[Abram] journeyed on by stages from the Negeb as far as Bethel, to the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Ai, to the place where he had made an altar at the first; and there Abram called on the name of the Lord. – Genesis 13:3-4
Life is a journey. This should be intuitively obvious, but often we forget and grow impatient with our lack of progress. Or we are too much in a rush to appreciate the good things along the way. Life is a journey in a physical sense from birth to old age. Life is a journey in an emotional sense from childhood to adulthood (and sometimes back to childhood). Life is a journey in a cognitive sense, progressing through the levels of education we may experience, both formal and informal. And life is also a journey in a spiritual sense as we begin to understand the world around us. As youngsters, we most often adopt the faith of our parents. As we grow older, we may reinforce this understanding of faith, discard this faith, or adapt our own interpretation as we begin to think critically and seek to find our place in the world. But, even as our understanding of God and how God works in our life may evolve, our faith remains a source of inspiration and comfort.
Many in their spiritual journey lose touch with God, however, only to regain a measure of active belief and practice later as their conditions and life change. Who knows? Perhaps this reemergence of faith in someone’s life is more an indication of God seeking them. Nevertheless, we are all on a journey in one shape, way, or form. And even though we will most certainly be at different points in our journey, we can still assist each other in ways large and small. Figuratively speaking, we can help change one of life’s flat tires, offer directions, or suggest points of interest at the destination where someone is headed.
Journeys are not limited to people, however. This metaphor can also apply to cultures, countries, and institutions, including the church. Now, the Ramapo Reformed Church is getting ready to embark on a new leg of its journey as we enter into a time of transition between pastors. And as I have alluded to previously, the church has traveled this leg of the journey many times before. Thus we need not fear the process. But as with all journeys we will want to pay attention to the road signs along the way as well as the different cultural terrain needing to be traversed. Even though I will not get to travel with you, my thoughts, prayers, and best wishes will always be present, trusting in God to see the church safely through despite any twists or turns or obstacles that may be encountered along the way.
Thus, for one last time, thank you for allowing me to be your pastor and for sharing such warmth and hospitality to Debbie and myself for all these years. It has been a great ride.
Happy Easter! Time to get ready for the next “new normal.” Even though this has become a bit of an overworked expression in the recent past, fortunately this next new normal seems to be emerging on a more positive note. With several new vaccines becoming more available, perhaps we may soon envision a day in which we can take a breath of fresh air without breathing through a mask (just not yet)! But what will this next chapter look like? I think the upcoming season of Easter, along with a contemporary praise song, can help us prepare.
Recently in church, I felt encouraged when singing Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone). It is a hybrid song combining the classic, Amazing Grace, with an additional contemporary refrain. The verse was written by slave trader, John Newton, in 1779 after a profound experience with the “amazing” grace of God. The refrain was added by Chris Tomlin and Louis Giglio in 2006 further describing freedom from the chains of sin this amazing grace provides. While singing this old/new song, I began to realize that this can be a model of our own next new normal as we begin to become unshackled from the chains that have bound us this past year. We do not know yet what the coming year will look like, but I am fairly sure it will be a mixture of that which we know from the past (Amazing Grace) augmented and reformed with that which has recently been developed because of the pandemic (My Chains Are Gone). Even though we will be apprehensive, our next new normal will become manifest in the way we conduct business, technology, education, as well as church, and we will be OK.
I know this because of Easter! Think about the disciples following the absolutely startling witness of the resurrection. Here was Jesus alive again right in front of them only three days after they had watched him be put to death. We may tend to gloss over this, but it took the disciples until Pentecost (fifty days later) to begin to readjust, and this was only because the Holy Spirit showed up in a big way. As a result, our next new normal, as well as the next ones after that, may not be the smoothest of transitions, but once again, we will be OK. God is with us, God loves us, and God will help us adjust even as we struggle to discern what these adjustments need to be. We could extrapolate this metaphor further but suffice it to say that the church has been in ministry here on earth going on two millennia (and this is not even its first pandemic). Perhaps the author of the 5th stanza of Amazing Grace, looking forward to our home in heaven, can provide encouragement and insight for all of us today:
When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’d first begun.
Anchored in the past, sharing Christ’s message today, and growing in faith into the future.
Then he said to them all, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” – Luke 9:23
I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. – John 10:10b
Little did we realize last year in early March how our lives would be so fundamentally changed. It is strange to imagine it has been almost a year since we had to modify our “normal” way of life, including church. In spite of the duration and detriment of the Covid-19 pandemic, we embrace the upcoming season of Lent as it offers us the renewed opportunity to reflect on how we and the world have changed, how God has not, and how we might come to have a deeper grasp on God’s love for us in the fragility of life.
Over the centuries, Lent has often been portrayed in a negative way, centered around aspects of denial. While Jesus certainly asks us to do so, pick up our cross, and follow him, what we often forget is that this is not limited to giving up things we like. Denying oneself can also be seen positively as encouraging us to give up negative behaviors and replace them with good and healthy ones. With this in mind, our enclosed calendar for March offers several ideas on how to approach these forty days of Lent from Ash Wednesday through Holy Saturday, not counting Sundays which are always regarded as a witness to the resurrection. Our hope and prayer for all of us this year, and especially during this Lenten season, is that we may grow deeper in our relationship with God as we look forward to the joy of Easter morning!
Anchored in the past, sharing Christ’s message today, and growing in faith into the future.
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven” – Ecclesiastes 3:1
January 31, 2021
One year ago for the pastor’s message in the church’s annual report, I included the following paragraph (italics added):
So our homework for this new decade, starting in 2020, is to realize that even as we are a local family system, we are indeed a part of a greater whole. If we discover that something could be done better, let us seek to do it. If we discern something is going well, let us continue to enjoy it. And if we discern that something has run its course, it is OK to put it aside and perhaps pick it up at a later time. God allows and encourages us to change with the times, as well as providing us with a source of stability in knowing we are rooted firmly in God’s grace.
How little did we know at the time how a global pandemic would compel us to put aside some things and learn new ways of doing ministry in the 21st century! We have learned to pre-record worship videos and post them on YouTube. We have learned to worship outdoors on a weekly basis until the weather became too chilly. We have learned to keep a line of interpersonal communication open as we have been unable to meet in person. We have learned to have meetings, confirmation classes, and Bible study via Zoom. We even elected this year’s consistory via mail-in and on-line balloting. But now with the promise of a vaccine, there is sustained hope on the horizon that at some point this year, we will regain some of that which we have put aside.
Yet now in the midst of all these changes, I need to introduce one more. At the end of this July, I will have completed nineteen years of ministry here at Ramapo Reformed Church. That fact, combined with turning 67 this April, has made me realize it is time to retire, which I plan to do effective August 1st of this year. It is not because of any specific reason, but more so because I just know it is the right time.
With that in mind, I know that God will be with us as we begin the process of getting ready for a time of transition, something this church has done at least twenty-plus times before. And further I know that God will be with you after Debbie and I head out. Even so, I want to take the opportunity to express my gratitude and appreciation for being allowed to share our lives together for these past nearly two decades.
As always, thank you again for allowing me to be your pastor for these many years!
Anchored in the past - Sharing Christ’s message today - Growing in faith into the future!
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