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pastor's e-blast

Jesus Ain't No Superhero! - 12/6

Popular culture today is fascinated with the superheroes of Marvel Comics. These characters are a mixture of uniquely powerful people and alien beings and even gods of ancient traditions. They all have mythical stories to explain their origins and they have weaknesses as well as extraordinary powers. Such stories can be entertaining and have actually been part of human history through the ages.

Hollywood tells these stories with immense budgets and incredible spectacle. In earlier ages, the stories of heroes like Paul Bunyan or the Mighty Thor were told around a fire by a captivating storyteller. Now, of course, we experience these stories on huge screens enabled by special effects as amazing as the special powers of the characters themselves.

One thing that all of these folk stories and traditions have in common is that these extraordinary characters must use their great power to overcome evil. The movies of popular culture bring these modern gods into battle after battle with new villains, which must each be fought and overcome. These are the kinds of stories humanity always invents.

How strange therefore to think about the gospel story. In this story, we find the greatest battle between good and evil and the mightiest hero of all--the Almighty God. In the Gospel, however, the hero does not overpower his enemies; instead, he empties himself of all power, humbles himself and ultimately submits to death itself. This is not a human story, this is God's story.

As we celebrate Christmas this year and look upon the simple figure of Christ born in the manger, consider how God turns our craving for power on its head. Listen to the third stanza of my favorite hymn, "And Can It Be, That I Should Gain?" by Charles Wesley:

"He left His Father's throne above,

So free, so infinite His grace;

Emptied himself of all but love,

And bled for Adam's helpless race.

'Tis mercy all, immense and free,

For, O my God, it found out me.

Amazing love! how can it be

That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me!"

Grace and Peace,

John

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A Litany of Light - 11/29

Here is something different for a Wednesday E-pistle. I have assembled some scripture passages for Advent drawing on images of light and ultimately the light of Christ. Perhaps you would like to use this litany around your own tables as a reflection and prayer before a meal. May God bless you all this Advent Season as we celebrate the wonder of God becoming man and bringing light into our darkness.

L=Leader; A=All

L-God said, “Let there be light”

A-And there was light (Gen. 1:3)

L-There are many who say, “Who will show us some good?”

A-Lift up the light of your face upon us O Lord. (Psalm 4:6)

L-For you are my lamp O Lord

A-And my God lightens my darkness. (1 Sam. 22:29)

L-The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?

A-The Lord is the stronghold of my life,

of whom shall I be afraid? (Psalm 27:1)

L- Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me

A- let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling! (Psalm 43:3)

L- The sun shall be no more your light by day,

nor for brightness shall the moon give you light

A- but the LORD will be your everlasting light,

and your God will be your glory. (Isaiah 60:19)

L-In him was life, and that life was the light of men

A-The light shines in the darkness,

But the darkness has not understood it. (John 1:4-5)

L-The true light that gives light to every man

Was coming into the world (John 1:9)

A-(Jesus said) I am the light of world.

Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness

But will have the light of life. (John 8:12)

We give you praise Lord God, for sending Jesus Christ to overcome all darkness. May his light shine in our home and in our hearts. Amen.

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Of Course Thanksgiving! - 11/22

Don’t you love to be around people who are thankful? Thankful people have a contagious attitude and it’s an infection I want to be exposed to. I confess to you all that I can easily be more cynical than I am thankful. Cynicism seems to come easily and naturally. It’s so easy to criticize and to look at the gloomy side of things. I probably would have been a great movie critic; that job gives you full opportunity to criticize and get paid for doing it.

Proverbs 17:22, on the other hand, is a well proved saying, “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a downcast spirit dries up the bones.” Studies have repeatedly shown that laughter is great for the heart’s health. One study suggests that people with heart disease are 40% less likely to laugh in a variety of situations compared to people of the same age without heart disease. I want to be quick to laugh and unashamed of a good belly laugh.

Cheerfulness is something that radiates from people who are thankful. We are the people above all peoples in the world who have reason to be cheerful. The scriptures declare that as children of God, we will inherit an everlasting kingdom. I love the way Eugene Peterson translates Hebrews 12:28, “Do you see what we’ve got? An unshakable kingdom! And do you see how thankful we must be? Not only thankful, but brimming with worship, deeply reverent before God.”

With Thanksgiving being tomorrow, I want to encourage you to live in the spirit of that holiday, cheerfully giving thanks to God in your heart as the Apostle Paul wrote, “Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts” (Col. 3:16)

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Stewards of God’s Resources - 11/15

This coming Sunday is a time of thanksgiving for our congregation. We give thanks as we approach the national holiday of Thanksgiving because we are a blessed people. We are blessed by a God who has supplied our needs in countless ways and who grants us life and all good things. Thanksgiving is a natural response to the Lord who has been so generous in

His love toward us. We love God because He has first loved us (1 John 4:19) and that love beckons forth from us a response of gratitude, praise and joy.

One of the ways we respond with thanksgiving is by recognizing that God is the real author of life and the real owner of all our resources. As redeemed people we have been called into the community of the church, where we worship and love God

, and where we love and serve people. We give to the church as a means of carrying out the mission of God in the world. The church is not a perfect institution, but it is the agency of God’s mission in the world and it needs our support.

I want to encourage you to bring your pledge cards this Sunday as a way of giving thanks to God and as a commitment to

His mission in 2018. As a church we have a lot of important ministries to support, and it will take money and time and talent and perseverance. Please prayerfully consider how to respond to God’s grace and what the Lord may be calling you to do in service. All that we have comes from God and we have the privilege of managing these resources according to His good pleasure

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Deliver Us From Evil - 11/8

Just a few weeks ago I wrote one of these E-pistles as news broke about the horrors of the worst mass shooting in U.S. history in Las Vegas. On Sunday, a man intruded into the worship service of a small Baptist Church in rural Texas discharging up to 400 rounds of ammunition, which killed or wounded over half of the entire congregation. Such unimaginable evil has become an all too common feature of our news, reflecting a society in moral crisis.

We are at a loss, not knowing what to do or why such evil has become so common. We quickly assume that some mental health issue is at the root of the action as we grope for a cause. Why should we assume a sickness of mind? We assume no such thing if the act is clearly a terror attack perpetrated in the pursuit of some religious or ideological cause. Jumping to the conclusion of mental disorder fails to recognize the potential of genuine evil in a person of sound mind.

The truth is that perfectly sane people are capable of gross acts of self-serving evil. If we sweep evil under the carpet of an unstable mind, because we cannot imagine a sane person acting in these ways, then we have not really understood the significance of our own redemption. Jesus came to destroy the works of evil, not to provide a therapeutic solution to our mental instability. Jesus instructs us to pray, “deliver us from evil.” That evil is both within us and in the world around us. Please join me in praying for the deliverance from evil that has afflicted our nation.

Father God, we plead for our brothers and sisters in Texas today. Evil has raised its ugly head while people worshipped the Prince of Peace, shedding the innocent blood even of children. Lord, we pray for your peace in the midst of this chaos. Be their rock, their shield and their defender. We pray also for our nation that has fallen into such a moral crisis that we are producing a never-ending stream of people who plot violence and who have no regard for life. Deliver us from the evil that has grown within our society, for yours is the Kingdom and the power and the glory, forever. Amen.

Grace and Peace,

John

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All Saints Day - 11/1

Let’s give thanks today for the people who have left a spiritual legacy in our lives. All Saints Day is like Memorial Day in that we remember the lives of those who have sacrificed for the good of others. The difference is that today we do not simply remember as a memorial of good people who have been lost to us, but we look with eyes of faith to the living company of saints who are now with the Lord. In Hebrews we read that these saints, “surround us” as a “great cloud of witnesses” and that they encourage us to “run with perseverance the race marked out for us.”

I am thankful today for the faithful people, most of whom I do not even know, but who have left a legacy and a heritage that made my coming to faith in Christ possible. There are many people who had an impact on me directly and personally. Some of them are living still in this world and I can offer them my thanks. Others are living, because they have died in Christ and for them I can lift a prayer of thanks. Still more have gone before and are known now only in Heaven, but who have passed on the faith in a spiritual chain of influence that I will one day see clearly. When we join that great company of saints, there is going to be a long reception filled with thankfulness and praise.

If you have ever experienced the Christian retreat called “Walk to Emmaus” you have already tasted what I am writing about. On that retreat there is a beautiful candlelight experience, where Christians come and form a long line of support for those on the retreat. You pass through the midst of this “great cloud of witnesses” hugging people you have never met before and you begin to sense the incredible network of saints to whom we belong.

Thank you Lord for all the people who have loved Christ and passed on that love to me. This is part of your marvelous grace. Help me to be faithful for the generations yet to come. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

John

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TURNING FEAR INTO LOVE (from KATHY TAYLOR) - 10/25

I recently returned from a medical/ evangelical mission to Greece,where i served the Muslim refugees from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan. There are 62,000 refugees from 40 countries seeking asylum in Greece. They are located in primitive camps. shores, parks, and abandoned buildings in the area of Thessaloniki, and the coast of the Greek Islands. The needs are greater than the resources that so many ministries and NGOs are providing. Women and children are at the greatest risk for harm and violence.

It was a heartbreaking experience but at the same time the peace and the joy of the Lord was present. The caring of the refugees is our biblical responsibility as noted throughout scripture. The humanitarian side of these violated and desperate people needs to be told.

I gave the message at Crossover Christian Church last Sunday and it pierced the hearts of the congregation as to who the refugees are as people, the horror they have been through, and the hurdles of survival yet to come. People gained a new understanding and compassion for those we seem to fear in the US, because we link them with terrorism and sharia law. The Lord showed me that we are to be a nation that turns fear into love and obedience as we care for His vulnerable and scattered sheep.

There were obstacles at times that prohibited me from praying out loud and sharing about Jesus, and I had to dig deep into my heart to share the sweet fragrance of Christ in new ways. His love was felt by every person even when we did not have interpreters to speak the many languages. We relied on the Holy Spirit to communicate for us. I am returning in June to continue this ministry.

Kathy Taylor

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MPC Serving “the Least of These" - 10/18

Last week, MPC’s weekly E-pistle offered the opportunity to volunteer your time to help out a sister church in our Presbytery in the event that they offer sanctuary to a person or family facing deportation. The issue of immigration and dealing with undocumented people is a complex problem with no simple political solutions. The invitation to volunteer was not a political statement or alignment, but simply a human face in a humanitarian crisis.

There are, of course, many who come illegally into the U.S. who are simply looking for a better economic situation. Many came as children and have grown up here with the U.S. as the only home they know. Some undocumented immigrants in the U.S. have fled their homeland because of the violence of gangs and drug cartels that cater to U.S. demand. They come not just looking for “the good life,” but literally in order to save the lives of their children. Such are the people who seek amnesty in our courts and who the church wants to protect.

MPC already reaches out to assist the poor and homeless of our region, many of whom are undocumented. We have served everyone, not because of our political beliefs or affiliations and not because of their citizenship or status, but because God calls us to serve “the least of these” (Mt. 25:40). We serve our region through several vital ministries which need your ongoing support right here: Loaves and Fishes (food bank), John’s Place (homeless shelter), and our Thrift Shop. If you would like to help us serve right here at our own doorstep, there are many opportunities waiting for you.

Come and see where you can make a difference.

In Christ,

John

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Laws of Justice and Mercy - 10/11

Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt. Exodus 23:9

I find the search tool, Bible Gateway, to usually be very helpful. You know how it is: you remember part of a verse, but you just can’t remember where it is in the Bible. Sometimes, I can even picture where it is on the page of my Bible, but I can’t remember the reference. Bible Gateway is great because you can type in a key word, and any verse that has the word in it will come up on your computer screen. Well, I typed in the word “alien,” but it did not give me what I wanted. Hmmm. I knew it was in Exodus, so I started flipping through pages, looking at the headings that are printed above various verses. Ah...when I saw the heading: “Laws of Justice and Mercy” at the top of chapter 23, I thought I just might find this verse located there, and I did. It is a good title for this devotional because MPC is a church which seeks to act justly, show mercy, and walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8). From as early as the second book in the Bible, God has set laws for His followers commanding them to help the alien, the poor, the down trodden, the stranger. This, God says, is what sets apart His people as a holy people.

Now, I do not pretend to know what it feels like to be an alien. I am a native New Yorker, born in the Bronx. I’ve always lived in this tri-state area. Except for vacations to other countries, where the language or customs may have felt unfamiliar, I have always known that I have a place to call home, a place that is safe and welcoming. That is not the case with some who live and work and contribute to this community, those who are called “undocumented.” The above Scripture could be translated: Do not oppress the undocumented; you yourselves know how it feels to be undocumented, because you were undocumented in Egypt.

There is a Presbyterian church west of MPC that is willing to offer sanctuary to those who face the threat of deportation. These people are known to the organization: Long Island Jobs With Justice, who then reaches out to this church if there is a need. This church (unnamed for safety reasons) has been asked to provide sanctuary for three families to date. Two received a stay of removal. Unfortunately, one was deported 3 weeks ago because the church was not able to reach out to him in a timely fashion. I spoke with an Elder at this church, and asked her how we might help if the request for sanctuary came up again. “People,” she replied. “We need people who would be willing to take shifts to be in our church. We cannot leave the undocumented families alone in our building.” MPC has people, people who care, who love to make a difference in our world. To this end, Session has approved this request to be sent, asking if there is anyone who would be willing to take a shift at this church? If you are interested, please email me: caren@mattpres.com, and let me know the days and times that you are available. With this list in hand, we will be ready to come alongside our brothers and sisters in Christ, to provide helpful presence and loving hearts in a time of need. Let us follow the words of Paul: Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus...(Philippians 2:4-5a). We are a congregation which serves in so many wonderful ways. May we open our hearts to this new call of justice and mercy.

Caren

Please Pray With Me - 10/4

It’s Monday morning and like you I rose to the news of yet another mass shooting in our nation. This one was the worst in our history. The victims include more than 50 deaths and another

500 or more injured; an attack carried out by a single individual in a matter of minutes.

We are rational creatures who look to make sense of the things that happen in the world around us, but there are times when no rational answers can be given. Reporters already suggest that the shooter must have been insane. Psychological experts are consulted and interviewed to try and provide some context of understanding, but the event remains incomprehensible as we grope for reasons. We cannot make sense of such insidious actions.

Our response as Christians does not appear to be rational either. What can we do in response to such evil? We can pray. We pray for the victims and for their families. We lift them before the Lord right where we are, thousands of miles away, speaking words they will never hear, trusting that God hears the cry of His people and that God does respond. Please pray with me.

Oh Lord, our God, we lift our broken hearts to you for those who are suffering today. Have mercy Father on the fallen and on those left to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives. Although we may feel powerless before the horrors of such evil events, we believe, Lord, that You are not powerless and that You can overcome the evils of this day. In Your unfailing love, You have confronted the powers of evil and through Jesus Christ, You have and You will bring them to nothing. In faith, we call out to You and plead for Your Kingdom to come and Your will to be done on earth as it is in Heaven. Amen.

Pastor John

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Comfort in Trying Times - 9/27

I think you would all agree that these are very difficult days that we live. News of escalating hardship, tragedy and violence in the world are very disturbing and hard to watch. People are suffering due to the devestation of hurricances and earthquakes and many others are struggling through deep political divisions or financial problems. Many people we know and love locally are suffering due to personal pain and loss.

It is during these times that people want to find a reason to be optimistic. And the faith that we hold is ultimately optimistic; God is still on the throne and is looking out for his people.

Consider Psalm 121,

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—

where does my help come from?

2 My help comes from the Lord,

the Maker of heaven and earth.

3 He will not let your foot slip—

he who watches over you will not slumber;

4 indeed, he who watches over Israel

will neither slumber nor sleep.

5 The Lord watches over you—

the Lord is your shade at your right hand;

6 the sun will not harm you by day,

nor the moon by night.

7 The Lord will keep you from all harm—

he will watch over your life;

8 the Lord will watch over your coming and going

both now and forevermore.

This passage is one of great comfort to those living in trying times. And while we all need comfort in trying times, our being comforted does not constitute a response to God. We must remember the requirement to respond to the comfort of King and our response comes through our discipleship. “Follow me”, Jesus said. We must possess a daily desire to do just that.

Following in the footsteps of our Master, we know that discipleship involves self-sacrifice and humility. It is a daily emptying of ourselves and recognizing that we live according to God’s purposes and not our own.

It is often the case that we find our greatest comfort from God when we are walking in His will and endeavoring to love him with all of our heart. Walk in this and allow God to "watch over your coming and going." Amen

Pat

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Faith’s Vague Certainty - 9/20

Faith is a word we know describes our relationship with God and it is a word we speak with ease as though its meaning is clear, but try to define “faith” and you may find it a challenging task. Sometimes people talk about faith as if it means the beliefs we hold about God. Others talk about faith as if it is synonymous with “trust.” Faith is sometimes considered a special spiritual gift that some people have in such abundance that it enables them to perform wonders or miracles. All of these notions can be supported by reference to various scriptural passages.

Hebrews 11:1 speaks of faith as “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” The chapter then goes on to describe the many things people throughout Israel’s history have done “by faith.” So, is faith an inward certainty we have about God empowering our confident action as His people, or is faith a decision to believe what is not demonstrable to the eyes and not acceptable to the “hard-hearted?” Is faith something we exercise and achieve greater heights of mastery, tapping into God’s power like many television preachers portray (or like Luke Skywalker achieves in his mastery of “The Force”)?

To put your finger on the full meaning of the word “faith” is much harder than it first appears. The way I have come to understand faith is more of a spiritual perception. Faith is the means or the way we “see” God. We do not see God with our physical eyes, but we do perceive God beyond our five physical senses. Faith is a perceptual awareness of God that assures us of His love and holiness and His trustworthiness and this perception gives us the spiritual confidence to have genuine hope.

