God’s Faithfulness to Evergreen Church in the Midst of Suffering

Traumatic events are part of life, but you never think they will happen to you.

One of those traumatic events happened to our church: Evergreen Presbyterian Church in Sevierville, TN. 5 years ago, we lost our church building to foreclosure and purchase by another party in our community.

The trauma of the loss was heightened by the season. It was Christmas time, and we had to be out of our building by December 21, 2013.

This event took place about a year before I came to serve as the Pastor of Evergreen Church, and Evergreen’s previous Pastor was already in transition elsewhere. So, the church was without a Pastor when they were forced to leave the building.

It was a very tough time. In spite of being with the people of Evergreen for four years, it’s still hard for me to imagine what it must have been like to have a prominent building in town and then to have to leave not knowing where you are going. In the Christmas season of 2013, Evergreen not only had to leave but had to search for a place to worship for the first time in nearly 20 years.

Sometimes people respond when they hear of the loss of our building by saying, “Well, the church isn’t the building.” While true, I think this response is an unhelpful one. After all, a family is more than their house, but losing a house to foreclosure is a very traumatic experience.

In the midst of the uncertainty and challenge, some people left Evergreen, but a surprising number stayed. They saw something in Evergreen Presbyterian Church that they wanted to preserve.

They also found a place to worship. Evergreen was welcomed into the building of the Smoky Mountains Seventh Day Adventist Church by the gracious Pastor and members of that church.

Being without a Pastor, the elders took the lead in the transition, and they began to organize a new life as a church without owning a building.

I came about one year later to serve this group of exiles. I came because, like them, I saw something really good and beautiful at Evergreen. I found a people that were loving and welcoming and yet rooted in the truth and the Gospel of Jesus. I found a group of people who were open to thinking carefully about how best to minister to the people in our church and Sevier County. I was excited.

But I made a mistake. I really did not appreciate the trauma of the previous couple of years. I did not see the hurt. I often took calls for the good old days personally rather than as sadness and grief over what had been lost. If I had it over to do, I would have asked for more stories about the past and spent a lot more time listening.

The good news is that the people of Evergreen have been gracious. They have worked with me, and they began to think about what it would look like for Evergreen to be Evergreen in a new situation.

Through it all, the Lord has enabled us to grow in our faith and in our understanding of what matters most. It reminds me of a beautiful song by Scottish singer Amy MacDonald who sings about the loss of a home in a fire in “From the Ashes.” Thinking she has nothing, she comes to the realization: “The little things in life are free; the simple things like you and me and like love, like love.”

In May of 2015, we found a place to worship on Sunday morning at the Conference Center of the River Plantation Campground just south of downtown Sevierville. It was a great place at a great price right in a great location right in the heart of Sevierville, and it has served our needs well for the past three years.

We’ve also become more mobile, and that has enabled us to get out into our community more easily. Last week, we had a Trunk or Treat event in the Sevierville Commons in downtown Sevierville. We have led worship services in Gatlinburg for our Songwriter’s Festival. We have worshiped in Pigeon Forge at the Comedy Barn. Mobility has given us unique opportunities.

It’s also been sad to see some of our Evergreen Family leave us for other cities and other churches, but God has also brought new people who continue the legacy of Evergreen Church as a church rooted in the truths confessed by our Presbyterian Church that also wants to welcome all who come and reach out to our community.

So, the loss of the building has helped us see important things more clearly, provided us with a cheaper meeting place, and enabled us to get into our community.

We’ve seen the truth of 1 Peter 5:10: “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”

This Friday, November 9th, marks the 32nd anniversary of the founding of Evergreen. As we think about our past and our future, we can have confidence that the God has led us in our suffering, aided is in our suffering, and healed us after suffering, will continue to do so because He is our faithful Creator.

Why We Don’t Get All We Could from Jesus

Where do we go when we are discouraged, confused, anxious, struggling with guilt, or lonely? The Christian answer to that is Jesus. In Jesus, God has made Himself available to us for our healing and restoration.

But how do we connect with Jesus?

When Jesus ascended into heaven, He gave the gift of the Holy Spirit to the church (1 Cor. 12:3).

However, the Spirit does not give everyone the same gifts. He gives a variety of gifts to a variety of people (see 1 Cor. 12:4–6).

