“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!
By the rivers of Babylon— there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion. On the willows there we hung up our harps … How could we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land? - Psalm 137:1-2,4
Advent is the season of hope and expectation. But how can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land? This is the question posed by the Psalmist in Psalm 137, which described feelings of abandonment and despair when the nation was taken into exile following their deportation to Babylon. Even though we are not in a foreign land, per se, it does seem that we are in exile due to the protracted pandemic in which we find ourselves. This is true especially during the holiday season when it is no longer an option to meet with family and friends in a manner we are used to or would prefer. In addition and even with the exciting promise of a vaccine, the resolution of the pandemic is still far off, and fatigue is a concern for many. Yet could it be that it was into just such an environment that God sent a small child to bring us hope? There may not have been a global health crisis in Israel in the 1st century, nevertheless, the people were under the control of a foreign power, namely Rome. Certainly, the nation hoped fervently for relief. Even so, the people’s idea of a “cure” turned out not to be what God had in mind. Whatever the case, God chose that moment in history to introduce God’s own vaccine, which is 100% effective against the power of sin (caution: side effects include joy, peace, and a new outlook on life).
Still today, we do not fully appreciate how much in need of a savior we truly are. Perhaps, then, the carols we enjoy so much at this time (however we get to sing them) can take on a new purpose and meaning as we continue to sing the Lord’s song in this foreign environment in which we find ourselves. As a result, we have fashioned our December calendar as an Advent calendar, where each day we can build hope as we follow the unfolding story of the birth of Jesus. Please check our website to see updates on how we will continue to worship during the month of December. And in whatever ways are best, we pray we may all continue to bring “Joy to the World” as we look forward in expectation to both the end of this health crisis next year and the celebration of our Savior in a few weeks to come.
Anchored in the past - Sharing Christ’s message today - Growing in faith into the future!
Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable garland, but we an imperishable one. – 1 Corinthians 9:24-25, NRSV
When I was at university spring semester sophomore year, I had to take a course in differential equations. I felt I had a good grasp of college calculus for the first three semesters, but once I started differential equations, I encountered a subject that I understood in principle but could not master in practice. I say this because as a family of faith at the Ramapo Reformed Church, we also have one large differential equation, i.e. the pandemic, with which we have been wrestling since March. We know many of the parameters and conditions of the situation. Yet the challenge is not merely trying to define and solve the equation, but to determine the proper steps we will need to take in order to do so along the way. We have already taken several such steps and made progress, but we are still working towards a solution and trying to determine what should be next.
We began and will continue with pre-recorded weekly worship services that have been posted on our website since mid-March. We added outdoor worship on Tuesday nights for August and September. In October we are looking to continue outdoor worship, but now on Sunday mornings at 10:30 with the same parameters (weather permitting in the backyard, wear a mask, bring your own chair, sit apart, etc.) What happens with worship in November, however, has yet to be finalized. We are also resuming soup and wreath orders for curbside pick-up and have included order forms for both in this mailing. Also, consider joining us via Zoom for a DVD Bible Study on Tuesdays in October and November. Taking a cue from the current election cycle, we plan to conduct our next consistory election via mail. A suggestion form for deacons and elders for consistory to consider is also included. Finally, enclosed is the October calendar with suggestions on how to celebrate each day of this beautiful month.
As the Apostle Paul referenced in the scripture above, this Covid-inspired journey upon which we have embarked (without our asking) is a marathon and not a sprint. We must run in a way so that we may all win it together. We are grateful for everyone’s support, patience, and encouragement, and we look forward to the day, whenever that may be, when we can gather once again in God’s house together. May God’s grace fill you with hope and joy in the coming months ahead and continue to bless you on our shared journey of faith.
Anchored in the past, sharing Christ’s message today, and growing in faith into the future
No matter what time of year it is, dead of winter with the snow blowing all around, or heat of summer with the air heavy with moisture, our lives continue to unfold and time never seems to stand still. Sometimes it feels like life is passing us by and we worry because there isn’t enough time to get everything done. Yet at other times, we worry because there is free time and we must therefore not be doing enough. And there always seem to be difficulties of one kind or another that pop up out of nowhere. Rarely, it seems, are we satisfied that life is just as it is meant to be. The question is, then, do we focus on the worry and the problems, or do we accept that they are there and focus, instead, on the things in our lives that are fun, loving, and joyous?
In the book of Matthew, Jesus tells a story about weeds and wheat growing together in the field (Mt 13:24-30). The farmer had planted the wheat, but then an enemy had come along and planted the weeds. The farmer’s helpers want to pull the weeds, but the farmer will not let them, because the wheat might be harmed. It is better to error on the side of protecting the wheat, the farmer says, rather than on getting rid of the weeds. The farmer’s choice is to wait until the harvest and then to sort things out.
If we think of this in terms of God being the farmer, and us being the wheat, the message is that God loves us too much to risk harming us at this point in time by getting rid of all our problems. That may not make sense, but it seems to be true. Agriculturists say that one way to have fewer weeds in a garden, or field, is to have healthier plants. And plants grow healthier with more sun, fertilizer, and water. We, too, can help lessen the impact of the weeds in our lives by growing healthier, not only physically, but also mentally and spiritually. Spending more time with God, through prayer, bible reading, and worship will help us shift our focus away from the weeds and more towards the wonderful things in our lives. The weeds will never completely go away in this life, and sometimes they will be more numerous than at other times, but our lives will be better, because our focus is on the positive and not on the negative.
If we can help you on your journey at all, please do not hesitate to call or to visit us on Sunday mornings.
Anchored in the past, sharing Christ’s message today, and growing in faith into the future.
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