I entitled this little essay as “Faith’s Vague Certainty” because I think our certainty is a personal kind of certainty. We are certain of God’s character and His intention toward us like a child sees and knows his or her father. At the same, time there is a vague quality to faith because our spiritual perception does not reveal detailed information that makes us experts about God. God is far greater than we will ever understand and if we think we have God figured out, then we have created a small version of god in our own image.

By faith, we perceive that Jesus is truly God among us and that in Him we see the clearest picture of God. What we see is God’s love poured out to rescue us from our own self-destructive sin. This amazing portrait of God in Christ is still only a partial portrait, but Paul tantalizes us with the anticipation that one day we will perceive God in all clarity. “Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (1 Cor. 13:12).

Joy and Peace,

John

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Harvest Time - 9-13

Our little garden is coming to the end of its season. The cucumber vines had taken over, but are now dried up; the carrots never really grew, overshadowed as they were by the mammoth tomato plants. The hot peppers have come in abundance and spiced up our lives this summer. Our young blueberry bush is lush and beautiful filling us with hope for next year.

Tomatoes have been the bumper crop and I love fresh tomatoes. We have big heirloom tomatoes and tiny yellow cherry tomatoes. We have Italian plumb tomatoes and a variety of small black tomatoes that find it difficult to ripen on the vine. What a simple joy it is to pick tomatoes! Many of the little cherry ones never make it inside the house. Most of the time picking tomatoes is a treat with expectations of later enjoyment.

Occasionally, a tomato will give you a jarring surprise. As you reach into the thickness of the plant to lay hold of a palm-filling bold red heirloom and your fingers reach below the outward beauty, you may discover the spoiled interior of a rotting mass that sends a convulsive response through your whole body. Yuck! How disappointing to think you’re about to pick a real prize, only to discover the fruit flies come swarming out of the carcass and your hand is now covered in odiferous slime.

Jesus liked to speak of the harvest and He looks forward to collecting the fruit of human lives that have grown on the vine of His Kingdom. My desire is to be found as good fruit. I know my own life too well and I’m afraid that sometimes I am more like that fine looking tomato with the surprising decay hidden underneath. Only God can give us the integrity to develop as good fruit—good all the way through. That’s what integrity is, being good all the way through.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Lord, we pray that the fruit of our lives would be completely nourished by our life in union with Christ, so that we are a harvest worth keeping. Amen.

In Christ,

John

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PERSPECTIVE - 9/6

Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror, then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. I Corinthians 13:12. Last Friday was a "true" day. Crisp air, bright sunshine: a perfect day for a walk. Eric and I like to walk the Hidden Lake trail in Peconic (off the "Humpty-Dumpty" road). We walked through the woods, came out along LI Sound, breathing in the salty air. I love it! Then, back into the woods. So peaceful; so sacred: a cathedral of trees forming both beamed arches and a stained glass window effect as sunlight filtered through the leaves. There are a couple of foot bridges, and we paused at one that looks out at a portion of the lake. "Do you see it?", Eric asks me. "There's a giant bull frog." I look and look, and I don't see it. "How can you not see it? It's a big green lump with two eyes right at the edge of the water." I still don't see it. Pointing, Eric asks if I see one small branch, and another small branch, with a patch of sunlight between the two? Yep, I see it. "Well, the frog is right there, right there!" And...I still don't see the big green lump. He tries one more time, having me look over his shoulder and along his arm where his finger is pointing with accurate precision to that darn frog. I still don't see it. We move on.

It's strange, isn't it? He was able to see that bull frog so clearly, while, no matter how hard I tried, it was invisible to me. How amazing our mind and eyes work (or don't, in my case!). While I completely missed that bull frog, I did not miss God's spiritual lesson. How often do I get caught up in the whirlwind of life, completely missing God's presence, God's stillness, God's "bigness"? Perspective. Eric could see the frog; I could not. You all know Isaiah 55:9, As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts. Sometimes we simply don't grasp what is right in front of us. God is always present, always working, always loving; closer than our breath. And, it's OK, it's actually quite marvelous, when we don't see, and yet believe. ...blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed. John 20:29b. "I didn't see the frog, but I believe that it was there, because I believe you, Eric." Can we say the same of God? Do you and I have a relationship with our great and merciful God to be able to say: "I can't see Your hand at work in this situation, person, concern, but You have promised that it is so, so I believe You!" He is with you, beloved. Trust Him. Take Him at His Word. Someday, we shall see Face to face. He was, is and always will be there all along; "twas blind, but now I see."

Caren

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SELAH - 8/30

Come to Me, My weary one, and I will give you rest, Matthew 11:28. Last Wednesday, I met with a friend who told me that the evening before, she and another friend were sharing how they felt God’s Spirit encouraging them to rest more. Then, my friend opened last week’s Wednesday devotional, and Pastor John wrote about going on “holiday” with Sandra and how God values and honors rest. This dear friend looked at me and said, “We know rest is important; we don’t know how to do it!” She looked at me with longing and expectation...I looked at her with a blank stare! “You’re asking the wrong person, I’m not good at it either!” Why is that? Why is it that we as followers of Jesus, Who Himself certainly needed and took the time to rest, find it so hard to do likewise? Sure, life is filled with responsibilities, kids, challenges, work, ministry opportunities, births, weddings, funerals, doctor’s appointments and laundry (not necessarily in that order). How might you and I come to Jesus, and truly find rest?

I have been interested in the Hebrew word: Selah. It is most likely a musical term, occurring 73 times in the book of Psalms, and 3 times in the book of Habakkuk. It is generally believed that it is a direction for a meditative pause in the singing of a psalm so that there may be time to reflect, pause, soak in what was just sung, and what is about to follow. I like the biblical concept of living into Selah. It makes sense to me. Sure, I wish we all could go on holiday more often. And, wouldn’t it be great to have the benefit of having been on holiday last longer than 30 minutes after we get home? This is not reality. Yet, God’s encouragement for rest should and can be a moment by moment reality if we learn to practice Selah. Now, what follows is clearly not an exhaustive study on the idea of rest, but may I suggest the following to help us all live into God’s rest?

Seek His face/stay in the moment. Christ’s presence is with us constantly, in this very moment. He has redeemed our past; He already is there in our future. What we have is now, with Him. May we linger in His loving presence. Breathe deeply of His peace.

Encourage one another. The journey is steep and long. Let us refresh each other with a hug, a note of thanks, a heartfelt word of hope. It really does help to listen and pray for one another.

Laugh with others and at yourself. Find joy in doing something silly: blow bubbles with a neighbor’s child; skip on the beach, let the ice cream cone drip all over your hands. And yes, laugh at yourself. It’s OK to be human. We’re not always going to get it right. Relax, knowing that we are forgiven.

Acknowledge that God is God and I am not. Huh...when did that happen? Yep, this is a hard one for me. I want to fix everything and I can’t. The last time I looked, there is only one Savior, and He doesn’t look like me! God is sovereign, in control, and is working all the time His good, loving and perfect will in our lives. Ahhh...let this assurance soak in like the feeling of sinking into a warm bath tub.

Hunger for Him. Let favorite Scriptures flow through our heart and mind, refreshing our spirit. Feast on the abundance of His power, grace, joy, hope. Deuteronomy 33:12, Let the beloved of the Lord rest secure in Him, for He shields him all day long, and the one the Lord loves rests between His shoulders.

Selah. Rest, beloved of the LORD. The LORD be with you.

Caren

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Holiday Greetings - 8/23

What a beautiful summer we have enjoyed here on Long Island. As you read this, Sandra and I should have arrived on our two-week holiday at another long island. We are visiting our daughter in Vancouver and going to be camping on Vancouver Island with hopes that our bodies can still manage uphill ascents.

I like the word “holiday” as opposed to our more common word, “vacation.” The British talk about going on holiday, and the root of that word is “holy.” I have not opted for holiday as only to justify taking some time off, although "holy days" may sound more appropriate for a pastor than vacation, but God designed us to require rest. In fact, rest is so important for people that Scripture commands us to rest and it commands us to rest in the very opening chapters of Genesis. There the Creation story tells us that God himself rested after all His work of creation, and we must follow His example and rest on the holy day of Sabbath.

One of the reasons I think rest was important enough to include in the Creation story is that we humans need to remember that God is the one we trust and depend on in all things. We easily shift to thinking that the work of my own hands is indispensable and nothing will get done without me. It’s humbling to recognize that I am not necessary and the world will go on without me, but it is also liberating. So I hope to be taking some deep breaths enjoying time away conquering some of the great peaks of British Columbia and we’ll see you all soon, God willing.

Blessings,

John

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Filler and Future - 8/16

Living in the 18th century, Jean-Pierre Caussade wrote the book, “The Sacrament of the Present Moment.” Regarding each moment, Caussade says, “every moment is crammed with infinite riches which are given us according to the extent of our faith and love.”

Could this really be true? If it is, I don’t think we live this way most of the time. Would you agree that we live in a way that often ignores the present moment? I think we do.

Our days are generally taken up by what I might call, “filler and future”. Possibly we watch the news in the morning and then listen to the radio on our way to our destination. When we are home we might eat and watch a sports event or a movie or we see what our friends are up to on Facebook. This is all “filler”. In between this, our days are dictated by schedules, tasks and deadlines that are coming up later today, or the next day, or next week or next month or year. This is the “future” part. Certainly, “filler and future” is not the totality of our lives but, if we were honest, we would admit it is a very large part.

In living this way, we are missing out on the greatest blessing of our lives, which is to plumb the depths of our relationship with God, and doing that in pure joy. God does not dwell in our “filler or future”, but in the present moment. And the strange thing is that, while we are a people that desire to know God, we seem to do whatever we can to avoid the place where He dwells.

Let me tell you what awaits you in the present moment. First, it is a lovely and peaceful place. It is a joyful place and always a grateful one. You will emerge from it with a greater love for the beauty of your life and a deeper love for those that God puts in your path. You will have a greater appreciation for what God has gifted and/or called you to do. You will sense that God loves you and you will desire to tell Him how much you want your life to please Him.

How do you get there? That is the easy part. Take a moment, step away from the “filler and future” and just be present. Allow yourself to appreciate the beauty of life, whether it be nature, music, a picture or a person you love. And while you are in that place, let your attention drift to Christ, who is already present with you. Feel His presence and His grace and there, in that place, tell Him how much you love Him.

Be present, where God is.

Pat Hanly

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Projecting a Life Under Control - 8/9

A couple of years ago, I heard a successful and important Christian leader speak in unveiled vulnerability about the realities of his life. He was successful, the president of one of the most respected Christian seminaries in North America. He had earned his doctoral degree at a prestigious university and he was sought after in our Christian sub-culture to speak at conferences and denominational gatherings. He was a picture of the well-ordered life of a man with great competence and enormous energy. His list of accomplishments was impressive.

When he spoke to our group of pastors, he didn’t speak on one of the many subjects of academic study for which he had gained notoriety. Instead, he spoke to us as one who suffered enormous debilitating problems in his family and in his own health. He opened the door to his life for us to see beyond the polished exterior. He told us the stories of how he and his wife struggle to raise a child whose disabilities were severe and life threatening. They were life threatening not to the child, but to him. The child’s disability had made her emotionally volatile and physically abusive. She is an adult “child” in her 30s and physically powerful and she would beat her father with both fist and feet as he tried to calm her every evening after work. The beatings he endured were severe and he would go to work wearing a suit and tie to outwardly project his confident leadership of an important institution, but his suit covered the wounds of his broken ribs and severe bruising. He was living with both emotional and physical pain that finally could not be concealed by a fine suit and a false smile.

The presentation he made that day has made a lasting impression on me. His bravery in letting us see behind the image we all held of him to the real person who was struggling with problems that seemed nearly impossible to believe was a call to be real, to be authentic and vulnerable. We don’t want others to see the messy realities we struggle with behind the doors of our house or the “masks” we wear in public, and honestly we should not let everyone see into the private realities of our lives. That kind of vulnerability is risky and it requires trust, but the lesson I learned from his honesty was the way we all work hard to sanitize the way others see us and the way we seek to project a life under control. One thing our reformed theological tradition has emphasized is the reality of our broken condition. God knows our real condition and is not fooled by the fine suits and false smiles we wear, but he comes to heal our broken lives.

Matthew 9:11-13(NIV)

11 When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

12 On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13 But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Grace and Peace,

John

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Disconnecting - 8/2

While the Summer is swiftly passing by, and many of you have probably found some time to get away and relax from your busy schedules, I thought I would write a little encouraging word about disconnecting from the busy world of technology, work and traffic in order to focus on what is higher. During this summer, I have enjoyed digging in the dirt. I know that doesn’t sound like things that are higher, but it is. Despite the poison ivy I’ve earned in the process, it feels good to connect with creation, more than with Facebook.

I find technology has so intruded into my life, that it is robbing life from me. Working in the dirt on the other hand is good life-giving exercise and presents one more opportunity to wonder at the marvels of the world God has made. We have put in a beautiful little garden where the plants are growing ferociously and we have added a blueberry bush and a dwarf cherry tree to the property. Doing these things has pushed me on to dig out the poison ivy infested area near the shed with the hope of redeeming the land for some raspberries.

That ground, which on the surface looks like bare dirt, is an incredible complex network of life and tangled roots. Hidden in the ground was a well-concealed hive of yellow jackets and moles have made their tunnels through the area in search of the grubs feeding on the roots. Ants and spiders creep through the overturned tufts of sod avoiding the fall of my pick ax and the debris I toss about. Probably, there are ticks looking for an opportunity to feed, but so far, so good.

Leaving behind the complexities of the modern world to dig in the dirt, carries us into the greater complexities of God’s amazing gift of life in all its wondrous forms. Digging in the dirt is a spiritual discipline confronting us at every turn with the fingerprints of God. Maybe you would prefer to disconnect from the modern world by lying on the beach. That will work just as well. I just invite you to pause and really observe a shell.

O LORD, how manifold are your works!

In wisdom you have made them all;

The earth is full of your creatures. (Psalm 104:24)

Grace and Peace,

John

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Forgiving is Powerful - 7/26

Probably you will remember the photograph from the Vietnam War that became so iconic of the horrors of that conflict. There was a young girl in the center of the photo running away; her clothes had been burned off by the napalm attack and she held her arms out from her body with a cry of shock and pain on her face, shouting “too hot, too hot.” The girl's name is Phan Thi Kim Phuc. Even last year, Kim Phuc was still receiving treatments for the scar tissue of those burns, trying to relieve the pain she lives with every day.

Today, Kim Phuc is a Christian woman living in Canada and although she has endured severe pain for the decades that followed that attack in 1972, she has not grown embittered by her suffering. Instead, she has worked hard for a more peaceful future. Forgiving people for the harm done to her and her family has been an essential part of her life. In an interview with NPR in 2008, she said, “Forgiveness made me free from hatred. I still have many scars on my body and severe pain most days, but my heart is cleansed. Napalm is very powerful, but faith, forgiveness, and love are much more powerful. We would not have war at all if everyone could learn how to live with true love, hope and forgiveness.”

Kim Phuc is an inspiration to me and an example of the kind of forgiveness Jesus expects us to offer to those who have harmed us. In Matthew’s gospel (18:21-35), Jesus tells a story about an unmerciful servant who refuses to forgive the minor debts of someone else after his master has forgiven him a debt of immense proportions. Christians should understand the enormity of God’s mercy in their own life and live out the correct response to Jesus’ question (Mt. 18:33) “Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?”

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Forgiving Is Not Optional - 7/19

What a wondrous God we have come to know through Jesus Christ; a God who truly and fully forgives us all our sins, failures, transgressions and evil. I don’t like to stop and take inventory of all these things in my life, but God, who knows the truth about me, nevertheless removes my sin and declares me “not guilty.” Hallelujah!!!

Jesus then gives us the joyful responsibility of forgiving other people. Joyful, I say, because forgiving people is a gift to both the forgiver and the forgiven and our responsibility because Jesus insists that we forgive other people. Jesus does not merely suggest that we forgive others; he requires that we forgive. The only commentary he adds to teaching his disciples the prayer we know as the Lord’s Prayer is to say “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Mat. 6:14-15).

Jesus leaves no room and no excuse for failing to forgive one another. We may complain that he asks too much of us. How can we forgive some of the terrible things people have done to us? That’s the way we may ask the question, but Jesus asks us instead, “How can you not forgive other people after I have forgiven you for everything?” (Take a moment and read Matthew 18:21-35.)

It is true, however, that there are some things people have done to us that are so bad that it may seem impossible to forgive. We may have been hurt so deeply that we feel not the slightest inclination to forgive some people, but failing to forgive is not an option according to Jesus. One of the reasons we feel that we cannot forgive is because we confuse forgiving people with excusing people. Forgiving people is not the same as saying, “oh, well, don’t worry about it, everything is fine.” Forgiving someone for sexually abusing you does not mean that you act like nothing happened or that we ignore people’s evil actions. We don’t entrust our children to people who have committed heinous acts of sexual abuse in the past, but we do forgive them. The difference is critical.

Forgiveness means that we choose to see others through God’s grace rather than through their sins. We choose to love broken people and not judge them for the harm they have caused. When it is a personal offense they have committed against us, we “cancel the debt” they have accrued.

Sometimes, I find this most basic Christian principle the hardest to practice and the most damaging problem in the local church. We may say all we want about believing in Jesus, but if we refuse to forgive other people and especially other people in the church, then our unforgiving spirit reveals that we are also unbelieving. Is there anyone you need to forgive today? There is no more powerful way to bear witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ than to forgive someone else and to set them free.

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Asylum - 7/12

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the plight of a family who had fled their home country to escape the violence of the gang that was extorting money from them. They left their business and their home country and came here in search of safety and a new chance at life for their family. I am relieved to tell you now that with some new legal counsel they may well be granted the status of asylum seekers and not face deportation. Thank you for your prayers.

