The Joy of Glory

Discovering endless joy in the boundless glory of God…

If A Grain Of Wheat Dies

*On Wednesday, at our annual SVCC family meeting, I briefly reflected on 2021. Below are the thoughts I shared in the form of a letter.

My Dearest Shades Valley,

“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.” Jesus spoke these words in John 12:24 most specifically about his own death and resurrection, but also about his followers who would find true life by losing their life to him. The entire notion of “life out of death” lies at the very heart of our faith. This is what our God does. This is who he is… a God of redemption… a God of resurrection.

On January 13th of 2021, I felt like a dying grain of wheat in the dirt. I had the closest thing I have ever experienced to a complete breakdown. Poor Brad walked in on me weeping uncontrollably in my office. He prayed for me and sent me home for rest. My poor wife took one look at my state and called the elders. They were at my house within hours, praying over me and washing my feet.

I think we, as Shades Valley, can collectively identify with what I was experiencing. In many ways, 2020 felt like it knocked us to the ground. Nearly every ministry we’d ever had ground to a halt. Often, we felt less alive and more like a community on life support. And yet, we continued to confess, to hope, to believe that God was at work. And Shades… he was. He is.

“…if [a grain of wheat] dies, it bears much fruit.” God was sovereign over my breakdown in January of 2021, and today I testify that he has sovereignly used it to build me up and, I pray, to bear much fruit. The elders and staff came around me in support, responsibilities were removed from my plate, I got into counseling, and I was surrounded by so many of you in love and prayer. When most other churches would have sought out a new pastor, you embraced me and repeatedly said you were proud to call me your pastor.

And Shades, after having some of the hardest pastoral experiences of my life the past few years, I can stand and say that by God’s grace flowing through you my mental health is in the best place it has ever been. I know who I am and what I’ve been called to do, and I am confident that he who began a good work in me will be faithful to continue it until it is brought to completion in the day of Christ Jesus. In 2021, God has done a redemptive work of resurrection in my life… and I believe he has done the same in Shades!

“…if [a grain of wheat] dies, it bears much fruit.” After falling to the ground in 2020, I believe God has been at work through Shades Valley Community Church all throughout 2021 to bear much fruit! Ministry that felt like it had ground to a halt has sprung to life! And our community that felt like it was on life support?… I believe I have seen it thrive! 

What am I talking about? I’m talking about things like the eruption of joy we experienced at our outdoor Easter service. I’m talking about the healing we felt in our hearts as we journeyed through the Psalms over the summer and sang songs birthed out of the Psalter and out of our community. I’m talking about the night Shades Valley took over the outfield at Regions Park. I’m talking about the Women’s weekend, Beau Armistead’s Trauma Seminar, and the Wolnski worship and prayer gatherings. I’m talking about Shades showing up the Birmingham AND Campaign launch and showing out for our 30th anniversary celebration. I’m talking about the birth of seven babies, the baptism of three believers, and the addition of twenty-two members. I’m talking about celebrating Leah’s fifteen years of service, hiring Sara Hersh to work with youth, Brooke Premo to work with children, and doing a total children’s ministry makeover. I’m talking about nearly 100 episodes of Shades Midweek, multiple families pursuing adoptions, and continued global mission support with a new effort in Thailand. I’m talking about Groceries for GreenSprings, picnics in the park, including the Christmas Cornhole Tournament, and concluding the year by insanely making and surpassing budget. And yes, I’m even talking about the parking lot revolution!

And Shades I could keep going, but I think what I’m saying is clear… I’ve seen life erupt over the past year. And yes, we faced many difficult days. Yes, things are still not exactly how we want them to be with us being in two services. But, amidst everything, even the hard, I can confidently say that yes, God’s resurrection power has been and is redemptively at work, and I’ve watched it bear much fruit through you! I’ve seen the lives you’ve impacted. I sit and talk with people who tell me story after story of how this community has met and ministered to them amidst their pain as well as met them and magnified their joy amidst celebrations!

And I know they’re telling the truth because their story is my story! I know God is at work bearing much fruit through you because I see that fruit in my own life. Want to know how?… Just reread the first half of this letter!

Shades, no doubt, we’ve seen difficult days, but even on the darkest ones that feel like death, remember our God is he who brings life out of death. That’s what he does. That’s who he is… a God of redemption… a God of Resurrection! So let us continue to confess, to hope, to believe that God is at work. Shades, he has been… he is… and he will be!

