Final Thoughts from Bro. Billy…

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It has certainly been a blessing to serve Concord for the past four years. My wife and I have enjoyed our time in Arkansas and will miss it, but we are still looking forward to this next chapter in life. She’ll be getting settled with her career and I plan to take some time off from “employed” ministry. I will likely volunteer with some chaplaincy programs and nonprofits.

So with all that said, I have some final thoughts to share with everyone for the final post I’ll author on the Concord church blog…

1.Y’ALL are the church!

Churches are not made by a pastor. Neither are they made by a bishop nor superintendent. Instead, churches are made up by the people. While a pastor certainly can certainly have authority and show leadership, the true body of a church is comprised of everyone.

I think our denomination understands and promotes this powerful idea. Pastors are sent and appointed by bishops in a system called itineracy. Hopefully congregations develop with one another, forming lasting bonds that will endure beyond any one particular pastor’s tenure. Likewise, regardless of whoever occupies a pulpit, a United Methodist congregation ought to be truly driven by the people in the pews.

I often feel saddened for other denominations where if a pastor moves or retires, that might very well mean the end of that local church. Hopefully this is never the case in United Methodism, and that Concord will continue to thrive through different seasons! Please remember that Y’ALL are the church!

2. Church is not just a Sunday activity.

Before I was commissioned as a pastor, a friend of mine once remarked about a challenge he experienced during his work as a youth pastor. At most, he would have a couple hours of face-time with his students in their youth group, between Sunday morning worship, Sunday school, and/or youth events. He noticed how much of an impact parents, television, and social media have on young people. “I feel like I’m competing with all these different influences, from troubled homes to peer pressure at school!” He told me. It is hard to overcome difficulties if someone only devotes a small amount of time to overcome them.

I think the same point applies for just about anyone. Your time spent with Concord “activities” is rather limited, given the full scope of a week’s time. Tragically, I think many Christians do not realize this and fall into the trap of having “Christian” time on Sunday, then going about living for yourself Monday through Saturday. It is my prayer that everyone would continue making our faith a constant practice.

3. Be mindful of the dangers of social media.

I’ve made use of many online resources the past few years, and especially so with COVID-19. While these have certainly been a blessing, I cannot help but notice that there is such a truly dark and disturbing aspect of things like Facebook. Many items shared, posted, and liked play to emotions such as jealousy, anger, and judgment. What we type on a keyboard is often shockingly unfiltered compared to how we might behave in person. People from all generations bully and harass. It is also worth noting that regardless of privacy settings, it is basically a given that your online “life” is visible to the entire world. Addiction to the internet is a very real thing, where we literally cannot function without apps and phones.

I think these “online” problems will only get worse. I don’t really know how the church can offer a better sort of witness. If we ignore social media altogether, we run the risk of not engaging where the people are. Yet if we participate in and use it, we might fall prey to nasty temptations. I don’t really have much of a firm “answer” for this issue, other than to say to be mindful of the dangers social media. That, and ask yourself “What Would Jesus Post?

4. Idols are everywhere.

Worship comes in many different forms. We essentially worship what we are “all about.” Even nonreligious people find something to worship and get religious about! Worship doesn’t have to be literally bowing down to something or someone, like we might think of in the Old Testament. Anything we worship that is not God is an idol. So where do we devote our energy, passion, and devotion?

If you ask me, some of the most common idols in our world are money, politics, guns/security, a family name, personal popularity, and America itself. Be aware of how easy it is to worship objects or ideas instead of God! Sometimes idols might be neutral things on their own–consider a “family name.” It is wonderful to have a supportive family, yet if we make our live all about one particular family history and forget God’s family, then we cross over into idolatry. Or consider America itself. I certainly enjoy the freedoms we have in this country, but to worship them or think America is more important than God’s kingdom crosses a dangerous line. In my own life, I find myself needing to be cautious about the dangers of idolatry on a regular basis.

5. Trust God with the future.

When will the COVID-19 situation get better? Is the worst behind us? Will the UMC split up? Will we be able to stay together?

There’s a lot of different kinds of uncertainty right now. On one hand, you might be worried for your health due to an illness with no vaccine. On the other hand, you might worry for the future of our denomination and what that means for Concord.

One story comes to my mind a couple years ago. I was quite busy one day, going from place to place, and one of my final stops was to visit Ms. Maxine, who was recovering from surgery or a hospitalization. I remember feeling rather tired and worn out from the day. Right as we sat down to talk, seemingly out of nowhere, Maxine told me, “Billy, I know God sent you here to be with us at Concord. I know he has a purpose for you.” I definitely cherish memories like this one. They teach me a lot about who God is and how God uses other people.

This is a reminder that we ought to be trusting in God when faced with trying times or unknown futures. Hand over those cares and concerns. Take time to pray. Don’t give into pessimism. Despairing will get you nowhere. Seek out opportunities to live out God’s hope. Indeed God has a purpose for every one of us!

Once again, I want to reiterate how much of a blessing it has been to serve Concord. Thank you for welcoming me to be your pastor. Thank you for your words of encouragement. Thank you for showing up to studies, services, events, and mission projects. Thank you for your generosity and eagerness to bring about God’s kingdom. Thank you for your prayers. Thank you for showing God’s love to us in so many different ways.

Thank you for being Concord Church the past four years!