No one sets out seeking asylum. Asylum is only for those in a desperate situation, like that faced by so many Syrian refugees (about 5 million to other countries and another 6 million displaced internally) who have literally fled for their lives from the ravages of a brutal war. The Old Testament made provisions for people who fled for their lives even when they may have been responsible for the death of someone else. In the book of Numbers, chapter 35, you can read about the cities of refugee, which would provide asylum or sanctuary to a person who had unintentionally killed another.

In the nation of Colombia in South America, a missionary friend of mine is working on a project to help the 7 million internally displaced refugees who have fled to other parts of their own country because of the drug wars. Around the world there are about 65 million people who have been displaced from their homes because of violence or some other desperate situation. That is equivalent to the entire population of all of New England from Maine to Connecticut, plus New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, being forced out to other parts of the country.

With the security and stability we have known living here in the U.S., we may be unaware of the massive insecurity faced by so many in the world. I cannot imagine the upheaval and distress that people experience when they are forced to such desperate measures. One thing is clear from Scripture: God looks with great compassion on people who find their lives turned upside down like this.

The nation of Israel was a displaced nation, living in slavery within the land of Egypt when God delivered them from their hardship and gave them the Promised Land. He commanded them to look upon anyone else in that situation with the same compassion, “You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Deut. 10:19). Let’s continue to pray for those who are seeking asylum and safety as we give thanks for the peace and security of our land.

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For Freedom Christ Has Set Us Free - 7/5

On Sunday we included several stirring and patriotic songs. We should be a thankful people, thankful to God, for the nation in which we live and enjoy the privileges of citizenship. When I was a child, I remember standing in the backyard of our house, which was on the banks of the Hudson River, just north of the beautiful bend in the river where Cornwall and West Point are located. The views included Storm King Mountain on the western slope and the Hudson Highlands on the eastern side. As a child, I had a profound thought; I was amazed at the place I lived and I can still hear the words that silently formed in my mind that day—I live in the most beautiful place in the world.

I am thankful for the country of my birth and I feel incredibly privileged to have been born in this place. I appreciate the freedoms we enjoy as Americans and the value we place on our political freedom. There is a greater freedom, however, that Christ offers to all people in whatever place they live. Jesus sets us free from the tyranny of selfish pride into a new life of God and neighbor loving freedom. Having lived in many places of this world, I have had the joy of knowing many people from many countries and cultures and some coming from places with far less political freedom. Many of those people have known and enjoyed the freedom of Christ more fully than I do.

I wouldn’t want to live with less political freedom, but I do want to live in greater Christian freedom. I want to be set free from bitterness and anger and holding on to grudges or from judging others for the same problems I struggle against. I want to be set free from the pessimism and cynicism that often plague my view of other people or situations. I want to be set free from my contentment with personal comforts while others suffer from countless evils and injustices.

I want to be set free to see Christ in the eyes of the poor who come looking for food or help. I want to be set free to experience the joy of hearing the praise someone else gives to God for his forgiveness. I want to be set free to find my own contentment in alleviating someone else’s suffering or at least standing with them in their suffering.

Christ set us free to live in the fullness of God’s Kingdom. That’s not just an external political freedom that guarantees us certain rights. Christ’s freedom is an internal transformation where God’s ways are written on our hearts and therefore Christ’s heart is made visible through our lives.

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Caring for the Stranger, the Alien and the Foreigner -6/28

Yesterday was a meeting of the Long Island Presbytery. In today’s E-pistle, I want to let you read the motion I presented to the Presbytery in response to a life threatening situation for a El Salvadoran family here on Long Island. This young family fled their country and their own business because of the threats they faced by the MS13 gang, which had extorted money from them for some time. The police wanted them to inform on the gang, but doing so would literally mean a death sentence to their family. They could no longer pay the gang but they could also not cooperate with the police for the sake of their children’s lives.

They arrived on Long Island and they have been working through the legal system, seeking asylum here. Unfortunately, the rules do not permit asylum to people who did not cooperate with the local police in their home country. They are caught in a desperate “catch 22” situation. Our own Session has discussed this specific situation and we have agreed to support the efforts of the Setauket Presbyterian Church if they offer sanctuary to the family. The purpose of sanctuary is to give them safe space and time to legally make a case for a stay of deportation order.

A motion to the Presbytery of Long Island

Humbly submitted by Rev. John Carrick of Mattituck Presbyterian Church

June 26, 2017

Whereas our Scriptures from both the Old and New Testaments consistently call the people of God to care for the vulnerable and oppressed in society[1] and these same Scriptures give special attention to a class of people who are described as aliens, foreigners or strangers in the land[2], I move that the Presbytery of Long Island affirm the efforts of its specific congregations who seek to shelter and support immigrants fleeing places of great danger as an authentic expression of God’s Kingdom work in the midst of the injustices of this world.

[1] Psalm 9:9-12,

Ps. 10:17-18 "O LORD, you will hear the desire of the meek; you will strengthen their heart, you will incline your ear to do justice for the orphan and the oppressed, so that those from earth may strike terror no more."

Ps. 76:8-9 "From the heavens you uttered judgment; the earth feared and was still when God rose up to establish judgment, to save all the oppressed of the earth."

Is. 1:16 “Learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.”

Luke 4:18 “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

[2] Ex. 22:21 "You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt."

Deut. 10:17-19 “For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who is not partial and takes no bribe, who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and who loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing. You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

Lev. 19:33 “When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.”

Ruth 2:10, 12 “Then she fell prostrate, with her face to the ground, and said to him, ‘Why have I found favor in your sight, that you should take notice of me, when I am a foreigner?’”… “May the LORD reward you for your deeds, and may you have a full reward from the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge!”

Luke 10:25-37 The Parable of the Good Samaritan

Hebrews 11:13

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Following Jesus - 6/21

In the next MPC newsletter you will read a letter from a man named Donald Belz. On Friday this week, Donald is going to begin walking from our church building for a three day pilgrimage carrying a wooden cross. He wants to demonstrate his love for God in this visible fashion. He did this 9 years ago, when he also started his walk from MPC.

Donald invites people to pray with him at 8:00 AM on Friday as he begins his journey. He also invites anyone who would like to walk along with him for a part of the journey, to come along as far as you would like to go.

Donald's journey may seem odd to you, but he has a sincere desire to honor Christ and to see Christians of various denominations come together to pray in unity. I think you will appreciate his humble spirit.

Blessings,

John

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The Body of Christ - 6/14

This weekend has been a whirlwind of Christian community. We have all been deeply wounded by the sudden death of our friend Jason Cooper and we grieve with Jeannette and her family. We have walked with them through the visitation hours and through the funeral service. The service was an immense undertaking accommodating hundreds more people than we could seat in our sanctuary. I want to say thank you to all of you who have visibly demonstrated the love of Christ in making this service possible, setting up chairs and video and sound equipment. Thank you to the many volunteers serving the meal that followed and for all those who cleaned and for the deacons guiding people and for Ann’s wonderful music. You are the body of Christ working together to extend Christ’s love!

At the same time we celebrated this weekend in a beautiful installation service. I was so blessed by the music and the speaking and by officially taking up this role that I have been serving for five months. We are so glad that God has brought us to serve here in Mattituck. I was also so glad that the clergy of other denominations accepted my invitation and participated in this service. Colin’s trumpet added such a joyous depth to the music and the choir sang to God’s glory. Rev. Chuck Cary’s message was moving and spiritually insightful. Again, the body of Christ was dynamically and visibly at work.

These two major events provided a strange juxtaposition and yet both provided a real view of Christian love, one in joy and the other in grief. Thank you for the view of the body of Christ you have provided me this weekend as we continue on God’s journey. We will of course have many opportunities to pull together to serve one another in times of need. All I can say right now is that I have seen you living out our calling to be the body of Christ and that is a beautiful sight.

Love in Christ,

John

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Trusting God Through Trials - 5/17/17

Although many preachers are peddling a faith that promises not only to spare you from suffering in this world, but to shower you with Heaven’s blessings (oddly in the form of the world’s wealth), Scripture paints a radically different picture. Jesus suffered for our sakes. Paul and the other apostles suffered and died for the sake of their faith. Peter wrote that we should not think it strange that we face suffering and various trials.

Suffering is not an indication that God has abandoned you and it does not mean that God is somehow punishing you or displeased with you. There are no simple answers to offer someone who is passing through pain. The definitive Bible book on suffering (Job) offers no definitive answer to the question of why; it offers instead only the assurance of God’s majesty and presence, and the implication that we are right to trust God.

One thing the New Testament does seem to promise is that our suffering is not meaningless. We can rejoice with Paul that God can use even our suffering for his redemptive work in the world, completing the sufferings of Christ (Col. 1:24). In the same way, Peter tells us to rejoice that our suffering is a participation in Christ’s own suffering for the world (1 Pet. 4:13). While many look to Christ’s suffering as a source of comfort because at least God knows our situation and has experienced our pain, that comfort alone would leave me still with little hope. Peter and Paul both turn that view around and open a window on the suffering of Christians as a participation in Christ’s suffering, giving us more than comfort, in a redemptive purpose.

Father, we look to you in times of pain and suffering longing for the comfort of Psalm 23 and the vision of still waters and green pastures. Grant us the grace to trust in you until we enter into that peace and the joy in believing that you can invest our suffering with spiritual value either in the working out of our own salvation or in the joining of our pain to Christ’s redemptive suffering for the world. Amen.

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Reconciled to God - 5/10/17

Reconciliation is one of the most important ways that the New Testament speaks of what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. Reconciliation is a restoration or renewal of a fractured relationship. Jesus heals the rupture that exists between God and us because of our selfishness and sin.

The New Testament describes this reconciled relationship by means of several powerful metaphors. Perhaps the most well known image Paul uses is the forensic metaphor. We have been pardoned of our crimes against God and declared innocent because Jesus Christ has paid the entire penalty for our wrongs. The forensic metaphor is the one most commonly used to explain the good news, but the metaphor is only one way of explaining the new reality in our restored relationship with God.

The New Testament also explains our reconciliation with God in terms of our adoption. This metaphor helps us to focus on God’s loving fatherhood in our lives. God has adopted us as his children and joined us together in his family. This family metaphor can also be seen in a third image the New Testament uses to disclose our reconciliation to God. We, as the church, are also called the bride of Christ. Here is a nuptial metaphor, where God has joined us together with Christ in a new covenantal relationship that cannot be broken. Each of these metaphors has great power to reveal God’s grace of reconciliation. None of them fully explains the wonder of the gospel by itself.

There are many other metaphors in the Bible for our new relationship with God. Jesus described it as being a branch on the vine or as a lost coin that has been found or again as a wandering sheep recovered by the shepherd or a prodigal son celebrated on his return home. Salvation is a BIG idea, bigger than any one image can express. One thing that we must not miss though is that our new relationship with God always entails a new relationship with one another. When God heals the fracture that has cut us off from him, he also restores us to life with the people around us. Sometimes that is hard to accept. It’s easier to focus on a “spiritual reconciliation” with God, but hard sometimes even to desire reconciliation to a person with whom I’m angry or disgusted.

Hear Paul’s statement in 2 Cor. 5:18-20. All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God.

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Jesus is the Truth - 5/3/17

Sometimes I hear Christians who seem so zealous to defend what they believe to be the absolute truth that they are willing to divide over quite a number of things they believe to be beyond question. They may affirm the common idea that we should have unity on essentials, liberty on non-essentials and charity in all things, but the list of “essentials” often appears to be most everything.

For everyone who hears my preaching on Sunday, I hope you know how much I treasure the Bible. The Bible is the source for the proclamation of the gospel and it is the faithful witness to God’s wondrous acts of redemption. However, I don’t believe that our Christian faith is reducible to a set of propositional truth claims derived from a book. God did not send his one and only Son into the world to write a book that would give us all the answers. God sent his one and only Son into the world to redeem sinful humanity by giving his life in sacrificial love.

The Bible is a gift to us, not because it is the errorless source of knowledge on every subject mentioned, but because it is a means of grace making Jesus known to us. In fact, the Bible describes Jesus writing something with his own hand only once and he wrote those words in the sand, almost making sure we didn’t make the mistake of hoping for that kind of truth. Jesus said, speaking of himself, “I am the truth, the way and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

The absolute Truth we believe as Christians is not a proposition, it is a person. Jesus is the Truth! Soren Kierkegaard said, “Truth is subjectivity.” He did not mean that all truth is just subjective, so that we can each decide whatever is true for us, as our culture understands subjectivitiy. Kierkegaard meant that Truth is not merely the data or the cognitive notions we hold about God or the world or anything else, but real truth is encountered in a living person. If truth were just reducible to data and written formulations, then truth would be better known by machines than by people. God could have created machines with the capacity for perfect knowledge, but he created persons like you and me who can know just as we are known where knowledge is communion.

I love Paul’s expression in Colossians 2:2-3, My purpose is that they (you and me) may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that [we] may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that [we] may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.

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A Christocentric Faith - 4/18/17

Although we have just completed the celebration of Easter and the season of Lent is over for another year, Easter itself is never over. Easter is the reality in which we live everyday. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the stage on which we live our lives. The resurrection of Jesus is the reason we are called Christians today.

Were it not for the resurrection, the whole story of Jesus would have been lost and forgotten in the long march of time. Jesus’ resurrection is the reason that we know the story that has forever altered human history. Without the resurrection, the gospel accounts of Jesus’ life would never have been written, or if they had been written, they would not have been preserved for long. Jesus was certainly not just another moral visionary who inspired his biographers to record his life. The resurrection of Jesus is the astounding event, which transformed humble fishermen and tax collectors to become fearless heralds of a Kingdom of Heaven that had broken into their mundane world.

Without the resurrection we would never have known our God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Without the resurrection, we would never have known God as the approachable and knowable lover of our souls, who bends down to earth, to lift up the sinner from his self-inflicted wounds. We would never have known God on a scale that allowed our eyes to look upon his glory or to discover that glory not in a fear filled and overwhelming experience of majesty and might, but in the wondrous vision of his sacrificial love hanging on a wooden cross.

The resurrection of Jesus is how God the Father vindicated the truth of Jesus’ life and his message and his innocence and his love for you and me. Because Jesus was so visibly vindicated by God and recognized by his disciples and other witnesses, this ancient story of our faith has been meticulously preserved and proclaimed and Jesus has become the center of our faith and the key to our understanding of God’s character, holiness, and love. We have a Christocentric faith today, not because Jesus has displaced the Father, but because Jesus reveals what we really know about God our Father.

Hosanna in the Highest!

John

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Preparing for Holy Week - 4/5/17

Holy Week begins this Sunday. We call it “Holy Week” because truly we are going to remember and celebrate the central events of our faith; events which define what is ultimately real and true about our lives and the world in which we live. Living in a world that is making history in the ongoing march of time and particularly living in a time when most of us are feeling unnerved by the direction our nation and our world seems to be moving, we need a renewed focus this Holy week more than ever.

Time is moving forward in its chronological march toward wherever the future carries us. As Christians we believe that future is certain and that God’s plans will be fulfilled. The reason for that certainty is rooted in the events, which took place at a time “under Pontius Pilate” as the Apostle’s Creed states—a specific moment in history. Chronological time continues moving forward, but we believe in a Kairos time. At just the right time, God invaded our chronological history and brought about a decisive and eternal reality, triumphing over evil by the cross of Jesus Christ.

Our Christian faith is an all or nothing understanding of the world in which we live. We don’t believe in the gospel merely as a self-improvement philosophy of how to live better. Christianity is not just about a moral vision for the way we live and raise our children. As Paul wrote, if the resurrection of Christ is not real, then Christians should be pitied above all people because our faith would be utterly futile (see 1 Cor. 15:12-19). The reality of Christ’s triumph is not just a matter of personal belief and personal significance. If Christ has indeed risen from dead, then nothing in our world escapes the significance of this Kairos event.

What is the significance of that event? It is nothing less than the redemption of God’s whole creation. Again, Paul writes in Romans 8:19-21, “The creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” The significance of Jesus’ death and resurrection is manifold and it includes the salvation of all those who will believe in Christ’s redeeming sacrifice, but it extends to a declaration of God’s sovereign rule over all creation and the complete expulsion of evil.

On July 20, 1969 Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin made chronological history as mankind made its first footprints on the surface of the moon and planted a U.S. flag as a marker for this remarkable achievement. In about the year 30, Jesus made Kairos history after “landing” on the earth he planted a wooden cross, which forever now stands empty, marking the eternal achievement of God’s victory over all evil and his sovereign offer of reconciliation with sinful humanity.

In Christ's love,

John

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A Modern Parable from the Holy Land - 3/29/2017

Last week I wrote about the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. This unique church is a living parable for our time. The building is a pilgrimage site for Christians from all traditions and if your were to visit, you would discover people from Christian communities you had never encountered before.

The Church is a shared facility operated by Greek Orthodox, Armenian Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Egyptian Coptic, Syrian and other Christian denominations. That might sound like a good cooperative arrangement, but these Christians groups find it nearly impossible to agree on anything needing to be done to the building. On the front facade of the Cathedral is an old wooden ladder that has not been moved since 1853, displaying visually the inability of the Christian communities to agree. The Christians have agreed on one thing, that is, that no one Christian group should hold the keys to the building and therefore have authority over the others.

The keys to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, therefore, continue to be held by a Muslim family living near its front doors; as has been the case since 1192, when Sultan Saladin and King Richard the Lionheart signed an agreement allowing for the freedom of Christian worship in Jerusalem. This story seems so strange, it almost sounds like a fairytale, but it is true. Everyday in Jerusalem, a Muslim man opens the door to what is arguably the holiest site of the Christian faith, so that Christians of all traditions may enter and worship freely.

In John 17:20-21 Jesus prayed, "I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me." How ironic that we Christians find this unity so hard to achieve that for centuries at least, in one very significant place for all Christians, a man of Muslim faith helps to keep the peace between us.

