Reflections

Pray With Your Hands

I’ve tried to make a habit of walking and praying for our “parish,” the neighborhoods around the church. Our parish is pretty unique. My walk takes me through Wofford College, government subsidized housing, abandoned properties occupied by the homeless, VCOM med school, the county courthouse and offices, newly renovated and rehabilitated homes, and several ministries and churches serving the needs of the community. On one of my walks I stopped to pray with folks at a ministry that provides fresh produce at reduced costs to people with limited access to grocery stores. I thought I would stop, spend a few minutes in prayer, and head on my way. But when I walked in the door, there were about ten people packing boxes of food. When I announced that I was there to pray, my friend Rabbi Andy from the Messianic Jewish Synagogue, handed me a produce bag and said, “Here. Pray with your hands.”

That phrase has stuck with me. I confess that I often opt to pray from a distance rather than taking the time to engage with the people for whom I’m praying. But as John says, “let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18). It’s how Jesus loves us, not just with words but all the way to the cross. Love enters in. Word made flesh. And so for us to be the body of Christ as his Church, we must love as he has loved. We must pray with our hands.

I took the bag from Rabbi Andy, and we spent the next hour packing six apples to a bag while praying for the people who would receive them. It felt inconvenient at first, but there was a joy and sense of community among the people serving together. I was privileged to share that time praying and laboring with them.

I feel the Lord’s invitation to us as a church to pray with our hands. It means that we have to let go of our agendas at times in order to be present. Sometimes we do the behind the scenes, unappreciated work. Sometimes we may go places where we’re uncomfortable. But it is our privilege to be the hands and feet of Jesus. It’s our privilege to pray with our hands.

Real Power

God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.
-2 Timothy 1:7

It’s a crazy notion. The One who has all authority and power has given us His power through the Spirit in us. Not a theoretical distant power, but a real, living, authoritative power. Crazy, but true. But we too quickly forget. We find ourselves flooded with fear and anxiety or held captive by the lies of the Enemy or trapped in persistent habits. We feeldefeated. Meanwhile, the power of the Almighty God is in us.

The reality of the Spirit in us means we do not have to be held captive. We don’t need to fear. The Spirit leads us to come to the Father, to trust Him, to invite Him to accomplish in us and through us what we cannot manage alone. It does not feel easy at times because it is an act of surrender on our parts. We have to let go of the allusion of our own power. We have to die that Christ may live in us. And the Spirit who raised Christ from the dead will give us life! (Romans 8:11). That is real power at work in us. The church of Christ, His Body, is marked by the power of the Spirit.

This is the Spirit we have seen at work. This is the Spirit that made the way for our friends to move here from Tennessee when it seemed like an impossibility 6 months ago. It is the Spirit who is bonding together communities that have beenhistorically divided in Spartanburg. It is the Spirit who encourages us through the Word and the words of other believers when we need it most. It is the real power of the Spirit that has brought greater depth, joy, and unity to our marriage than we could have ever hoped for or imagined. We see the Spirit of God at work building the Church here in Spartanburg. We are blessed to be witnesses to what He is doing. And we know He will do far more.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
Ephesians 3:20-21

Running On Empty

As a college student I would often push the limits to see how far my car could go after the gaslight came on. On a few occasions I remember coasting into a gas station only to realize I didn’t have any cash. This was before I’d been suckered into carrying a credit card and debit cards were just coming on the scene. So being a resourceful college student, I dug around under the car seats and scrounged up some change to put half of a gallon in my car. Back in the day, that cost about 56 cents. It was a great relief if I cranked the car and the gas light actually went off, even though it usually came back on a couple of miles later. I lived in a cycle like that, constantly scrounging to get enough gas to keep going.

As I look around and as I reflect on my own life, I realize many of us are living that way, on the edge of empty, scrounging just to keep moving. We’re all tired, anxious, and stressed. Our internal “gas light” is saying, “You’re on empty! Time to stop!” But we don’t. At least not for long. Then, if we stop, it’s only for the few minutes we can scrounge. And if we stop, we don’t seem to know why we’re empty or how to be filled.

Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are wearied and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28). We make a mistake if we think of this call as a one-time only call to repentance, Jesus beckoning to the prodigal. Certainly, it is that. He frees us from the guilt and burden of sin when we come to him in faith and repentance. But it is more than that. The word translated come here is the same word Jesus used when he called the disciples to follow him. The disciples woke up every day and followed him. Coming to him is not a one-time deal. It is something we do and must continue to do.

Jesus knew the weight of the world. He knows the broken, sin-filled, painful world in which we live. He experienced it, and he retreated to be with the Father. We are designed for intimacy with the Father. Jesus gives us that intimacy through the cross. So as the world wears us down, we must come to Jesus and connect with the Father. Not just regularly, but constantly. We weren’t designed to run on empty. Jesus came that we might have life to the full. But if we don’t come to him by spending time in prayer, in His Word, and in worship, we will continue to feel wearied and burdened.

We don’t need to feel guilty about feeling weary and worn down. That’s what the world does to us. Our weariness is an invitation to come to Jesus, to let him give us life. Nothing else will fill us. We need him and always will. Therefore, there is nothing better we could do with our time than be with him. The world is full of weary people. If we come to Jesus in our weariness, we will be people who point to him as we live in the rest he gives. It is a beautiful invitation before us.

Come, Lord Jesus, and give your rest!

Too Many Churches?

One of my biggest struggles in church planting has been the nagging thought that there are already plenty of churches. As we drive through Spartanburg we see countless churches. I question our calling as I think that with so many churches already, what could we possibly accomplish that isn’t already being done?

A couple of weeks ago Mike had an amazing opportunity to attend a gathering for local pastors called Come Closer, an initiative in Spartanburg to bring unity to the body of Christ. This is so exciting because this is what Jesus prayed for us: “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.” (Jn 17:20-21)

As God has laid the vision for The Gathering on our hearts over the last 10 years, this desire has become deeply rooted in us. That the Church, the body of Christ, would be united for the Kingdom of God so that the work we do is not just for our individual church body but for the Church as a whole. We were awed to find this work already in progress in Spartanburg. We had imagined it would be a pioneering work that would need to be done, but instead we can jump right in to the work in progress. Mike was able to connect with multiple pastors who welcomed us to attend worship with them and even said they would want to support our work. We had been afraid to walk into a church fearing they would think we were coming to steal their people, but as it turns out they are gladly opening their doors to encourage us. Wow. It is so amazing to see God at work in this way. I praise Him for the work He is doing to unify His Body, the Church. 

We have attended a few of different churches. Surprisingly, this has helped my understanding of our call to plant. These churches are at work for the Kingdom, growing in God’s love and desiring to spread the gospel. And they each have their own personality. It is almost like walking into someone’s family gathering. You can fully enjoy it and see their joy in it but still know it is not your family. Our church will have its own personality as well, and some people will be drawn into that dynamic and others will find that it just doesn’t fit them. And this is why we must exist as much as the church that may be right down the street from us. Different people will call each place home, and God will use each place to further His Kingdom, bringing His healing, wholeness and truth. 

So my perspective has changed. You can’t have too many churches. Each place is different and each place is called, set apart, and used by God to bring His fullness. I am excited to see who we will become, what uniqueness God will bring to our gathering. It is a privilege to watch that unfold. May we be open to who God calls us to be!

Gather, Pray, Trust

For a season it seemed like we would never make it to this point. But here we are. In Spartanburg. God is faithful and His timing is good. Looking back it’s easy to see how He gave us what we needed when we needed it, even though in the midst of it all we really had no idea what we needed. He shatters our plans and gives us something far better…Himself. He asks us to trust Him even when it doesn’t make sense, and it rarely makes sense. As we trust Him we find a life far better and deeper than we could have imagined.

So I should have known. Surrounded by boxes, after months of waiting and planning, I had a huge to-do list. Unpack, connect with people, make repairs, schedule meetings, and on and on. A few days in and I was already feeling frantic. How is all of this going to get done? How are we going to make this happen? Where are the people? Let’s make a home. Let’s start a church. Let’s do this!

