A Note From Josh – April 2017 Newsletter

In 2006 I graduated high school and I believed it was a sin to smoke a cigarette. I believed it was a sin to drink alcohol. I believed the Bible was best understood as a history book. I believed that I needed to try harder every day to be less sinful, and that one day, I would indeed be completely sinless, most likely by the time I was 21. I believed dating was not a Christian thing to do. I believed men were better fit to be pastors. I believed that cursing was a sin, and that if you cursed and died before getting the chance to repent, and confess this sin, than your eternal destiny was hell. I believed that anyone who did not share my views on sexuality couldn’t possibly be a “real” Christian. I believed that the Theory of Evolution was incompatible with the Christian belief of creation, as written in the book of Genesis. I believed that baptism was completely unnecessary and quite meaningless to a Christian’s life. I believed that in order to be saved one must pray a prayer that follows this formula: acknowledge every sin one can recall, ask God for forgiveness and for Jesus to enter into one’s heart, and profess faith in Jesus as savior. In this moment I believed one was justified before God. If this prayer was done correctly, then one could be sure of their salvation, unless one sinned again, in which case the prayer would need to be repeated. The same formula must be used each time. I believed that faithful Christians only listened to Christian music, explicitly Christian music too, it couldn’t be sort of Christian, or else those people simply were not serious enough about their faith. I believed that God would eventually punish me in this lifetime for all of the sins I had committed. I believed that God could not possibly have much in store for my life, because of all of my past sins. I believed everything in the Christian faith was black and white, right and wrong, sin and holiness.

Eleven years later, I think differently about everything I used to believe. Even if I believe something similar, I don’t think about it the same way anymore. I don’t think about God, the Christian faith, or life the way I used to. In every way, who I believe God to be is significantly more complex. After a lot of schooling and a few years in ministry, I still believe in Jesus Christ, but my faith looks a lot different than it used to. If you find yourself questioning, wandering, or believing something completely new, that is okay. You are not alone.

My hope and prayer for each of you is that you will be open to changing your mind, believing something different, and following the Holy Spirit’s guidance in this next season of life. My hope is that you participate in what God is up to and learn to faithfully follow after Jesus in wonderfully new ways.

I wrote this letter for the graduating seniors. After I finished, I thought, “This could be good to share in the newsletter too.” I hope you enjoy. If you are curious about any of this, I’d love to get coffee with you.

See you at Church and around town.

A Note from Ashley – March 2017 Newsletter

Oh, Lent. Isn’t it strange what our culture has done with the season of Lent? It is the season of feeling guilty about something you do too much of, vowing to give up that practice or habit for 40 days (likely for no good spiritual reason), and then feeling like a failure for not actually giving up that practice or habit at all. What a strange season in the life of the Church. Rather than trying to convince you of the real meaning of Lent or adding more guilt to your life, I’d like to offer the following. Ted Loder’s Guerillas of Grace is one of my favorite books of all time. I hope you enjoy this prayer as much as I do. Perhaps rather than giving up something this Lenten season, pray this prayer every day and see where it takes you. You just might meet Jesus on the journey.

Catch Me in My Scurrying
Catch me in my aimless scurrying, Lord,
and hold me in this Lenten season:
hold my heart to the beat of your grace
and create in me a resting place,
a kneeling place,
a tip-toe place
where I can recover from the dis-ease of my grandiosities
which fill my mind and calendar with busy self-importance,
that I may become vulnerable enough
to dare intimacy with the familiar,
to listen cup-eared for your summons,
and to watch squint-eyed for your crooked finger
in the crying of a child,
in the hunger of the street people,
in the fear of the contagion of terrorism in all people,
in the rage of those oppressed because of sex or race,
in the smoldering resentments of exploited third world nations,
in the sullen apathy of the poor and ghett0-strangled people,
in my lonely doubt and limping ambivalence:
and somehow,
during this season of sacrifice,
enable me to sacrifice time
and possessions
and securities,
to do something…
something about what I see,
something to turn the water of my words
into the wine of will and risk,
into the bread of blood and blisters,
into the blessedness of deed,
of a cross picked up,
a savior followed.
–Ted Loder

 

Happy Lent, y’all. See you at church and around town. -Ashley

A Note from Josh – February 2017 Newsletter

One time someone asked Jesus, “Are you a king?” He responded, “Yep.” (my own translation). What an odd question and an even more odd response from a Jewish carpenter who had nothing to his name and was moments away from his death.

What does it mean that Jesus is a king? In the shorter catechism the question is asked, “How doth Christ execute the office of a king?” Essentially, “How is Jesus a king?” The answer reads as follows, “Christ executeth the office of a king in subduing us to himself, in ruling and defending us, and in restraining and conquering all his and our enemies.” In the past few weeks I have watched news outlets tell the story of our world without any reference to a god that is concerned, let alone an incarnate king. I have seen my Christian friends profess faith in world leaders and other friends declare those exact same leaders to be the antithesis to Jesus, the Christ, our King. Regardless of your political affiliation, as a Christian, a follower of the Jewish carpenter who had nothing to his name and moments from his death proclaimed his kingship, we find ourselves in the tension of living in a world with leaders who have the power to divide us, change policies, and erect walls, literally and figuratively.