Love in Christ,

John

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The Empty Tomb - 3/22/17

In the city of Jerusalem, the most important place for Christians is not the disputed Temple Mount that most of us have seen with its iconic Al-Aqsa Mosque built above the foundation walls of the ancient Jewish Temple. If you try to recall an image you have seen of the city of Jerusalem, you would probably picture the Mosque rising above the city walls. This area is greatly disputed as a holy site for both the Jewish and Islamic religions. For Christians, however, across the city is an ancient church and this church is the principle pilgrimage site.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is built, according to strong traditions, on the site where Jesus' body was laid in the tomb. It is very hard to visit the church and feel that you are in the place of his burial because for so many centuries this site was venerated by Christians who built the church over the tomb and protected the tomb by encasing it inside a shrine inside the church. Also, the church now sits inside the more modern city walls, dating from the Ottoman Empire. You cannot sense the garden scene described in the Scriptures because the layers of history that have been built up over the years obscure it from our site.

Protestants often go to visit a garden tomb outside the current city walls dating to the time of Jesus, and there you can see a tomb like the one described in the Biblical account, but the Church of the Holy Sepulchre has far more evidence to support it as the actual site of Jesus' burial. The good news of the gospel, however, is not that we know the place where Jesus was buried. The good news is that the tomb was empty and that Jesus is alive!

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre has been in the news recently because the tomb inside has just gone through an extensive renovation. I am very glad to have had the privilege of visiting this site, but I am even happier knowing that the tomb, which is so important to our Christian message, is an empty tomb. Our faith does not need to identify absolutely the holy place in the ground where Jesus was laid, because we serve a living Savior, not the memory of a noble martyr.

Love in Christ,

John

P.S. more to come on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre as we journey toward Easter.

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The Challenge of a Suffering Servant 3-9-17

Lent is a time to reflect not only on our need for a savior as sinful people, but also on the suffering remedy for our broken condition. The wonder of the gospel is that Jesus the Messiah did not wield a sword of justice destroying humanity for all our inclination toward evil; instead, Jesus came and suffered at the hands of human evil. His disciples could not fathom why the one who had demonstrated power and authority over evil, nature, and even death would submit himself to such a shameful death on the cross.

The suffering of Christ is still a mystery to us, even as we cling to him for redemption. Some theologians find his suffering and death distasteful and reminiscent of child abuse by an angry father or just a leftover of other ancient religious practices with their blood sacrifices. Jesus declares in the gospel, however, that he must suffer and die and that he would then rise up again to life. We are called to trust him that in the inscrutable wisdom of God, Jesus’ suffering and death truly takes away our sin.

There is more, I think, that we must learn from Jesus’ willingness to suffer and die at the hands of human injustice and evil. Jesus knew that evil would not ultimately prevail. Jesus trusted that his Father would vindicate him and that evil would be overcome. Jesus understood that a violent overthrow of evil or an iron-fisted control by a messianic warrior become emperor was not the means to God’s plan.

But here I sit fretting about the news again today, and I wish that somehow God would just powerfully make all things right in this upside down world. I’m no different than Jesus’ first disciples who could not comprehend Jesus’ proclamation that he was on his way to die in Jerusalem. Jesus calls us to follow him and to pick up our cross as we follow behind him. Do we believe that power is the means to build God’s Kingdom or will we trust that God’s Kingdom comes as God vindicates the truth and goodness of disciples who willing follow Jesus even to death? Power is appealing, but only love will endure.

Grace and Peace,

John

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Beyond Denominational Lines 2/22/17

Populations of people in many places of the world are living displaced from their homes. They have become refugees sometimes to foreign nations and sometimes within their national boundaries, but far from home. Syrian refugees are fleeing their war torn country and the prospects for peace still look very dim. Colombia has one of the largest populations of internally displaced people in the world due to drug wars. Sometimes natural disasters can also displace people as hurricane Katrina did to so many in Louisiana.

Traditional Christian denominations are experiencing a type of displacement in our society as well. At least we may feel that we have been displaced by a culture that is shifting rapidly around us. Mainline denominations are in decline. Here on the North Fork, three United Methodist congregations are consolidating into one church. Our society, for a long time already, has not considered the church to warrant any consideration on Sunday mornings, when it comes to sports programs for children or other events that might compete for families' time and commitment.

Christians have felt this displacement for some time and we are sometimes quick to complain, but our displacement may help refine us, if we are open to what God can do with this reality. After all, the exile of the Jewish nation was an important prelude that set the historical stage for Jesus the Messiah. Our displacement in society may help us to move beyond the denominational boundaries that have often separated Christians into little tribal groups. One of the reasons our society criticizes the church is that we have been so divided by our theological distinctions that we have failed to demonstrate a common witness to the world. Our love for Christ has been obscured by our labels.

Although I was ordained in the United Methodist Church, I have enjoyed the privilege of serving an inter-denominational congregation in Bonn, Germany. People from around the world came to live and study and work in Bonn, and if they were Christians who spoke English, they didn't have a lot of churches to pick and choose from. Christians from all different denominational stripes worshiped side by side and when you are in an environment where the consumer factor of church shopping is taken away, the Christian community discovers what is really most important and that is Jesus Christ. We are united by our faith in Christ, and even where we understand things about God or the church differently, we can find a way to love, worship and serve together under the banner of our Lord.

Grace and Peace,

John

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2-14

Dear friends,

As I prepare for the transfer of my ordination from the United Methodist Church to the PCUSA, I need to prepare a few statements about my theology for the Committee on Ministry. Today, I am writing about my view of the sacraments, and I think this might be valuable for your own reflection, so here is some food for thought.

Blessings,

John

Sacramental Theology

I believe that the only way the infinite and transcendent God can make himself known to such finite creatures as humankind is to condescend to reveal himself on our level. This statement reflects no limitation on what God can do; but rather, the limitation of finite humanity. The incarnation of God in Jesus Christ is the principle means of God’s condescension, making possible the human encounter with God. Other more humble means also can become avenues of God’s immanent presence.

Jesus has provided us with simple and tangible means to awaken us to his presence and to reveal and offer to us God’s covenantal love and promises. Jesus Christ uniquely commands the sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion in the gospel narratives, and the church has sought to obey Christ’s commands in its ritual practices. I believe these outward signs signify an inward grace poured out by the Holy Spirit. My sacramental view of these rituals can also be applied to preaching and to the nature of Scripture. These simple human acts and words can become the means of God’s grace and the mode through which God condescends to reveal himself to the human person.

I believe that baptism is an act through which the sign of God’s covenant (Col. 2:11-12) in Jesus Christ is applied to the life of a child. This sign demonstrates that salvation is God’s action for us, given wholly by his grace and independent of our understanding. The primary agent in baptism is the Holy Spirit, placing his seal on the child. As a covenantal agreement, there is also a secondary human response of making promises or vows to nurture and raise the child within the community of faith, learning about Christ and preparing them for the time of their own mature expression of personal faith in Christ. The human response to God’s grace takes a more visible place when an unbaptized, new adult believer is able to bear witness to his/her own faith in Christ. The human testimony, however, does not signify that the human action has taken the primary role. Baptism is still the gracious gift of God, signifying the new creation and redeemed life of the believer.

I respect Christian traditions, which understand baptism as having only symbolic value, and as constituting only the obedient response of a new believer. I do not believe that a person’s conviction about the nature of baptism should separate or divide the body of Christ. I have served an inter-national and inter-denominational congregation, where Christians of diverse theological opinions worshipped together and allowed for the full expression of either infant baptism or believers baptism. I find the symbolic value of adult baptism by immersion of great power as it witnesses to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I believe Christians of both these theological persuasions can live and worship together without conflict.

I believe that Holy Communion reenacts and reminds Christians today of the covenantal meal in which Jesus declared the significance of his own death. As Scripture says, the meal is in “remembrance” of Jesus’ suffering and death, but I believe this reminding is more than a symbolic memorial act. Holy Communion touches all five of the human senses, and it carries us beyond what we can perceive by the simple senses of touch, taste, smell, sight, and hearing to the a genuine spiritual perception of God’s sacrificial love in Jesus’ death. I believe that Christ himself is present to us in and through the ritual, not by means of transubstantiation, but present nevertheless as the living Christ and not merely memorializing his death.

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Stability 1/25/17

What a wonderful reception you all have given us as we have made this massive transition in our lives. You may be aware of the powerful experience people pass through when they move to another culture; an experience we call “culture shock.” Sandra and I have passed through that a couple of times already after moving to Costa Rica and then to Paraguay and again to Germany, but there is another culture shock that is less familiar to most people and that is what we call “reverse culture shock.”

Reverse culture shock is the experience of returning to your “home culture” and discovering that you are now a true foreigner in the land of your birth. We may speak the same language, albeit, with different accents, but we have been significantly changed by living in multiple countries and cultures. Not only have we been changed, but the U.S. has also changed in significant ways while we were gone.

The ancient Greek philosopher, Diogenes, observed that no one ever steps into the same river twice. The water is always moving and always changing. I know exactly what he meant. Whether we go live somewhere else in the world or not, the world around us is constantly changing. There is only one constant in all of our lives and that is the LORD who is the same yesterday, today and forever. The one who is the Alpha and Omega (beginning and end) is the only one who can hold our lives together.

We have come home to our nation at a peculiar time of change. This country is so polarized and there is so much distrust and anger, but as one who is personally holding on to the only stable rock in the midst of my own bout with culture shock, I want to remind you who have stayed here in the U.S. and who yet find it hard to recognize the nation around you, that there really is only one rock and only one foundation which will not fail and that is Jesus Christ our Lord.

Don’t despair or give into fear or passively descend into cynical depression about our nation. Let us commit instead to pray, not for our own political position or our party, but let us pray for a just society. Let us pray for a nation that reflects the character of God, as we know Him through Jesus Christ. Let us pray not only in words but also with our feet and hands, working for the good of our community wherever we can. As we pray and act, let us find our confidence in Christ, our sure foundation.

John

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SING

As I was reflecting on Pat’s Wednesday devotional from a couple of weeks ago, I was wondering if singing could be a spiritual discipline? Singing is certainly an act of worship. When using either classic hymns, or contemporary praise music, often the lyrics can express what I am feeling when I have no words of my own. Singing is portable: you don’t need special equipment; it can be done anywhere at anytime; and, best of all, one doesn’t have to be good at it (for which I am grateful!). Psalm 100:1 states: “Make a joyful noise unto the LORD....” Fortunately, it says joyful, not beautiful, otherwise I’d be doomed :}

A verse that the LORD recently opened my heart to is found in Psalm 59:16-17. “But I will sing of Your strength, in the morning I will sing of Your love; for You are my fortress, my refuge in times of trouble. O my Strength, I sing praise to You; You, O God, are my fortress, my loving God.” It is good to set aside a specific time to practice our spiritual discipline, and as David wrote in this psalm, the morning is a wonderful time, as it sets the intention and parameter for our day. These are especially wonderful two verses, as it speaks to the many attributes of our God. Our God is a strong God: “He’s got the whole world in His hands.” As we seek to understand this trembling and weary world, where there is such strife, division, natural disasters, wars, it is a good discipline to remember that our God is a God of strength, and there is no foe that can out-power Him.

Our God is Love. Pure, simple, profound. He loves us just as we are, and we can sing often and long about His amazing grace. He is a fortress and refuge when we are troubled. Picture yourself being hounded, chased: by your worries, concerns, responsibilities, doubts. There is a Fortress where we may run and find rest for our souls, a refuge where we may lie down by still waters and drink deeply from the well of Life. This is our God of strength, refuge, fortress, love. As a spiritual discipline, let’s seek today to take these four words and ask the Holy Spirit to open the eyes of our hearts to see how God is providing for us in these four ways. I bet’cha anything we all end up singing His praise! Sing, beloved of the LORD.

He is worthy of our praise.

Caren

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New Year Arrival - 1/11/2017

The day that seemed to us at times to be merely a dream or illusion, has actually arrived. The physical reality of boarding a plane on January 1, 2017 after 7 years in Germany and 6 years in Latin America, in order to come home to New York, has cleared the foggy dream-like state we entered 3 months ago.

Writing, “to come home to New York” sounds both odd and wonderful at the same time. During the 30 years of our marriage, Sandra I have made our home in 4 different U.S. states and 4 different countries on 3 different continents and everyplace we have made home has been enriching and wonderful, and yet, whenever anyone would ask us during those many years, where we were from, our answer invariably was, “New York”.

New York has shaped our identities and given us in all our moves a place to call “home”. Now we are arriving home in New York and we look forward to rediscovering this foundational place, even if Mattituck and the North Fork are new to us. Honestly, living in so many distant places has given us a very different perspective on this small blue marble humanity calls home. Mattituck seems just around the corner from the Hudson Valley, where I grew up. We want to thank you for the ways you have already encouraged us to feel at home in this arrival and we really do look forward to what God is going to do in the years ahead as we love and serve Jesus Christ together.

Just as the day of our arrival has actually come and dispelled the dreamy clouds of transition, we as Christians live in-between the times, waiting for the day that God has promised and we can be certain that the day when we shall see Jesus face to face is no dream, but he will arrive at just the right time.

Love in Christ,

John

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God At The Start Of The New Year - 12/28/16

God at the Start of the New Year

O LORD, our LORD, how majestic is Your name in all the earth! You have set Your glory above the heavens. From the lips of children and infants You have ordained praise (Psalm 8).

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven....I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that men will revere Him (Ecclesiastes 3).

When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, He will sit on His throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats....The King will reply, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me” (Matthew 25).

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” He said to me, “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the one who is thirsty, I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life” (Revelation 21).

What amazing words to begin the new year! These texts are from the lectionary reading for the first week in January, and these Scriptures are filled with hope, comfort and challenge. God’s name is above all names. He is majestic, enduring, glorious. God is to be revered: both for Who He is–One set above the heavens; One for Whom nothing is insufficient or incomplete; One Who is seated on the throne; and to be revered for what He has done. It is proper that all nations will be gathered before Him because He is worthy. He makes all things new. He gives and gives and gives without cost, though it cost Him laying down His life for you and for me.

There is such comfort in knowing that things come in seasons. While we often wish the good times could last forever, it helps to remember that difficult times will pass. Even knowing that the days are getting longer, that there are extra minutes of sunlight each day, strengthens us in this dark season of winter. What comfort to know we may go to the source of Living Water with our thirst. And yes, Jesus is coming back, in all His glory! We do not know when, but we are one year closer to that glorious day.

And, may we in 2017, hear God’s challenge to us in these Scriptures. If infants and children praise Him, may we seek to praise Him each day in simple, child-like trust and joyful abandon. May we also live into the declaration, in whatever manner or person God brings into our lives, of caring for the least of His brothers and sisters, because when we do, we are really caring for Jesus.

As we stand together at the beginning of a new year, I like to remember the old saying: “We may not know what the future holds, but we know Who holds the future.” May 2017 be a year of praise to our God and King. May we rest in the assurance that everything God does will endure. May we care for Jesus by caring for the least among us. And, may we drink often and deeply from the spring of the water of life. Happy new year, beloved of the LORD.

Caren

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Simple Gifts - 12/14/16

What a great time we had last Sunday as the MPC youth group and adults went Christmas

caroling. The youth went to 13 homes, and the adults went to 9 homes. The kids found more

folks at home than the adults did. We sang our hearts out, got a few handfuls of Christmas

cookies, and Bob even brought his old fashioned sleigh bells. He made sure that we all knew he

took extensive music lessons just so he could ring those bells! One sweet lady, 95 years old,

clapped for us when we finished, telling us that this was the first time she had ever been caroled

to! She was thrilled. Debbie made us tasty baked ziti, and Llovana made “figgy pudding” as in:

oh bring us some figgy pudding, oh bring us some figgy pudding....” It was quite tasty, an

English dessert (though I really preferred the chocolate chip cookie pie she made!!) I got to hang

out with some wonderful people: Doug, Bob, Karen and Hannah, Caitlyn, Annelise, Jaimee, Mia

Xing, and Emmy (oops....almost forgot Snowball the pup). To top it off, there were even a few

snow flakes drifting down as we ended the evening.

All simple things really. When you think about it, I’ve been Christmas caroling with this youth

group for maybe twenty years. You’d think it would get old after a while. But when you see the

smiles and the faces that light up when the kids walk in, it’s such a great feeling. Fresh cookies

just out of the oven, a never tried and tasted before recipe, familiar Christmas carols, seeing who

will get back into the van first; all such simple things, simple gifts of the season. Take a moment

and breath in the scent of your Christmas tree; to really look at the photos of far flung places and

faces, another year older, that friends send in their cards to you. Walk down Love Lane at night

in the glow of the lit Christmas trees. Ask the Spirit to help you find a few moments of simple,

quiet grace every day, in the midst of the hustle and bustle. That’s, in fact, how Jesus came into

this world. One silent night, a few shepherds, a few rustic animals, a young mother. Beautifully

simple yet achingly profound in the depth of this paradox: A tiny baby Who created the universe!

Let’s allow ourselves the mindfulness of simple gifts in this Advent season as we quickly

approach the day of the greatest gift ever given: Immanuel, God with us.

Caren

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Faith - 12/6/2016

“Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.” -- Augustine

We all have times in our life when things seem to go wrong. Perhaps it is a job loss or a heath issue or perhaps a financial problem. All of us experience these things from time to time and these difficult periods can last for months and even years.

If you are like me, you believe that God will answer your prayer and things will get better but then the problem gets worse or drags on and you begin to wonder. Will God ever answer my prayer? Does He hear me? Does he understand what I am going through?

Coming to the place in your life where you have faith to believe God can and will answer your prayer often means that you begin to forget about your problem. Or at least you focus on it much less. As you seek the Lord about your problem, God has a habit of speaking peace to your heart over time. Once this happens, you can move on and focus on other things in your life. And often, when we change our focus, our problematic situation often improves. This is the place where we trust God, in spite of our circumstance.

