Lonely, Fruitless, Barren, Loved

On the urging of one of my sisters, I finally read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. A tale of love, loyalty and misunderstandings, I was struck by how much of the plot was driven by societal honor and shame. To be single, to have no male heirs, to be of a lower social class, to lose one’s good name- Austen’s characters dread these possibilities. Such questions of honor and shame threaten not only their self-image, but their survival. To be an unmarried woman is to be cast aside. To have no male heir is for any economic progress in life to be futile and for one’s line to be forgotten. To fall out of one’s social tier is to lose hope for future prosperity and security.

I’ve also been reading through Isaiah this December and was startled to find a similar sub-plot. Isaiah consistently speaks of the barren, the eunuch, the foreigner as social categories of shame. These kinds of people are marked by futility, by emptiness, by ostracization and by insecurity. Society casts them aside. Even if they have walls and a roof to call their own, they are socially homeless (and often moving towards physical homelessness, too). They are marked by loneliness and fruitlessness, and thus as without societal value.

And yet Isaiah mentions them specifically to offer a different, divine valuation of their lives and positions. God looks at the lonely and the fruitless and calls them loved. He extends to them honor. They have a place in His home, a name in His house better than that of sons and daughters. God recognizes that they lack the ‘measurables’ of cultural honor and loveliness, but He delights in them for an alternative reason. Because they are His.

And because they are His, and because He is at work in and through them, they will actually prove to be ‘productive’ on a divine scale. In one particularly moving passage, Isaiah instructs the barren woman to enlarge her tent– to make space for the expansion of her family and of her wealth. To the lonely and the fruitless, God promises family and provision in His kingdom.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the life of Christ Himself. Lonely- without family and friends in the end. Fruitless- buried with nothing to show for His years of ministry. Shamed- despised by His people and by foreigners alike. And yet to Him is given glory and honor and wisdom and power- to Him is given a Name that is beyond every other name, a family that continues to expand. He who enters into our shame and poverty thereby adorns all such things with the very glory of God. In a world that measures value by family and fortune, Jesus offers a different, divine paradigm for honor- that of belonging to the Lord, and submitting to His purposes.

This is a paradigm far more hopeful than our own. Especially in this season of financial strain, of loneliness, isolation and death, our shame and our fears are countered by the gospel. For God enters into the lowest places and calls them Holy. God loves the lonely and the fruitless; He claims them as His own, and promises to make their names great in Him.

That, friends, is good news. Merry Christmas!

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August Update, Part 2: God in the Brewery

A short testimony from Monday’s opening Bible Study.

The backstory: as I’ve continued building relationships at the Brewery over the summer (starting with a few regulars, and growing to the staff and some visitors), I met one employee who was particularly hungry for God but who was without a community in which to grow. After several weeks of conversation, I suggested he and I start a Bible study at the Brewery- and I have never seen ANYONE so excited about a Bible study! He suggested Mondays at 5pm (his most reliably free evening) and started inviting his friends.

We started with Mark 1 this week, with four of us gathered and three more planning to join next week. A couple of these folks are mature Christians, others are more loosely ‘spiritual’ – and this makes me very excited. All Christians are called to seek out those who do not know Jesus, to share with them the grace we have found in Him, but as a church plant we are specifically called to seek out other Christians to join us in this work. This brewery group engages with both! And after a rich first discussion, I’m primed for next week already.

Oddly enough, the key guy missed last week- he had a last-minute order thrown on him at work that kept him late. But he came by afterwards to apologize, and to ask if he and I could set up a time to ‘make up the study he missed.’ That, my friends, is spiritual hunger. What an humbling honor it is to be the bearer of this bread of life.

Thank you for your prayers! Pray that we all stay hungry- and that the Lord draws those whom He wills to join us.

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August Update

When my neighbor invited me to attend her sister’s memorial service, I didn’t know ‘attend’ meant ‘lead.’ I probably should have, but I didn’t. I had some thoughts together, just in case, but when they asked me to speak, those thoughts went out the window. My only real contact with the deceased had been two weeks prior- a ‘chance’ encounter during an evening walk- but as I sat and prayed and thought, my thoughts were drawn to Psalm 62. Her strength and her love were obvious in our conversation- and in the dozens that gathered in a hot July backyard for her socially-distanced memorial service. From recounting those recent memories I turned to the hope of the God who is both strength and love, our true and certain hope. The Lord gave me the words that I needed (and quickly) to extend the gospel to the crew gathered there.

