his; We love, because God loves us first (1 John 4:19). 

This is Grace. This is the Way of the Cross. This is the Love of God.

SHALOM,

Pastor Joshua

5 Types of Churches

Research indicates that the are 5 types of churches – 4 Unhealthy & 1 Healthy – and each have a different drive. Dying churches tend to be driven by the desire to survive. Small churches tend to be driven by the efforts of a single individual. Medium churches tend to be driven by the systems which reflect the personality of a particular leader. Large churches tend to be driven by programs. Each of these four have their own unique problems which lead to failure, primarily because they measure success the wrong way.  

The fifth type of church, the Healthy church, is driven by Mission. The healthy church knows why it exists; the core Idea into which its purpose and principles are grounded. The healthy church knows what it exists to do; its overarching strategy which informs its priorities & practices. The healthy church knows how it will accomplish these things in its day to day activities.  

In order to move from the first 4 categories to the last one, we needed to be proactive, innovative, and coordinated. As Pastor Westurn told me: VISION reveals OPPORTUNITY, establishes GOALS, & reveals OBSTACLES! Over the course of the last several years as we have pressed forward in faith, more and more we have seen the truth of this. Through this congregation’s tireless efforts of collaboration and service, we have accomplished great things, but even greater things are yet to come.  

Thank you for all you have done and all you will do. 

Pastor Joshua 

I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.  And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you, will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. 

Philippians 1:3-6 (ESV) 

Crisis | Inadequacy | Presence

As we experience a National Crisis, I find myself reflecting on how much this crisis, like personal crisis, requires a wise & nuanced approach to ministry. As such, I wanted to share with you something that I have learned over the years, that hopefully will help you as you try to share the love of Jesus with your friends & neighbors over these next few weeks and months.

On “Normal Days” Pastors essentially have 3 Responsibilities: (1) to KNOW & SPEAK the Word of God, (2) to PRAY, & (3) to ADMINISTRATE the affairs of the Ekklesia.  In this way, the Pastor can be understood to be operating in the roles of Prophet, Priest, and King as an Under-shepherd of Messiah, within the confines of a localized geographic area.  This tri-corded reality plays itself out in the day to day in a variety of ways; from overseeing the corporate worship or discipleship of the congregation, to the pouring out of oneself into another in the midst of common everyday relationships.

But IN TIMES OF CRISIS THERE MUST BE SOMETHING MORE… & SOMETHING LESS.

A number of years ago, when I was still fairly young in the pastorate, there was a tragedy in my flock.  A congregant’s son was in a very bad motorcycle accident & the outlook was not good. The young man was given a less than 30% chance of making it through.

As I rode to the hospital I contemplated what scripture could provide comfort to the family. I prayed for wisdom to know how to pray for them when I got there. I agonized as I reflected on the fact that no amount of education can prepare you fully for a moment like that.

When I arrived however, all of MY BEST IDEAS DISSIPATED as I found myself plunged deep into the grief of the moment.

I spent the next 18 hours in that hospital with a distraught family. It seemed like each one alternated between sleeping & weeping, while I in turn alternated between allowing the exhausted to rest and the exasperated to pour out their hearts.  When I finally left the hospital so that I could attend to other responsibilities, I COULD NOT SHAKE THE OVERWHELMING SENSE OF GUILT that I felt for not being able to stay longer or do more.

As I drove down the empty highway, my own grief drove me to the Throne of Grace. But as I poured my heart out to the LORD, I realized that the guilt and anxiety which I was struggling with were really just MY OWN FEAR OF INADEQUACY which had been exposed by the crisis. What I had to come to terms with that day was that in the midst of a crisis, NO ONE NEEDS THE CLEVERNESS OF A PASTOR. Rather, THEY NEED THE COMFORT OF THE MESSIAH.

Henry Nouwen called it THE MINISTRY OF PRESENCE; the mediation of the Sacred which flows from SIMPLY BEING WITH ANOTHER.  