God wants us to believe and He works in our lives to see that we have every opportunity to exercise faith. Hebrews chapter 11 says tells us that it is, in fact, impossible to please God without faith. This is because true faith eventually comes to the full realization of who God in our lives. And coming to this place in our lives is also coming to loving God for who he is and not what He might or might not do for us.

During a particularly hard time in his life, when it seemed that he had lost almost everything, C.S. Lewis finally came to the place of peace and famously said, “I gave in, and admitted that God was God.” Coming to the place where we truly realize that God is God, is the exact place where God desires us to be. This, instead of the answer to our prayer, is the reward of faith.

Be Blessed,

Pat

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Standing in the Gap - 11/30/2016

In the midst of turkey left overs, the urge to splurge on Christmas shopping, prepping for the Christmas Fair this weekend, another tragedy hits at Ohio State. Lately, I have had the recurring thought of “sheltering in place”: staying in bed with the covers pulled over my head. The incomprehensible pain and sorrow seems to be never ending. Then I read an article a dear friend forwarded to me, and I encourage us to reflect on the following: “Lost in all the chaos at Ohio State University today was something that most people probably missed. About an hour into it, when everyone was ‘sheltering in place’ all over campus, CNN took a phone call from a young woman who was locked inside a classroom right near where the suspect was hurting people. She said she was a graduate student and she and many others were huddled together scared and not sure what was happening outside. Then she said something that made me tear up. She said casually to the TV anchor over the phone, "But we happened to have a few 'military guys' in my class and the minute we got the text message alert of an 'active shooter on campus' they moved the rest of us away from the door and then all of them stood guard right by the door." She said they were standing there as she spoke making certain if a shooter or someone with a knife or whatever calamity tried to come through that door, they would be the first thing he'd see and they'd stop it and protect the other students or die trying. These guys weren't armed, I'm guessing they weren't in uniform, they were just students who happened to have military training. Those "military guys" instantly put themselves on the clock and assumed the position to protect those unarmed, vulnerable students. I thought that was impressive. I thought that was brave. I thought that was oh so very American. I also thought you'd want to know.” John Grey, journalist for FOX News.

This story got me thinking. How quickly I forget that I “happen to have” Someone who is more than abundantly standing in the gap for me, for you. We have someone who is never off the clock, but is always on the clock, interceding for us, guiding us, facing down our enemies. And, in fact, He didn’t simply “die trying”. He died willingly. This is why Jesus came, so that under His wings, we might always be sheltered, no matter in what place we may find ourselves.

Last week, one of the lectionary readings was from Romans 13:12: “The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness, and put on the armor of light.” When I remember to do it (chagrin), I put on the armor of God every morning (Galations 6:11-18). I never imagined, though, that this full armor is an armor of light: the light of Jesus’ love, power, grace, strength, mercy, forgiveness, presence. And, what a brilliant light it is! In the midst of uncertainty and heartache: whether personal, national, world wide, may you and I never forget that at the door we have Jesus; “In Him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.” (John 1:4-5). Today, let’s help each other, and those around us, to put on our armor of Light.

Caren

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The Tongue - 11/16/16

“When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body.” James 3:3-6

Wherever you fall politically in this recent the Presidential election, I am sure you would admit it was driven mostly by very harsh words. From Donald Trump’s “bad Hombres” and “fat pig” to Hilary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables”, the words used by these candidates to describe others was less than generous. I would say they were offensive and unnecessary.

The words that we use have power. Last Sunday, Kathy Taylor reminded us that the Book of Proverbs says that "even life and death are in the power of the tongue". Words can humiliate and tear down and are often used to win arguments while dismissing others. When words are used in this fashion, there is seldom any consideration for how they might tear another person down. The objective is to win the argument and words are a powerful way to gain an advantage.

Occasionally we used words that hurt others when we have not intended to do so. We don’t think carefully before we speak and we can say something insensitive to someone that we care about. A simple thing said can bring significant destruction.

In this current election, there is a tendency to believe that once the new president was elected (Trump), all the candidates will have to do is to speak “healing” words and everything will be fine. The common belief is that people will move past the ugly things that were said and find a way to get along.

While that may be true, it is up to Christians to adopt a higher ethic as it relates to the words we use. The tongue must be guarded and kept on a leash, so to speak. While small, it is powerful and thus must be watched all the time. We cannot be a people who speak ugly things, only to “take them back” at a later time. The ethic we receive from scripture commands us to “allow our conversation to always be filled with grace.” (Colossians 4:6)

So be careful with the things you say and if you slip up, ask God and the person you offended to forgive you. Allow humility to govern your life and the power of your tongue. Try to speak a blessing to others when the temptation arises to say something you know is better left unsaid. Perhaps then we can start to heal our nation, one injured soul at a time.

Be blessed,

Pat

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Humble - 11/9/2016

It is Monday night. I have spent the last hour praying with 40 brothers and sisters for our nation.

We began by reading 2 Chronicles 7:13-15. “...if My people, who are called by My name, will

humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear

from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land." Humble. All we need do is

look at the face of Jesus to know what the word humble means. As I prayed before this precious

band of believers, I acknowledged that You, LORD, are the One who flung the galaxies across

the universe; who choose the exact hue of every fall leaf. You are the One who knit us together

in the depths of the womb, and Who sits enthroned with a myriad of angels crying: “Holy, holy,

holy!” Yet, You did not count this as something to be grasped, but gave it all up, surrendering

Yourself to the will of Your Father. And You came. You came to touch the leper, to hug the

beggar, to eat with sinners, to suffer and die for me, for you, for all peoples and nations.

Humble.

We prayed together in silence Monday evening. And in that silence, I found such depth of power

and grace and hope and calm. What a wonderful gift to gather together as one body, united in

heart and mind to pray for this country. As you read this, it is Wednesday morning. At this

moment, I do not know the results of the election. But I do know Who holds this election in His

hands. The same hands Who has engraved our names into His palms. Who reaches out, in

profound yearning, to all people in all times with love and faithfulness. I know that people in

this nation are angry. I do not think this anger is based in hate, but rather in fear. And we know

that “perfect Love casts out fear.” May you and I live into Christ’s perfect love: for ourselves,

for our neighbor, for the stranger and alien, for this nation and for the world. Humble, humble.

“Lord Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on us.”

Amen and amen.

Caren

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Spiritual Biography Part 2

Greetings Again from Bonn Germany! Life has been incredibly busy for us as we finish up our ministry here in Germany and prepare for the move to Mattituck. We have begun to pack up our belongings and we have a shipping company contracted now to deliver these things. Even though the time approaches for our actual move, the business of life and ministry here do not give us the luxury of thinking much about the future. So, I would like to pause in this business and continue where I left off last month with a little spiritual biography to introduce ourselves.

I left off praying the Lord’s Prayer, which carried me spiritually through the teen years and into college life. At Hartwick College, upstate in Oneonta, my involvement with a baptist campus ministry was instrumental in deepening my faith with serious study and encouraging Christian friends. The best of those friends also became my wife just two weeks after graduation. Sandra was wiser than me and attended SUNY Oneonta, finishing with no debt (an important spiritual principle). But I digress.

During these college years, I came to see that God was calling me to live for him, no matter what vocation I chose. That may sound pious and mature, but as you will see in a moment, I was actually filled with pride and arrogance. I thought my vocation would be to teach philosophy. I could be a Christian voice in an academic field dominated by agnostic and atheistic thinkers. The truth be told, I loved the idea of what seemed like a prestigious position demanding the respect of others.

I had no interest in pastoral ministry at that time and in fact, I had a very low view of pastoral ministry. Even though my father served a church on the side, the rest of the family attended other churches and I had come to view pastors as people with little ability. That judgement was harsh, arrogant and completely unjustified, but that is exactly how I felt. My father also had warned me not to become a pastor, feeling that he had mistaken a sense of calling to ministry, and later discovered his real passion for teaching.

The problem with my plan, was that I was having too much fun in college and as a result my grades were only an average 3.0. My philosophy grades were much higher, but in order to get accepted to PhD studies and achieve my dream, I thought a seminary degree in theology would give me a chance to prove myself and it would be a good academic background for what I really wanted to do. So, Sandra and I married and started off our new life together at Gordon-Conwell, where I could add to my already substantial educational debt and Sandra could work, while I went to school (I wasn’t really that bad! I worked too).

Funny, how God works out his plans, even using our pride to get us to the place he wants us to be. Imagine, seminary turned out to be a place God used to change my heart and set us on the path of pastoral ministry. Like St. Augustine, who before his conversion, went with ulterior motives to learn from St. Ambrose (he was interested in Ambrose’s rhetorical eloquence). Under Ambrose’s teaching, however, Augustine wrote, “little by little I was drawing close to you, although I did not know it.”

God is at work in your life, even when you are not aware of his presence and even if you think you are working out your own plans. Sometimes those plans may even be attempts to escape from God. Let me encourage you, there is nowhere you can go from his presence and there is no way you can outmaneuver God’s good plans or his love for you.

Love in Christ,

John

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A Spiritual Biography - Part 1

Dear Friends in Mattituck,

Sandra and I look forward to settling into the community and beginning ministry and life and new friendships in Mattituck. We were blessed in our visit with you last month and I thought I would take the opportunity in these E-Blasts to introduce myself in a more specific way—through what might be called a spiritual auto-biography. Don’t worry; this is not a book, just some brief recollections about God’s work in my life.

Perhaps you can also give thanks for the spiritual heritage passed on to you through your Christian family. I know that not everyone came to faith the way I did, but I am thankful for my family, who provided a Christian home and the practice of regular attendance in worship and Sunday school. I remember receiving award pins in Sunday school each year. These were pins you could add onto a chain for your faithful attendance and I was proud to have a long chain in recognition of my Sunday school accomplishments.

Believing in God was for me as natural as breathing and not an arduous journey from a foreign land. My father, in fact, was a part-time pastor. He served an Associate Reformed church when I was young in addition to his work as a high-school English teacher. The church was filled with elderly people, and my mother took my sister, my brother and me to another church where we attended Sunday school. I remember clearly how my father handed me a whole quarter as reward for memorizing the Lord’s Prayer and another for the Doxology (I guess that was the beginning of my professional religious life).

When I was 12 years old, I asked Jesus to come into my life. These were such simple and genuine moments. My twin sister who spoke to me on the school bus and asked me if I had prayed to receive Christ revealed this step of faith to me. I was glad to pray and so we went together to her room and knelt and I prayed a simple prayer of faith, asking Jesus to come and be Lord in my life. That was the beginning of a long journey.

During my teen years, I developed a spiritual discipline of praying the Lord's Prayer every night. As far as I remember, this was the limit of all my praying and of all my spiritual piety. Looking back on that time, I believe that the Lord heard those prayers and responded far more than I ever would have imagined. How I resonate now with Simon Weil's thoughts as Leighton Ford relates them in The Attentive Life, when she says, “The ‘Our Father’ contains all possible petitions; we cannot conceive of any prayer not already contained in it... It is impossible to say it once through, giving the fullest possible attention to each word, without a change, infinitesimal but real, taking place in the soul.”

I’ll stop here in the story, but I’ll just add this encouragement. If you are finding it difficult to pray right now, just try to faithfully pray the Lord’s Prayer morning and evening. Pray it with attention to the words and you will begin to recognize God’s presence in your life.

Grace and Peace,

John

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The Strange Gospel Story 9-28-16

“Blessed Lord Jesus, no human mind could conceive or invent the gospel. Acting in eternal grace, thou art both its messenger and its message, lived out on earth through infinite compassion, applying thy life to insult, injury, death, that I might be redeemed, ransomed, freed. Blessed be thou, O Father, for contriving this way, Eternal thanks to thee, O Lamb of God, for opening this way. Praise everlasting to thee, O Holy Spirit, for applying this way to my heart. Glorious Trinity, impress the gospel on my soul, until its virtue diffuses every faculty; Let it be heard, acknowledged, progressed, felt.”

Have you ever sat for a time and thought about this gospel story that you have given your life to believe and share? Does the story ever seem odd or not exactly logical in terms of your own thinking? Do you ever think things could have been simpler?

Perhaps you ask why God would create mankind if He knew in advance that we would fall into sin? Or perhaps you think that He could simply change us and turn us around and make us desire Him and do good without having to send His Son to an agonizing death? I believe many people think thoughts of this nature on occasion.

But when you bring into focus the concept of free will, what does that do to the story? Is it possible to have a God who creates beings in His likeness that do not have free will? Or if they do and He disregards their free will and changes them in a way in which they must now love Him, do we know have a different dilemma? Are we free or not and if no, what is the point of it all?

These larger questions bring us to the largest question of all, and one that I asked in my sermon the Sunday before last – “Why are we here and what is God’s ultimate purpose in our lives?” In the time of Puritan theologian Jonathan Edwards, there was a prevailing view (much like today) that our happiness was the end for which God created the world. Edwards challenged this opinion and instead posited the idea that the reason God created us was not ultimately for human happiness but rather the magnification of His own glory. And since true happiness comes from God alone, His glory will lead to our happiness so it is a “side benefit” of His plan, so to speak.

With this focus in mind, we can better understand the nuances of the gospel story. Mercy and grace, displayed in Christ for our benefit, give God glory. The sacrifice of Christ on the cross to save us gives God glory, and the ultimate penalty of His death, satisfying perfect justice, gives God glory.

Thus we, redeemed sinners, are on display to a lost and dying world for God’s glory. And our glad response, as seen in our opening prayer from the Valley of Vision, is one of worshipful gratitude for all aspects of this “strange” gospel story. This is a gratitude that will last for all eternity and is the source of our happiness in this life.

Justice, mercy, grace, sacrifice and love. Come to think of it, this story is not strange at all and is a story worth telling.

Blessings,

Pat H.

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Valley of Vision, Part II 9/21/16

Last week was an unusual one for me. I have had the extraordinary privilege of walking beside three families during their time of mourning and grief over the loss of a loved one. I have come alongside Pam Haldas and her family in their loss of her husband our brother, Bob; Stephanie Kujawski in the sudden loss of her husband and our brother, Teddy; and with Susan Shaffer and her family in the death of her father and our brother, Howard Jewett. I have never done three funerals in one week. I would have thought I would have been more tired than I am, but I’m not. I would have thought that I would have felt the weight of sorrow from shed and unshed tears, but I don’t. I would have thought that my feet would have been kind of dragging, but they’re not. Three men of faith, gone from our lives; each one remembered and celebrated in three services of witness to the resurrection in less than six days.

So, how do we live as people of faith in the midst of sorrow, loss, pain? By living into the mystery of the Valley of Vision. In last Wednesday’s E-blast, Pat shared a portion from the book that will be taught in his Sunday School class. That portion read: “LORD, high and holy, meek and lowly. Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision, where I live in the depths but see Thee in the heights....Let me find Thy light in my darkness, Thy life in my death, Thy joy in my sorrow, Thy grace in my sin, Thy riches in my poverty, Thy glory in my valley.” This is what makes the Christian faith journey so unique...it doesn’t make sense! Hallelujah! You and I are called to embrace the mystery of paradox; the upside-downess of following a King Who willingly washes our feet. The Living Word, Who became flesh. The Perfect, Holy God Who ate dirt as He stumbled to the ground under the weight of a cross beam. How can this be? I don’t know, but I know it is true. It is true because of the power of transforming grace. Just look at the cross: that which was meant for sorrow was turned into joy. That which was meant for defeat was turned into victory. That which was meant for darkness became light. That which was meant for death was transformed into life! And, God is still in the business of transforming grace.

Where are you today in your faith journey? Are you tired, discouraged, bored, lonely, fearful, empty? O, beloved of the LORD, let this truth sink in: God doesn’t make any sense! That is a glorious mystery. For when you and I allow God to breathe His Spirit into our own valley of dry bones, whatever that may be for you as you are reading this, He will meet us in that valley and turn it upside-down, if we would only wait and meet Him at His promises. Trust Him, trust Him. God is both “high and holy, meek and lowly”. He understands, He loves, He is present in our midst, He gets it. And if we are willing and quiet, we too will see “stars in the deepest well.”

Caren

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Valley of Vision 9-14-2016

“Lord, high and holy, meek and lowly, Thou hast brought me to the valley of vision, where I live in the depths but see thee in the heights; hemmed in by mountains of sin I behold thy glory. Lord, in the daytime, stars can be seen from deepest wells, and the deeper the wells the brighter thy stars shine; Let me find thy light in my darkness, thy life in my death, thy joy in my sorrow, thy grace in my sin, thy riches in my poverty thy glory in my valley.”

This Sunday we will be starting the first class in a new type of course offered in the adult Sunday School. The class is entitled Valley of Vision, and the title is taken from the book we will be using, which is a collection of the prayers of Puritans.

What do you think of when you think of the Puritans? Do you think of a bunch of grumpy killjoys, just looking for someone having fun so they can put a stop to it? Do you think of a people who are extremely judgmental, who think they have it all figured out while the rest of us are lowly sinners? Or maybe, at worst, you think they are an antiquated bunch of witch burners?

There is an old saying that goes, “You can’t always judge a book by its cover.” I would change this around a bit and say that “You can’t judge Christians of the past from everything you hear or read today.” Far from being killjoys, most Puritans loved all of life and often enjoyed good drink and a good time with their friends. They believed that the beauty and joy of life was part of their experience as Christians and that service to God ultimately meant we are to enjoy Him before all else. In terms of judgement, their tendency was to be a bit rough on themselves before others. Puritan writings are filled with their own humility and deep desire for holiness. And it was the Puritan ministers who were the ones actually trying to calm the people during the witch trials.

God willing, this 4-week class that we are beginning this Sunday (9:45am, room 3) will help you to learn how pray or improve your time in prayer. You will be provided with prayers that you can pray to help you contemplate your own place in the universe at the feet of a God who is both high and low, holy and familiar. As we walk through this book, we will see a different side of the Puritans and most certainly, an amazing side of God.

