There is a peculiar line toward the end of the Apostle’s Creed, which says, “I believe in…the communion of saints.” From ancient times, the church has confessed the belief that church consists of people both living and dead who participate in the ongoing mission of the church. In the ancient church, the dead were considered “the church triumphant.” The living saints were called “the church militant.”
This time of year is both a celebration of the Reformation and All Saints Day. Ironically, The Reformation marks the great divide in the church, while All Saints Day celebrates our unity with all the saints both living and dead.
Halloween is actually a secularized version of the Christian celebration of “All Hallows Eve”, which was the church’s remembrance of all the saints who have died. We who are alive are still in "communion" with those who have died.
Hebrews describes this beautiful “communion” with these words: “But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heave. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” (Hebrews 12:22-24)
When I was a child, all the “saints” I knew were living. With the passage of years I have lost grandparents, friends, church members and acquaintances who have joined “the church triumphant.” Eventually, it will reach a tipping point where I will know more saints who have died than those who are alive.
It is a great comfort to me that those in the Lord who have died still love, encourage and help me. They are the “great cloud of witnesses” that surround the living. I believe in “the communion of saints..”
In the aftermath of the worst mass shooting in our history, Americans are struggling once again with the disorienting reality that our “village” is not safe. America is supposed to be different than those “other” nations. Our founding fathers came here to escape tyrants and violent persecution.
Almost before the sickening sounds of the bullets raining down from Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas had ceased, our citizens were once again debating about what can stop these random acts of violence. The proposed solutions reveal the deep divide among us. Opinions range from banning guns to others who think we need more guns. I am not an expert on such things. I am neither a gun owner nor the son of a gun owner. Many of my friends are avid hunters and have an attachment to their rifles, whereas other friends would be in favor of stiff gun control laws.
Behind the debate, I hear a much deeper question- “What happened to our village?” Since 9/11 , our self-awareness as a country has changed. Before, we believed that military conflicts happened elsewhere, but not on our soil. Terrorism was something we saw on our televisions, but not in our back yards. When I was a child, the ministerial organization in our small Illinois town organized an effort to bring Laotian refugees to our city in order to escape their war torn country. Tragically, one of the Laotians was killed in the US by a drive-by shooter. Such inexplicable violence might happen in Laos, but not in land of Lincoln and not in Las Vegas.
The question of security is the theme of one of my favorite movies “The Village.” If you have not seen the movie, I highly encourage you to watch it. The setting takes place in a peaceful village with built in protections to keep this utopia from being ruined by attempts to live life on the outside. The dress requirements are extremely modest and the rules are lovingly stringent. In spite of all precautions, however, evil rears its head in this weaponless society. Spoiler alert. Toward the end of the movie, we learn that the elders of the village had previously lived in modern society and had their lives deeply affected by tragic deaths of loved ones due to crime and violence, Creating the village was the elders attempt to eliminate such painful grief. As you might guess, all of their precautions did not keep tragedy from occurring.
There is a great quote toward the end of the movie by one of the elders named August. He says, “you may run from sorrow as we have, but sorrow will find you. It can smell you.”
And yet, the movie also has redeeming hope. Ivy, a blind girl, makes a journey to the “outside” in order to get some much-needed medicine. She meets up with a stranger who helps her get the medicine. Her description of the stranger to the other villagers was profound: “I heard kindness in his voice. I did not expect that.” It is the blind girl who truly sees.
So what is the antidote to our troubled world? Become a Christian! Isn’t that the expected response of Christian pastor?
You may read or hear people who espouse to Christians” suggesting this act of violence was a judgment from God. It is not. They do not represent the one who was willingly broken for our broken world. It is a crude attempt to explain what happened to our village. Judge them gently. We all are struggling with the same question.
The truth is, at our best we Christians are imperfect, and at our worst we are imposters. I suppose I toggle somewhere between the two.
And yet, my faith helps me navigate through the abyss.
Jesus didn’t promise a utopian village. He indicated that “sorrow” would find us. “In this world you will have trouble.” Jesus said.
Jesus did not come to eliminate risk from the world. In some ways, His kingdom exacerbates it. The power of love and service is an affront to ruling kings and kingdoms that lead through strength and power.
Like the blind seer, Ivy, people of faith hear the unexpected kindness in the voices of unlikely people. We see love and light in the eyes of everyday heroes. When evil reigns down a thousand bullets of cruelty, my faith combats them with a million acts of kindness. We really do have a nation of beautiful people who need to be healed with hugs instead of divided with hateful rhetoric.
Finally, my faith sees a land beyond this land. We believe in the peaceable kingdom, the virtuous village, the “land that is fairer than day”, the city of God.
