Wednesday, March 17 2021
In 2016, Harvard epidemiologist Tyler VanderWeele and USA Today editor John Siniff, asked in an op-ed in USA Today, “If one could conceive of a single elixir to improve the physical and mental health of millions of Americans – at no personal cost – what value would society place on it?” The title of the essay was “Religion May Be A Miracle Drug.” Based on new research and 20 years of experience, they conclude that there is a significant connection between attendance at religious services and better health – both physically and mentally. They write, “Something about the communal religious experience and participation matters. Something powerful appears to take place there, and enhances health. It is something quite different from solitary spirituality. Where else today do we find a community with a shared moral and spiritual vision, a sense of accountability, wherein the central task of members is to love and care for one another? The combination of the teachings, the relationships and the spiritual practices — over time, week after week, taken together — gradually alters behavior, creates meaning, alleviates loneliness, and shapes a person in ways too numerous to document.” (Source)
I see a strong connection between these words and Jesus’ above. In what we call the Great Commandment, Jesus connects every aspect of our lives to our relationship with God. Our emotions, our desires, our thoughts, our energies, our bodies, and our relationships. Spiritual health, emotional health, and physical health travel together. Certainly, there are exceptions, but at least in my case the more I love God, the better I love others, and the better I take care of myself. And this starts with the recognition that God has loved us in Jesus with all of His heart, soul, mind, and strength.
I also notice the importance of relationships – how we live with other people. Community plays a very significant role in our spiritual growth. During the pandemic, community has suffered. It has been a year of being apart. This coming Sunday marks the anniversary of when we began dealing with shut-downs, quarantines, and restrictions. But the Coronavirus is not the only pandemic we have experienced. Many refer to rising rates of anxiety and depression as the “pandemic within the pandemic.” Isolation and alienation from others have contributed to this. It is not good to be alone.
With that in mind, let me encourage you to consider a return to 309 Fernwood Dr. to gather with other covenant partners for worship – at either 8, 9:30 or 11. Worship and fellowship with others are both biblically encouraged and experientially proven to be indispensable in our spiritual growth and emotional health. Besides, I just miss seeing you! We do continue to invite our more vulnerable and unvaccinated covenant partners to worship via livestream.
On March 21, we enter the newest phase of our re-opening. Tape blocking alternating pews will be removed allowing us to spread out throughout the sanctuary. Please try to maintain appropriate distance where possible. We do ask that you continue to wear masks when you enter, exit, stand or sing. Masks may be removed when seated. Please be mindful and considerate of those around you. If you are concerned about larger crowds, our 8 and 11 services have ample space. I look forward to seeing you in worship.
Wednesday, January 20 2021
Perspective! In art, it refers to drawing solid 2-dimensional objects on a 2-dimensional surface to give the impression of height, width, depth, and position in relation to other objects. In geometry, perspective deals with the relation of 2 figures on the same plane. More general usage relates to a particular point of view or attitude toward someone or something.
Basically, perspective refers to the way we see things. Its Latin root means “to look through” or “to perceive.” It has to do with gaining understanding. We sometimes use it to refer to the ability to understand what is important and what is not. Keeping things in perspective helps us handle fear, failure, or frustration. It can help us deal with anxiety, apathy, and anger.
Today, I needed some perspective. An email from my 90-year-old father sure helped. It contained a video chronicling all a person born in 1900 would have experienced in their lifetime. At 14 years of age, the world went to war for the first time. In 4 years of war, 22 million people died. The Spanish Flu haunted their late teens and early twenties - killing 50 million people in 2 years. At 29, the stock market crash began the Great Depression. Unemployment reached 30%. From the ages of 39 to 45, World War 2 claimed the lives of 75 million people. Polio killed an half a million people per year during the first 55 years of their lives. Small Pox killed over 300 million during their lifetime. From the age of 55 to 75, they experienced “hot” war in Viet Nam (4 million killed) and “cold” war with the Soviet Union. How did our great-grandparents or grandparent or parents do it? I don’t know the answer to that question. I do know there is no question they understand what we are going through. The video encourages us to take a perspective of gratitude toward them and our present situation.