My hope is that in the whirlwind that is our world, we anchor ourselves in the truth that our Savior is a King; working to draw us in, defend us, and defeat the enemy. – Josh

A Note from Ashley – January 2017 Newsletter

Are you the resolutions-making type? If so, try this one on for size. Josh referenced the poem below by the great theologian Howard Thurman in his sermon this past Sunday at The Five-Thirty.

The Work of Christmas
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and the princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flock,
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken,
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among brothers,
To make music in the heart.
-Written by Howard Thurman

I’ve been thinking on it for a few days now and am stuck wondering: what if at least one of my resolutions for this year was centered solely around “the work of Christmas,” as Howard puts it? Put another way, what if one of my resolutions was centered around others instead of myself? What if one of your resolutions (or hopes, goals, or intentions, whichever you prefer) was centered around others instead of yourself? If Jesus is our example (hint: he kind of is), could it be that the year 2017 might take you one step further in your relationship with him in the way that you choose to live in relationship with others? Your neighbor, your spouse, the person you aren’t “supposed” to like, the community on the other side of town, the community that worships in a different kind of space, etc.? What if?

We are all on a journey, friends. Where will yours take you this year?

Happy New Year. See you at church and around town. – Ashley

A Note from Ashley – December 2016 Newsletter

In his book, Underdogs and Outsiders, Tom Fuerst says about Advent, “In a world too cleanly divided between sinners and saints, [Advent] reminds us that the seemingly godless often dwell closest to God, and those who seem godly often get it just as wrong as everyone else.” I don’t know if you’re like me, but I feel so beaten down by our country’s incredible ability to be so “cleanly divided” between sinner and saint, right and wrong, in and out. Remember the scene in the 2000 version of The Grinch where the mail sorting machine slams labels on packages coming in the post office? What is it about our communities that often makes it so comfortable for us to slam labels on people with little concern? And let’s not fool ourselves to believe that the Christian community is above reproach on this one.

But then Advent happens.

Less than a month after a highly contested presidential election, Advent challenges us to stop dead in our tracks and wonder about the seemingly insane decision of God’s to come to the world as a human, Emmanuel, God with us, through a genealogy of sinners, saints, murderers, idolaters, outsiders, adulterers, refugees, non-Israelites, and the list goes on and on and on. If there is one rhetoric that has perhaps screamed the loudest the last few months (from both sides of the aisle), it’s the notion of who belongs here and who doesn’t. Could it be that in Advent, God says to us, “None of you really belong here. And yet all of you belong here. None of these messy people deserve to be in the bloodline of Jesus. And yet I chose them anyway. You don’t get to decide. I do.” Fuerst writes, “Advent affords us yet another opportunity to reflect on the inclusion of those unlike us in the family of God.” That is the good news of Advent. Reverend Jose Morales writes, “Good news isn’t the same as nice news.” Whether it feels nice or not, the good news of Advent, indeed the good news of the gospel is this: in Jesus, God includes those unlike you and me in the family of God and we don’t have to pretend to be in charge of who God includes. We don’t have to respond with angst, fear, hostility, or hatred. Instead, we are invited to respond with gratitude, joy, and hope: hope for all that God is up to that we cannot even begin to imagine.

This season of Advent and in the seasons beyond, let us choose to respond to God’s inclusion of those unlike us in God’s family with gratitude, joy, and hope. It will be the greatest gift you give to God, yourself, your family, your children, those you know, and especially those you don’t. Merry Christmas, friends.

See you at church and around town. -Ashley

A Note from Josh – November 2016 Newsletter

The great poet Curtis Jackson, also known as, 50 cent, once wrote, “Joy wouldn’t feel so good if it wasn’t for pain.” The great theologian Henri Nouwen says something similar in his book, With Open Hands. He writes, “Likewise, we pray without despair, for despair is possible only for someone who knows what it means to hope.” Jackson and Nouwen both seem convinced that despair and pain have the capacity to point towards something new and life giving.

Of course, best I can tell about myself and others, we don’t care much for pain and despair. We find the most creative ways to numb ourselves. Some choose alcohol. Some choose Netflix. Some choose another trip to plan and experience. While it is necessary at times, at some point it seems we must face the pain and despair of our life in this world. If the way of Jesus is true, perhaps there will be resurrection on the other side of the cross.

As the leaves change in this fall season, may we be reminded of the pain and despair that is necessary to experience true hope, joy, and resurrection. See you at church and around town.

 

A Note From Ashley – October 2016 Newsletter

“Why in the world did Eve eat the fruit?” I was having that conversation with a group of people this morning. We were talking about Genesis 3. One person said, “Well, scripture says it was good for eating. Maybe that’s why.” Another person said, “Maybe she took her eyes off God for one moment and saw the fruit and that’s why she ate it. Her relationship with God was severed before she even bit the apple.” It was 6:30 A.M. and I was up twice last night. My answer was less profound: “It says in Genesis 3 that it looked good. I probably would have eaten it, too. I like things that look good.” #forthewin.