Our life task is making this land a little more like that land-that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. May God bless all our efforts and may God bring comfort and healing to all who mourn in the village of Vegas. After Jesus promised that in this life we would “have trouble” he left us with a promise of hope. “Take heart”, Jesus said, “I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
At the news of a massacre that seems only miles away, who can console? In the midst of a devastating hurricane season, who can provide? In a world filled with terror, who offers security? In fear, where is comfort? In the midst of inadequacy, who defines worth?
If I look down, I see the tears shed on behalf of those lives lost in Las Vegas. If I look down, I see the heads of those bowed in sadness or even in protest. My heart is broken. If I look down, I might be tempted to only look down. I’m sick of seeing these things. Disaster after devastation and fear covered in reality. And, if I’m being honest, it absolutely terrifies me.
Therefore, if I look inward, I will only find the uncertainty and fear in the depths of my being. I don’t have any answers for this devastation and evil. At the end of the day, I can love and also contribute...but I really can’t make a significant difference, can I? As I watch the footage from inside the concert arena, my stomach literally churns and fear floods my heart. To think that even I could have been at that event...or that my mom could’ve been there. My brother, his son. My dad. My closest friend or even my future husband. In the tender parts of my heart, which is often ridden with anxiety, those types of thoughts are absolutely debilitating. Fear is exhausting.
If I look outward, I might see my closest friend or neighbor who is quick to offer a hug or word of encouragement. Those words are comforting, yes. They temporarily conquer my ever present fear of being alone. The significance of surrounding ourselves with people who love and support us cannot be underestimated. I find occasional certainty in the affirmation of others and can temporarily hold onto loyalty in the accountability of those I trust. If I’m not careful, I can discover bits and pieces of my worth in the opinions of those that surround me. I can relish in the areas of life they compliment and I can find my self-worth and strength in their opinions of me. If those opinions are not exactly what I hope to hear, I often revert to looking inward...and we’ve already discovered that not much comes from that.
Looking back might be an option….back to the days when things like massacres didn’t happen. But has there ever been such a day? As a matter of fact, I like the accomplishments and moments of glory from the past. We do it in the government and even in our jobs. We look back when we speak of accomplishments in school. I look back to times where I felt I was making a difference and was capable of holding everything together. We celebrate our previous achievements. But there is absolutely no way to move forward when our eyes are focused on what is behind us.
So, then what? My heart is too broken to console myself and those around me are too unreliable to faithfully hold me up. Looking down and only mourning offers no consolation, but looking backwards hinders any movement forward.
“I lift my eyes up to the hills, from where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not let my foot be moved. He who keeps me will not slumber. Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is my keeper, the Lord is my shade on my right hand. The sun shall not strike me by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep me from all evil, He will keep my life. The Lord will keep my going out and my coming in from this time forth and forevermore.” [Psalm 121, ESV, emphasis mine]
I don’t understand evil, terror, fear, devastation, or loneliness. I don’t have all the answers. I do know, however, that the One this passage speaks of does have all the answers and He holds me in the very palm of His hand. It doesn’t always make sense nor do I fully understand, but I have no doubt it is truth. I am certain, however, that if I do not look UP to the One who holds me in the very palm of His hand, I’m left only looking down, inward, outward, or behind. When looking in those directions, there is no help to be found.
~ Emily Harbin
Our nation is struggling with a question of patriotism? What is the appropriate posture when our national anthem is played? Do we remove our hats, stand, salute or do we even stand at all? I stand with hand over heart but then I take it one step further. I sing!
I’m the guy in the stadium next to you that’s a little embarrassing because most men don’t sing in public. I sing anyway. I sing with reckless abandon. I sing though our anthem is one of the hardest songs to sing in much the same way that the American experiment is difficult to embody.
Our anthem of freedom wasn’t meant to be sung easily. Some argue for a simpler song but I say we should keep it difficult. Our struggle is not easy so why should it be comfortable to sing America’s song.
I sing though my aging voice struggles to reach the lilting heights of our freedom song’s finish. Excuse me sir. Don’t look at me with distain. This is why I sing…
I sing for those who wear the uniform as I once proudly did. I sing for the conscientious objector whose convictions of peace is a vital part of the soul of this nation.
I sing for those who stand with hands on heart. I sing for those who take a stand by refusing to stand.
I sing for Native peoples who now share their prosperous land with peoples from around the globe even if not by choice.
I sing for George Washington’s march across the Potomac when freedom’s flame was only a flicker.
I sing for slaves huddled in overcrowded ships like animals, ripped from their homelands in order to work under the whip of oppression.
