Pastor’s Corner – April 2019

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” — Matt. 11:28-30 THE MESSAGE

Out of Rhythm

About 5 years ago, my kids and I were swimming at a friend’s house and I found I couldn’t catch my breath.  Even sitting still, I was breathing heavily and my heart was racing.  I had no idea what was going on.  Erring on the side of caution, my wife took me to the ER and we found out my heart was in atrial fibrillation.  The ER staff took great care of me, and a few hours later we were on our way home.  A couple of years later, my family went to Sliding Rock in North Carolina (pictured).  I’ve never experienced water as cold as that.  Hitting that water was such a shock that it not only knocked the wind out of me, it sent my heart into a.fib a second time. Just like the first time, I couldn’t catch my breath even standing still and my heart was racing.  Having experienced it before, I knew immediately what the problem was. This trip to the ER resulted in an overnight stay, and somewhere around 15 hours later, my heart returned to normal rhythm on its own.  Fortunately, other than these two instances, I have a very healthy heart and haven’t had any further issues.  Some folks go into a.fib and aren’t aware of what’s going on for several days.  When your heart gets out of rhythm, it affects everything else.  

Life Arrhythmia

I think many of us spend our lives in a kind of “life arrhythmia.”  Our lives are out of rhythm and we often don’t even realize it.  We live and move and work in something of a semi-frenzy, desperately trying to keep up just enough to catch our breath every now and then.  We yearn for rest, but find that even in the moments of rest (whether a couple of hours or a week of vacation), we still can’t catch our breath.  Our souls weren’t meant to live like this, and when we spend our lives out of rhythm, it affects everything else. Sometimes we know what the problem is; often we don’t. If we continue to try to force ourselves to live according to the rhythm of the world around us, we’ll never get in sync and will be constantly racing to keep up.  We need to look for a different way.

The Unforced Rhythms of Grace

That different way is the way of Jesus and of grace.  This is the natural rhythm in which we were created “to live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).  It is a rhythm that enables us, as the passage above says, to find true rest.  Following the unforced rhythms of grace isn’t about another burden, or rule, or expectation placed upon us, but rather finding ourselves synchronized with Christ in such a way that we are able to live freely and lightly regardless of the rhythm of the world around us.  A part of our goal in our worship services is to provide an opportunity to get out of the frenetic pace of our lives in order to connect with the unforced rhythms of the grace of Jesus Christ, if only for a few moments.  Initially it feels discordant, even boring.  But as we take the time to settle into the moment, we begin to feel the new rhythm and experience the rest and freedom Christ offers.
 
As we continue to move through this season of Lent and prepare for the joyous celebration of Easter, may you hear the gentle invitation of Jesus to ‘walk with Him and work with Him — watch how He does it.  Learn the unforced rhythms of grace’ and find yourself living freely and lightly.
 
Blessings,
Rev. David Garrison

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Pastor’s Corner – March 2019

“Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you;
he will never let the righteous fall.” — Psalm 55:22
 

Teach Us To Pray

Over the past several weeks, we’ve been exploring the Lord’s Prayer, asking Jesus to do the very thing He did for the disciples: “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1). We have seen that this somewhat simple and very well-known prayer is loaded with depth and meaning. The Lord’s Prayer is incredibly profound, especially considering how succinct it is, and it certainly provides an excellent template for our prayers, let alone making it part of our daily prayer routine.
 

More Than Knowing How

But knowing “how” doesn’t always get us to the point of actually “doing.” We all know how to eat well, but still eat too many French fries. We all know how to exercise, but we still watch too much TV. Over time, we get stuck in routines and habits that unintentionally create hurdles and obstacles that keep us from doing what we know we ought to do. Or we find ourselves facing a difficult situation (like a large pizza) that keeps us from doing what we know we ought to do (not eat an entire large pizza). There comes a time when we need to hit a “reset” button and start over. Cultivating a habit and lifestyle of prayer is no different. It’s far too easy to allow the busy-ness and stress of our daily lives to fill our schedules, leaving us with the feeling that we’re too busy to pray. Or we run into a situation where we really have no idea how to lift up in prayer.
 

