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encouragement from steve wise

Thursday, May 28 2020

Dear friends,

Ekklessia, the word for “church” in the New Testament, has nothing to do with buildings and everything to do with people. It is defined as a gathering of people called out of their homes into some public place or assembly. The New Testament defines the Church as those who have been called out of sin and death and into the kingdom of God. 

This ekklesia of Christ is often called the body or bride of Christ which shows the importance of the community of faith. Eugene Peterson writes, “The gospel is never [just] for individuals but always for a people. Sin fragments us, separates us, and sentences us to solitary confinement. Gospel restores us, unites us, and sets us in community…Love cannot exist in isolation: away from others, love bloats into pride” (Reversed Thunder, 43). 

Thus, being together is a very important aspect and practice of our faith. Community is where we are formed and shaped, to learn how to be loved and to love. Our Sunday worship serves as one of the most important things we can do and do together as believers and followers of Jesus. Even CNN, in an article entitled “4 Reasons Why the Rush To Reopen Churches Goes Beyond Politics,” recognizes the importance of community in the Christian faith. They understand that Sunday assemblies are a “most ancient tradition,” “at the very origins of Christianity,” and “important for this day.” 

We are excited to begin the process of regathering this Sunday, May 31st. We will start a new teaching series on the first 5 chapters of the book of Revelation – the Last Word. This material contains letters to seven churches in Asia Minor preparing them to deal with uncertain times and challenges to their faith. I am looking forward to this conversation together.

We will have two in person worship options while continuing to live stream our service at 9:30am – here. We encourage those in our most vulnerable populations to continue to worship with us from home.

Our two live options are:

  • 9:30 am – Worship in the sanctuary (this is the livestreamed service) will be open to a maximum of 100 worshippers. Overflow in the Fellowship Hall will be open for a maximum of 35 people. More details can be found here. Please remember to sign up here if you plan on attending this service.
     
  • 11:15am – Outdoor worship on the back lawn of the Emory Road House. Attendees are encouraged to bring chairs or blankets to sit on. Our members and guests should spread out and maintain appropriate distances from other families and individuals. There are NO sign-ups required. You can find more details here. Remember to dress more for the weather than for church!

I look forward to worshipping with all of you and being able to see some of you!

Your friend,
Steve Wise

Posted by: Steve AT 03:16 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Sunday, May 24 2020

Dear friends,

The writer of Hebrews, in the “salad of Scripture,” [dad joke alert] urges: “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Hebrews 10:24-25). We have not been forsaking assembling together but we have not been able to meet together now for 10 weeks. But I am excited that is about to change!

We plan to gather for worship again on May 31st. Rest assured that our livestream service will continue indefinitely for those who are in vulnerable populations or are not comfortable with returning to larger gatherings. But we have two options for gathered worship. We will follow guidelines laid out by medical professionals and governmental institutions for both services.

  • 9:30 am – Worship in the sanctuary (this is the livestreamed service) will be open to a maximum of 100 worshippers. Overflow in the Fellowship Hall will be open for a maximum of 35 people. More details can be found here. We request you to sign-up if you plan on attending this service here.
     
  • 11:15am – Outdoor worship on the back lawn of the Emory Road House. Attendees are encouraged to bring chairs or blankets to sit on. Our members and guests should spread out and maintain appropriate distances from other families and individuals. There are NO sign-ups required. You can find more details here.

Finally, our team of folks has worked hard to come up with a great plan to get us re-connected wisely, effectively and in a healthy way. Please take time to thank Rachel Segars, Matt Smith, Loring Aument, Karen Copley, Dr. Jay Bearden, and Cathy Hyatt for their efforts.

Your friend,

Steve Wise

Posted by: Steve AT 03:15 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Thursday, May 14 2020

Dear friends,

After the tornado decided to leave 3 trees on my roof, I remember going to my house with my chainsaw in hand not knowing where to start. I felt like I was trying to put out a forest fire with a water pistol. And then people started showing up. Each one did what little they could and eventually we dug out. Now that the coronavirus has wreaked its havoc, many of us are looking around at the damage caused and wonder where to start.

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians, “Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). This comes right after he identifies the fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control – which never break the Law. Paul then makes direct application – restore the wayward and help the struggling in real and tangible ways. The word “bear” refers to taking up something with one’s own hands and speaks of personal involvement. A burden deals with anything heavy, troublesome or weighs one down. This could be physical, relational, emotional, or spiritual.