I sing for Harriet Tubman’s underground railroad, for Frederick Douglas’ voice and pen that dealt slavery a stinging blow. I sing with former slave ship captain John Newton who repented of his dehumanizing sins and penned the words to “Amazing Grace.”
I sing for the glory of my home in the North and for my sweet adopted home in Dixie. I sing for the wonder of a nation that was restored after the deep divisions that divided us.
I sing for Dr. King’s dream, for John F. Kennedy’s American idealism, and for Ronald Reagan’s winsome words that made us more proud to be Americans than members of a particular political party.
I sing for the hopeless both far and near yearning to find freedom and “welcome” here.
I sing for Muslims, Hindus, Christians, and Jews. And yes, I sing for athiests too.
I sing not to incite hatred, but to inspire love.
Wait a minute. Here it comes. The big finish. “O’er the land of the freeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!! And the home of the brave!
This is why I sing.
I don’t know about you, but I like my personal space. If you lean in too close while whispering a secret, I’m probably going to casually lean back and inch towards the nearest exit. You are welcome to tell me all your secrets, but feel free to speak them in a regular voice instead of leaning in super close to whisper in my ear. I like my space. I typically sit on the first row at church. Always have. My dad’s in the ministry, so I grew up sitting on the first row of quite a few different churches. You are welcome to sit on the first row with me in one of those empty seats, but please leave a seat (or two) in between mine and the one you choose. I like my space.
Statistics show that, as Americans, we are most comfortable if there is 1 ½ - 3 feet of space between us - even if we’re close friends. If we are strangers, it’s most comfortable if we stay about 4 feet away from each other, and if I’m speaking to a large group, it’s a good idea to be at least 12 feet from the front of the crowd. Statistics also show that once a room reaches 70% of its capacity, it is full and people don’t feel as comfortable. We have been hovering close to 70% capacity in our sanctuary and have even been over that number some this summer. This is one of the reasons we’ve decided to expand to two services. We want you to feel comfortable and we want to have plenty of space for even more new faces to feel comfortable!
I’ve only been at Life Church for a few short months, and, truth is, it feels like I’ve been here for much longer than that. Because my dad was in the ministry, I remember being a part of 5 churches in one capacity or another during middle school and high school. Since I began college, I’ve been a part of (and served on the worship team in some capacity) at 5 other churches. I say all that to say, there is something incredibly different about Life Church. There is A LOT different about Life Church. Since day one, I’ve felt like I can “be myself,” and I see that echoed in so many of those who call Life Church their home. We are all so different from one another, and yet, we worship and serve together. I truly believe that’s a small picture of what heaven is actually going to look like.
You’ve probably heard that we’re asking those who call Life Church their home to “worship one and serve one.” Think of this as an opportunity to pour into all those who will be visiting Life Church for the first time. This is our opportunity to exemplify what Life Church is all about - it's our opportunity to love like Christ would. We need joyful faces to wave cars into the parking lots and warm smiles to serve coffee in the lobby. We need computer-savvy folks to help in the back, musically-gifted folks to help in the front, and folks who love children to work in the other building. HE is the ONLY reason we are here - I challenge you to continue to make that evident to all who enter our doors!
Starting this Sunday, we will have even more space available for friends, neighbors, and families. Don’t simply invite them, bring them! I truly believe the atmosphere is different and ever-changing here at Life Church. We can’t keep it to ourselves. Without a doubt, I’m confident that God is preparing to do even more than we could ever ask or imagine. I can’t wait. As a matter of fact, I hope we fill to capacity, and at that point, you’re more than welcome to sit right next to me on that front row!!
The full orb of the moon cast a warm glow on a vigil with eternal implications. A chorus of cicadas chirped in the distance. The first kiss of autumn cooled the night air. The light emanating from the second window from the right on 912 North Meadows Boulevard was dim. Her breathing grew shallow, Her eyes focused on a world we could not see. Judy Bagwell began her long transition from this world to the next. Worship music, prayers and expressions of love provided surround sound in her bedroom. This was holy ground.
In the brightly lit living room just outside of this sacred setting, the television broadcast the first game of the University of Tennessee football season. In healthier times, Judy's hospitable home hosted scores of football parties. Judy's cooking took center stage at these soirees, By kickoff, however, the kitchen work was finished. Judy was in her favorite chair cheering on her beloved Volunteers.
Judy was a man's kind of a woman. She liked football, watching Westerns and riding on the back of a motorcycle with her man Morris. Lest, however, you think she was simply a tomboy; think again. Judy had a black belt in shopping. She was the sharpest dresser in our church. She was always decked with jewelry and shoes that perfectly matched whatever outfit she was wearing that day. When our church became more casual, Judy did not. She had no criticism for others, but on Sundays she wanted to look her best for worshipping Jesus. One of Judy’s roles at the church was greeting people at the front door so that our guests could see at least one immensely elegant and dignified person before being introduced to the rest of our motley crew.