A Spiritual “Reset” Button

That’s one of the reasons why Lent is one of my favorite seasons of the liturgical year. It’s an opportunity to hit that spiritual “reset” button. Lent is an Old English word that means “springtime.” Spring is a season where we clean up the muck of the past year to prepare our yards for new growth and to freshen and straighten our homes. Spiritually, the season of Lent provides the same opportunity. It’s an opportunity to restart some old habits that have been lost or begin new habits out of a desire to clean the spiritual muck out of our hearts and souls to make room for the new spiritual growth the Holy Spirit has in store for us. We take advantage of this season by setting aside some bad habits that are keeping us from praying, or starting new habits to enable us to pray more effectively.
On Sundays during Lent, we’ll use the prayer book of the Hebrews, the Psalms, as our guide to praying through some of the more challenging things that come up in our lives. Over the course of this series, we’ll look at the problem of prayer, how to approach the Inapproachable, how to pray when we’ve done wrong, how to cultivate a trust that never stops, how to pray when there is no hope, and what rejoicing really looks like.
 
May this season of Lent and our time spent in the Psalms nurture and encourage your soul.
 
Blessings,
Rev. David Garrison

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Hope Springs Eternal

Tomorrow is March 1st.  Here in Central Virginia, there’s a Winter Weather Advisory for tonight and talk of a couple of possible snowstorms both early and late next week. Next Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the liturgical season of Lent.  This is almost as late as Ash Wednesday can be, so usually by this time we’re a few weeks into Lent and already looking forward to Holy Week and Easter Sunday.  Lent is an Old English word that means “springtime.”  Apparently, spring is taking it’s sweet time coming this year.
 
I’ve found that it doesn’t take much to give me hope. Did the sun come out in February?  Time to break out the shorts and t-shirts, even if the temperature is in the 30s and there’s snow in the forecast.  Did the Redskins score a touchdown?  Pretty sure they’re going to the Super Bowl.  Did the Cardinals win a spring training game?  The World Series is a lock.  I could go on, but I think you get the picture.
 
There’s a great story in the Bible about this kind of ridiculous hope.  Israel has been locked in a nasty drought for about three years.  Elijah has just won an incredible victory over Ahab and the prophets of Ba’al, and then this happens:
And Elijah said to Ahab, “Go, eat and drink, for there is the sound of a heavy rain.” So Ahab went off to eat and drink, but Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel, bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees.
 
“Go and look toward the sea,” he told his servant. And he went up and looked.
 
“There is nothing there,” he said.
 
Seven times Elijah said, “Go back.”
 
The seventh time the servant reported, “A cloud as small as a man’s hand is rising from the sea.”
 
So Elijah said, “Go and tell Ahab, ‘Hitch up your chariot and go down before the rain stops you.’” (1 Kings 18:41–44)
 
I wonder how many times over those three years of drought had folks looked and seen a cloud, the size of a man’s fist, on the horizon and wondered if this might be the cloud that brings the rain.  But no rain came.  And I wonder how the servant felt being told to go look seven different times.  But then there is a cloud, and Elijah knows that the rain is coming – torrents of rain, in fact (1 Kings 18:45-46).  I am sure that Ahab, Elijah’s servant and everyone else thought Elijah’s hope was ridiculous.
 
Of course, God had already told Elijah that the rain was coming, so his ridiculous hope was grounded in knowledge and trust (1 Kings 18:1).  But is our hope any less so?  Far from it.  Well, hoping the Redskins will go to the Super Bowl because they score a touchdown…yeah, that’s ridiculous.  But seeing a new crocus plant breaking through the snow and being hopeful for spring?  That’s a hope grounded in knowledge and trust.  As the prophet Jeremiah writes,
Because of the LORD’S great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD. (Lam. 3:22–26)
 
Much like feeling a warm breath of wind on an otherwise cold winter day, or seeing the tulips beginning to break forth out of the ground, or the leaf buds on the trees, it is right and good to wait and hope for the salvation of the Lord.  This is the way God often works.  Spring has started long before we see any signs of it, even while everything we see is locked in the frozen cold of winter.
 
You may find yourself yearning for spring in your life, but locked in the frozen cold of depression, or the hurts of life, or a mess that maybe you had nothing to do with but swallowed you up anyway.  Right now, trying to hold on to hope might seem ridiculous to you.  But I promise, God is at work in ways you can not yet see and spring is coming.  “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:18)  Don’t give up hoping and trusting in the Lord – He hasn’t given up on saving and healing you.
 