The writer of Hebrews gives his readers some perspective in the passage above. Hebrews 11 – “the Hall of Faith” – details the acts of faith by some of the great (and not so great) Old Testament characters. Most of these great demonstrations of faith came during extremely difficult circumstances, often over long periods of time, and sometimes ended badly (from some perspectives). These were far from perfect people but they were faithful. These “witnesses” and other “saints” in the crowd cheer us on as we enter the stadium of life. The writer urges us to fix our eyes on Jesus – i.e. get some perspective – as we run the race set before us. Jesus endured the cross for the joy of saving us. If we consider what He endured for us because of His great love for us, we will gain strength and encouragement. These are indeed trying times. So much is beyond our control. But this we can control – where we fix our eyes! Let us fix our eyes – and our perspectives - on Jesus.
Things to Know
* This Week’s Worship – We will meet at our normally scheduled times (8, 9:30, 11am). Child Care and Children’s Church will be provided. Adult Bible Studies are allowed to meet if they desire (Contact Justin Lewis in order to coordinate). The 9:30 and 11:00am three services will be livestreamed – here.
* Our teaching series - “Not Just Another Saturday!” We will continue our 5 week study of WPC’s Code statements. This week: We seek to love and live like Jesus. I encourage you to take a listen to our previous weeks here.
Wednesday, January 06 2021
Adjusting my expectations! Of the many lessons the last almost 11 months, perhaps the most important has been about adjusting expectations. From the moment I heard news of the storm of February 6, few things if any have gone according to plan. This call from Paul to put on the “new self” has everything to do with unmet expectations and our response to them.
The distance between our expectations and reality is disappointment and frustration. It creates fear and hostility. We fear we will not get something we want or lose something we have. Hostility arises to defend what we have or to take what we want. Acting out of this fear and hostility damages others and our own souls.
Paul, instead, encourages us to live out our true identity as God’s holy and beloved sons and daughters. Living out this identity involves responding to disappointing and frustrating relationships, events, and circumstances. We reflect the character of our Father when we respond out of a compassionate heart with kind words and actions, a concern for the well-being of others, a helpful use of our strength, a willingness to wait, seeking to help one another, extending grace to others, and learning how to love in even the most difficult people in the most difficult situations.
Things to Know
* This Week’s Worship – We will meet at our normally scheduled times (8, 9:30, 11am). As with last week, due to a lack of available volunteers because of infections and/or quarantines, we will not have Child Care, Children’s Church, or Sunday School for children or adults. All three services will be live action and the 9:30 and 11am services will be livestreamed – here.
* Wednesday Nights – We are postponing our Wednesday night dinners until January 20 (we were originally going to start January 3) We will only have a family dinner that night. Children and adult programs will resume on February 3rd.
* Our teaching series - “Not Just Another Saturday!” We will continue our 5 week study of WPC’s Code statements. I would encourage you to take a listen to last week’s teaching on “Keeping the Main Thing the Main Thing. You can see that here: livestream.
* Thank you for your faithfulness always, but particularly in the month of December. Thanks to the generosity and commitment of our covenant partners, our budget is in good shape at this point. We have also gotten closer to our stewardship goal.
Tuesday, December 15 2020
Christmas is upon us – and this year, more than any other in recent memory for many of us – this Christmas looks and feels a little different. Our celebrations are always different from year to year, but perhaps this year is more different than usual.
Today, our staff will celebrate our annual Christmas lunch together. I will be asking this group of people – for whom I am very thankful and of whom I am very proud – to respond to this one question. What is the one thing they do not want to thank God for this year but know they need to because it has opened the way to experience the love and goodness of God in new ways?
In Paul’s words above, what “tribulations” or “pressures” do they celebrate because of what it has and is producing in them – perseverance, proven character, and hope. But notice the end result is greater than hope, it is the experience of the love of God. As the Passion translation paraphrases it, “And this hope is not a disappointing fantasy, because we can now experience the endless love of God cascading into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who lives in us!”
So let me ask you (and you can ask me), what do I celebrate this year that I do not necessarily feel like celebrating but I know that without it, I would not have had a deeper experience of God’s love for me in Jesus?
Worship: Please join us for worship on Sunday either live or via livestream as we celebrate Jesus as the Prince of Peace. If you are worried about services being crowded, our 8am and 11am services have plenty of room for you to come and join us.
Stewardship: As we close out our stewardship season, if you have not had the opportunity to fill out a pledge card for our 2020-2021 budget. You can access one on the Realm via the “Giving” tab on the left side menu.
May you be healthy and joyful in this Christmas season!
Thursday, December 10 2020
How are you doing? I have probably never asked or been asked this question as often or with as much sincerity as I have these past nine months. I have probably never answered it or had it answered quite as honestly as I have these past nine months. As we walk through Advent in anticipation of Christmas, a valuable spiritual practice would be to ask Jesus to help us answer this question honestly and in a way that helps us grow in His love for us and our love for Him and others.