The opening game of the Tennessee football season was conspicuously unimportant on this night. Tonight, the game simply provided a distraction to family and friends who needed to step away from their grief for a few moments. The glow from Judy's bedroom far eclipsed the glare of the bright living room because we knew then what we have always known-knowing Jesus was all that mattered. On this night, no passage of Scripture was needed to bolster this claim. We had the living witness of one of Jesus' most devoted followers-Judy Bagwell. Those of us gathered in Judy’s home that evening thought it was the end. It was, however, only the beginning of the end.
As we reflect of Judy's life, we may imagine that it would be better for us to be at a party in Judy's living room than at her funeral. Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived had a different opinion.
2Better to spend your time at funerals than at parties.
After all, everyone dies--
so the living should take this to heart.
3 Sorrow is better than laughter,
for sadness has a refining influence on us.
4 A wise person thinks a lot about death,
while a fool thinks only about having a good time. (Ecclesiastes 7:2-4)
We have come tonight to learn from Bagwell University. Before, however, we get too deep into the lesson, Judy gave me one instruction. Keep my funeral somewhat light, but not too light.
There are some lighter moments to reflect on. When Judy was first diagnosed with ovarian cancer many of us who were standing in her room were speechless due to the heaviness of the moment. Judy broke the ice by asking, "Why is everyone standing over me like a bunch of vultures."
One day her friend Debbie Cook was visiting from Morristown and Judy knew that the next morning, Debbie was going to be back in Knoxville for work. Judy didn't want her to have to travel all that way so she said, "You big dummy, why didn't you bring your clothes and sleep at my house?”
There was one medicine-induced moment when she insisted that she had to have "cow tails" candy at her funeral. I choose to believe that through the fog she was thinking of me. She knew I always emptied her amazing candy dishes of those deadly "tails."
When Judy went under the care of hospice she asked if they had hospice in South Africa because she so badly wanted to go on one last Missionary "getaway" later this month. Throughout the years, she traveled the world, bringing music and ministry to weary missionaries on foreign fields. Judy was the perfect musician for these trips. She knew everything from the oldest hymn to the most current worship chorus. I believe if they had given the okay, she would have spent her last moments ministering to missionaries.
Instead, however, she ministered in her home from her new fancy recliner. She talked about her Jesus to everyone who would listen. She prayed for people, blessed people, spoke on the phone with people, face timed people and even made a video recording for our church baby dedication in which she prayed over each of those babies whom she loved dearly. Judy inspired all of us with the faith and fearlessness with which she faced her own impending death. On one particular day, she went through her closet deciding which outfit she wanted to wear to meet her sweet Jesus.
Where did this kind of faith come from? Judy's faith was forged as a young child being raised by a godly mother. She walked out that faith as a young girl, playing the piano and singing in her home church. One night, as a sixteen-year-old, she was singing at church when she caught the eye of a young man who was visiting her church with his girlfriend. Until Judy sang, he was slouched down in his pew near the back of the sanctuary. He slowly sat up in his seat, however, as he heard the angelic voice of the person he described as the prettiest little Indian girl he had ever seen. The following Sunday, he figured out a way to leave his other date early to go over to Judy Bowman’s house to "listen to records." Surprisingly, shy little Judy was the one to initiate this invitation. The other girl faded into the background as he was smitten by Judy. Judy and Morris were married within the year.
Morris had a larger than life personality, but Judy clearly kept him grounded. She was the love of his life. Judy was not a wallflower or a sidekick. She was a minister in her own right. After Morris’ death everyone know she would be okay when she famously pointed at her husband’s body during his funeral and made a play on the wording of her last name and said, “He’s the bag, and I’m very well.” It was a joke Morris used to play on her calling Judy “the bag” Judy, however, got the last laugh.
Most of my knowledge of Judy came after Morris' death. She grieved him greatly. She regularly visited his grave and spoke of him often but she didn't stop living. She became an elder in our church due to the mature example she was for people who are growing in their faith. She was a woman of prayer. She read her Bible daily. Judy was reading the entire Bible from cover to cover this year as she had in other years as well.
Judy made her home a haven for people in need of community. She didn’t recognize race or status and treated everyone equally. She had a servant's heart. Judy didn't like to speak on stage. Her personal interactions with people were her pulpit. Judy was a quiet giver. If she knew somebody was in need, she quietly gave to help him or her out. She loved preacher’s kids and was especially kind to my children.