Of course, this only happens when we have a Mind prepared by Study, a Heart prepared by Prayer, & a Will submitted to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Only then are we able to REST IN THE SUFFICIENCY OF MESSIAH rather than be controlled by our Fear of Inadequacy. Only then are we be able to rise to the challenge of Stillness and Presence.

Because sometimes, as in times of crisis, Love is not about having all the Answers… LOVE SIMPLY IS THE ANSWER.

For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus the Messiah as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for His sake.  For the God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God displayed in the face of Jesus.  But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 

~ 2 Corinthians 4:5-7 ~

Lord I Need You | Matt Maher, Et Al.

I love this song because it is a newer song, written in just the last 10 years, but it is based on the old Hymn I Need Thee Every Hour which was written by Annie Hawks in 1872.

The Core idea of both songs is Beautifully Simple:

Every Moment of Every Hour of Every Day We Need the Lord’s Love & Grace.

In Hebrews 4 we are told that although Joshua did lead the People of Israel into the land of Promise, he did not bring them into GOD’s PROMISED REST. Instead, the Promised Rest can only be found in JESUS HIMSELF. He is our High Priest, the King of kings & Lord of lords, and through Him we have access to the very Throne of God… And that is the Promised Rest.

In Jesus we are REDEEMED from Slavery to Sin!

We are RECONCILED to the Heavenly Father!

And we are RESTORED as His Image!

Thus, in the Gospel of Matthew (11:25-30), as Jesus reflected on the response of some to His Ministry and the Miracles:

“O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, thank you for hiding these things from those who think themselves wise and clever, and for revealing them to the childlike…

“…Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.”

Do you want to experience the best possible Life? Are you tired of all the struggle just to get by? Are you exhausted from trying to prove yourself constantly? Are you weary of having to pretend like things are okay even when they are so obviously not okay?

This song is a reminder that when we COME TO JESUS LIKE A CHILD… We find that He is better than we ever could have imagined and that His Promise of Rest allows us to LIVE IN HIS LOVE & GRACE, Every Moment of Every Hour of Every Day.

And that is why I love this song.

~ Pastor Joshua

Lord, I come, I confess
Bowing here I find my rest
Without You I fall apart
You’re the One that guides my heart

Lord, I need You, oh, I need You
Every hour I need You
My one defense, my righteousness
Oh God, how I need You

Where sin runs deep Your grace is more
Where grace is found is where You are
Where You are, Lord, I am free
Holiness is Christ in me

Lord, I need You, oh, I need You
Every hour I need You
My one defense, my righteousness
Oh God, how I need You

So teach my song to rise to You
When temptation comes my way
When I cannot stand I’ll fall on You
Jesus, You’re my hope and stay

Lord, I need You, oh, I need You
Every hour I need You
My one defense, my righteousness
Oh God, how I need You

You’re my one defense, my righteousness
Oh God, how I need You
My one defense, my righteousness
Oh God, how I need You

He Leadeth Me | Joseph Gilmore

I love this song because it is an old Hymn written almost 160 years ago that declares a truth as important today as it was then:

That GOD IS ALWAYS LEADING HIS PEOPLE FORWARD!

When Pastor Joseph Gilmore penned the words of this song on March 26, 1862, almost 1 year into the Civil War, he understood what we all must understand… That God needs to lead us away from what is familiar & comfortable for us, if He is to bring us into His best for us.

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures: he leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul: he leads me in the paths of righteousness for His NAME’s sake.” ~ Psalms 23:1-3

As Jesus told His disciples in John 10:10, He came to give us everything we need to LIVE OUR LIVES TO THEIR FULLEST.

“The Glory of God is Man fully alive.” ~ Saint Irenaeus of Lyons, 185 AD

But let’s be honest, THE STRIPPING AWAY OF WHAT IS FAMILIAR & COMFORTABLE IS ALWAYS PAINFUL… It may not require a national Civil War, but it will always result in A CIVIL WAR OF THE SOUL.

