In Times like These…
The past eight months have been unprecedented. We have experienced death, life, loss, grief, lament, fear, joy, sadness, celebrations, innovations, and opportunities. We are all still learning and adapting almost daily to our changing realities. Navigating the two pandemics, COVID and Racism and a growing polarizing culture as politicized elections unfold this week continues to take its toll on many of us.

As I reflect upon all that is before us, a hymn that was sung in the church of my childhood comes to mind. The hymn was written by a Mrs. Ruth Caye Jones in the early 1940’s. Ruth penned these words as a source of comfort to people who were navigating uncertainty. Ruth recalls, “stress and strain were a part of daily living during the height of World War II. Many did not know what to expect or what was coming next. Many families experienced personal “sorrows or tragedies”. She said one day while going about her daily duties, she felt a “direct inspiration from the Holy Spirit”. She stopped her work and “quickly put down both words and music just as they were given to her by God.”

In times like these you need a Savior,
In times like these you need an anchor;
Be very sure, be very sure,
Your anchor holds and grips the Solid Rock!

Ruth explained the song was inspired by Hebrews 6:19 (NRSV) “We have this hope, a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul”. The writer of Hebrews invites us in the previous verse to also “take hold of the HOPE that is set before us and be encouraged”.

I believe the same Holy Spirit that spoke words of encouragement and hope amidst the crisis of the 1940’s is the same Spirit speaking to us during this challenging season of 2020. As I think about “taking hold of hope” it is a reminder that being hopeful in crisis is not automatic. Choosing to trust God and “take hold of Hope” is based on our decision to rely upon God’s character, God’s strength, and God’s track record of fulfilling His promises. In times like these, let’s be honest about all that is happening in our world while being hopeful because God is in control and will continue to be with us. Let’s also remember God calls us as believers to be “salt” and “light” in our world, responding to the needs of others and loving our neighbors as we love ourselves.

In just a few weeks we will light our first Advent candle of Hope. In Olu Brown’s 2020 Advent study called Hope: An Advent Journey, Olu says “through hope in God we have assurance of the outcome, and, in spite of the processes we may endure, we choose through hope to hold fast to the promises of God.” Remember throughout the month of November, in times like these we have a Savior, in times like these we have an anchor; We are very sure, Hope anchors our souls enabling us to grip the solid rock of Christ.

We are On Mission Together,
Candace M Lewis

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Christian Action at the Grand Ole Opry

In February 1996, the public television network released a tribute to the late Minnie Pearl. Many good friends gave testimony to her loving spirit and generous manner. Through the years, Minnie Pearl (whose real name was Sarah Ophelia Cannon) had encouraged and enabled many young country music artists, not only in their careers, but in their personal lives as well.

During that tribute, the network aired a tape of Sarah talking to a group of young adult actors and singers. She told them that one night when she went to do a show, she did not give it her best effort. After all, there were only fifteen people there. But in that audience was a talent scout looking for someone to play the part of Ado Annie in the musical Oklahoma. Because she had only done a half-hearted job, she was not chosen for the part. She learned that night that whether she played to a packed house or an empty one, from then on, she would do her best.

She also told the group that sometimes it’s better to be second rather than first. Had she been chosen for the Ado Annie part, who knows where she would have ended up. She would have missed all of her years at the Grand Ole Opry and her appearances on the television show Hee Haw as well. The opportunity to be talking with these aspiring performers would have been lost. As it was, she was able to entertain right where she wanted to be, doing what she wanted to do. She felt blessed by her life and where God had led her.

Minnie Pearl appeared to have a down-to-earth life in Nashville with her husband, Henry, who piloted chartered planes for country music stars. She was always gracious to others. She taught Sunday school for years, was committed to her church, and gave generously of what she had been given. She supported causes she believed in without fanfare. During rehearsals her humor cut through tension and lifted the spirits of others.

Now in Joppa, there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity (Acts 9:36).

Like Dorcas, Sarah Cannon was devoted to good works and acts of charity. She lived the life of a committed Christian, always humorous and genuine, simple and sincere, loving and friendly. We miss her “How-deeeee! I’m just so proud to be here!” Don’t you imagine that’s what she said upon entering heaven?

How about you? Are you friendly to others, friends and strangers alike? Are you proud to be where God has placed you at this time? Is God able to use you when tensions arise in situations? Are you a peacemaker? Do you look for good works and acts of charity for which God can use only you? 

From Walking Side by Side: Devotions for Pilgrims by Joanna Bultemeier and Cherie Jones. (Upper Room: 1998)
The Lost and Found
I think we have all had a moment when we laid something down, just for a second, and then forgot that we had placed it there. Hours later and many miles away, we realized that we had left something important behind. It could have been anything from a cellphone, a wallet, a purse, a hat, or a sweater. Something we may have left it in a church pew, on a store counter, at work, or on a bus. And now, our important something is officially lost. But there is still hope! 

There are these mysterious areas where lost things are placed sometimes—the Lost and Found. It might be a desk drawer, or a box, or a shelf reserved for these wayward valuables left behind. The Lost and Found gives us one final glimmer of hope that maybe our special item has been turned in by a benevolent soul, and it is now waiting patiently for us to find it and claim it. 

This brings to mind the words to the great hymn of faith, “Amazing Grace”: “I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see”. Every time I sing that hymn, it feels slightly different than the last time, as I find myself drifting between the realms of the “Lost” and the “Found” in my spiritual journey. There is a daily battle for the sovereignty over our souls, and a constant awakening of our day-dreaming spirits.

I believe that God is always trying to lead us from a state of being lost, into a state of being found in Him. It always seems to be much easier to become lost than it is to be found. God treasures each of us beyond measure and as scripture tells us in Luke 15:7: “I tell you that there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”

The sobering thought for us is that in this life here on earth, in our sinful human state, we will never be completely found, as we will have moments where we find ourselves led astray by temptation to sin. But our consolation is that even in our “lost” and fallen condition, we are found by the sure salvation of Christ on the cross, and we always have the sure hope of one day being completely found blameless and innocent through God’s amazing Grace.

Our mission then, is to help those lost souls who have not yet been found to discover the hope and grace that ignites a new life in each of us in Christ. And even though we may be able to introduce a person to our Savior and Lord and to encourage them in their faith, it is still solely between them and Jesus as far as their full acceptance of Him, and the sure salvation of their soul. We cannot ever be the judge of when, or how, or even if that sacred bond has taken place in someone else’s heart, and we should never presume to judge someone as “saved” or not.

There is a story about Martin Luther as a young priest. He is trying to comfort the family of a young man who committed suicide. The young man’s family is distraught by the belief at the time that someone who has taken their own life could not be buried in the sacred ground of the Church cemetery because their soul was lost. Luther refused to pass judgment as to the question of whether the boy was “saved” or not, and as he dug the grave himself in that “holy” ground, he taught that it is not ours to judge another’s salvation; rather, but God alone makes that decision.

Heaven might be considered in some simplified way to be a lost and found for souls, and we who are left here surviving the loss of loved ones can take solace in the thought that they are safe in God’s eternal care. Who might we find there in the lost and found in Heaven? There may be many whom we expected to find there, those who showed all the outward signs of the inward grace of Christ dwelling within them. There may also be many we thought were lost forever--those whose relationship with Christ seemed shaky, and who seemed to be lost more than found in their life on earth. We are all lost, but we are never beyond the reach of God’s Grace in Christ. We are never too lost to be found by our God. 

Rev. Rick Phillips
Pastor, Grace United Methodist Church, Plant City

Pastor Rick on an Easter Sunday gone by...