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Pastor’s Corner – February 2019

If you give a man a fish he is hungry again in an hour. If you teach him to catch a fish you do him a good turn. — English proverb
 
But Jesus answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” — Matthew 4:4
 
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” — 2 Timothy 3:16–17
 

Learning to Study the Scriptures

One of the core beliefs we hold as Christians is the authority and importance of the Bible. We believe it is divinely inspired, without error and fully authoritative for us and our lives. We also believe that Christians should regularly study and learn from the Bible. But much of how we do that is through sermons and Sunday school lessons, which usually involve someone (the preacher, for example) reading a passage, telling us (the congregation) what it means, and then how to apply it to our lives. It is, in many respects, a passive learning experience – knowledge and information is given to us to receive and absorb, and hopefully live. But we all learn best by doing ourselves, rather than someone doing the work for us (see the English proverb above).
 

Getting SOAPy

On Sunday evenings, the youth have started studying the books of the Bible. In doing so, we’re seeking to teach them not simply what the Bible says and means, but more importantly how to study the Bible for themselves. I think the technique we’re teaching them might be of benefit to you, particularly if you’ve struggled with how to study the Bible on your own. The method we’re teaching is an acronym called SOAPScripture, Observation, Application and Prayer. Here’s how it works:
 

Scripture

The first step is to identify a Scripture passage for study. It is generally good to Study one or two paragraphs – or about 6-10 verses — at a time. After selecting a passage, it is good to identify what Testament you are in (before or after Christ’s birth), and what kind of literature you are reading (history, law, prophets, poetry, gospel, letters). It is helpful to copy the passage or key verses into a journal, as this increases comprehension and sets the stage for learning. Remember: You can Google any book of the Bible for answers to simple questions about that book.
 

Observation

Observation is taking time to look at the passage and ask questions to learn what it is saying. What are the commands to obey or examples to follow? What are the promises to claim? What does it teach me about God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit? Take time to identify questions you may have that will lead to additional study. Write your observations and questions in your journal. Consider using a Bible handbook or simple commentary for further study.
 

Application

Do not stop with observations; take time to make applications. Ask: How will this truth change me or my family? Where do I fall short and who can help me? What will I change in my attitudes, relationships, and behaviors? What must I do today as a result of this study? How am I strengthened and encouraged by this passage? Record your applications in your journal.
 

Prayer

Conclude your Bible study with prayer. Ask God to help you apply the passage to life. Where do you need God’s help or forgiveness? What are you thankful for in this passage of Scripture? Write the answers to these questions in your journal.
 
Learning to study the Bible is not difficult, but it takes practice and commitment. Like any good habit, the benefits of practicing regular Bible study, by yourself and in groups, make the effort of cultivating it worthwhile. It is my prayer that using a little SOAP in your study of the Bible will help you know God’s Word and its importance for your life.
 
Blessings,
Rev. David Garrison

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Pastor’s Corner – January 2019

Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. (1 Tim. 4:7–8 ESV)
 

What’s Your Resolution?

 
This is the time of year that gyms and diet programs love, because we all seek to take advantage of the new year and the “fresh start” it provides. Year after year, at the top of the list sits resolutions to get healthier and lose weight. We know we need to take care of our bodies, that we just spent a month (or more) overeating and indulging, and that summer is just a few months away. Taking care of our physical health is important, and I applaud you if you’ve made such a resolution. But as Paul says in the passage above, are we as equally resolved regarding our spiritual health and well-being?
 

Lord, Teach Us To Pray

 
Just as with physical health, our spiritual health takes intentionality and commitment, and it begins with prayer. Prayer is a funny thing — most everyone has prayed at some point in time since they were a little child, and yet it’s also the one thing I hear that people struggle with more than most anything else. In fact, at one point even the disciples had to ask Jesus to teach them to pray: Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” (Luke 11:1 ESV)
 

Praying Like Jesus

We’re going to be intentional in learning to pray like Jesus prayed. On Sunday mornings through the course of the season of Epiphany, we’ll dig deeply into The Lord’s Prayer – a prayer we all say every Sunday, but many of us don’t fully understand what we’re saying about or asking of God. Then, through Lent and leading up to Easter, we’ll explore the prayer book of the Hebrews, the Psalms, and find guidance for some of the problem areas of prayer.
 