The Dangers of Being Anti-Mission Minded

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I certainly believe Concord is a place that is passionate about missions and outreach. I’ve witnessed how the congregation comes together to support others, raise money, and put the gospel into practice. I hope you enjoyed my sermon yesterday on the importance of being creative in how we do missions. It is my prayer Concord continues this rich legacy!

I do want to address one danger I’ve noticed in our broader culture. Perhaps you might label this as being “anti-mission minded.” Hopefully churches come together and are mindful of missions. This would be the exact opposite. I’ve seen anti-mission minded attitudes every once in a while, whether that be reading something on social media, a secondhand story from a friend, or hearing a public figure.

It might sound counterintuitive… After all, I think a basic reading of scripture affirms loving our neighbor! Yet you will notice that this is not always evident in the surrounding culture. We don’t always play nice or seek to advance the gospel through outreach efforts. We have a tendency to be selfish rather than selfless.

Whether with news stories, Facebook posts, or conversations, I’m sure you’ve noticed for yourself how easy many people can become closed off or jaded towards worldly need. When true mission opportunities arise, our culture doesn’t always respond with eagerness to serve. When issues such as refugee resettlement, homelessness, or addiction come up, it is so tragic many respond with callousness, animosity, and name-calling. When there is a disaster or humanitarian crisis, some will even say “not my problem” and outright ignore it. Jesus’ commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves isn’t common practice. The simple word for this predicament is sin. In being anti-mission minded, we separate ourselves from God.

I’ve shared the tragic story before about a colleague of mine who suggested his church host a community-wide Easter egg hunt one year. There were low-income apartments filled with struggling families just across the street from the church. In his mind, this proposed event would be a perfect opportunity to get to know neighbors, reach children, and establish relationships with many families in need. Sadly, the congregation was unified in opposing this event. They did not want nonmembers to enjoy the resources of the church. They instead opted to have a “private” egg hunt reserved for church members and their grandchildren.

There are lots of excuses we can try to make. Perhaps money is tight. Maybe we are uncomfortable with the people who need serving. Maybe we are too influenced by non-Christian voices.

To be anti-mission minded means one is also anti-gospel. There’s no other way around it. Jesus repeatedly spoke of lifting up the lowly and serving neighbors in need. To believe we should just tend to our own selves and ignore the brokenness of the world simply does not align with Christ.

I think Concord is in a healthy place in regards to missions. We understand them to go hand-in-hand with our faith in Jesus Christ. But we should never take our tradition for granted. There is always work to do, and we must never give into the temptation of being anti-mission minded!

A Brand New Family Tree

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Our special music from yesterday’s service was a song from Matthew West called “Family Tree.” You can hear him perform it himself with the following video by clicking here!

The song was inspired by a letter West once received from a young woman named Rebecca. She grew up in an extremely broken household. Someone once remarked to her that this will be her legacy—all the anger, hurt, and pain. Yet in that moment she had a realization from God that this would not define her. She could overcome whatever difficulties of the past and forge a new future in Christ.

I was doing some digging on the internet, and I discovered West’s thoughts on writing the song…

“On one of my last nights in the cabin, I was writing in my journal, and reading over stories. I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was a topic that I must write about, something God wanted me to communicate through song. I wrote the words ‘generational baggage,’ in my journal. 

A story from a woman named, Rebecca in Florida impacted me greatly, and painted such a vivid picture of just how heavy the weight of generational baggage can be, and the toll it can take on a heart. Many people walk through their lives allowing their dysfunctional upbringing, their damaged relationship with a parent, or abusive childhood to hold them captive. Your father had a temper, so you’ll probably have a temper. Your mom got pregnant as a teenager, so you’ll probably do the same. Your parents divorced, so you probably won’t be able to keep your marriage together either. Rebecca’s story was so inspiring, because she has discovered the wonderful promise that we do not have to carry on the legacy that has been left to us, no matter how dysfunctional. Our past does not define us. We are defined by the love of Christ, and in him we have been given a new legacy, and a chance to break the chains of generational curses. 

What a wonderful reminder that God can give us the strength to put a stop to the past, and set our lives on a new road, bringing new life to our family tree.”

This song really caused me to think about all the different kinds of ministry experiences I’ve had with folks. From sitting in church offices, being in prisons, to hearing testimonies, too often we overlook the effects that come from a broken upbringing. We might think everyone must be messed up. We might just sweep problems under the rug and pretend like we are OK. We would much rather be positive and try to put on a happy face.

I’m reminded of a young man in the prison ministry program who was raised by a violent father who abused alcohol and would force his children to fist fight for entertainment. I think of a 15-year-old teenager in a juvenile detention center who worried that he would end up like his father and serve decades in prison. I also remember teaching a study at a former church where one of the fathers in the group shared how difficult is was to “unlearn” the foul language his parents used against him as a child. Or there was the tragic story from a mission trip where a young woman on our team was trying to overcome the effects of sexual abuse in her family.

From alcohol abuse, divorce, to racism, we can certainly face major burdens and brokenness from our history. Are we simply doomed to repeat the past?

As we enter into God’s family, we find hope, redemption, and a possibility for a new future. Christ heals us and grants us the power to overcome that broken past. He can bear the brokenness of “generational baggage.” That’s what having a true family of faith is all about. We have God, our heavenly parent, and Christ our brother to welcome us into this brand new family tree.