So, in 2022 let us go into the world in peace, having courage, holding on to what is good, honoring all men, strengthening the fainthearted, supporting the weak, helping the suffering, and sharing the Gospel. Let us love and serve the Lord in the power of the Holy Spirit and may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with us all… empowering us to bear much fruit.

I love you all,

Pastor Jonathan

Fall On Your Knees… And Rest (an Advent poem)

I’m a wanna be poet, and most years, as my Christmas gift to the body of Shades Valley Community Church, I write a poem. This Advent, the lyrics to “O Holy Night” have been constantly echoing in my heart… particularly the line “The Weary World Rejoices.” I’ve spent much of this season pondering how one can rejoice amidst weariness. The poem below was birthed from the thought that the way this song calls us to rejoice is by responding to the invitation of the angels’ voices to come and fall on our knees… a posture of rest. Rest amidst weariness is found through truly, deeply rejoicing in Christ. So, I pray this poem helps, in even the smallest way, to point you toward rejoicing in Jesus… I pray it invites you to come fall on your knees and rest.

Merry Christmas,
Jonathan Haefs
(If you’d rather listen than read, click here… timestamp 1:08:56)

Fall On Your Knees… And Rest
Are you tired and heavy laden? 
Beat down, forgotten, jaded? 
Has despair drained you dry?
Filled you with regret?
Knocked to the ground, dirt in the mouth, 
brow beading blood and sweat? 

Hear now the angel’s voice,
Calling you to come, rejoice
Come, fall on your knees and rest
Come, see HOPE take on flesh

Are you lost, and in need of help?
Left behind and loveless felt? 
Have you been promised much, 
Yet forgotten more?
Tossed around, near homeless now, 
heart empty, broke and poor? 

Hear now the angel’s voice,
Calling you to come, rejoice
Come, fall on your knees and rest
Come, see LOVE take on flesh

Do you weep and feel so depressed,
A melancholic-apathetic-mess?
Have you cared so deep 
Only to be burned?
Stabbed in the back, your heart a wreck,
Dejected, torn, and spurned? 

Hear now the angel’s voice
Calling you to come, rejoice
Come, fall on your knees and rest
Come, see JOY take on flesh

Are you anxious and filled with fear?
Worry driven, belief seared? 
Have you been filled with doubt, 
A cynic’s sight?
Mind racing round, answers unfound, 
Tempted to leave the fight? 

Hear now the angel’s voice
Calling you to come, rejoice
Come, fall on your knees and rest
Come, see PEACE take on flesh

Come all tired and heavy laden, 
Bring your hurt heart that’s jaded 
You’re not forgotten or
Abandoned yet 
You’re loved and found, by him who’s brow 
will one day bead blood and sweat 

Hear now the angel’s voice
Calling you to come, rejoice
Come, fall on your knees and rest
Come, see CHRIST take on flesh

Coming Into Focus

*On Sunday, at our annual SVCC family meeting, I briefly reflected on 2020. Below are the thoughts I shared in the form of a letter.

My Dearest Shades Valley,

Last year, I began my annual letter to you talking about the car accident I experienced in January 2020. Specifically, I talked about how moments such as that break into the normal routine of everyday life and bring into sharp relief the things that matter most. They’re like putting on new prescription glasses, allowing us to see our life and loves with new focus. Little did I know that the rest of 2020 would be like one collective car crash, likewise, unexpectedly bringing into focus the loves of our lives. Let me explain what I mean.

Like Amos, I am not a prophet, nor the son of a prophet, but on Sunday March the 1st of 2020, I stood before you, set aside the sermon I had prepared, and instead, called us to prayer with these words, “I feel we have been and are in a season of concentrated spiritual warfare from the enemy.” Little did I know the enemy was just getting started. Before March concluded, Covid-19 would cause us all to enter into a new daily reality that would not only prove difficult but divisive. Quickly, our country was not only grappling with a pandemic, but also with social unrest rooted in our long history of racial injustice. Then, rounding out the year was the most volatile U.S. election I’ve experienced in my lifetime. 2020 didn’t just feel like a car crash… it felt like a 20 car pile up! A wreck that just kept going. But surprisingly… unexpectedly… as 2020 shattered the normal routine of everyday life, it brought into sharp relief, indeed it let us see with 20/20 clarity, the things that matter most. It brought our loves into focus.  