Her home was always immaculate but she had the rare ability to make people feel comfortable in a perfectly kept home. She let people eat in the living room, dining room, kitchen, or on her back deck. She didn’t like to use paper plates. She would rather do the dishes so that her guests could feel special. One great example of her hospitality is that she had a beautiful in ground pool and she didn’t even swim. She had it put in so the rest of us could have a good time.
I consulted with one of her dearest and longest friends, Phyllis Cantrell, about what I was missing about Judy’s earlier life. After thinking for some time she assured me that I hadn’t missed a thing. The beautiful Christian lady who always wore a smile was the same now as she had always been. The trajectory of her life was set by her early relationship with Jesus.
Judy was blessed with great friends. Many of them came from other parts of the state and country to say their good-byes. Steve and Mariann Kidd even stopped by on their annual trip to Knoxville from South Africa. Judy held tightly to a “word” given to her by Mariann that not one branch of her tree would be broken. She understood that to mean her whole family would serve the Lord. Condolences for Judy are being received from around the world.
Judy was all about family. She loved her children Lora and Lakieta and her grandchildren Ben and Eric fiercely. She also loved her great granddaughter Kinzli. She treated her new son in law Jamie as her own. She loved her sisters and brothers and all her extended relatives. She was their biggest fan and she made it her life goal that all of them would know the Lord like she did. In fact, that is what she wanted for all of us.
The opening night of the Tennessee football season began her final chapter in this life. She would somehow live eight more days. Her final days seemed to be marked by signs in the heavens; a total eclipse, two epic hurricanes, and one beautiful God kissed moonlit night. Tennessee, by the way, won that game dramatically in overtime. Compared to the beauty, love and faith that surrounded Judy, however, the game paled in comparison.
Earlier that day, on my morning drive to work I was listening to the Bible as is my custom. These ancient words from Isaiah billowed through my speakers. I knew I had to use them for Judy’s funeral.
“6 This is what the Lord says—Israel’s King and Redeemer, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies:
“I am the First and the Last;
there is no other God.
7 Who is like me?
You are my witnesses—is there any other God?
No! There is no other Rock—not one!”
13 the wood-carver measures a block of wood
and draws a pattern on it.
He works with chisel and plane
and carves it into a human figure.
He gives it human beauty
and puts it in a little shrine.
He falls down in front of it,
worshiping and praying to it.
“Rescue me!” he says.
“You are my god!”
18 Such stupidity and ignorance!
Their eyes are closed, and they cannot see.
Their minds are shut, and they cannot think.
19 The person who made the idol never stops to reflect,
“Why, it’s just a block of wood!
He trusts something that can’t help him at all.
Yet he cannot bring himself to ask,
“Is this idol that I’m holding in my hand a lie?”  (Excerpts from Isaiah 44)
What are you trusting in today? What lie are you holding onto? Is it career? Sports? Education? Money? Fame? Politics? There is nothing wrong with pursuing a career, or cheering for your team, getting an education, making money or voting for your candidate. Compared to knowing Jesus, however, they are just a block of wood. Worthless idols.
Nothing else matters
The Apostle Paul, after recounting his resume including his education, his blood lineage, and his religious zeal, said,
“7 I once thought these things were valuable, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. 8 Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. 10 I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, 11 so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead!  (Philippians 3:7-11)”
Nothing else matters
The Psalmist said it this way: Some trust in chariots, and some in horses, but we will trust in the name of the Lord our God. (Psalm 20:7)
Nothing else matters!
The hymn writer put it this way: “My hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness, I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name. On Christ the solid rock I stand all other ground is sinking sand all other ground is sinking sand.
Nothing else matters!
At Bagwell university we learn that only Jesus can give you peace that passes understanding, joy unspeakable and courage in the face of death. Judy will never have another bad day. Suffering for her has ended. Pain for her has ceased.
On the week before our three babies at the church were dedicated, I was trying to record a video of Judy praying for them. On my first attempt, she was just too sick to do it so I decided to try later in the week. Judy was really focused on doing it and all night one night she kept crying out, I’ve got to pray for those babies.
Finally we were able to get a recording. When she was finished she was exhausted. She called Lakieta and Lora and Ben and Natalie over to her chair. She clearly said, “I’m finished now. I’m finished” These moments were so intimate that Melanie and I quietly stepped away and returned to our home in order to give them this special private time.