Consider the quote above from the beginning of the book. It is the prayer of a God-lover, a person who understood his own littleness in the context of God’s greatness. But it is also the prayer of someone who understands this great God has shown his stars (lights) in the darkest of places. The writer understands that God has not left us alone but has poured out life, joy, grace and riches into one so undeserving as he (the writer).

Can you relate to this? I know I can.

So there will be no joy-killing, judgement or witch burning for the next 4 weeks. Just a bunch of folks who want to see stars in the deepest well. Join us.

Blessings,

Pat

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The Pastor 9-7-2016

So I join with so many of you in joyously praising God for the service on Sunday. As you all know, we have a new pastor, the Rev. Dr. John Carrick. What a blessing it was for Liz and I to meet John and his wife Sandra (we had them over for dinner) and get to know them more intimately. I felt a bond in ministry vision already start to develop with John. He is a humble, gifted, servant and leader and we are blessed to have him as our new pastor.

With the calling of a new pastor, I think it is appropriate to go over what the scriptures actually say about the office of the pastor in a church. The most significant passage related to this is found in Ephesians, chapter 4,

“Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers.Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ.” Ephesians 4:11-13

So we can see that a pastor, along with the other callings in the 5-fold ministry, is a gift to the church. It is a gift given out of the generosity of Christ because He loves the church. But there is something very significant said here and I don’t want you to miss it. It says that the responsibility of the pastor (and the other five-fold ministries) is to “equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.”

Did you pay close attention to that? It doesn’t say that the pastor “builds up the church” by doing all the work. It says that pastor equips you and I to do the work that builds up the church. This is very interesting. So just how does the pastor “equip” us for the work of the ministry? It is through his sermons and teachings and personal discipleship and, perhaps most importantly, by his example.

Did John Carrick come here because he is a good leader? The answer is yes. Did the Lord lead him here because he is a good preacher and teacher? Many who have heard his sermons have reported to me that this is the case. Did John come here because he can disciple us? I believe strongly that is the case. But more importantly, I believe the Lord led our PNC to find John Carrack because he is a man of Christian character. He is a humble, godly man who will help us to see Christ more clearly. He is a man our kids can look to and remember fondly as they grow. The PNC was attracted to John for his preaching, education and experience but more importantly, because he is a man who loves Jesus and his Word. He strongly believes in missions and has a social justice heart for the broken and forgotten. He is a man who walks with Christ and has a desire to be more like Him every day.

And really, isn’t this the best reason to call a pastor?

Blessings,

Pat H

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Light - 8/31/16

I have made it a habit over the years to invite myself to parishoner's homes for lunch. Now, it's not because I'm hungry and looking for a free meal. I bring my own sandwich, water bottle, dessert (betcha' can't guess what that might be??), apple, napkin.....all self-contained. What I like about inviting myself to lunch is that it gives me the opportunity for some one-on-one quality time with folks over a simple meal, without anyone having to make a fuss. It provides the perfect setting for relaxed, amiable, and often deep conversation in a comfortable place. Last week, I visited with a dear sister in Christ who has not been able to come to worship due to health reasons and humid summer weather. I missed her. We began our conversation catching up; and she shared how her health is slowly deteriorating. It was a somber conversation. Just before dessert (and yes, in case you were wondering, I always bring a Dove chocolate for myself and the host/hostess) I asked about her college-age child. Suddenly, her whole demeanor changed: as if someone pulled back the blinds and let the sun shine in! Her whole face lit up! It cheered us both to share all the good things going on in her family's life, and how faithful God continues to be.

What causes your face to light up? Is it when you know your children are happy; or you've received a letter from a long-ago friend? Perhaps it's the antics of your new puppy; an early morning swim as the sun is coming up, or hearing someone appreciate your hard work. Maybe it's seeing the light on in the window as you pull in the driveway after a very long day; finishing the ironing that's been piling up; or singing a favorite worship song. Whatever it is that causes your face to light up, there is a wonderful passage in Scripture that tells us what lights up the face of God. "For God, Who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' made His light shine in our hearts to give us light of the knowlege of God's glory displayed in the face of Christ" (II Corinthians 4:6). God's glory, reflected in the face of Christ, lights our hearts and lives, even in our darkest hour. Picture it, beloved of the LORD. In your heart and in my heart, the glory of God, radiating from the face of Christ, is lighting the most dim, despairing, darkest places of our lives. This verse begins with recounting the story of creation. When all was darkness and void, "God said...and it was so." Pause for a moment, and bask in the radiance of the face of Jesus shining all around you. Rest in this word of Truth: you light up the face of Christ! God never asks us to pretend that everything is OK when it isn't. Let this thought today, in whatever difficult, somber place you may be, cause you to breathe in this great knowledge: God's glory, in the face of Christ, is available and present in our hearts. Always. He loves you that much...let your face shine with this hope!

Caren

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Prophetic? - 8/24/16

Some who attended the 8/14 service with Lesaya Kelly from Crossover Christian Church believed her message to us to be “prophetic.” I was certainly one of the people who felt that way. It was a powerful, gospel infused call to action for our church. Kathy Taylor’s message this past Sunday felt like a follow-up to Lesaya’s message (although I’m sure they didn’t plan that.)

What do we mean when we say that a word from the pulpit is “prophetic?” Most people think that prophecy has to do with the predicting of the future and, certainly this is a large part of what constitutes prophecy throughout scripture. The Old Testament prophets regularly “prophesied” concerning the future of the nation of Israel. The Old Testament is replete with passages describing the person and ministry of the Messiah centuries before His birth, and the last book of the Bible, the book of Revelation, is arguably a book made up entirely of predictive prophecy.

But is the idea of prediction the entirety of biblical prophecy? I think most Bible teachers would say no. To prophesy in scripture is to “speak for God.” It is to discern His mind and heart and to relate that understanding to His people so they might act on it. In the book of Amos (chapter 3, verse 7), Amos the prophet says that, “The Lord does nothing without revealing His secret to His servant the prophets.” And when we consider what the Lord is doing in our lives, it entirely has to do with the building of the Kingdom through the preaching of the gospel. How is this revealed to us? God has revealed this to us through the power of His scripture! The Apostle Peter says in 1 Peter 1:21 that, “No prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” This relates to the scripture, which is the purest form of prophecy. When scripture is preached by the power of the Spirit, and, while you are listening, you have that sense that God is speaking to you, this is prophecy in action. I believe that is what we have heard in both Lesaya and Kathy’s messages. God is speaking to us to motivate us for the work of the gospel and this is indeed His heart.

Lastly, it is the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians 14:3, that further defines prophecy as a word spoken for our up-building, encouragement and consolation. And I know that the two sermons spoken from these powerful women of God have consoled, encouraged and built me up. It is an exciting time to be part of our church. Listen carefully and you will hear the word of prophecy you need to build you up. God is speaking!

Blessings,

Pat H

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Together - 8/17/2016

When Pastor Patrick and Laura bid us farewell in July, and Pat Hanly was inspired to share his thoughts on Paul’s farewell to the Ephesians church in his August 3rd eblast, I was led to ask folks at our staff meeting last Thursday: “What would you say if you were bidding farewell to this family at MattPres? The answers that came were heartfelt and will help give us a rich vision for the future. “Hold on to each other,” one staffer suggested. Yes, we are a family, and need to hold on to each other through thick and thin. Galatians 6:2 reminds us to: Shoulder each other’s burdens, and then you will live as the law of the Anointed teaches us. We all have burdens that we carry: some are seen and some are hidden. Yet, as we hold on to each other, having a church family that is “yoked” with us can help make the load less burdensome and lonely. Another staff member suggested that “we love one another.” How do we live into Jesus’ command from John 13:34, Love one another as I have loved you? In Oswald Chamber’s classic devotional, “My Utmost For His Highest,” he writes: “We are called to be broken bread and poured-out wine.” The question for me is: how may we best love each other as a family, even in those places that are difficult, in those places where we may not agree? What does that look like for you? I would love to hear from you. For myself, I am asking the Holy Spirit to help me see the face of Jesus in everyone I encounter in my day. I’m going to be honest here..........I don’t always agree with Jesus. In my mind, He too often can seem slow in responding; heartfelt prayers appear to get stuck to the ceiling and go no further; frustrations feel ready to strip me of the Armor of God I so willing clothe myself in each morning, but seem tattered by about 9:32 AM! And yet, and yet......because of the LORD’s great love, we are not consumed; His compassion never fails. Great is His faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22). May we rest in the compassion, mercy and love of Jesus that He is always ready to offer, even when we may not understand or like how He sometimes works. And as you and I rest in Him, I believe we will learn how to “love one another.” The next suggestion was: “Be faithful to the call of Christ and the Cross.” Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 1:18, that “.....the Cross is the power of God.” There is pain in saying farewell, there can be trembling in the face of uncertainty. Hold onto the Cross, beloved. Everything that needs to be accomplished in your life and mine and for this congregation has been accomplished on the Cross of Christ. May the LORD enable us to daily die to self and live for Him. And finally, one staff person suggested that we “keep saying thank you.” You are so valued here at MattPres, and if you haven’t heard it yet, hear it now: THANK YOU!! Thank you for feeding the hungry, folding the newsletter, cutting the bread for Communion, teaching Sunday School, painting the bathroom in the Manse, driving someone to their doctor’s appointment, giving a hug during greeting time, sending a note, praying for one another. Everything is important; everything can be a Means of Grace. It makes a difference to God......it makes a difference to this church family. Now, don’t worry: the topic of “farewell” is not my way of hinting that I’m leaving (can’t get rid of me, huh?). It is simply a reflection to help us focus on what truly matters. You matter: hold on, love, be faithful, say thank you. We’re going to be OK. Praise God!

Caren

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Workmanship - 8-10-16

I am so glad to have had a week off in July. We were blessed with having a fabulous Vacation Bible School; but I will admit to feeling tired when the week was done. On my week off, I did a lot of dozing, reading, swimming, dozing some more, “spa day”, thrift shopping, and taking it easy. I booked myself an overnight stay at Villa Immaculata in Riverhead for a time of quiet and reflection. As I was walking along the beautiful wooded road leading up to the retreat center on Saturday, I heard a car coming behind me. As the lane is narrow, I got myself out of the middle of the road so the car could pass. The driver stopped, and I saw it was Pastor Lesaya Kelly from Crossover Church. She was conducting a women’s retreat that day. I asked if I might join the women, and she graciously said “yes”! The theme was: “Unleashing Your Creativity.” Lesaya is an excellent speaker (she will be preaching here on August 14th), and we were offered some interesting and creative hands-on experiences. Now, I do not think I have a creative bone in my body.....I can’t sing, play an instrument, paint, knit, garden....zero, nada, zilch, nothing! I joke by saying that my hobby is “sweeping.” One of the passages of scripture we focused on was from Ephesians 2:10, For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. The speaker told us that the word ‘workmanship’ in the original Greek is: poiema, from which we get the word: poem. We are God’s poem, our life is God-breathed poetry. What a delightful and intimate thought! God created each one of us to be His poem: a contemplative expression of words put together in a particular way in order to create a new image, feeling, or way of seeing the world. One of our hands-on exercises was to take an envelope filled with cut-out words and use each one in a sentence to write our own poem, psalm, spiritual song. As you are reading this devotional today, may I suggest some words that God would use when He thinks of you: chosen, precious, child of the King, unique, blessed, gifted, priestly, loved, cherished, heir, forgiven, treasured, known, desired. Take 20 minutes, write out these words on small slips of paper, then ask the Holy Spirit to breathe life into them as you write a personal love poem either from God or to God using all of these words. It doesn’t have to rhyme, it doesn’t have to be perfect; it might be messy, hopeful, gloomy, funny. It only has to be authentically who you are right now, as a son or daughter of God. And I assure you, it will be enlightening and freeing. And who knows, it may unleash a new creative expression for you. May each of us live into the extraordinary image of being God’s poiema. May the LORD be with you this week in a new, fresh way.

Caren

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Deja Vu - 8-3-16

I cannot help but get the strange feeling that we have been in this exact place before. As a congregation, we are approaching an Autumn season without a full-time pastor at the helm. I can remember very clearly another time when we were in this exact same place, during the Fall of 2013. Pastor George and Gigi had retired and we were in the process of looking for an interim, and it was not until December of that year that we knew, as a congregation, who our next pastor would be. God had brought us Patrick and Laura, and we continued in the knowledge that the Lord was looking out for us.

So I ask you, why would this time be any different? We’ll take some time and hear from both leaders in our own congregation as well as excellent guest preachers. We’ll rely on the leaders that God has installed here to navigate the waters and lead us. And, if you do a survey of the leaders here (Session, Deacons, Trustees and Staff, Committees), you will see that God has left us in a very strong position.

It is truly sad when a pastor that we have come to love moves on, but it is also a time for hope and anticipation. Who will God bring us next and what special gifts will that person bring to our church? This one thing I do know; God will bring us a very gifted shepherd because this church is loved by Him. He has done it before so He will do it again. So many prayers have been raised for this congregation, and I believe God will hear and answer.

Pastor Patrick preached a poignant message this past Sunday, Paul’s farewell to address to the Ephesian elders and church. Paul was about to leave this beloved congregation, and they all were moved to many tears and sadness. This was not unlike our time together last Sunday.

But what came of the Ephesian church? Did it fail after Paul left? Quite the contrary.

At a time later, in the Epistle to the Ephesians, the Apostle Paul is writing to a vibrant, loving and strong congregation. In chapter one of the Epistle to the Ephesians, Paul writes the following,

“ I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms.”

And in chapter 2, he writes,

“And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast - For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Please remember that God is not done with us. That same power that “raised Christ from the dead” is in us to accomplish His purpose. And His purpose in us has not changed. We are to do the good works “which God prepared in advance for us to do.”

Our mission has not changed and our purpose is clear. We will continue. We are His handiwork and that never fails.

Be blessed,

Pat Hanly

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Anguish - 6/15/16

It takes but a moment for us to be jolted afresh with the horrors of this world. We’ve lived our entire lives with news of events and personal actions that bring harm to others. Commenting on virtually any level of life among people from any walk of life or any part of the globe brings us face to face with harsh realities. Evil is real.

In any moment, restraints are cast off. Hate reigns. Disregard for good runs amok. It starts with what is inside us and, left untended, grows to a point where it erupts and damages those around us. Its roots are in the heart and mind and soul. When given room to grow, it comes to the surface in our words and actions. Evil is our enemy. The Bible points to both the evil one, Satan, and to the evil that lurks within us, as our enemy.

No matter what source we name as the blame, we have the opportunity, moment to moment, to choose love and the way of love in Christ Jesus. Sometimes this seems in small supply. It is not. Love is always the answer. Always.

The Orlando club massacre of this past weekend brings all this into stark relief once again. With gratitude to The Rev. Dr. Laurei Ann Kraus, I end this column with several lines of a prayer she penned two days ago. The whole prayer points us to the Jesus way in the midst of horror and pain.

“God . . . once long ago, you stretched your light across the heavens to renew your covenant of peace with your people, you promised not to destroy. Help us in these days to believe that promise, and to participate in it. In the wake of an event that should be impossible to contemplate but which has become all too common in our experience, open our eyes, break our hearts, and turn our hands to the movements of your Spirit, that our anger and sorrow may unite in service to build a reign of peace, where the lion and the lamb may dwell together, and terror no longer hold sway over our common life. In the name of Christ, our healer and our Light, we pray, Amen.”

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Surgery - 6/8/16

I’ve had a few surgeries so far in my life. Some have been to make adjustments for a better, healthier life. One came about in order to repair a pretty substantial problem. That particular problem was a torn ACL. The surgeon wasn’t sure from the exam exactly how bad the tear was. After the surgery I was told on a scale of one to ten, it was a ten. The ligament was completely ripped apart. The surgery was a success, and I’ve benefitted from it for many years.

There have been moments I’ve thought I might have made a pretty good surgeon. I get kind of jazzed at observing presenting issues, putting knowledge and experience to use, intuiting in the midst of hard data, considering options and being part of what might lead to a good, fruitful outcome. I’m pretty good with big picture and details both. Let me assure you, thoughts of being a surgeon are only fleeting. You can rest easy. I won’t take scalpel in hand, I promise.

All this talk about surgeries may have some gentle readers feeling a bit squeamish. Maybe it’s brought to mind hospital events that were quite unpleasant or trying or full of heartache for a loved one or us. We may be immediately convinced we never want to see the inside of a hospital ever. Like never.

Allow me, however, to confirm a very beautiful image. It is the image of God who knows us and loves us and has our best interests always in mind right beside us at this very moment. Right now. God alerts us to something in us that needs to be cut out or repaired. Wouldn’t we want to entrust ourselves to God to do what is best for us? I wonder what comes to mind right now to which we should welcome God’s attention? What is it? Identified, may we all welcome the touch of our Surgeon for the benefit of the spiritual health and vitality God so desires.

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Speed - 6/1/16

Wherever we’ve lived we’ve subscribed to at least one local or regional newspaper for daily delivery. In Indiana that meant receiving the Indianapolis Star every day.

Before heading to the office, I would read the paper through starting with Section A and on through in that sequence. I developed the habit of reading the comics after all the other pages. I then worked the crossword puzzle each day.

Crossword puzzles at first stymied me. Over time, I began to realize there were some were much more difficult than others. The puzzles in the Star were generally within reach of my knowledge and ability. The Sunday puzzle was more difficult. I was usually able to complete it, even if it might mean leaving it for a while and coming back to it later. It was challenging, and I enjoyed meeting that challenge.

My few attempts to complete The New York Times Sunday puzzle have been totally frustrating. These puzzles are in a different league than other papers I’ve seen. I was delighted, then, to find the Times began to provide “Your Daily Mini Crossword” to their electronic subscribers. It usually has only eight words in subjects that are relatively easy.