But the Lord gave me one other thing that night- a connection… to the Waffle House. My surviving neighbor works there, and many of the non-family mourners present at the service were her co-workers. I got to know several of them that evening, but was focused primarily on the family. Only when I dropped by the Waffle House for breakfast did I realize just what those connections meant- three employees greeted me as ‘pastor’ as soon as I walked through the door (with a mask on, mind you), and one came and sat at my table to talk through some of her own grief before they even took my order! What a blessing! Suddenly, after months of slow contact work, I’ve been given a ‘place of peace’; the Lord has opened a door to share his gospel over hashbrowns. (Scattered and smothered, obvi.)

The Lord is opening possibilities, even as the pandemic is trying my patience. In a week, the Lord can do what I struggled to do all summer: create a deep community connection. This gives me great joy- and great consternation. Today, a Sunday, I had one new person bail on a coffee, three potential meetings fail to materialize, and my intended contact point in the community was crowded beyond wisdom. So today becomes another study day, a writing day. A prayer day. A frustrating day, frankly, for a church planter, wanting to see something happen.

But the Lord can do it. He already has- the Waffle house connection, the Bible study starting up at the Brewery on Mondays, another potential study on my block this fall. PLEASE be praying for these! And for me, for patience. The Lord is opening possibilities that I didn’t see coming, even in a pandemic. But slowly. So I pray. Pray with me.

As always, I’m rarely more encouraged than when I remember the ‘crowd of witnesses’ carrying me and my work here in the Boro. Your prayers, your notes, your financial gifts, your calls- these all stoke my courage and my perseverance. You are a sign of the faithful love of our strong God, even as I wait and pray and act. Thank you. And let me know how I can be praying for you!
In His Mission,

Drew

PS- new sermon from Christ Church on the podcast! Find it below with the LISTEN button.

Rev. Drew Miller
Drew@StatesboroAnglican.org
StatesboroAnglican.org
2020 Bull St, Savannah, GA 31401

Prayer Requests

  • Give thanks for the Waffle House connection! Pray for grace there, and for the Lord to open doors relationally with who He is calling to Himself through our team.
  • Give thanks for the venison my Assemblies of God church planter friend dropped off WHILE I WAS WRITING THIS EMAIL.
  • Give thanks that the brewery Bible study came to fruition! I’ve never seen anyone more excited to study the word than the lead brewer there. Pray for a few more folks to join us.
  • Keep praying for kindred spirits to join our team to help us plant.
  • Keep praying for vision conversations with my team.
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Christianity as Witness – Reflections from DC trip part 2

Christianity as Witness – Reflections from DC trip part 2

If, as many have argued, the creation account in Genesis reveals the cosmos to be a temple unto the right worship of God, then those placed to tend and guard it- humans, male and female- are its priests. We have been created, placed on this soil, in order to draw all creation to praise and wonder and submission to the Lord of Love. Priests represent God, serving as ambassadors of His presence in the world. They stand as witnesses to his nature, to his power, to his love.

But humanity, in its priestly role, serves not only as witnesses to Divine glory but also as witnesses to a fallen humanity. The high priest of Israel bears the names of his people as a breastplate, carrying them and their needs before God. This is what Jesus has done, and what he continues to do for us as he intercedes before the Father. And now this is also what we are called to do. Christians not only bear witness about God to the world, but also bear witness about the world to God. This is part of how God restores Creation, as he responds to the prayers of his people. It is also part of how creation comes to recognize that God does in fact care for them, even as he permits their suffering to continue.

Part of our purpose in being in DC was to bear witness to the kingship of Jesus. We wanted to make his name known, to point to his love. We were approached by several different people over the week, asking why we were there and what pastors meant by their presence. These were great conversations.