(Also after reading “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other,” I had the thought, “That’s only because Anna wasn’t in the garden. She’s SUPER crafty. Have you seen her artwork?” Whoever says early morning is the best time for deep theological conversations does not know me. Am I the only one?)

There are SO many questions that come from this one chapter of Genesis. If you are like me, the chapter seems so familiar. That is, until you have a conversation about it with a group of people. We landed on the question, “What feels like the forbidden fruit in you life?” What feels like that thing at which you know you should not bite but gosh, it is just so tempting? And what is the difference between a strong desire for something fulfilling (a spouse, the promotion at work, a family, etc.) and that thing becoming a sin? We decided this: desires and longings are not automatically forbidden fruit. Perhaps what makes something forbidden fruit is the idea that having that thing would provide the ultimate meaning, fulfillment, wisdom, etc.

So… what feels like the forbidden fruit in your life? The thing that, if you could just have it, would solve everything, would answer everything, would fulfill everything in your life? Know this: ultimately, only Jesus can be that “thing.” It’s a messy ride and yet, we are invited to be a part of the journey anyway. Hop on board, you’re in good company.

See you at church and around town.

A Note from Josh – September 2016 Newsletter

“Just remember Josh, you can always drop a curse word…”

That was a piece of advice that the first pastor I ever interned under gave me when dealing with an unruly youth. I was shocked and appalled. Certainly I would never curse at a youth. Right? One year later, I cursed at a youth. I had the biggest moral hangover of my life after the interaction. I apologized over and over again. I felt like a failure. It was rough. I asked myself, “How could you let yourself get to that place? Why did you get so mad? What made you think that was okay?” I beat myself up over the interaction for months. Fortunately, he and I have an amazing relationship and the moment is only referenced in jest now. Also, I have never cursed at a student since then.

One of my favorite songs contains these lyrics, “Maybe when you get a bit older too, you’ll do all the things that you said you’d not do.” With age comes experience that sometimes provides an opportunity to be someone you never thought you’d be. I was the youth leader who cursed at the student. That is a negative manifestation of the opportunity life experience provides. I wonder, what might a positive manifestation be? In a few years, what opportunities will I have had to be the person I never thought I’d be? A more simple way to ask the question may be, “Who could I be a year from now that I never thought I’d be?” Maybe a mother. Maybe a pastor. Maybe a student. Maybe a _________. Who is God calling you to be? How will you respond? Try asking the question. Let me know what you come up with. See you at church and around town.

A Note from Ashley – August 2016 Newsletter

Hey FPC Young Adults. I guarantee this will blow your mind. Did you know that FPC financially and physically supports over 40 local mission organizations in Nashville alone? We support an additional 38 national and international organizations. Any idea what the average percentage of a US church’s total annual budget goes toward missions? It’s somewhere around 5% (a high average is somewhere around 10%). Any idea what percentage of FPC Nashville’s total annual budget goes toward missions? 27%. Twenty. Seven. Percent. That’s around $1.2 million every year. Our understanding of missions and service is actually one of the things that makes me most proud to be a part of our congregation.

This year in the YA ministry we are committing to exploring many of those organizations on a monthly basis. Here’s the plan: each month we will offer a service opportunity that directly partners with a local organization that FPC supports–Habitat building, a suit drive to benefit the women in training with Begin Anew, holiday package stuffing with Thistle Farms, and on and on and on. You and your family are invited to sign up any/every month to join in, learn more about the organizations FPC believes in, and put our hands and feet to work for the body of Christ. We will spotlight each month’s partner organization in our newsletter and provide a space for online sign up. We are jazzed and cannot wait. Make no mistake. We like to have a good time in the Young Adult world. We take seriously from Acts 2 fellowshipping together “with glad and generous hearts.” This year, along with our continued social events and weekly programming, we are committing to taking seriously the piece of Acts 2 where, together, we care for all, “as any had need.” Let’s get to work. See you at church and around town.

A Note from Josh – July 2016 Newsletter

Merriam-Webster defines nostalgia as pleasure and sadness that is caused by remembering something from the past and wishing that you could experience it again. On the eve of Blink-182’s new album, I have found myself in a state of nostalgia. I have been listening to their old albums and remembering my 16 year-old self who loved the humor, sound, and angst of their music. The music resounded with my life. I was a skateboarder. I had family issues, a lot of them. I was a silly adolescent. At the same time, this was the time of life when I first began to name God’s voice, call, and presence in my life. I remember the first time God spoke to me through a friend’s invitation to church. I remember the first time God provided a glimpse of my calling through an energetic youth pastor who loved to play ultimate frisbee. I remember the first time I professed faith in Jesus as my savior under an Indiana night sky. Blink-182 takes me back to the time when I first knew God was up to something, and I began to be a part of it. What makes you nostalgic? When were you aware of God’s presence in your life? What music did you listen to? See you at church and around town.

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