The pandemic brought into focus how much we need the church. I thought my three-month Sabbatical in 2019 taught me how much I needed the local church, but that was like experiencing thirst, while 2020 was more like a desert! At least when Israel wandered through the wilderness, they got to do it together! BUT, Shades, just like the Lord provided water for his people wandering in the wilderness, he is providing for us too! The year did not just bring into focus our need for community but also the beauty of the community God has graced us with. So many of you volunteered to be run errands so the most vulnerable in our church could stay home. We experienced more giving to our benevolence fund than ever before enabling us to help those experiencing financial hardships. Many of you even shared your stimulus checks with those in need. The staff and many of you got creative in order to maintain community connections and minister to one another. From backyard movie nights, to picnics in the parks, to beer train birthday parties… the lengths to which you all went to see and serve one another brought the beauty of this community in sharp relief. Through the lens of 2020, I have seen more of you Shades Valley… more of your love, more of your sacrifice, more of your grace. Through you, the church has come into greater focus for me.

The social unrest rooted in racial injustice brought into focus how much we need the Gospel. The Gospel declares ALL PEOPLE are created in God’s image, and ALL may be re-created in Christ so that people from every tribe, nation, and tongue will populate new creation forever! Thus, the Gospel kills racism with its beginning, middle, and end. And last year, I was confronted with how much I have personally neglected that Gospel reality. I have neglected it by not guarding against racism in my own life, thinking it’s a non-issue for me (something I don’t do with any other sin). I have neglected it by not consistently proclaiming it to you. And I have neglected it by not proactively living in line with it before our watching world. BUT, Shades, I have and will continue to repent of my faults and failures. I have and will continue to call us to be a Gospel people who embrace and celebrate the nations as our brothers and sisters in Christ. I have and will continue to rejoice as I see this reality realized in and through you. Shades, 2020 did not just bring into focus our need for the Gospel, but also the glory of the Gospel shaping you! Through you, I saw the opposite of what was so common on the news. I saw people of different races, backgrounds, education levels, vocations, and ages sacrifice themselves for one another. I saw you care for one another, weep with one another, and literally feed one another bringing the glory of the Gospel into sharp relief! Through the lens of 2020, I have seen more of you Shades Valley! Do we have a long way to go when it comes to being shaped by the Gospel? Absolutely! But, this year, I have seen the Gospel’s shape come into greater focus through you.

The election brought into focus how much we need our coming King. Our politics are polarized, dividing friends, families, and even churches. It is no secret that Shades is politically diverse, but we shall not be divided. For what unites us is not sharing a political party, but a shared commitment to our King. “Jesus reigns” is our confession, and we long for his kingdom to come! Providentially, we spent most of last year looking at our world through the lens of Revelation… now that’s a pair of glasses that will bring things into focus! Revelation confronted us with the beastly character of earthly power and how the church is corrupted when it compromises to share in that power. Instead, Revelation called us to cling to Christ, testifying to the world that he is our confidence because he is coming! AND, Shades, I have seen such confidence in you. 2020 did not just bring into focus the need for our King, but also your confident faith that he is coming! Last year, my conversations with you were so different from those I had with people who do not hope in Christ. Their words were always laced with fear, anxiety, and a hopeless resignation. But you spoke with confident faith, solid peace, and unwavering hope in your coming King. I am not saying that you did not struggle last year! Far from it! But even the way you talked to me about your struggling brought into sharp relief the firm foundation of your faith! Shades Valley, through the lens of 2020 do you see what you have shown me? The focus of confident faith is our coming King… Jesus! Your confident faith has brought him into greater focus for me!

Shades, in many ways, 2020 may have felt like it came crashing into our lives, wrecking our normal, but like a pair of glasses giving us 20/20 vision it brought into focus the reality that Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Nothing crashes or wrecks that normal!

May that give us the focus in 2021, no matter what comes, to go into the world in peace, have courage, hold on to what is good, honor all men, strengthen the fainthearted, support the weak, help the suffering, and share the Gospel. May we love and serve the Lord in the power of the Holy Spirit, and may the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with us all… enabling us to bring him into focus for our world.

I love you all,

Pastor Jonathan

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