Later that night, Lora posted a picture on Facebook of her mother along with the text of Proverbs 31 describing the virtuous woman. One of the lines of that Proverb says, “her children rise up and call her blessed.” Lora. Lakieta and Jamie- The care you provided your mother over these last weeks was awe inspiring. You put careers and homes on hold so you could constantly be with her. You were amazing nurses and caregivers. Even Ben and Natalie took up residence at the end. It was like an extended camp in. We laughed, cried, and ate great food provided by so many wonderful friends. I can’t name you all, but each of you was important to Judy and the family is forever grateful for your care in these days.
I feel so blessed that our families are forever intermingled now by the marriage of our children. I teased Lora and Lakieta that the Nordstrom family was legitimate until we got mixed up with those Bagwells.
I covet your prayers. Melanie and I have been asked to do an impossible task-filling the shoes of Morris and Judy Bagwell. We can never replicate their ministry. God broke the mold when he created Morris and Judy Bagwell. Melanie and I promise with everything in us to honor their legacy of service at our church along with our founders, Paul and Jean Cowell. More importantly, Melanie and I will point people to the same Jesus they pointed people to.
Nothing else matters.
On the morning of September 12 when I received the call that Judy had passed, I quickly got dressed and came over to the house. I was amazed at what I saw. The family was no longer in Judy’s room crying. They were cleaning. The vacuum cleaner was running, beds were being made and dishes were being washed.
Lora explained. Mom mom told us that when you wake up in the morning, be sure to make your beds are made because if you were to die that day somebody might come and find your bedroom a mess. She told a story of Judy getting in a wreck one day and the first thought that crossed her mind was, “my bed’s not made.”
Let’s review what we know…
“We know that when these bodies of ours are taken down like tents and folded away, they will be replaced by resurrection bodies in heaven—God-made, not hand-made—and we’ll never have to relocate our “tents” again. Sometimes we can hardly wait to move—and so we cry out in frustration. Compared to what’s coming, living conditions around here seem like a stopover in an unfurnished shack, and we’re tired of it! We’ve been given a glimpse of the real thing, our true home, our resurrection bodies! The Spirit of God whets our appetite by giving us a taste of what’s ahead. He puts a little of heaven in our hearts so that we’ll never settle for less.”
Nothing else matters
To use the words of Winston Churchill in a different context, For Judy, this is not the end. This is not the beginning of the end. This is the end of the beginning.
And now it is up to us to live and love like Judy. After reflecting on Judy’s words at Morris’ funeral, I will summarize this message in one final sentence. We’ve been left holding the bag, but she is very well.
Dr. Phil Nordstrom is the pastor of Life Church in Knoxville Tennessee. He is passionate about being a father to his three children, loving his wife, and leading people who are far from God toward their highest potential as followers of Jesus.
"Everything's big in Texas!." This phrase has always bothered me a little. I always associated it with the Machismo sentiment that goes with the saying, "Don't Mess With Texas." Texas is known for big hats, big football stadiums, big steaks and big personalities. My grandpa moved all the way from Illinois to Lake Livingston just outside of Houston just to catch BIG FISH. This week, however, we learned that the biggest things is Texas are Texas sized hearts.
While the brave soldiers of the National Guard were still getting their boots on, Texas had formed a make shift Navy of bass boats and wave runners captained by people with names like Bubba and Beau. No disrespect to the Red Cross or the National Guard, but Baptists, Pentecostals, Methodists, Presbyterians, Catholics, and Church of Christ folk were feeding, clothing, and providing shelter under the cross of Christ while the rain was still falling and the wind was still blowing. Don't get me wrong, The military and other International Service agencies have been of great assistance. But Texans don't wait. Their response has been as epic as the storm itself.
For me, this event is personal. My dear friends Paul and Delia Russel who pastor Christ Family Church in the Houston area are caught in the crosshairs of needing assistance themselves, while they are helping to relieve the suffering of others. They are facing a Texas sized challenge with very limited resources. . I'm inviting everyone to help me support Christ Family Church during this most difficult season.
Paul serves as an overseer of the church I pastor in Knoxville Christ Family Church has financially supported our church since our launch. They continue to support us to this day. Paul and Delia left a very successful ministry in a mega church in Nashville Tennessee to plant Christ Family in Houston a decade ago. It is our turn to help them. Church start ups struggle to make budget during the best of times. They were not even able convene for worship last Sunday which means zero income. Paul shared with me that things feel very fragile right now. In spite of their own needs, they are partnering with another church as a Red Cross relief center. We are setting up a link through Givelify for people to give to Christ Family Church who will distribute the funds as needed to people in their area. The link is at the bottom of this page. When you choose your donation amount, it will then allow you to designate it to the Texas flood relief. If you are looking for a place to give, Pastor Paul has a Texas sized heart for his city and they need our help desperately right now. Would you join me in being a part of the miracle? One hundred percent of the funds will go directly to Christ Family Church to disperse as needed. Would you join me in giving to this worthy cause?