But perhaps more profoundly, we wanted to bear witness about the pain of our people to God. To pray for the people protesting and for the police. To pray for our leaders and policy makers. For the culture makers. For the church. We Christians have so often forgotten our call to care for the oppressed, the orphan, the widow, the sojourner. We must not ignore yet another call for grief and for justice, regardless of whether that call is sullied by extremists. As Christians, our compassion compels us to bear witness to such cries, to beg the Lord to hear and act, and to represent to those suffering the presence of an Emmanuel king: a God-with-us.

An impromptu memorial has bloomed across the barricade that blocks the White House fence, a string of photos of women and men killed in racialized violence over the past few years. We found Walter Scott, a man from Charleston who was shot in the back while running from the police. We could find no memorial for the Charleston Nine (the parishioners killed by a white supremacist who was welcomed into a Wednesday night Bible study at Mother Emanuel AME). As it was the five year anniversary of the shooting, we found some posterboard and markers and one of our own sketched a profile of the church with nine doves ascending from its steeple, each with the name of a man or woman killed. We hung it on the barrier by Walter Scott. It can be seen in the picture above.

As we did, a middle-aged African American woman looked on behind us. She could not see what we were doing, but when she could read the poster her eyes softened with tears. Six white ministers, in clerical collars, knelt to honor our brothers and sisters who were killed even as they extended their Christian hospitality towards their killer. One woman looked on. We knelt as a witness, to God and to that woman. God, we are suffering- come quickly! Woman, you are heard, and your tears are counted. Truly he comes for you.

Christians are called to grieve with those who grieve. We need not rationalize that grief before we enter into it. In a conversation with two thoughtful college students weeks ago, one mentioned that compassion always precedes policy in the heart of the Christian. The fact that racial injustice is perceived by so many, and therefore grieved by so many, ought to make Christians quick to listen and to grieve above all. Even if the statistics were to prove otherwise (and I do not believe they do), the Christian’s first responsibility is to meet the grieving in their grief, and her second is to seek to understand (rather than to minimize) the causes of that grief. ‘Tough love’ for the grieving, without grieving ourselves, is not love. It is not Christianity. Even if those grieving misunderstand the cause of their grief, even if they respond to it poorly, the Christian is nevertheless to begin with empathy, with mercy, with compassion. With a true witness to the experience of suffering- even as the Christian brings to bear the higher, ever challenging, final witness of the eternal Christ on all the world.

This is what it means to be Christians, priests one and all, the go-betweens of creation and Divinity. This is what it means to bear witness in our world.

 

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Conflicted Space – Reflections on a trip to the protests in DC

Conflicted Space – Reflections on a trip to the protests in DC

I had the privilege of traveling up to DC with several fellow pastors two weeks ago. The goal was something between a mission trip and a pilgrimage. We were disturbed by the upheavals seen in this country in the last few months, concerned for the safety of citizens protesting, grieved by the need for a new call to racial justice, troubled by some of the actions of our nation’s leaders, and eager to just do something. We knew that we first needed to pray, and that our most important work would be done in our local contexts. Yet we also knew that to pray together would be a source of strength in a wearying season, and that the ideas and lessons gathered in a short trip to DC would pay good dividends at home.

And so we left, six of us in a 15 passenger sprinter, on Monday morning. We arrived in DC with enough time to walk with a protest from Lafayette square, engaging with protestors and police, thanking both for their work and their longing for a just society and for their presence in such conflicted space The protestors were particularly well-managed, with a soul-singing facilitator at the fore of the 250-300 person crowd. The police were present in significant numbers, and were deliberately making safe space for the protest to continue in its route. Our presence was noticed by those marching and those guarding, and several showed deliberate gratitude at our presence. We walked around nine miles that evening before returning home for reflection, Compline, and bed.

On Tuesday and Wednesday we spent our days wandering through the various monuments that remained open during Covid. Again we found conflicted space, now of a different kind. We stood at the Jefferson memorial and read his lofty declarations of the equality of men before God, posted next to his notes on slavery being a necessary evil for the existence of the new nation. We stood before Lincoln, and read the portion of his second inaugural address there on the wall, in which he remarks that the emancipation was done for the sake of the Union, and not for the true rights of the slaves (though he acknowledged their existence). The blood of this war, he says, is our judgment for the blood of slaves, and may not cease until justice is sated by it. We sat at the MLK memorial, read two of his sermons aloud and marveled at the ‘stone of hope’ cut from the ‘mountain of despair.’ And we wondered that the writer of such gospel-weighted words could commit adultery.

