Thursday, April 27, 2017

New Life Fits and Starts






The daffodils have made their appearance. The trees are flowering and getting green. The smell of newly mown grass comes wafting in through the open window. It’s springtime in New Jersey—one of my favorite times of the year.

And yet, it is also a time when, one day is damp and raw, while the next day, the sun is shining brightly and the temperatures warm up. Should I turn up the heat? Don’t we need the air conditioning? When I consider my vegetable garden, there are days when I wonder if I really need to wait until Mother’s Day to put in the tomatoes, while there can be days later in May when I worry about a morning frost. Spring brings new life to the world around us here in the Northeast, which makes it such a lovely time of the year, but the new life comes, not in a smooth progression, but in fits and starts.

And I think that’s how it is with more than just springtime. There are seasons of transition in life. Something new is coming, but it doesn’t arrive smoothly, on schedule. It’s more confused than that. New life comes to us in fits and starts.
          
By July, the AC will be running full tilt. There will be a time when the new thing that we anticipate now will be old hat. But, for now, we can find, if we choose—if not joy fully bloomed, then at least life, in all the incredible wonder of its fits as well as its starts.
--Pastor Don Steele

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

SMALL RESURRECTIONS



I have to admit that sometimes I don’t quite know what to do with Easter. The story of Jesus’ resurrection is central to Christianity, but it is also the story of something completely unique: a man, dead and buried, rising up from his grave, alive again as more than a resuscitated corpse, but with this ability to show up here and there almost miraculously. What relevance does the story of something so unique have to the lives we live?

            This past fall, as the elections were going on and life seemed to be filled with a sort of politics that I found to be offensive, I discovered our subscription to Netflix, and joined the trend of binge watching television programming, especially British detective series. Recently, I have been watching Broadchurch, a series set in a fictional English seaside town where a teenage boy has been murdered. The first season deals with finding the boy’s murderer, while the second season deals with that man’s trial—a man who was a neighbor and a family friend of the murdered boy. When the murderer is discovered, the mother of the murdered boy feels a great deal of anger towards the wife of the murderer, rupturing the friendship they once had, but as the second season progresses, you see the boy’s mother change, not suddenly, not dramatically, not with some big forgiveness scene. It’s a gradual thing, but by the end of the second season, you can tell that she forgives the other woman, and their relationship is restored. 

            There is a resurrection, of sorts—not in the bold way that happened that first Easter, but more as a sign, a reminder that, even when there seems to be no hope, with God loose in the world, there always, always is, at least, hope for the possibility of new life.

--Pastor Don Steele

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Pilgrimage



My friend invited me to go on a pilgrimage for Good Friday. I accepted and began to prepare- carefully choosing what I would wear and carry- preparing for a moving, quiet, spiritual experience. I arranged for my children to stay home so that I could go and spend time connecting with God.

When I got there, out to the mountain desert above Santa Fe in the pre-dawn morning, we began with prayer and then began walking to the little mountain chapel. Soon our group was surrounded by a group of Middle School boys- noisy and energetic and bouncing off one another as they swapped music and talked about girls. I was jarred and a little frustrated- what was going on? Where was my spiritual experience?

I continued down the road, using walking meditation to try to get closer to God- trying to block out the noise and chaos, surrounded by thousands of people and being served oranges and water by hundreds of different families and churches, people carrying wooden crosses next to families with little kids running around. Everyone laughing and catching up with one another. And it finally it came to me, I was close to God.  Jesus was with us in the crowd, and this is what it looked like. Jesus had showed up and he was walking with us, swapping music and greetings, catching up with old friends and cousins and being fed by the hospitality of strangers. The loud, chaotic crowd reminded me that the Holiness of God is not just for a mountain glen and a quiet chapel- the holiness of God is with us in the middle of our busy, chaotic lives.