One element of this little feature bothers me. As soon as one swipes up to access the puzzle, a timer begins. That changes the dynamic drastically. This presents puzzle solving as a contest, a competition, either with myself or with others. I’ve steadfastly refused to enter that game. I’ve tried to avoid the sense that I’m up against the clock. I try to just enjoy the opportunity to solve each clue and thus, perhaps, the whole puzzle.

Life is puzzling. I wonder how many times we allow the pressure of some perceived timeframe to shift our more enjoyable, patient, trusting paced way of living into a more pressured, hurried, doubting, out of control way of living. It seems to me that most of our timers are self-imposed and work against the intentions of God. Maybe we’re not up against the clock as much as we think. Walking apace with God in God’s timing serves us well. Here’s to living off the clock.

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Bread - 5/18/16

I was once of the opinion I could never live without bread. For the past year eating little bread has been part of a nutrition change I've embraced under the advice of my physician. Surprisingly, I haven't missed bread much at all. Well, usually.

A few weeks ago a church back in Indiana contacted me. They are in a world of hurt related to a pastor who proved problematic in his first two years as their spiritual leader. That pastor is no longer in that church, but the wreckage is very present. These folks reached out to me in their pain as they face the challenge of getting their bearings once again.

I spent all day Monday in conversation with some of the officers and staff. From 8:30 in the morning to 8:00 in the evening we talked and listened to one another. I found myself increasingly aware of their wounds and pain. I also saw theirs faces as they began to realize in fresh ways that God had not forgotten them. In the midst of pain hope took root. By the time I prayed for them Monday evening as we parted, I had to fight back my tears at the wonder of the day and all it entailed. Those people matter to our gracious God. I was blessed to have been with them.

Yesterday morning I was up early to drive to the airport to return home. In order to beat rush hour traffic, I knew I would arrive at the airport way before my flight would leave. That left me in a position to get something for breakfast. There is a local restaurant group in Indianapolis that Laura and I have enjoyed many times through the years. Their cinnamon toast is hands down the best we've ever had anywhere. One of their locations is in the Indianapolis International Airport. It was a no brainier to sit in Cafe Patichou. It was a no brainier to order their cinnamon toast. I was in the right place at the right time for sure!

That's how I understand my time on Monday with those brothers and sisters in Christ. It's also how I understand every moment of every day. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week we get to live as if every moment and every person is the right time for God to be at work in us and through us. Won't you embrace the opportunities presented to you today?

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Descend - 5/11 (Today's e-blast is written by Pat Hanly)

We had an interesting conversation in our Prison Epistles class this past Sunday. It was a study of Ephesians chapter 4, where the Apostle Paul, quoting from the Book of Psalms, says the following:

“When he ascended on high, he took many captives and gave gifts to his people. (What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.)

This passage is speaking about Jesus and has led many Christians to the belief that, when Jesus died, he descended to Sheol (Hades), or the lower regions, to lead the faithful out to be ushered into the very presence of God. This is inferred in several passages of scripture as well as the Apostles Creed, and it gives testimony to the fact that Jesus is Lord of all. Through-out heaven and earth, Jesus is Lord. There is no place where His Lordship is not known.

This is the same Lord that calls us to “abide with Him.” He says that He “stands at the door and knocks” and if anyone “hears His voice, he will come in and have supper” with them. The same Lord of all of heaven and earth, the same one who both broke through to Sheol and burst forth from the grave desires fellowship with you and I.

Many of the Old Testament faithful waited (think of Moses, David or Isaiah) in the lower regions for the day that they would see Him break through to come for them. In our case, we merely need to open the door to have a relationship with Him. He is ready and willing to "condescend" to us. If you don’t do so already, why not make a time each day to open the door so the one who conquered death and Sheol can come and abide with you?

Pat Hanly

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Base - 5/4/16

The first memory I have of the word "base" takes me back to my early grade school years. As a kindergartener through second grader, I lived with my parents and older siblings on the Camp Lejeune Marine Corps base on the coast of North Carolina. There were tons of kids to play with on our block.

We played all kinds of outdoor games including our variations of team sports. I have vivid memories of playing baseball in my front yard with bushes and trees as bases. It was exhilarating to make it to a base, any base, safely! After all, pitching and hitting and catching, each important to the game, are just the elements that figure into how many bases are safely achieved. The goal is getting around the bases.

Somewhere in early childhood and beyond, I came to understand the word "base" in a different way. I could guess this concept is one we all encounter at a young age. Picture yourself sitting on the floor playing with blocks. Stacking blocks is a universal tendency. A tower of blocks, we soon begin to notice, will only be as secure as the surface on which the blocks are stacked. A hardwood floor is better than a shag carpet. (Okay, almost anything is better than a shag carpet.) Oh, how we rejoiced as children to make a tall tower! It all depended on the base.

That still holds true for us as maturing people. Life teaches us, or it should teach us, that things and people last the longest when the base is level and sound. Manhattan's skyline would be far different if all we did was still just build foundations that went a foot deep. Our lives teeter when the values that form our base are shallow or misplaced. I came across a statement early this week that called attention to the opportunity we all have to embrace what will "transmute us from a fear-based life to a love-based life." Since I want to build my life on a strong, lasting base, I'm compelled to choose love. How about you?

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Open - 4/27/16

Take ten seconds right now and consider what words you associate with the adjective “open.” Really. Ten seconds. Ready? Go.

These words pop up for me: door, mind, bar, eyes, heart, hand and valve. I’m sure you might have thought of some of these and more. It surprises me that “bar” came to mind, since I’ve been a teetotaler most of my life. I only occasionally drink a little wine. Finding an event with an open bar is not a personal priority!

Several of my other words are definitely reflective of life priorities. Having an open heart to God, to fellow Christians and to every person perhaps is at the top of the list for me. Maybe it is for you, too, or you are on your way to that. I hope so.

The word that captures my attention most this morning is “hand” as in “open hand.” I remember how we taught our sons from an early age to live “open-handedly” by remembering that whatever they had—time, money, possessions, abilities—was not just for them but for others. A person who lives with open hands is a generous person. The opposite, of course, is to live with a closed fist, holding on to everything. That seems to me to be a dead-end, fruitless way to live.

Many of us in the church I serve live open-handedly, and it’s reflected in all areas of our lives. This Sunday, I’ll give a quick but important update on the first quarter figures about our financial open-handedness through giving to our ministry. Each of us could take a few minutes to think once again about whether we have open or closed hands.

Brian Kluth invites people to pray the following prayer. I commend it to you as I do for myself. “God, all I am and all I will ever have comes from you. From this day forward, help me to faithfully manage and generously share my life and resources for your glory for the rest of my life. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

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Position - 4/20/16

Yesterday gave us New Yorkers the opportunity to vote for the presidential candidate we most want to represent our party in the upcoming general election. While I can understand there could be many reasons one would not cast a vote in the primary, I do hope all of you gentle readers stepped into your responsibility as a U.S. citizen rather than stepping away from it. The right to vote is a privilege not to be taken lightly. Yes, I cast my vote!

Our current political realties highlight the concept of polarity. Put simply, our system inherently sets things up so there is both conviction and rhetoric that falls out as us versus them, the right side versus the wrong side, and our truth versus their truth. These polarizing efforts between parties and within parties only divides and affirms being divided as a virtue.

This tendency to draw lines and divide is evident in every level of life. We know better than others. We think or act or speak about others as if they are enemies because of their background, belief, ideology, looks and habits. Our natural human bent is toward separation in order to insulate us in a cocoon of perceived safety and security.

I’m always intrigued by the ways of Jesus. People saw him as an enemy. He pointed out distinctions about ideologies and behaviors. He indicated there were right and wrong ways to live. It could seem he was very polarizing.

What he did, however, fed a call to a third way, a very different way, a way of life that is shockingly distinct from polarization and separation. It is the way of his kingdom, a way of life marked by forgiveness, love, mercy, forbearance, gentleness and the call to love others, all others, as our neighbors.

I want to do my best to position myself in this life of love in every area of my life. It’s gratifying to see people as enemies and separate ourselves from those we call “them.” Jesus does not affirm that kind of gratification. He chose to position himself in love in every single moment. I pray we will be examples of this third way of love every moment.

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Realize - 4/13/2016

This past Saturday morning Laura dropped me off at the Islip airport before dawn. I stepped onto Southwest flight 4441 that took me first to Baltimore and then to Los Angeles en route to my final destination in San Jose, California. The purpose of this trip is to be with pastor friends from all over the country for an annual time of conversation and prayer. It was a long way to go this year, and it has been totally worth the time and cost and effort.

This year twenty-six of the current forty-five members of this national group are present. The others are out of the country on mission trips or facing personal needs with family or health or their ministries that keep them home instead of with us. A few have let us know they are dropping out of the group. This last possibility always leaves me saddened.

I wonder if some of my brothers have realized how special this group is and what we get to experience as part of it. I was invited into this group thirteen years ago. At the time, i did not fully realize my need for pastor friends who would be close because we share about our personal, church, family and spiritual lives with others in the same profession. We encourage, challenge and love each other as we journey through life. When I stop to take this in, I realize how blessed I am.

This leads me to ask whether you have people with whom you can share at these levels. While Jesus invites us to place our cares on him, he also points his followers to do a lot of what some authors refer to as "one-anothering." These are the statements like, "love one another" and "be at peace with one another" and "serve one another" and about fifty-six more biblical affirmations.

I'm glad God has given me some "one another people" for my journey. Take some time to ask God to help you realize who might be in your life currently or who might step into this way of life with you. Maybe you will find that thirteen years from now you, too, will realize how blessed you and they are as you follow Christ by investing deeply in one another.

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9:36 - 4/6/2016

I enjoy the challenge of writing each week for this E-blast. The usual plan calls for me to write during the first hour or two after I get to the office on Tuesday morning. You might not always be able to tell this since I try to write as if it is Wednesday so it feels like it is really up to date. I hope with this little explanation you are not bummed to know it’s not coming directly from me to you within minutes. The heart and sense of close immediacy is still real, I promise.

I also try to tag a topic that is just one word (most of the time, not always) that provides a focal point. I intend that this “hint” alerts you gentle readers to pay attention through these few paragraphs in order to pick up on the flow of thought and where we end up together. It’s sort of like inviting you to anticipate what’s coming next.

My tag this morning (remember, it’s not really Wednesday morning as I write) is “9:36.” Read in this not 9:36 am as in shortly after I usually get started writing on Tuesday morning but 9:36 pm as in Tuesday night. Yesterday (yes, Tuesday) was just an amazingly busy day from start to finish. Unexpected things came from left and right. I completely forgot to write until I had a reminder from the one who posts the E-blast so it will go out automatically early Wednesday. Now it is 9:47 pm, and I’m almost done.

How has your day gone so far today? Yes, I mean today as in Wednesday. Each day is one of opportunity. Each day unfolds with its norms and probably some things that, at least occasionally, are unexpected. It doesn’t matter whether it is Tuesday or Wednesday or any other day. This past Sunday we were reminded that the most powerful prayer of all, one that produces God’s deepest joy in us, is, “Thy will be done.” That’s a perfect prayer for any time of day. I pray God’s will is done in all of us right now.

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The “R” Life - 3/30/2016

A few years ago, I was alerted to a book on human sexuality and cultural trends stretching back over the past century and more. The author put forth a compelling call to live into what he refers to as the “R World” (as opposed to the “T World” (for Traditional) or the “I World” (for Individual). “R” stands for Relational. According to the author, “Relational World” investments would help us all live in ways that honor one another and God not only related to sexuality but in all aspects of 21st Century society.

I’m going to take the “R World” label and capture it for a different but not necessarily distinct use. Over the past seven weeks, Christians all over the world have focused attention on self-examination and preparation. Those weeks, called Lent, are also singularly focused on what comes at the end of Lent.

What comes is what we call Holy Week. It begins with Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. The clarity of that demonstration that Jesus is God come to claim God’s rightful kingdom and reign is startling. Just as shocking is how the week unfolds with Jesus’ betrayal, conviction, death and burial. It doesn’t end there. The astounding final event is Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. This inaugurates the “R World,” the Resurrection World that changes everything.

With this celebration behind us, I’ll encourage us to hang on to its truth a while longer. Think about this R World of the resurrection. Consider in the days to come how you have been touched by the Resurrection World. Reflect on how you are living into this Resurrection Life. Remember, how we live can help others to accept the life that only comes by faith in Jesus. Thank God for the open invitation to an R World way that is ours in Jesus.

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Need - 3/23/16

We’re fast approaching the yearly observances of Easter. It’s the Sunday Christians recognize something far more important than bright colors, chocolate bunnies and egg hunts. That something is the resurrection of Jesus who is, according to the Bible, “the firstborn from the dead.” Since a few others had been brought back to life in Jesus’ own ministry, this notion of “firstborn from the dead” has new significance related to Jesus.

One way to see the difference, perhaps the simplest way in fact, is to note that any other record in Scripture of someone who is dead and brought back to life is about an outside agent acting on behalf of the deceased. In Jesus’ own resurrection, he comes back to life of his own accord. God acted directly without intermediary. This alone, sets Jesus’ return from the dead as a remarkably unique event.

There is another element that is at least equally as important. Jesus’ resurrection comes as part of a strategic, necessary, master plan. Jesus died and rose from the grave on purpose. This purpose is rooted all the way back at the beginning of time and all the way back to the beginning of the human race. A need was established. The Bible tells us that our ancestors, those first humans, mutinied. It’s a strong word. It was a strong action. They stepped beyond their rightful place and were set adrift as a result.

God has always provided a way of rescue. It has always been about people awakening to the invitation of God to be rescued. Note, please, that a rescue requires someone acting from outside the circumstances. No one rescues oneself. A rescue comes because a rescuer arrives and offers freedom. That is what the death of Jesus is all about. That is what the resurrection of Jesus proves. Jesus was the firstborn of the ultimate rescue story. We all need it. We so desperately need it.

Maybe you know you’ve been rescued by the wondrous love of God in Jesus. If so, I suggest you spend the rest of this week rejoicing in the life that is yours. If you don’t believe this life is yours, take a moment to share with God that you know your need for rescue and would like him to be your rescuer. God rejoices in those who accept the gift of life that is so freely offered.

We celebrate the resurrection life this Sunday. I hope to see you then.

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Right Now - 3/16/16

Years ago I came across a teaching tool that has served me well. When communicating about any subject it is important to consider “The Five Ws and the H.” This stands for who, what, where, when, why and how.

These six elements are all important and, at least theoretically, equally important. As an example, Laura and I have some time planned to be together with family in a few months. The idea for this gathering originated with our sons. Particularly, our elder son wants to have his sons travel to and learn about other parts of the country. He and our younger son came up with the idea that the four Milwaukee Smiths would visit the two Oregon Smiths. The two North Fork Smiths have been invited to join in on the fun. Hurray!

Who? All eight of our nuclear family. What? A five-day vacation. Where? McMinnville, Oregon and its surrounding area. When? May 4-10. Why? Family connection, fun, learning and adventure. How? Good planning that includes air travel, car rental, a place to stay and enough flexibility to know each day will unfold as it will. The 5 Ws and the H. All in good order.

As we consider our lives leading into Holy Week next week, it might prove helpful to use the 5 Ws and the H in a slightly different way. Perhaps we could take a few minutes or even a few minutes each day to consider the sum of our lives right now in a fresh way. Who has God placed in your life right now? What is God nudging you to do? Where does God already have you involved? When does God need to use you? Why are things as they are? How does God want you trust and obey today? These are great questions as we conclude this Lenten season of self-examination. Take time to consider them along with me.

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Doom - 3-9-16

Yesterday marked an intriguing alignment of events. Both are reflective of our very human interest in, and dread of, worse case scenarios.

First, a musical made it to Broadway last night. "Disaster!" is a musical. That alone is just hilarious. If you don't think so, just read the last sentence again. This show is "an over-the-top parody" of the spate of disaster movies of the 1970s. I saw several of those films. "The Poseidon Adventure," "The Towering Inferno" and " Earthquake" are ones that come to mind.

Plots feature unsuspecting characters going about normal life, someone who suspects something amiss, a villain to blame, and then everything falls apart leaving great loss and some heroic survivors. Oh, and someone usually falls in love, too. This is Hollywood entertainment after all.

The second item that aligns perfectly with the first is yesterday's news report that a one hundred foot in diameter asteroid was expected to pass close to earth. Large enough to cause some damage should it enter earth's atmosphere, I suppose this relatively near miss was deemed news worthy because of our tendency to expect the worse.

Some people tend to be more negative than positive. Some carry more of a glass half empty than half full perspective. I tend to believe there is plenty of bad in this world while inherently looking for the good. I tend to approach people and circumstances with a hopeful attitude. I look for the good.

I guess that's why I like to celebrate God's rescuing, redeeming, loving work so much. In a world filled with the disastrous, God is at work bringing people through. I hope we can all take hope from this deep, deep reality. God is at work.

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Day - 3-2-16

I’m sure you noticed that Monday was February 29th. I found myself approaching it like any other Monday. It would be a day where some things met my expectations and others did not, really just a normal day.

It was normal but it wasn’t. It was the 29th of February. It sounds like I’m just repeating myself, I know. But I’ve italicized the numbered day to highlight that there is significance to this past Monday because 2016 is a leap year. That means we have this extra day right at the end of February. As a kid, I remember being unable to get my head around this extra day thing. As an adult, I still find it strange.

It came to mind yesterday when I received an email along with the rest of Laura’s extended family. One of her brothers sent the following information about their Grandpa Robert W. Knapp. Joel wrote, “He would have been thirty-two on Monday. He was born February 29, 1888—128 years ago but by leap year birthday rules, would have been 32 yesterday.”

The official reason for this calendar anomaly is that, “A complete orbit of the earth around the sun takes exactly 365.2422 days to complete, but the Gregorian calendar uses 365 days.” I get the math. I still just think it’s weird that we have an extra day thrown in every four years.

