Thank you for everything.

Thank you for everything.

The past few weeks have been difficult. 

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Four weeks ago, doctors in Columbus replaced my Mother’s right hip. The procedure was a complete success. The days following, less so. For two weeks, serious complications plagued Mom’s recovery, each requiring a trip to Columbus. These past two weeks, we have cared for Mom in our home with the help of home health and rehab. Without the loving care of Erin, our family, and our extended church family, we would not have endured in the same way. 

I missed you while I was gone. You were wonderful. The calls, texts, and emails offered encouragement during a challenging time. I’ve been thinking of our patron saint. Well, if Highland Hills had a patron saint, it might be Henri Nouwen. Nouwen served as a Catholic priest, professor of psychology and theology, and an author. After almost two decades of teaching at Yale and Harvard, he spent the rest of his life serving as a pastor in L’Aarche, a community of people with neuro/developmental differences near Toronto.

As I am not accustomed to receiving care, I’ve been reflecting on a concept popularized by Nouwen, that of a “wounded healer.” Wounded healers offer their hurt to help others receive comfort and encouragement. They share in the sufferings of Christ, and they share with other people the compassion of Christ. They become a gentle, reliable, and sympathetic presence for the people around them.

Many of you have offered your own stories of caregiving and eldercare. You have spoken, from a place of experience, words of encouragement and comfort, along with a healthy amount of comfort food. Our sharing this life together makes more of each of us. Thank you for encouraging us during this time of caregiving with my family. 

Thank you for offering care and for sometimes teaching me how to receive it. Your witness to us in this time brought this text to mind: 

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard-pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. We always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body. For we who are alive are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that his life may also be revealed in our mortal body. So then, death is at work in us, but life is at work in you.” 2 Corinthians 4:7-12

From Laborer to Artist

From Laborer to Artist

by Jake Hall

Every year in the fall we enter a season of discernment at Highland Hills. We begin to look forward to next year and to wonder about the teams we will need to fulfill our God-given mission in Macon-Bibb. It is familiar enough, a time of sign-ups for ministry teams, nominations for committees, or ordination for deacon service. 

Engaging this season begins with introspection. Ask yourself if your gifts match up with any opportunities in our church or our community. Think about the ways you are offering your life to the world. Consider your place of service in Macon through Highland Hills. Energy, passion, and drive each direct us to our calling. How is God calling you to do good work in the name of Christ?

That last question is a tall order, I know. It is difficult to name just what kind of work to which God may be calling us, both personally and corporate. Nevertheless, God has given you gifts that are meant to be used for God’s good pleasure and your own. Are you living into your vocation as a Christian and doing the kind of work God would have you do?

I've been thinking a lot about St. Francis. Each time I entered or exited the hospital in Columbus where Mom received care, St. Francis greeted me. Over time the statue began to inspire.

St. Francis once wrote that one who works with their hands is a laborer. I think this is where our reflection on service usually begins. We sign-up to do a job. In this way, we think of service as labor, the work we do for God. Saying yes to that kind of work is important, but it isn't the end of the journey... just the beginning. 

Christian vocation is about more than just the work you can do with your hands. Labor and charity are admirable in their own right. Giving, serving and volunteering engage the body in good work, but there is more. Francis wrote that to work with your hands and your head makes you a craftsman. 

Have you ever thought about your service to God and the world as a craft? What would Christian trade-craft look like? Engaging your mind in service to God and the world means doing more than good work. You have to wonder why good work needs to be done. We are called to wonder why the world is so broken, in this way, at this place and time... not merely respond in service. Craftsman educate themselves on the world in which their work lies. 

For Francis, there was still more. For him, the engaged Christian life looked more like that of an artist. Artists engage head, heart, and hands in response to the world's beauty, pain, or struggle. They embody the truth of what they see in a medium that conveys that truth, be it: paint, sculpture, fabric, or sound.

Artists point us to a larger world through their work, enabling us to see from a different perspective. Know that there is a place for you at Highland Hills, a studio for God's visual artistry to be made known through your very life. 

So when the time comes to sign-up, nominate, serve or elect, consider it a part of the beauty that God is making through us in the world. Don't hesitate to get involved in that good work. 

My Favorite Hymn

My Favorite Hymn

By Cass DuCharme

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This past weekend, my home-church youth group from FBC Brandon, Florida had a reunion in Dickson,Tennessee near Nashville. Our former Minister of Music, Carlys Scates, lives near there and it was his birthday week so we gathered to celebrate his birthday and reminisce with him and his wife, Dottie. Also in attendance was our former Youth Minister, Lee Taylor and his wife, Connie, who now live in Alabama.
 
I grew up in a large church with a big youth group and youth choir. Seventy of us, who were in the youth group in the 70s and 80s, gathered with our spouses to remember the good times we had growing up in that special youth group. We didn’t know it at the time, but we were so blessed by these leaders who ministered to us and helped us find our way in life and faith.
 