If you, like the disciples (and most of us if we’re honest), are looking for someone to teach you to pray, or maybe you could use some encouragement in your prayer life, I hope you’ll join us. May God bless you in this new year!
Blessings, Rev. David Garrison

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Pastor’s Corner – December 2018

Consumed by Consuming

I received my first email announcing Black Friday, the annual celebration of greed and gluttony that defines the day after Thanksgiving (a day of gratitude for all God has provided for us), on November 2. Not only that, but the email announced that the Black Friday deals were available NOW! Of course, for years the stores have been opening on Thanksgiving to offer Black Friday “doorbuster” sales (full confession: I went shopping on Thanksgiving to get one of those deals). The mentality that comes from shopping for the best deal leads to two consequences. First, we live in a state of perpetual dissatisfaction and discontent. Second, we apply the consumer mindset to other areas of life – we just keep looking for the best “deal” that will better meet our “needs.” We are a consumer-based culture. And we are being consumed by it. One might say we are literally selling our souls to satisfy our consuming.
 

A Prescription for A Better Way

There are times when something happens to our bodies, maybe a deep-set illness is discovered, and the doctor issues us a prescription for medicine to help return us to physical health. It often doesn’t happen overnight, but through faithfully following the prescription, over time we begin to notice a difference and feel better. Eventually, we are restored to full health. The prescription to our rampant consumerism is the Christian season of Advent. Advent comes from a Latin word that means “coming.” It is a 4-week season that leads up to Christmas and is meant to be a time of intentional reflection and preparation for the coming of the Messiah – both celebrating his first Advent 2,000 years ago, and hopefully anticipating his second coming. The giving of gifts (started by the Magi that first Christmas) is a good tradition, but this one aspect has taken over the entire season.
 
There are rituals and traditions surrounding our celebrations of Advent and Christmas. Some of those are particular to our families, others are more broadly practiced by churches or communities. Many of them have their roots in centuries past, or maybe they are new traditions only a few years old. The rituals of putting up and decorating the Christmas tree, of lighting the Advent candles (both in worship and at home as a family), of going caroling are all great ways to slow down this holiday (holy-day) season. Consider other activities and start new traditions that your family (both nuclear and extended) can practice and celebrate each year to move us deeper in our understanding of what this season is supposed to be about and find ourselves moving away from consuming and toward joy and contentment in Christ.
“I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Phil. 4:11–13)
 
Blessings,
Rev. David Garrison

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Pastor’s Corner – November 2018

The End of the Year Is Upon Us

The end of the year is here! Perhaps you’re wondering if I mixed my months up – a distinct possibility! But no, I’m just looking at a different calendar. While the Gregorian calendar (the one we use on a daily basis) has two months left, the Christian calendar is drawing to a close.
 

The Spiritual Celebration of The King

The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever.” (Revelation 11:15)
Toward the end of this month the longest season of the Christian Calendar (called “Ordinary Time”) comes to a close. Ordinary Time is a season devoted to giving space to consider all the implications of God’s salvation in Jesus Christ for our day by day, week-in, week-out lives. But as the season moves on, and the chaos of the world presses in, we can begin to wonder if God is even at work any more. And so Ordinary Time ends with Christ the King Sunday (this year, November 25), the last Sunday before Advent and a reminder that Jesus is king, that all the world is subject to him, that the Kingdom of God is already at hand, and that one day soon He will come back to consummate His kingdom and His rule. The world may seem to be spiraling into chaos, but Jesus is still sovereign and holds it all in His hands. We may not understand much of what is happening, but we can trust that Jesus does.
 

A Secular Season of Gratitude

But what fascinates me about these calendars is how the Spirit moves in both sacred and secular seasons. I don’t imagine that those who suggested we celebrate Thanksgiving in November did so with any thought for the Christian calendar, but there are few ways better to celebrate the end of the Christian year than by focusing on being grateful for the kingship of Jesus Christ as well as for all that we have and are. Perhaps that’s one of the problems with the rampant anger and angst in our culture today – we focus too much on our discontent and not enough on being grateful for what God has provided for us. As Paul writes to the Colossians:
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.” (Colossians 3:16)
 
May God bless each of us as we celebrate not just all we have to be grateful for, but also that ultimately we can be thankful because Jesus is King and we can trust in Him!
 