The Gospel of Mark the fourth chapter records a storm that threatened the life of Jesus and his disciples. The greek word used to describe the storm is "megalay". It is where we get our English word "mega". Jesus was asleep during the storm while the disciples were panicking. When they feared they would all die, they woke Jesus up. Jesus spoke to the storm as if it was disturbing his nap and said, "Peace be still" Afterward, the Bible says there was a "megalay" calm. The same word used to describe the storm was the word used to describe the calm. The mega storm was met with a mega calm.
Hurricane Harvey is a storm of Biblical proportions. The response, needs to be as epic as the storm. The recovery will be long and arduous. In a time when our country is suffering from the wounds of division, this storm reminds that we are "one nation under God" and we need one another. If we each do our part, Hurricane Harvey will be remembered more for our response than the devastation that it brought.
Dr. Phil Nordstrom
I am the husband of my best friend Melanie, the father of three "above average" children and the Lead Pastor of an amazing diverse congregation in North Knoxville. Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.
Dr. Phil Nordstrom
I am the husband of my best friend Melanie, the father of three "above average" children and the Lead Pastor of an amazing diverse congregation in North Knoxville.
Last Fall, I decided to sign up for Uber as a way to make a little extra cash. On my second week, I picked up a guy in West Knoxville who wanted a ride to North Augusta South Carolina. I would have refused, but he was trying to see his brother who was in critical condition in a hospital and I was his only option for getting home that night. I told him I would do it, if I could bring my daughter with me. I didn't make a whole lot of money, but it was fulfilling ministry.
I am not one of those drivers who imposes my Christian music or Christian views on people. I don't have an open Bible in my car nor do I wear a WWJD bracelet. More than half of my riders don't know that I'm also a pastor. As you might imagine, I see and hear quite a few things in my car, especially when I do the "after hours" bar drives.
Wayne Oates, one my professors in seminary said that Pastoral Care is "listening to the mundane stories of people until the spiritual story emerges." I have the privilege of listening to people's stories in my car. One afternoon, I listened to a young Chinese girl who told me of her interest in religion so I told her I was a pastor. With great excitement she said, "You are a Christian! I want to become a Christian!" Nothing happened after our first ride, but in the space of a couple months, I gave her a ride two more times. After the third time she said, "I believe in fate! This is the third time you picked me up. May I come to your church?" I told her I give free Uber rides on Sunday morning. Tracy has been attending faithfully. Two Sundays ago, my friend Tracy, who was raised an atheist, marked her new found faith in Jesus by being baptized.
On another occasion, I picked up two Iranian Muslim ladies who had been in the country for one hour when they landed in my car. They asked me lots of questions about how to find a job in the US etc. I told them I was a pastor. They struggled with the word so I told them I was a Christian Imam. They asked to visit my church. They have faithfully attended and they pepper me with questions on the way home each Sunday. Their mother in Iran believes that Jesus is s great prophet and that God led her daughters to my Uber car. Next month one of my beautiful Iranian friends is going to celebrate her new found faith in Christ by being baptized.
On my rides, I have prayed with people, been asked to perform a wedding, and given free counsel. The symbolism of picking people up along the road is poignant. We all are on a journey. God has allowed my path to intersect with people who are a little stuck on the highways and byways of life . Revival is happening on the road. My pulpit is my Prius.
"Investigators from the Jackson County Sheriff's Department and the Jackson County Coroner's Office are conducting a death investigation in rural Murphysboro, Illinois." The KFVS news article I'm quoting from is not unlike many top story news articles one reads about, but this one was different in significant ways. Murphysboro is a sleepy little town seven miles from its more well known neighbor, Carbondale. Carbondale is making national news for being the epicenter of the solar eclipse on Monday, Aug 20. The story of these deaths, however, eclipses the solar eclipse by far because the two who died were dear friends and former parishioners of mine. The article went on to say "people in the neighborhood said the family that lived in the home has been in there for more than two decades but no one seems to know much about them." This statement bothered me, because one could not have been around Murphysboro very long without benefiting from the positive influence of Burl and Brenda Ritcheson. While the investigators are investigating the homicide, let me introduce you to your neighbors.
Burl and Brenda's home was the first place we stayed when coming to Murphysboro to candidate for becoming the pastor of what later was to become Christ Community Church. They treated us like kings and fed us with a brand of homemade cooking that was unique to Southern Illinois. I learned what chicken and dumplins were. Over time, she and some of her other family members who shall go unnamed fattened me up. I scored several invitations to their family gatherings which were a highlight for both eating and fellowship. Burl helped set me up in the first home we rented on 15th St. which was owned by Burl's brother.