There’s a wonderful invitation in the Bible concerning both each day and the span of all the days of our lives. In the richness of the King James Version it reads, “So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.” It’s good for us to seize each day as a gift, a time span to pursue godliness. I pray this will be true for each of us today and tomorrow and all days to come.

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Mastery - 2-24-2016

This past week, the PGA Northern Trust Open was once again held at a golfing venue full of tradition, the Riviera Country Club in the rolling hills of Pacific Palisades in Los Angeles. The tournament hosts convey a bit of the drama by affirming that every player comes to Riviera with a “common purpose: to master the course . . . and put their name in the books alongside the greatest golfers who ever played the game.”

I’m not sure any player would every seriously claim to have mastered golf. In my mind golf can only be mastered one swing at a time. A perfect swing with the desired result will be less than perfect just one shot later. The very best, most consistent players in the world who have honed their skills to a very fine edge find this to be just as true as mere hackers like me. We who play the game all play on with the expectation that another good shot is coming up soon. If any bad shot meant we gave the game up, no one would play golf at all.

Living on the way of Jesus in the ways of Jesus is that way, too. Not a one of us Jesus followers masters the Christian life of faith. Not a single one of us. Even when we think of some of the basics like the invitation to believe and trust and love, we recognize how profoundly deep these traits are and how we flail around helplessly so very often in living as Jesus lived.

The purpose of the Lenten season is to own up to our many imperfections. We may get godliness right at any given moment and then end up in the very next moment in the woods or in a trap. Yes, those are golf analogies! Like a committed golfer, we simply take stock of where we are, play the ball as it lies and commit ourselves to the next shot. And we keep going. Eugene Peterson refers to the Christian life as “a long obedience in the same direction.” Join me, won’t you, recognizing we will never master the life of faith. We will, though, keep moving forward, ever forward, ready to do our best next time.

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Better - 2-17-2016

A scheduled conversation yesterday had to be postponed. One of those I was to meet with was diagnosed with pneumonia. Under doctor’s orders he told me he was going to lay low for a few weeks. I encouraged him to do whatever it takes to get better. Pneumonia is not something to take lightly.

I once heard a story from a mission agency jungle pilot. Years of small fixed-wing flight experience gives each pilot a keen ear. While I would just hear the roar of the engine while in flight, a veteran pilot has the almost uncanny ability to know when something isn’t right in a plane’s performance. The slightest change can be easily noted to an attentive, seasoned, in-tune aviator.

Like a person who notices symptoms of some illness or a bush pilot who knows when an engine isn’t quite right, we have opportunities to be attuned to our lives. Consider the last twenty-four hours. Take a moment to think about signals you received over the past day that your actions, words, thoughts or attitudes were off track as a Jesus follower. Sometimes these signals are subtle, almost unnoticeable. Other times they are like blaring alarms impossible to miss.

Whatever it is to which you have been alerted, consider the opportunity you have. A physical ailment can be ignored. We can calculate the various options and choose to do nothing. Doing nothing about pneumonia leads to death. A single-engine plane’s ineffectiveness if ignored will end in a crash. If we neglect what the Spirit shows us about our walk with God, the end result may be costly.

When we recognize our need, I like to think we will tend to take a better path. I wish I always did that myself. Sometimes we do. Sometimes we don’t. No matter our previous track record, I invite us all to take even one step in a better direction today on the way and in the ways of Jesus. We’ll be the better for it, one step at a time.

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Holiday - 2-10-2016

Our staff recently received a list of days when the office is closed for holidays in 2016. The origin of the word “holiday” is in Old English. A “holy day” was exactly what it sounds like, a special religious day. The simplest definition of holy is “set apart”. On these holy days, the normal routines were to be shifted in order to focus on God, God’s ways and God’s provision. These holy days became holidays.

Today, Wednesday the 10th of February, is not a holiday, but it is a holy day according to Church tradition. It is called Ash Wednesday. As early as the Second Century, Christians set aside a few days for self-examination and recognition of our sinful ways, the ways we fall short of all God desires in us. This led to a many weeks long time of self-denial that led to the joyful celebration of the resurrection of Jesus.

The name given to this season is Lent meaning both “spring” and “long”, signifying the lengthening of days at this time of year. A lot of Protestants pay little attention to Lent because it is sometimes seen as a more formal, liturgical way of religious life associated with Roman Catholic or other high church traditions. I think we miss something when we too quickly set aside traditional practices.

Let me encourage us all to step into Lent in ways that seem helpful to us. Focusing on self-examination, repentance and self-denial can truly enhance our journey of faith, paving the way for a rekindling of life and hope and gratitude.

Maybe you will take on some special readings as Laura and I have. We are using a Lenten series of reflections by N.T. Wright that we’ve purchased and downloaded for reading every day.

We’ll also be in worship each Sunday. At MPC, we normally celebrate the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper once a month. During Lent, we’ll do it at every worship service. Normally we sit and receive the elements during this sacrament. During Lent, we’ll join other worshipers as we walk forward to receive the elements. Every step we take physically invites us to deep reflection on our lives and the life given us in Christ Jesus.

Whatever you might shift or add or put aside in these weeks ahead, I believe God will draw near to show us what we most need to see. I invite you to journey into Lent with an open, seeking heart, receiving each day as holy.

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Words - 2/3/2016

I’m with Laura upstate this week. She has a three-day training event for her part-time seasonal job here on the island. We decided to build on this required educational event for her in two ways. On the way, we spent Sunday night with our niece, Anna, and her family in Saratoga Springs. After Laura’s training is over on Thursday, we will drive to a Trappist monastery for two nights of silent reflection within that community.

Laura’s training is in Geneva on the northwest shore of Seneca Lake. After she went to the conference room at our hotel yesterday, I walked to the public library. Libraries are fascinating places. They have in common their collections of information. What they each have uniquely is people. Ten people are in view here on the second floor at this moment. I find myself wondering who they are, what they are about that brings them here, and what is in store for them the rest of the day. People and their stories fascinate me.

On my walk uphill from the hotel, I came through the intersection closest to the library. I noticed a sign in a narrow grassy median a short way up one of the cross streets. It reads, “Northside—Historic, Vibrant, Diverse.” Now those three captivating and powerful words also fascinate me. Take a moment. Consider each word alone. Now consider them together. I’d love to know the story of those houses, the people who once lived in them and those who currently reside there. These three words announce what current residents want the world to know. They are intended to get our attention.

What three words would you choose to describe yourself? What words might you want the world to know about you that might attract their attention to who you really are and how you would want to be known? This is giving me some pause. I hope it will prompt your own thoughts as well. If you come up with words you’d like to share, drop me a line. It would be a gift to hear your three even as I consider my own.

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Routine - 1/27/16

We all follow routines. Think about what you’ve already done today or will yet do before today is over. There is so much that we do that is basically the same as we did yesterday and will do tomorrow.

We wake up. We respond to coming awake in the same way. We get out of bed and step through the room in the same pattern. While one morning may differ from another in terms of the most pressing need, we follow the same pattern of personal hygiene, dressing, eating and any other norms. We even accomplish those steps in the same way most of the time. You begin to see it, don’t you? We are heavily into routine and we haven’t even gotten into our day yet!

School, work, family, friends, church, recreation and hobbies all fit into patterns that are the same. Some think of sameness as drudgery, deadening and deflating. While this is accurate in some cases, I think sameness gives comfort and stability and provides a helpful sense of wellbeing that can invite peace and contentment.

It may surprise you to read that God is a remarkably routine God. God is “the same yesterday, today and forever (Heb. 13:8).” God is about the same mission as always. God wants all people to accept the life offered in Christ Jesus who came to rescue us from death. God is the same. God’s mission is the same.

God also says, “I am doing a new thing (Is. 43:19).” God draws us into a way of living that is alert to the new, the different, the out of the ordinary every day. God is always on the move shaping events big and small so that the things of this world come into alignment in the best ways possible.

We are part of that shaping. I wonder what God will shape anew in our hearts and minds today. I get excited to think how God will let us see something we haven’t yet seen before this day is done. I am pumped to think that something out of the ordinary may come to us that helps us play our part in God’s special plans for this unique day. May we all see and embrace the new that comes our way today and all our days. In the midst of the routine, God stirs things up all the time. Let’s be attentive to it all.

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Faithful - 1/20/2016

Here in the U.S. the decision process is underway to determine who our next president will be. Caucuses begin a little over a week from now. So much national attention is focused on determining the next duly elected leader of our nation.

Family traditions in my background included an inherent understanding that we would not talk about politics or religion. As a religious leader (look at what not talking about religion did for me!) I will now tread softly related to the topic of politics in this column. I will simply say that being part of our political system calls for much wisdom and discernment regarding the person we individually believe will lead our country best for the next four years. I know we will do our part to do this well.

Picking leaders for any group is crucial related to both immediate and long-term impact. A search committee is hard at work to select the person they believe God is calling to be the next installed pastor here. When they know who that person is, they will let the church know, share their enthusiasm and reasons for this decision and present this person to be elected by the congregation. What a delight it will be to hear their report and affirm that call!

While waiting for this wonderful next step for MPC, we get to select every day what we will do to help our ministry be primed and ready to receive, embrace and invest with the leader yet to come. We pray. We step in to continuing ministries to help them prosper. We worship. We study. We reach out in mission. We help one another grow as faithful apprentices of Jesus. We live for the sake of Christ every moment. In short, we do our best to follow our true Leader, our Master and our King.

What will we do today to love God and love people? While we await a decision about MPC’s next pastor, I pray we will give ourselves to what is already fully at hand. Future faithfulness depends on faithfulness today. May we be found faithful every single moment.

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Bridges - 1/13/2016

A local retailer shared some trivia this week related to NYC. We might refer to this under the title of “The Bridges of New York City.” The first bridge was named King’s Bridge. Built in 1693 it connected Manhattan and The Bronx over Spuyten Duyvil Creek. (I love that name!) By someone’s count, there are currently 2,027 bridges in the city. Six of them cross the East River, thirty-six are in Central Park and nine of them are swinging bridges. Really? Swinging bridges in the city?

I think we tend to take bridges for granted. We grow accustomed to them and give them little notice as we focus on where we are and the reality that in just a few moments we will be where we want to be. We know longer give much thought that crossing at that point was once daunting or impossible. With a bridge, we make it to our destination quickly and easily. Well, at least the way is quicker and easier than it once was.

Some years ago, a member of the mission committee in the church I was serving traveled to the Amazonian Highlands of Peru. Jim’s purpose was to scout out a possible mission partnership with an unreached people group called the Aguaruna. Leaders of the Presbyterian Church in that region led him on a several day journey to remote jungle villages where there was no Christian presence.

By the time Jim returned to the states an idea had formed for a first step to show our care for the villagers. Within months, he and a young self-employed builder in the congregation returned to the jungle. They built a sturdy bridge along a path that provided a vital transportation link. It spanned an area that was hugely problematic for the life and livelihood of area villagers.

I’m taken with the idea that we could all be bridge builders. In our families, schools, work places, neighborhoods and in our church, God might intend for us to be part of making something easier, better or quicker. Where the way is currently challenging or difficult, perhaps we can become part of the solution, the better way. Being known as bridge builders would also reflect well on the One who is the bridge between the heavenlies and this world of ours.

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Continuity - 1/6/2016

This past weekend was the end of the National Football League regular season. Playoffs begin this weekend. Since professional sports are all about winning and winning is dominated by financial implications, getting to the playoffs is the goal of every NFL program. When that expectation is not met, it comes with great disappointment and a sense of failure. Just ask the Giants and Jets right now.

“Black Monday” is a key moment for teams and coaches and owners. It is the name given to the Monday after the regular season ends. Owners don’t waste much time in setting the course for a new future. Twelve year, two time Super Bowl winner Giants coach Tom Coughlin was added to that number Monday. On another front, there was unexpected news out of Indianapolis as both the Colts head coach and general manager were retained while the owner celebrated “continuity and a winning pedigree."

One season to the next, one year to the next, one moment to the next the concepts of “continuity and a winning pedigree” stand us in good stead as people of faith. There is nothing that compares with the unchangeable nature of God and God’s unfolding loving plan. Details change, our faithfulness ebbs and flows, but God’s reign never wavers. Never.

That’s a wonderful thing to celebrate as this new year begins to unfold. Continuity is a given. God’s character and ways are just as true as always. We can step forward into the unknown of this year day by day knowing God is to be fully trusted and faithfully followed. What a remarkable year lies ahead as we joyously follow where God takes us!

I hope to see you Sunday.

Pat Smith

patrick@mattpres.com

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Between - 12/30/2015

I remember hearing a phrase in my family as I was growing up. Linguists trace the root of the words through Old English to Germany. In our country, the dominant location for use of this phrase is in Middle America and the Appalachian Highlands. With my family ancestry in the British Isles and through the Appalachians, it’s no wonder I was introduced to this phrase.

What is this phrase? It’s “betwixt and between”. It can mean “undecided” like “I’m betwixt and between as to whether I’ll paint the room gray or green.” There is a slightly more dramatic cast to its meaning when used to describe “midway between two alternatives, neither here nor there.” There are implications to this use as in to a fork in the road or standing with one foot on a dock and the other on a boat. Something has to be decided, something given up and something gained.

While today is an in between time related to two major holidays, there’s no choice in the matter. Christmas for all its wondrous joy at the birth of Jesus has passed. New Year for all that it represents for the future is soon to arrive. There’s no decision needed. Time just happens.

Yet there is room for decision. We can be a bit betwixt and between, if we seek to hold on to 2015 longer than we should. We can also want to rush headlong into the unknown of 2016 too quickly. It might just be well enough to take a deep breath, live in these moments in between, and purposefully, decidedly take some time to look back and ahead. The truth is, this past year and the one ahead are gifts. It seems to me we would do well to express our gratitude to God for what has been and what will be and entrust ourselves once again to God’s gracious plans.

May our betwixt and between in these closing days of 2015 be filled with the assurance that God is with us every step of the way.

I hope to see you Sunday.

Pat Smith

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Time - 12/23/2015

I think it seems this way every year and every year this seems more pronounced: I can’t believe it’s almost Christmas.

In just two days, we will gather on Christmas Eve at MPC like Christians will gather all over the world. Extended family and friends and folks from throughout our area will step into our sanctuary and reflect on God’s presence in our world. We’ll all step out of worship into the night to celebrate the birth of Jesus each in our own way.

Two days before the birth of Jesus I wonder what was on his mother’s mind? What was on Joseph’s mind? What did Mary’s family think knowing their very pregnant daughter was away to the south in Joseph’s hometown? What did Joseph’s family in Bethlehem think as the time for the birth drew near?

What do we think just two days away from Christmas? While so much may be on our minds, it seems appropriate to encourage us all to think about Jesus. What might Jesus want to show us about him, about ourselves and about how to live for him here at the close of 2015? Be attentive to these things as we count down to the birth of Jesus.

I hope to see you Thursday night at 4:00, 7:00 or 10:00. I also hope to see you Sunday for our only service at 10:00 am.

Merry Christmas to you all. Christmas is almost here!

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Mess - 12/16/2015

More than a few people have come to my office through the years and commented on how neat is. This isn’t “neat” as in “cool” or “amazing”. They mean neat as in tidy. They are right. I tend to like things in order. I do have papers and books out, but even those are relegated to specific areas, a particular corner of my desk, or placed in a stack on a bookshelf. Things are neat.

I’ve wondered over the years how I developed a sense of “a place for everything and everything in its place” as the old saying goes. Laura and I think along the same lines. We know things can be out of place or not yet arranged and be fine with that. We also like a sense of order to prevail.

We could tell that when we met. Her apartment reflected orderliness. I had just moved back to my parent’s house. When she visited there she could tell I would tend toward order since that was how I was raised. I’d like the world and the people of the world to be neat and tidy. I like it when people get along. I’d prefer a world where people treat each other kindly and gently, where nations get along for the common good and people respect one another.

That’s not our reality. If you are paying attention to news around our country and the world, you know what I mean. When our mess rears its head over and over again we can easily grow restless and troubled and fearful. We can also come to a conclusion “It’s never been this bad before!”

But, the world has always been a mess. It’s precisely because of this that God knew we needed a savior. People who are just fine and enjoying a neat and tidy, well-ordered lovely life, don’t need a savior. People in distress need saving. Things were supremely messy when Jesus came to us. Things are messy now.

That shouldn’t surprise us in the least. Jesus still comes to us to save us. Thank God he does.

I hope to see you Sunday.

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Contemplate - 12/09/2015

It’s not all that often we run into a word that is its own opposite in meaning. For instance, ice means ice. It never means steam. Earth can’t be sky. Republican isn’t Democrat. Okay, maybe there’s room for further conversation about that one, but you get my drift.

Try the word “rhetoric” on for size. What connotation comes to mind first? Do you think of something positive or negative? What do you think the word means? Take just a moment and consider your answers, then read further.

“Rhetoric” is used in two ways. Rhetoric is defined on the one hand as, “the art of effective or persuasive speaking”. I associate this with truth telling and helpful, verifiable content that inspires. On the other hand, rhetoric is also defined as, “language designed to have a persuasive or impressive effect on its audience, but often regarded as lacking in sincerity or meaningful content. You can see why I can think of rhetoric being its own opposite; one use assumes sincerity, the other the opposite.

There’s a lot of rhetoric going around of both types. We see it on the political trail. We hear it wherever decisions are rendered globally. We read it in the press or hear it in newscasts and late night talk shows. We hear it in pulpits and around dinner tables. A lot of people do a lot of talking in order to persuade.

I think we could do with a little less persuading and a lot more contemplating. Luke chapter one tells us of Zechariah who could not speak a single word for nine months. Imagine what that might have been like. Consider what must have filled his thoughts from the time he met the angel Gabriel to the moment his son, John, was born. Nine months of silence. Nine months of contemplating the wonder of God and God’s ways.

We’ve just two weeks until Christmas. Would you care to join me in saying less and contemplating more? Why not give it a try?

I hope to see you Sunday.

Pat Smith

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