Blessings,
Rev. David Garrison

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Andrew Brunson Prayer Update

Andrew Brunson’s trial resumes next Friday, October 12.  In preparation for that, we have gathered the following resources for you.
 
The first is a blog by Rev. Bill Campbell who was in the courtroom with Andrew at his trial last July.  This provides not only first-hand insight into what it’s like in the courtroom, but also how things are for Christians throughout Turkey.
 
This is the first 13 days of a 31 day prayer initiative.  The second half will be published once the outcome of his trial on October 12 is made known.  These are short, daily prayers you can easily add to your daily quiet time routine or at any point throughout your day.  Paper copies were made available last Sunday and are still available to pick up at church.
 
In an effort to stand with and pray for the entire Brunson family, the EPC is issuing a Call to Prayer and Fasting for the week of October 8.  We will make these available as a bulletin insert on Sunday, October 7.
 
Thank you for your continued prayers and support for Andrew.  May his faithfulness in spite of the adversity he’s faced encourage you in your walk with the Lord as well!

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Pastor’s Corner – October 2018

What’s in a logo?

 
Now that our logo is prominently displayed on the front of the church, I’ve found myself thinking about it every day as I arrive. A good logo is simple and evocative, easy to recognize and remember, but bringing to mind multiple layers of images and meanings as you study it. Our logo accomplishes both of these things very well.
 

In the Beginning was the Word

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. — John 1:1–4
The first thing your eye catches is the open Bible, at the bottom of the image. Visually we are reminded that the Word of God is our beginning and our foundation. All of what we believe and know is grounded in and flows out of the Bible. But a closed book doesn’t do any good. It needs to be opened and read in order for the words within to bring life and light. And of course, as the passage from John implies, the image of the Bible in the logo points to the Word of God, and that Word of God is Jesus Christ. But these aren’t just old, stagnant, dead words, Hebrews 4:12 reminds us that the Word of God is “living and active.” What is it that keeps the Word of God alive today?
 

The Spirit Gives Life

It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. — John 6:63
The eye naturally moves upward from the open Bible and sees the dove, with wings spread, rising out of the center. The dove has long been a visual representation of the Holy Spirit (see Luke 3:21-22), and as it prepares to take flight it gives the image of being alive and free. Being centered in the Word, the dove also reminds us that the Spirit is the seal of our salvation and our inheritance (Ephesians 1:13-14). And as the Spirit fills the Word, so also it fills us. The Holy Spirit gives life to believers and empowers us to take the Word of God into the world through our actions and our words.
 
May God bless each of us as we seek to be a community of faith that are “hearers and doers” of the Word (James 1:22) and “strengthened with power through his Spirit” (Ephesians 3:16) to serve others in Christ’s name!
 
Blessings, Rev. David Garrison

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Pastor’s Corner – August 2018

One Year Ago…

Do you remember a year ago?  You were wondering just what this new pastor you’d called would be like; and we were wondering about this new congregation and community we’d been called to serve.  There were so many unknowns and questions for us all.  But just behind all of that uncertainty was our God, who holds all of us in His hands, who knows the future as certainly as the past.  God has shown all of us that He knows exactly what He is doing.  Without a doubt, it has been a wonderful year.  One of the things I enjoyed most at the EPC General Assembly in June was being able to brag about the wonderful congregation I’ve been blessed to serve as pastor for the past year.  As I told several friends and mentors, I couldn’t imagine a better congregation to serve for my first solo pastorate. It’s hard to find the words to express how thankful I am for how you’ve welcomed and loved my family over the past year.   The picture to the right was taken the day we moved into our new home.

…But There’s More To Come!

As great as the past year has been, I can’t wait to see all that God has in store for the year(s!) to come.  The various ministries of the church and the Session are hard at work prayerfully discerning how God is already at work in and around us, and how He is inviting us to join Him in that work.  Plans are being laid for some pretty cool things in Christian Education, Missions & Outreach, Worship and Fellowship over the months to come.  The best part is that you get a sneak peek at what’s ahead on Rally Day, coming up Sunday, August 26.  How is God inviting you to continue growing as a disciple of Jesus Christ and what opportunities is He providing for you to serve as Jesus’ hands and feet?  Plan to join us for Rally Day and you just might find out.  We look forward to seeing you there!

Blessings,

Rev. David Garrison


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