In Ephesians 4, we read that to “each one us grace has been give as Christ apportioned it” (4:7) He gives different gifts to different people. He gave the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers “to equip his people for works of service” (4:12). So the pastors and teachers equip, but the equipping is so that the people can serve one another.

Consequently, our connection with people is crucial to our healing and growth. As people speak the truth in love, “we will grow to become in every respect the mature body.” The body “grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (4:16).

The point here is that there are a variety of gifts given to a variety of people to meet the needs of God’s people.

Now, why don’t we experience all that Christ has for us? The answer is that Jesus wants to give us His grace and His gifts, but He wants to do it through His people.

Oftentimes, when we are struggling with discouragement or anxiety, we think, “I need to go to Jesus for help.” That is true. I don’t want to downplay the importance of private communion with God.

However, we also can and should connect with Jesus through His people because He wants us to experience His grace through His people!

In other words, when we are feeling confused, discouraged, guilty, or hopeless, we need to seek out the people who have been gifted by Jesus to help us with such things. We can often isolate ourselves, but Jesus has the solution for us–waiting for us in connection with His people.

I have seen this over and over again in my life. I know that from time to time I can get in moments where I’m just stuck worrying or struggling with something. I can try to work through it on my own, but oftentimes I’m still stuck. Then, I can call a trusted friend to share it with. It’s amazing how often something that has gone round and round in my head can dissipate after connecting with a friend. I see it in a whole new light.

So, are you struggling with something today? Let me encourage you to connect with Jesus–through His church, His people. When you go to church this Sunday, look around at the congregation. These people represent the many gifts that Jesus has for you for your restoration and healing and growth in mutual service.

The Advantages of Being Part of a Church

It’s easy to take people for granted. When people are present in our lives, it’s easy for us to miss the contribution they make, the support they give, and the comfort they provide.

The church is like that, too. It’s easy to miss its significant contribution to our lives.

An outside perspective can help us appreciate the things we take for granted. Dr. Roberta Gilbert is a psychiatrist and family therapist who has written a number of books on family relationships. She sought to apply these insights to the clergy in a series of seminars done at the request of several church leaders. You can read the substance of what she taught in her book Extraordinary Leadership.

In one of the chapters, she explains the benefits of being part of a congregation, and I found it very helpful and encouraging to me as a pastor.

Here’s what she says.

First, the congregation provides a unique support system. Family is probably our most important support system, but it has its limits. A congregation can provide an additional support system through the ups and downs of life. It can be a life line for anyone who is in times of great distress.

Second, in times of high stress and key turning points in our lives (she calls them “nodal events”) such as births, weddings, sickness, and funerals, the congregation and pastor provide a crucial calming influence and moral, social, spiritual, and even financial support. Continue reading “The Advantages of Being Part of a Church”


The fact that the church is divided into a multitude of denominations does not bother me.

There is a core of Christian teaching that provides a basic unity across denominations.

There is unity, but there is also diversity. Denominations seek to bear witness to the fuller teaching of Scripture and think through the details of the organization and government of the church.

That diversity is not necessarily bad. What is the alternative? In my view, only two: indifference to doctrinal precision or coerced unity for doctrinal uniformity.

The first option would be to say that doctrinal and organizational precision does not matter, but that would be to give up any united witness to the whole counsel of God.

The second option is to try to enforce unity by demanding that every church or individual agree to all the particulars of doctrine. This seems to me to be a recipe for hypocrisy.

A variety of denominations is the only option left. The church can have different organizations all seeking to do their best to explain the faith in its broader implications. The advantages of this arrangement is freedom of thought and conscience, a measure of unity, and a basis for common ministry.

But what about choosing a denomination or evaluate the denomination we are in? In light of the principles stated above, I believe that there are two wrong approaches we can take to our own denomination or tradition. Continue reading “Denominations”

What Is Evangelicalism?

The overwhelming majority of white American evangelicals voted for Donald Trump in the last presidential election. This fact is as controversial as the president himself is, and, to many, it sullies the reputation of evangelicalism.

The important thing to note here is that we are talking about the majority of “white” evangelicals in America. It’s very important to note that there are also African-American evangelicals and Hispanic-American evangelicals who have a very different perspective.

Please also consider that all of the above are “American” evangelicals. There are also Korean evangelicals, African evangelicals, European evangelicals, Chinese evangelicals, and so on.

This shows us that evangelicalism is something independent of America, ethnicity, nationality, and even Donald Trump. Continue reading “What Is Evangelicalism?”