After 8 weeks of the Corona-vacation or the shutdown (depending on how you see it), many if not all of us are burdened in some way, shape or form. These burdens may relate to job loss, financial stress, or relational difficulties. They may involve difficult emotions, hard decisions, and unpleasant choices. Now is the time for us to take care of one another and find ways to bear one another’s burdens. This is what being the church – the community of Jesus – is about.

So let me encourage those among us who are presently strong to be alert to the needs of those who are weakened at this time. Look after those you know. When you hear about that “thing” - make the phone call, write the note, reach out to check on them.

And let me encourage those who are weakened to reach out to others for help – perhaps with a close friend, a small group, or an elder or minister of the Church. Sometimes we can feel like everybody knows and nobody cares when in fact everybody cares but nobody knows.

So in the words of Paul translated by Eugene Peterson in The Message: “All praise to the God and Father of our Master, Jesus the Messiah! Father of all mercy! God of all healing counsel! He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us. We have plenty of hard times that come from following the Messiah, but no more so than the good times of his healing comfort—we get a full measure of that, too” (2 Corinthians 1:3-5).

Your friend

Steve Wise

Posted by: Steve AT 03:15 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
Tuesday, May 05 2020

Dear friends, 

The political conversation focuses on the re-opening of our nation. Personal conversations center on the return to some kind of “normal.” As a church, we turn our thoughts to the re-opening of the Church for worship and fellowship.  The rebuilding of the Temple recorded in the book of Ezra (3:10-13) and Zechariah (4:10) teaches some important lessons for us in this process.

In 539 BC, Zerubbabel, the appointed governor, led the Judean Exiles back to Jerusalem from Babylon. Cyrus, the Persian King, granted him authority to rebuild the Temple which had been destroyed in 586BC. The priests mark the completion of the foundation – the first step in the process – with a worship service. The singers praised the Lord, “For He is good, for His lovingkindness is upon Israel forever.” Priests sang this same refrain hundreds of years before when David brought the Ark of the Covenant into the city and when Solomon finished the Temple. The Psalmists use it on 5 different occasions. Jeremiah refers to it when he promises restoration to Judah after their coming exile. This is prophecy fulfilled right in the pages of Scripture!

The people respond in two very different ways. One group “shouted with a great shout” – an expression of excitement like a battle cry or a victory chant at the conclusion of this first step. Others, mostly priests and elders with some memory of the original Temple, “wept with a loud voice.” Does their emotion reveal disappointment over the reduced size or gratitude for seeing this new day or a little of both?  The shouts and cries were so loud “one could not distinguish the sound of joy from the sound of weeping.” Zechariah responds to these weepers with a promise and a challenge. He assures them Zerubbabel will finish this Temple.  He also confronts them for “despising the day of small beginnings.” Zechariah’s promise would be fulfilled – but it would take another 20 years. Construction would be stopped by local opposition and a new Persian king. But the message is clear – do not judge the finished product by the steps along the way.   

We are not rebuilding a Temple but we are preparing to re-open our Church. Ezra and Zechariah teach us some important lessons. First, changes – known and unknown - are happening all around us. Things will be different! Our return to corporate worship may not look like we think it will or feel like we think it should. This may cause sorrow and frustration for some of us. Second, celebrating steps along the way is not the same thing as being finished. But celebrating steps is important. Third, we can defeat discouragement in the process by worshiping along the way. Joy comes through reminding ourselves, as the Judeans did, of God’s goodness and love.

Dave Gunderson, in a timely article about change, gives us four important attitudes and actions to cultivate as we re-open our Church. First, operate in gratitude rather than nostalgia.  Give thanks for the past rather than comparing it to the present. Second, anticipation replaces uncertainty. We look for the things God wants to teach and do in this time rather than living out of fear and anxiety. Thirdly, communication minimizes confusion and the tendency to withdraw or attack in irritation or frustration. The antidote is working hard to understand one another and to help others understand us. And finally, active participation moves us beyond mere excitement. Spectators turn into players.

Our session has established a team of people to help guide us through the process of reopening. This team will work closely with our staff to determine the wisest, most efficient, and healthiest ways of returning to our corporate gatherings. We are asking each of you to fill out this survey ASAP to help us in our prayerful planning. We encourage multiple responses from each household (i.e. spouses and children).

Your friend

Steve Wise

Posted by: Steve AT 03:14 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email
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