Burl was involved in the youth baseball programs in Murphysboro and was a gentle teacher of the game. Burl was a man's man. He was a modern day John Wayne type. Instead of horses, however, he liked cars and doing body work on them. Burl, frankly, intimidated me a little because I wasn't as manly as he was.
One weekend in Murphysboro, we had a friend visiting from Missouri who owned a sports car and invited me to drive it. I had never driven a car with such power and I failed to notice as I came to a side street that there was no stop sign and a car ran into the back of this beautiful brand new car I was driving. And then I remembered Burl. Burl laughed at me when I called and he patiently beat and painted that car until it was in new condition. Burl didn't charge me a dime for the work.
On another occasion, I conducted my first business meeting at the church and there was a controversial issue we were discussing and I took a stand for how I thought we should move forward. My plan passed by one vote. Tension was high as the meeting dismissed and Burl sensed I needed a friend. He asked if he could take me to Dennys in Carbondale. He sat across from me and encouraged me and made me feel like I was a great man of faith and courage for what I had done when he knew I was shaking in my boots.
Brenda was one of five sisters whose families were the backbone of our church. Brenda had a beautiful alto voice and sang in the choir. She could read music and tried to help my wife Melanie learn to sing by note which Melanie says was a losing cause. Brenda was one of the people who helped Murphysboro Christian Academy thrive during its early years. She was a regular performer at the L.A.F.F (Laughter After Fifty Five) club that was run by her sister Mary Jane. Brenda had an infectious laugh and when she laughed she literally cried with actual tears and her face turned red.
Life took some difficult turns for Burl and Brenda. Over time, they drifted apart and eventually divorced and went through some painful years trying to rebuild their lives. During this time, Burl lived near my house. One Summer day he saw my wife stuck in the ditch with our riding lawn mower. Burl saw her, stopped his car, and put the mower back up out of the ditch, got in his car and never said a word. It was definitely a John Wayne moment.
After several years, however, Burl and Brenda realized what they had lost and found love with each other again. Walter Bruggemann says that "in the life of faith, we go from being securely oriented, to painfully disoriented, to surprisingly reoriented. They were in the process of reorienting their lives on the fateful day that their lives were cut short. They were looking forward to their daughter Stephanie returning from Peoria and spending time with their grandchildren.
This story, however, does not end in death, It ends in life eternal. Jesus was not only the "author" of their faith, but he was also the "finisher." I imagine when the roll is called up yonder, Burl and Brenda coming in together as Jesus gets to the B's. "Burl and Brenda" he will say, "Well done!"
These are your neighbors, I really wish you had known them.
I recently attended a viewing of the new movie called "The Shack" I read the book a few years ago and was interested in how it came out in movie form. I was not a huge fan of the book only because I got bogged down a bit in the allegory. After hearing that it was controversial in some Christian circles I also viewed the movie through the lenses of theology. Here are my thoughts:
The Shack is one of the first movies that I thought was better in film than in print. The story details the heartbreaking story of a family whose daughter is abducted and killed by a deranged murderer. Most of the movie revolves around the father who was only a nominal Christian but receives an invitation from God to spend a weekend at "The Shack."
Anyone who has experienced a "Great Sadness" in life will relate to the main characters struggle with God and the meaning of life throughout the film.
The trinity is portrayed as "Papa" portrayed by a loving African American woman. Jesus was cast how one might imagine him as a Middle Eastern young man. The Holy Spirit was an Asian woman. Together they faithfully exemplified the "grace of the Lord Jesus, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit described in 2 Corinthians 13:14. The movie clearly portrayed them as "persons" within the one same God.
i found it refreshing to reimagine the persons of the godhead in racially diverse roles. The movie creatively explores the feminine side of God. In Scripture, God is not only "Father" but also the mother hen who broods over her chicks.
Theologically, God is Spirit and males and females both equally reflect God's image Every nationality also reflects the God who cannot be pinned down to race and gender.
Seeing the father as a wise African American mother somehow made the father even more endearing. It was very believable to view this woman as the God who is "especially fond" of us.
The sensitivity of the Holy Spirit is also very easy to imagine in feminine terms. I thought the movie was faithful both to the text and spirit of the Bible.
God's is at work in the beautifully messy garden of our lives and redeems our sufferings and sadnesses. Without giving away the end, I wept as I experienced the love of God as I examined my own life through the prism of this film. Go see it. It will help you with whatever "The Great Sadness" is in your life.
Life Church Knoxville
We're an inter denominational church in Knoxville, Tennessee that believes that all people matter and should experience the love and power that comes along with a healthy relationship with Jesus Christ.