“The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin. I don’t really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do what I hate. But if I know that what I am doing is wrong… I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a wretched man I am! Who will free me from this Body of Death?” ~ Romans 7:14-16, 22-24

But when we allow Him to Lead us, GOD IS ALWAYS FAITHFUL to bring us to a place that is far better than we could have ever dreamed of on our own.

And that is why I love this song.

~ Pastor Joshua

He leadeth me! O blessed thought!
O words with heavenly comfort fraught!
Whatever I do, wherever I be,
Still ’tis God’s hand that leadeth me!

Refrain:
He leadeth me, He leadeth me,
By His own hand He leadeth me;
His faithful follower I would be,
For by His hand he leadeth me.

Lord, I would clasp Thy hand in mine,
Nor ever murmur not repine,
Content, whatever lot I see,
Since ’tis Thy hand that leadeth me!

Refrain:
He leadeth me, He leadeth me,
By His own hand He leadeth me;
His faithful follower I would be,
For by His hand he leadeth me.

And when my task on earth is done,
When, by Thy grace, the victory’s won,
Even death’s cold wave I will not flee,
Since God through Jordan leadeth me!

Refrain:
He leadeth me, He leadeth me,
By His own hand He leadeth me;
His faithful follower I would be,
For by His hand he leadeth me.

Another in the Fire | Hillsong UNITED

Words and Music by Chris Davenport & Joel Houston © 2018 Hillsong Music Publishing CCLI: 7124907

I love this song because it highlights the Biblical truth that while God has promised that ALL THOSE WHO CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD WILL BE SAVED (cf. Psalm 18:3 / Psalm 50:15 / Psalm 86:5 / Genesis 4:26 / Genesis 12:8 / Genesis 26:25 / 2 Samuel 22:4 / Jeremiah 33:3 / Joel 2:32 / Acts 2:21 / Romans 10:13)… Very often, God does not show up WHEN or HOW we want Him to. We suffer, we hurt, and we ache for rescue… And sometimes His salvation neither looks nor feels like we want it to. 

So referencing the Fiery furnace in Daniel 3, the parting of the Red sea in Exodus 14, along with the Crucifixion and Resurrection of Jesus; this song declares that even when we find ourselves in the midst of the worst of circumstances, we can trust that GOD IS WITH US AND HE IS ACTIVELY WORKING TO MAKE A WAY FORWARD FOR US.

This DECLARATION is important because when we orient our minds to this TRUTH, then the mercy of our Heavenly Father through Christ Jesus can produce its full effect in our lives, BRINGING US INTO FULL PARTNERSHIP WITH HIM AS MINISTERS OF RECONCILIATION (cf. 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 & 4:7-5:21).

Thus, our SUFFERING PRODUCES JOY because it is in our trials that everything which keeps us from our God – all of our transgressions, our failure to walk in partnership with Him, our pathetic attempts at making life work on our own – it is all stripped away until all that is left is Him… His MERCY to cover our Past and His GRACE to empower our Future…

And so we Worship, Calling upon His Name and declaring His Greatness.

And that is why I love this song.

~ Pastor Joshua

The lyrics are also included below for your convenience.

There’s a grace when the heart is under fire
Another way when the walls are closing in
And when I look at the space between
Where I used to be and this reckoning
I know I will never be alone

There was another in the fire
Standing next to me
There was another in the waters
Holding back the seas
And should I ever need reminding
Of how I’ve been set free
There is a cross that bears the burden
Where another died for me
There is another in the fire

All my debt left for dead beneath the waters
I’m no longer a slave to my sin anymore
And should I fall in the space between
What remains of me and this reckoning
Either way I won’t bow to the things of this world
And I know I will never be alone

There is another in the fire
Standing next to me
There is another in the waters
Holding back the seas
And should I ever need reminding
What power set me free
There is a grave that holds no body
And now that power lives in me
There is another in the fire, oh
There is another in the fire, whoa
There is another in the fire, whoa
There is another in the fire, oh
I can see

And I can see the light in the darkness
As the darkness bows to Him
I can hear the roar in the heavens
As the space between wears thin
I can feel the ground shake beneath us
As the prison walls cave in
Nothing stands between us
Nothing stands between us