During the reunion we sang some of our favorite anthems: In Remembrance, Ride the Chariot, Lead the Way, and May the Road Rise to Meet You. All of them are on Facebook, if you’d like to check them out. Ken Medema, himself, gave us a shout out on FB for his song, Lead the Way.
 
We laughed while remembering some funny stories. We cried when we remembered those in our group who have died. We played a trivia game, in which my name only came up a couple of times. We ate Barbeque. Carlys and Lee spoke. It was a day I will not soon forget. Since our last reunion was in 1994, 25 years ago, we vowed to get together again soon.
 
I know, I know, you’re wondering what this has to do with my favorite hymn, the title I chose for this article. Throughout the whole reunion, I was reminded of how the hymns of my childhood impacted my faith and my favorite hymn kept coming to mind as I shared this day with these special friends. Sing it with me.
 
Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father,
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not
As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.
 
Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided—
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!

As we reminisced throughout the reunion, I was reminded once again of God’s faithfulness to me over all these many years. But more than that, I was reminded of his faithfulness each and every morning through every season of my life. Let’s keep singing.

Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest,
Sun, moon and stars in their courses above,
Join with all nature in manifold witness
To Thy great faithfulness, mercy and love.

Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth,
Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide;
Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow,
Blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!
 
Great is Thy faithfulness! Great is Thy faithfulness!
Morning by morning new mercies I see;
All I have needed Thy hand hath provided—
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me!
 
Now, take a moment to think of your favorite hymn. Sing it out loud and thank God for the way it has impacted your life and of how God has been faithful to you. I hope it has blessed you along your faith journey as much as my favorite hymn has blessed me. I look forward to singing the hymns of our faith with you on Sunday.

Idiot Psalms and other collections of poetry

Idiot Psalms and other collections of poetry

By Jake Hall

Scott Cairns words have always evoked a response in me. We served on staff together once, in a sense. He was the Poet in Residency at Wilshire Baptist while I was a pastor-in-residence. His care for words and pacing shaped the liturgy for years. Scott taught lector/reader classes for people interested in becoming a more confident worship participant. He taught worship volunteer to perform the scripture in such a way as to create the space for people in the choir loft and the pews to really hear it anew.

Even after his term ended, you could tell who participated in his class. He taught folks to linger with the words of the passage until the moment of elocution contained more than information or recitation. He inspired imagination and experience in the reading of the text. It was and is truly beautiful. This is the job of a poet after all.

Maybe you will take delight in one of his works from his latest collection, Idiot Psalms. Here he imagines a Psalm of Isaac.


Idiot Psalm 12

BY SCOTT CAIRNS

A psalm of Isaak, amid uncommon darkness

O Being both far distant and most near,
O Lover embracing all unlovable, O Tender
Tether binding us together, and binding, yea
and tenderly, Your Person to ourselves,
Being both beyond our ken, and kindred, One
whose dire energies invest such clay as ours
with patent animation, O Secret One secreting
life anew into our every tissue moribund,
afresh unto our stale and stalling craft,
grant in this obscurity a little light.

Making a Reservation

Making a Reservation

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by Jake Hall

Highland Hills is using a new kind of church record-keeping solution called Realm. Realm primarily serves the administrative needs of our office. The Realm database holds our membership, attendance, and visitor records, as well as our accounting software. Realm processes tithes and offerings online, as well as, our event registrations and meal reservations. This software is a fantastic tool for our office staff and offers new tools to church leaders. 

Realm expands our church leaders ability to communicate and connect. It allows our Committee Chairs, Team Coordinators, Sunday School, and Small Group leaders the ability to take attendance for groups from their phone or tablet, share documents and resources with class members, and even message members by text or email with ease. Our Deacons have been using Realm’s group communication features for a few months now, and they love it. 

Temptation and Deliverance

Temptation and Deliverance

By Jake Hall

The Lord's Prayer is both simple and subversive. These past few weeks we have taken the prayer petition by petition, holding each phrase up to the light with a jeweler's loop to catch a different facet of this faithful prayer.

A Prayer for All Teachers

A Prayer for All Teachers

by Jake Hall

If you have ever lived in a house with both a student and an educator, then you know the quickened pace of August. By now, all of our students have returned to classrooms and dorm rooms everywhere. The educators in our midsts returned a few weeks ago, planning and prepping for a new school year or college term. At Highland Hills we have kids in kindergarten up to graduate school, as well as, educators and administrators at all manner of institutions from public pre-ks to private highschool schools; They serve as professors and para-pros, teachers and administrators, coaches and counselors.

Polyglot's Prayer

Polyglot's Prayer

By Jake Hall

A lot of people learn the Lord’s Prayer early in their journey of faith. It’s one of those prayers that even people of no faith kind of know. This general awareness shapes public perceptions of Christianity from without and also our inner life from within every time we recited.