These are conflicted spaces. As is our nation. As is every human heart. From the towering stone of the Washington Monument, to the sunken marble of the Vietnam Memorial, the District of Columbia seemed to image the glorious, foreboding natures of her builders. We are quick to assess and dismiss, to minimize the cause of another for the reasonableness of our own. We prefer to live in clean boxes, in good-or-evil, and never in the grays of the human condition. We are dirt shaped by Divine hands and filled with Divine breath. I am born in sin and bear it forward, and yet remain a limping image of God.

What struck me most in DC was this conflicted space. As we drove homeward on Thursday, planning how we might help seek racial justice in our communities and in our churches, I marveled at the challenge. Even as we seek a particular goal, one shaped by the God of the oppressed and orphans and widows, no one can be dismissed. No one can be sidelined, or damned by our disgust, as tempting as such a dismissal is. To broad-brush is to make life simpler, and to make self-certitude less contestable. Generalizations yield easy answers. But not good ones. The world is complicated, conflicted space.

But the Word of our God pierces between soul and spirit, bone and marrow. It knows nuance, complexity, weightiness, complication. This is the first thing I learned in DC- in the face of a color-shaped conflict, one marked by deep, abiding grays, the church must not ignore the conflict for the sake of ease, nor minimize its pinch through hyperbole and generalization. Nor may we allow any culture to define the terms of our belief, or love, or action.  We must live in the tension of this conflicted space with a deep reliance on Jesus, on his hope for all, on his leading Spirit. We must partner, but with reservations- we must allow the word of God to cut with both of its polished edges. We must allow it to cut right into our world, our nation, our systems- right into our very souls. For there and there alone is truth and her companion, freedom. As Christians, regardless of our assumptions, we must listen. We must reflect. We must pray. We must study. We must partner. And we must act, with the humility that comes from a recognition of the truly conflicted space in and around us.

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Advent Memories and the Faithfulness of God

Advent Memories and the Faithfulness of God

My first semester in Statesboro is wrapping up. That’s hard to believe. I feel like I’ve somehow done very little and very much simultaneously. This year has seen much root-work, establishing vision and direction below the surface- busy and unseen, inward and spiritual. But I have rich memories already of the outward and visible work of ministry here- of visits to the brewery for games of chess, of hard conversations over coffees and hot chocolate, of my heart warmed as I preach for a people that I have grown to love. I’m so grateful to be a part of the work God is doing here in Statesboro, GA, and grateful for the friendship and support of our team at Christ Church, Savannah. It has been a good five months.

It has been a busy Advent, and a sweet one. My friends over at St. John’s, Florence invited me to spend a week with their congregation, preaching on Sunday and teaching mid-week about the impact of the Incarnation on culture. You can listen to my sermon on Isaiah 11 and the faithfulness of God here. In between I got to attend the ordination of a dear friend (who also happens to be the illustrious founder of this website), and to attend an absurdly fun staff/vestry party. And, most importantly, making eggnog with the Prescott’s has officially become a Tradition. A delicious tradition. What a sweet family.

This weekend, thinking that the holidays would shrink the crowd, I hosted our bi-monthly communion service last night in my living room. But we had our biggest crowd in months! One family lead us in worship, singing a song I’d never heard (A Labor of Love, by Peterson), and others helped reading and serving communion. The picture above shows the setup, after the kids stopped roasting mallows in the fireplace. The house, I am pleased to report, did not burn down.

Thank you for your support and encouragement! Looking forward to seeing some of you over the holidays. Let me know how I can be praying for you!

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Synod and Sermons Galore!

Synod and Sermons Galore!

Consider this a media overload.

First, a picture from Diocesan Synod (our annual leadership conference for the region): above.

