What makes a person, a community, or a legacy great? Is it pomp and circumstance? Is it size? Is it the recognition of others? What is our standard for greatness? In her book about the Bulgarian national hero Vasil Levsky, The Apostle of Freedom, Mercia MacDermott deals with this very issue in painting a picture of the unreliability of worldly standards of power, prestige, and greatness by comparing the birth of a pasha (Turkish dignitary) and a peasant: “Births were commonplace among giaours and True Believers alike, and Gina Karlovo passed unnoticed among the subjects of Mahmud, just as Mary of Nazareth had passed unnoticed among the subjects of Herod as she travelled pregnant to Bethlehem. But history has a way of putting down the mighty from their seat: today the sultans are no more, Karliizade Ali Bey is all but forgotten, while countless thousands come to Karlovo to gaze with pride and wonder upon the birthplace of Gina’s son.” Vasil Levsky was a man who was a peasant, with very little education, no money, practically no education, and whose life ended on the end of a rope as the result of a failed uprising for freedom. Where is the greatness in such a life? Perhaps, it is in the total surrender, the faith, and the contribution to something greater that defines such a life. As noble as it was for Vasil Levsky to contribute so much to the freedom of the Bulgarian people, how much greater to sacrificially contribute so much for the eternal Kingdom of God, which encompasses people of every nation?
It is this reasoning that leads me to gratefully describing the two churches we were blessed to visit with this past Sunday as great communities. Our weekend started on Saturday night at Lenoir City First Church of the Nazarene and our time there continued through the Sunday morning service. I sat in the sanctuary on Sunday morning pondering the moment that I was baptized in that very room just weeks before my first trip to Bulgaria as a senior at dear ole TNU. As I pondered my eyes wandered to the many faces I was joined with in worship. They inadvertently landed on Michael Mayfield who served as my district NYI president for the majority of my time as a teenager on the district. I wondered if the people in that sanctuary knew the contribution they had made to my own story. I wonder if Michael is aware of the way in which God used his contributions to the Kingdom to shape, call, and equip me for ministry. I wonder if any of us will ever know the ways in which God uses the particular gifts we have to give to accomplish the redemptive work in the lives of so many, at least on this side of eternity. I am so grateful for the opportunity to share with these great people the ways in which they have contributed to my own story and invite them to contribute to the lives of others. I hope that one day a young missionary’s eyes rest on me in worship in reflection of the ways in which I have been used to contribute to the journey of another. What a wonderful time we had sharing our calling with the people of Lenoir City First. What a great church.
Sunday evening, we headed to Sweetwater Church of the Nazarene. Our babies’ Nana and Papa decided to join us and as we drove into town my mother reminisced about the time her and my father filled in there. My grandfather had pastored Sweetwater when my own father was just a child. We pulled into the parking lot to the greetings of Pastor Clarence Hogg. From Jude’s ride around the sanctuary on “great-grandma’s” walker, to the incredible spirit of the people, the anointing of the service, and the friendly fellowship before and after, the entire evening was a gift of grace. What a wonderful community. What a great church! It was from the same lady that Jude hitched a ride Sunday evening that I would get my gum from on Sunday mornings when I was a child. I learned much of what it means to be moved by the Spirit from Pastor Clarence and I will never forget the creative Sunday School lessons that his wife, Dorothea, used to teach me as a child. At the conclusion of the service I stood in the sanctuary, admiring the simple elegance of the sanctuary and people who filled it, and thought of all the incredible contributions that this church had made and continues to make to the eternal work of the Kingdom of God. From the alabaster boxes up front, to ministries in the neighborhood, and the young man standing in the back pew admiring the stained glass, the evidence of their great contributions to God’s mission abound. I do not know if Sweetwater, or Lenoir City, will be etched in the annals of history, but I do know that if true greatness, righteousness, and faithfulness are defined by sacrificial contributions to an eternal Kingdom, which comes for the redemption of every human being of every nation, then the legacy of these churches can be said to be great indeed! May we be counted among them!
We continued this week with a mid-week Virtual Deputation Service via Facebook and ZOOM. It was a great time! We know we had over 50+ families/individuals streaming with us and we are so thankful for those of you that joined us and were engaging with us through questions and comments! We know that COVID-19 has made it difficult for some to be able to join services and we are grateful for the opportunity to share with you all virtually! If you’d like to watch that virtual time together you can find it on our facebook page, www.facebook.com/servinginsofia.