There is no other name but the name that is Jesus
He who was and still is, and will be through it all
So come what may in the space between
All the things unseen and this reckoning
And I know I will never be alone
And I know I will never be alone

There’ll be another in the fire
Standing next to me
There’ll be another in the waters
Holding back the seas
And should I ever need reminding
How good You’ve been to me
I’ll count the joy come every battle
‘Cause I know that’s where You’ll be
I can see the light

And I can see the light in the darkness
As the darkness bows to Him
I can hear the roar in the heavens
As the space between wears thin
I can feel the ground shake beneath us
As the prison walls cave in
Nothing stands between us
Nothing stands between

There’ll be another in the fire
Standing next to me
There’ll be another in the waters
Holding back the seas
And should I ever need reminding
How good You’ve been to me
I’ll count the joy come every battle
‘Cause I know that’s where You’ll be

The Millennial Question

Recently I found an old video from 2018 where Entrepreneur and Speaker Simon Sinek was explaining what he calls the Millennial Question. Essentially, the Millennial Question refers to how Sinek was often asked, “What do we do with these Kids?” Now, to be fair, every generation complains about the one that follows. However, while there are certainly exceptions, the Millennial generation has really struggled with entry into adulthood and Sinek’s analysis of this is rather insightful.

So, what does this have to do with us you ask?

Ministry leaders have been essentially asking the exact same question that these business leaders have been asking. These days, we are struggling to understand why it is that Millennials have, for the most part, either abandoned the Faith or at the least, abandoned the Church. Of course what is convenient for us is to just blame them for being selfish… and we often do. But what is needed is for us to try and understand them and meet them where they are.

So, Sinek gives four characteristics that in his mind, seem to be driving the Millennial question:

The first characteristic is that failed parenting strategies have led to a sense of entitlement and narcissism coupled with an absolute lack of resilience and self-efficacy. Thus, they are assertive about what they think they need, when in reality they really have no idea what they need.

The second characteristic is that technology gives us the ability to present a false image of beauty, security, success and accomplishment; while hiding the gnawing sense of fear and shame that lurks behind the Instagram filters. But the “Likes” are addictive and feeling good for a moment is better than not feeling good at all. Thus, fragility and low self-esteem collide with a desperate need for a community of people to love them, and yet they find themselves unable to form deep and meaningful relationships because technology has robbed them of that.

The third characteristic is that of instant gratification. Millennials have come of age in a world where everything can be theirs immediately. This conditioning for instant gratification has made them impatient, and so, while they long for a life of purpose and meaningful relationships, they lack the tenacity and resilience needed to invest themselves. They know that they want to make a difference in the world, to have an impact, but all of these goals are processes that require time and commitment.

The fourth characteristic is that of the environments which they enter into as adults. Having been protected through college from anything that might unsettle them, they find the adult world cold and uncaring. Being unprepared to navigate a world that is geared toward profit instead of people, focused on short-term goals instead of long-term ones, they find that all that they fear about themselves is reinforced over and over again.

According to Simon Sinek, it is the responsibility of leadership to mentor and empower this next generation and help them reach their full potential. Yes, it is not fair to inherit a problem created by someone else’s choices, but it is the scenario in which business leaders find themselves. And at the end of the day, it does no good to tell these young people to grow up and be responsible for themselves because they don’t know how.

As I reflected on this, I found myself thinking, how much more this is true for the Church. We are all born into brokenness and death, through no fault of our own. We are the children of the Fall, exiled from Eden and suffering because of the sin of Adam. This generation’s struggle begins here and then is compounded by the four characteristics which Sinek has observed.

What Millennials need is what everyone needs, for us to come along side them, to love them where they are and as they are. They need for us to be that true Community of support, mentoring and empowering them, modeling the hard choices of patience and resilience with godliness. What they ultimately need is to experience the lived theology of redemption, reconciliation and restoration. God has a plan and a purpose for their lives. They are His workmanship (cf. Ephesians 2:10), but they are our responsibility (cf. Galatians 6:2).