Second, a link for a sermon from last Sunday at City Church- it was a privilege to be back, even if Terrell made me preach on failed church leadership, persecution, suffering, and the end of the world. Seriously.

And finally, the sermon recording from yesterday’s service in Statesboro, GA. Several friends mentioned that they wanted to hear more from my work: here it is folks! Psalm 46- The God of Jacob is Our Refuge.

 

Hope you enjoy! Keep praying, keep me posted so I can keep praying too!

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On Building God a House

On Building God a House

Our homegroup studied 2 Samuel 7 last week, a favorite passage of mine. In it, the great King David of Israel had led his nation to peace and prosperity, and now had determined to honor the sovereign God of Israel with a magnificent temple. But God speaks to a prophet in the night, who comes to David in the morning with a message: ‘You will not build me a house,’ says the Lord, ‘but I will build you a house.”

It’s a remarkable reversal, one I’ve written about before. David, eager to do something for God, is simply not allowed to. Instead, God declares his intent to establish David’s throne forever.

I think of the many times my friends and I have longed to do something incredible for God- be it plant a church, start a non-profit, make a sizable donation to a local church or cause. Would we not be devastated, and confused should God say to us: ‘No thanks, I got this?’

But what would we experience if his next words were, ‘But I will do this for you?’

We had almost finished our discussion on 2 Samuel 7 when it occurred to me that I, aspiring to plant a new church here in Statesboro, would be closing on my own home the very next morning. The God who I had come to Statesboro to serve had already blessed me with over-abundant provision. Before I had begun to build a house for the Lord, he gave me one. A very lovely one with big windows. All good gifts come from him.

It’s humbling to be entrusted with a home- all the more with the care of a congregation. But our study last Thursday, and my reflections since, have reminded me that the Lord is abundantly merciful, overflowing in grace. He is the great provider, not me. He is the leader, and what a joy to follow in his train.

 

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The Personality Matters

A couple weeks ago I attended the Always Forward Church Planting pre-conference (before the New Wineskins Mission Conference). Perhaps the best part of the conference was the attendee list- many of my closest friends from my first diocese (South Carolina) allowed me to crash their AirBNB; good times were had. There were many breakout sessions with varying degrees of helpfulness, but all of which sparked thought and conversation amongst my planting compadres. One thing that I found particularly helpful was a discussion about the role of the church planter’s personality.

Every person in every church has a different set of preferences, expectations, ideals for their congregation. A leader is no different. I come to Statesboro with hopes and goals, visions and dreams, strengths and weaknesses, and even a ‘ministry personality’ of sorts. I like to do things certain ways.

One of the keynote speakers, in his later breakout session, made the point that such personality in the planter was a necessary component in the identity of a new congregation. It is an unquestioned truism that any congregation will take on the characteristics of its leader over time- for better or for worse.  Yet I found myself feeling guilty for involving my preferences at all. Shouldn’t a pastor be able to set all those aside to care for the flock? Shouldn’t the pastor be an ‘invisible leader,’ with everyone looking not at them but through them at Jesus?

Well, ‘yes and no,’ the speaker said. The pastor must submit their desires to the good of the congregation. And, of course, a personality-driven congregation runs the risk of being a cult rather than a church. However, a personality-less leader does not necessarily serve their congregation best. Jesus did not walk the earth as an abstract humanity, but as a human being. A person. With unique personality. Simply reading the New Testament reveals the particularity- and the beauty- of the personalities of the apostles. How much we would have missed if conversion made Paul into John, or a John into Paul! As it turns out, the Divine Image is big enough to go around, in any number of shades and textures. And the unique bits of one individual may reveal their Lord as readily as their more homogenous particulars.

Perhaps we might say it like this: the person of the leader must submit their preferences to the needs of the group, but ought not submit not their personality. Our being-who-we-are, held in community, accountable to community, is part of how the body of Christ comes together. A church plant that did not look anything like me would be as problematic (and as inorganic) as a congregation that looked exactly like me (God forbid!). As someone who is consistently introspective and aggressively self-critical, this idea gave me permission to be as I am as I lead, even as I seek the Lord about who we at Statesboro Anglican Mission are called to be together.

I’m grateful that word got through.

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