In what we call the great commandment, Jesus defines the point and purpose of human life in the context of love and relationships – with God and others. Notice the categories He uses - emotional (heart), psychological (soul), mental (will), physical (strength), and social (relationships). Our life with Jesus encompasses each of these categories. Spiritual growth and maturity involve health in each aspect and across the spectrum of these areas. The spiritual dimension is not a compartment of our lives but the whole.
We can use these words as a check-up of sorts. My doctor usually asks me many questions. We can ask Jesus these questions and ask Him to help us answer them in regard to our own lives.
Emotionally – how am I feeling and how are those feelings creating sadness or skepticism?
Psychological – what do I desire and how is that desire creating frustration or fear?
Mentally – what am I thinking about the most and how are these thoughts creating anger or anxiety?
Physically – how does my body feel and how does it affect my moods and my energy level?
Relationally – how am I treating others in my thoughts, words, & actions?
The deepest question centers on my response to God’s love for me. Jesus is less than 36 hours from His crucifixion when He utters these words. His death and resurrection are the demonstrations of God’s love for us. God loves us with all of His heart, soul, mind, and strength in Jesus. The question this poses is: am I trusting or distrusting God’s goodness and love in my life?
After asking these questions, we can spend some time asking Jesus to help us know His love and then to love Him with all we are and to love others as we love ourselves. May we know the deep love of the Father for us in Jesus. May we learn to love what He loves because He loves us so much. May we learn to love how He loves because He loves us so well.
One final note: Thank you so much for your continued support and involvement with WPC during these difficult days. We are so encouraged by attendance at church, engagement with our livestream, involvement in programs, and the faithfulness and generosity you have displayed. As we conclude our stewardship campaign in the coming weeks, we want to thank those who have made pledges for the upcoming year. If you have not done so, would you consider filling out a pledge card either on-line or by sending in one by mail? We understand these are difficult times for many. We begin our budget planning process in the new year. This information helps us to be good and wise stewards of the resources God entrusts to us.
Thursday, December 03 2020
The cry, “How long, O Lord,” can be found several places in the book of Psalms – the hymnbook of ancient Israel. That phrase certainly resonates in me as we move into our 9th month of pandemic. Despite our doors being open for worship and fellowship events happening throughout the fall, the plague has diminished our ability to be together in praise, prayer and partnership. I long for the days when we will be able to joyfully gather without masks and other precautions.
Perhaps you have entertained or been posed the question, “what have I learned during this pandemic?” Many answers come to mind but I am aware that I am unaware of some lessons I have gained – both positive and negative. The encouraging reality is Jesus teaches us some things while we wait that we may not be able to learn any other way. He wastes nothing!
I offer you another question, posed to me by an elder – what 3 things will I never take for granted again? Perhaps you would answer in regard to time, relationships, or community. My list: Jesus, my family, and our church. Jesus taught me a great deal during this time about Himself, me, and life. I am grateful for the soul work He is doing and helping me do. Fortunately, I have not been cut off from my family and have actually enjoyed the time we have gotten to spend together that a normal busy schedule would not have allowed. Finally, our church has risen to the occasion and shown her true colors in some beautiful ways. We have learned the value of worship and how to trust God to not only meet our needs but to give us an abundance from which to share.
As we head into Advent, I want to invite you to consider to returning to “live action” worship. Livestream is a nice option in a pandemic, when we are out of town or someone is sick. However, nothing beats the power of people gathered together in the name of Jesus. Something happens when we are together that cannot happen any other way. We are taking every precaution to make the environment as healthy as possible. For those who have been coming, please continue. For those still uncertain, we hope you will continue to worship with us via livestream and stay connected to us. We need each other!
Monday, November 09 2020
As 2020, “The Year of Fear,” continues to surprise us, I am reminded of how Jesus teaches us to pray by first reminding ourselves of the Father’s love for us and goodness toward us. Then we pray for His Kingdom to come and His will to be done. We invite him into our world and our worlds. I ran across this prayer from Thomas a Kempis from The Imitation of Christ that I found helpful for these days.
2 things to be aware of:
1) Men’s Breakfast Gathering at Spartanburg High School Fine Arts Center on Saturday November 14 from 8:30-10:00am. Dr. Russell Booker will share with us his experiences as a follower of Jesus, man, husband, father, African-American, educator and leader in our community. Russell is a good friend and I am excited about what he will share with us on Saturday. I hope you will make every effort to be there. Please contact Kirk Johnston at firstname.lastname@example.org if you plan to be there so we can have coffee and biscuits.