Sometimes as parents, our time with God can feel a lot more like that busy crowd than the quiet, contemplative, stained glass moments of stillness that we might be longing for. It’s my prayer for all of us as we approach Easter morning, and we ask God to renew our faith, that we see the Holy Spirit blowing among us, and working in the midst of our lives. It tells us in the Bible that Jesus was born as a child so that he could walk with us and live with us. I think that the crowded pilgrimage reminds us that Jesus continues to show up and walk around in our neighborhood- walking with us in the busy season of parenthood. 

-Rev. Deborah Huggins

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

How to Wait with Expectancy



Is there a blessing you've been waiting for? Is there something God has put on your heart, and there have been several roadblocks and disappointments along the way? Just ask a toddler if waiting is any fun. The frustration and whining of the "terrible two's" really doesn't get any easier; the struggle just becomes more internal as we age.

That's when scripture reminds us of important promises:

"I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!" Psalm 27:13-14

"I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning." Psalm 130:5-6

While we understand the frustration of waiting from an early age, the things we want as we get older usually take a bit more arranging. In other words, a dream come true takes more than a flick of magical wand or a cookie from our parent's hand. It's often a compilation of years of striving, faithfulness, and even heart-break until we taste the sweet fruit of satisfaction. But the Lord promises, someway, somehow, that fruit will come.

The other day I was walking, feeling the weight of unfulfilled promises, and I happened upon a pinecone. That's when the Lord reached into my heart and urged me to pay attention.

Notice that a pinecone is one object, yet it's made up of many "leaves" called scales. Each scale must grow individually to produce the ovular shape we know as the pinecone. In other words, its formation is a multi-step process.

I've often heard the wisdom that to uncover God's faithfulness in big ways, we need to continually be faithful in little ways. We need to allow each scale to form along the path toward the completion of our God-given dream. Every decision matters. Frustration cannot lead to giving in or giving up while our formation is still in process.

Again, scripture concurs:

"Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him, and he will act." Psalm 37:4-5

"So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up." Galatians 6:9

The faithful have waited throughout the centuries and over the course of each lifetime. The Bible resounds with God's faithfulness all the same. Time and time again, there is witness to prove it. Wherever you are hurting today, wherever you are weary and ready to give up, let this post fill you with the promises of a faithful God. Like the pinecone, you are forming. Commit your ways to the Lord, and stay tuned to witness the full expression of God's artistry...You're going to see something beautiful.

This post was first shared at www.noellekirchner.com. Have you visited? Subscribe here to not miss a post!

Intrigued by the topic? Come to the WAVE Easter service for more inspiration! I will be preaching on “Live Like an Overcomer” at 5 pm this Sunday, April 2nd. Hope to see you there!

–Pastor Noelle Kirchner

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

CHURCH BUILDINGS



We returned from a trip to Italy last week—Rome, Florence, and Venice. There’s a lot to see in those places, and we took a stab at seeing as much as we could. And one of the things that you see on any tour of Italy is churches—old, old churches, many of them quite ornate, filled great paintings and sculpture and gold.

            And while they are spectacular to behold, it got to me, seeing all of that wealth conspicuously on display in all of those church buildings. It was meant to impress, I guess, and maybe all those years ago, when most of those churches were built, it had that impact, but today, those churches raised questions in my mind. Is this the kind of impression that the Church should be making? Does a conspicuous display of wealth, whether in a church building or in our own lives—does such a display represent what it means to follow the God revealed through Jesus Christ?

            In his book, Slow Kingdom Coming, Kent Annan contrasts “fortress churches”—that is, churches focused only on themselves—with “jubilee churches,” which are churches that focus on the world beyond their own walls. And, from one perspective, the whole challenge of Kent’s book is to call us to be a jubilee church and to live jubilee lives. 

“What breaks my heart?” Kent calls us to ask ourselves. “In the world, my country or my neighborhood, what makes me angry because it should be better?” To ask such questions of ourselves can awaken us to how it is that we are called to serve the reign of God.
                                                                                                     
--Pastor Don Steele

PS Be sure to join us this Sunday, March 26 at 11:30 am in the North Classroom when Kent Annan will join us live via Skype to talk with us in more depth about his book!