When I slowed down enough to listen, I felt the Lord pulling back my anxiety to remind me that this is not my work. It’s His. My role is to pray and trust. Our role as His Church is to gather, pray, and trust Him to do His work through us. We need Him. And He is faithful and good. We need the Holy Spirit to empower us. And He will because this is His work, not ours.

So we will gather, pray, and trust Him. Not just to give us what we think we want, but to give us what He knows we need. To give us life to the full in Him.

Come, Lord Jesus. Fill us, lead us, empower us to be your witnesses.

God with Us

I have been reflecting lately on one of the first times Mike and I skied together.  We were dating at the time, still getting to know each other in so many ways.  As we started out, Mike asked me what kind of hills I liked to ski, and I told him I liked anything but black with moguls.  I am able to ski black, but I do not care for the thrill of it.  I like to enjoy being outside.  I like the feeling of gently swooping back and forth across the hill marveling at God’s creation, all while perfectly in control of my body.  Mike on the other hand, skis for the thrill. The point for him is to find a challenge and go fast. Regardless of our differences in taste, we enjoyed the morning skiing a variety of hills working our way around the mountain.  Conceivably, though, Mike was secretly assessing my skill because suddenly we “happened” upon a hill, steep as could be, full of moguls. DOUBLE Black.  I clearly stated that I did not want to ski this hill, perhaps mentioning that I had already told him this once before…. Mike, in all his gentleness, replied that at this point we didn’t have any other options, and he supposed the only thing we could do was go down it.  After some comforting and consoling, he took off down the hill leaving me to decide if I was going to follow or not.  So I followed. 

I thought that this was a simple event in our dating history, laughable even.  As I have reflected on it the past couple of weeks I see that in a very real way it characterizes our life together.  Mike at the edge of adventure, and me, praying for strength, following to places that I never dreamed I’d go.

Maybe that day of skiing was a test I didn’t know I was taking; would I follow into the scary? Into the unknown? Into the adventure? I didn’t know then that we would go to places I didn’t want to go, didn’t plan to go, but God has nonetheless given me everything I need to go.  And that is HIMSELF.  “This is my command: be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or discouraged for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

So here we are again at the top of another mountain, freshly reminded that it is God’s power alone that we can walk in, that we are weak but his grace is sufficient for his power is made perfect in weakness.

So deep breath.  The waiting is seemingly almost over.  Our house is under contract again.  If all goes as planned we will be closing in about 7 weeks.  Mike is working full time for the church plant which has made it possible for us to travel back and forth between the beach and Spartanburg, starting to build relationships and making new connections.  We’re looking for a house in Spartanburg. I am homeschooling Parker full time to further allow for this transition (which truly has been a blessing!). It’s certainly not the relaxing descent I envisioned. The hill is steep with lots of bumps, but the Lord our God is with us in this adventure.

A Quick Update

Since this is intended to be a place for folks to find updates on the progress of Gathering Spartanburg, I thought it might be helpful to actually provide an update. I’ve gotten caught up in the opportunity to process what we see God doing and have neglected to give the details of what’s going on. So here goes:

  • I (Mike) began working full-time on the church plant in August. Since we haven’t sold our house yet, we are traveling back and forth to Spartanburg frequently.
  • We felt like the Lord was leading us to go ahead and make this transition as a step of faith even though our house hasn’t sold. We’ve been greatly encouraged as we’ve seen His faithfulness as we’ve moved forward.
  • We’ve experienced His faithfulness and received tremendous encouragement from other churches. There really is a sense of unity in the Spirit among God’s People. We have a group of about six churches that we anticipate partnering with in this journey, sharing the stories of God’s faithfulness with one another as we seek to do His Kingdom work.
  • We are inviting old and new friends to pray about joining us in God’s work in Spartanburg. There is a small but growing group of people committed to the church. We excited to get to know the people God continues to bring.
  • There are a lot of essential nuts and bolts that I’m working on. While the work isn’t especially energizing, it is exciting to see the infrastructure of the church taking shape.

That’s a quick snapshot of what we’re up to. We’re so grateful for your thoughts and prayers. Please contact us if you have any questions or if there are ways we can be praying for you.

Blessings!