2) Thanksgiving meal and service on Wednesday night, November 18. Dinner at 5:30 and Worship at 6:30. We will have a time of open sharing for people to express things they are thankful for this past year. Brief statements are welcomed and encouraged.
Finally, with each passing week I grow ever more thankful for each of you and this church body. I also grow in my desire for us to all be together in worship and fellowship!
Sunday, October 25 2020
I am so proud of the fact that for the last 7 months of the pandemic, Westminster has worshipped every Sunday morning in our sanctuary. We have been able to livestream services for people unable to attend. We have worshipped together outside for 5 months. Many people have stepped up to help make this happen!!!
As we head into November, our schedule will need to change largely due to weather. Our staff and session have worked diligently to plan for this next phase of our rebuilding of community. This is not our final stage of rebuilding but it is a step in the right direction.
Please understand our choir will not be available for health reasons until at least the beginning of 2021. As a result, our 11am service will be slightly different for the time being. We hope the addition of some praise music and special music will add to the beauty of our traditional songs and elements.
This schedule offers an early traditional service, a contemporary service, and a later blended service in order to optimize our use of space to enable social distancing.
Starting on this Sunday November 1. (We have ordered you an extra hour of sleep just for the change!)
8:00am – Contemplative service
several hymns, liturgy, sermon (no child-care or livestream)
9:30am – Contemporary Service
praise music, some liturgy, sermon (child-care & livestream)
11:00 – Blended
several hymns, praise music, and/or special music, liturgy, sermon (child care & livestream)
We will continue to require masks and perform temperature checks for health reasons. Thank you for your support, encouragement, and understanding over these last many months and in the months to come.
Thursday, September 10 2020
The 3 most important factors in real estate (or so I have heard) are location, location, location. I would argue that the 3 most important factors in relationships – and in church – is communication, communication, communication! So, in an effort to communicate and at the risk of over-communicating, I write to remind you about our newest worship schedule:
8:00am indoor service with hymns, prayers and a sermon.
Expect this service to last around 45 minutes. For health reasons, masks will be required, temperatures will be checked, and we will practice social distancing. We recognize this may not be ideal and appreciate your patience.
Expect this service to last 45-60 minutes. Masks not required.
10:30am indoor & live-streamed
This is our live stream service (watch it here). Expect this service to last a little over an hour. For health reasons, masks will be required, temperatures will be checked, and we will practice social distancing. We recognize this may not be ideal and appreciate your patience
I know many of us may not be quite ready to return to large group gatherings for a variety of reasons. I do want to encourage you to keep the habit or re-start the habit of worshipping with us – either live at any of the services or virtually through our live-stream services (watch it here). If you are like me, it has been all to easy to forsake some good habits and pick up some bad ones during the Corona-cation. One of the key spiritual practices, basic movements, or helpful habits of the spiritual life is fellowship – the art or skill of showing up and staying involved. This is certainly not just corporate worship, but it is certainly not less. As we are beginning to start getting back to some semblance of normal, may be thoughtful in establishing and maintaining habits that help us grow closer to God and one another. I am reminded of this pithy saying –
Sow a thought, reap and action.
Sow an action, reap a habit.
Sow a habit, reap a lifestyle.
Sow a lifestyle, reap a destiny.
Hope to see you Sunday or at least be seen by you!
Monday, August 31 2020
“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…” (Hebrews 10:24-25).
We are rebuilding our house. The tornado of February left some gaping holes in our roof and rainwater damaged our ceilings and floors. We are learning that rebuilding requires a good plan, hard work, time and many decisions. Things must be done in order. Steps cannot be skipped. One must keep in mind the purpose – to make it our home again, a place for our family and friends to be together.
As a church, we are not rebuilding our facility but we are rebuilding our community. The Coronavirus forced us out of our place of worship, physical distancing created social distance, and, perhaps, some of us have experienced an erosion in our involvement in our faith community. The storm is not completely over yet. We have begun and continue our efforts to re-engage with one another. It requires a good plan, hard work, time and many decisions. But the purpose is to make and provide spaces for us to fellowship and grow in faith together as spiritually mature followers of Jesus.
I am happy to announce the beginning of another phase of our rebuilding and reengaging efforts.
Please consider joining us for these worship services and fellowship opportunities. If you are still unable to join us physically, I invite you to continue to worship with us each Sunday via our livestream.