CELEBRATE all that God is doing here

Dear Saints,

I know this is such a busy time of year with Proms, college and high graduations, winding down the school year, planting our gardens and making summer plans. Our church life is equally as busy and exciting. Each Sunday in June has something special and meaningful to offer. Scout Sunday 2ndPentecost and Confirmation Sunday June 9th, Education Sunday June 16th, New Member’s Class June 23rd and at least half of the new members class (a total of 14!) will be meeting with Session on June 30th to be received into membership!

This is a testament to how God is blessing us and how we are responding to God’s numerous invitations to love and serve.

Last week I preached on grace. I shared one of my favorite quotes from theologian Karl Barth : “God does for us what we cannot do for ourselves”. This has numerous iterations; it means God gives us courage beyond our ability. God gives us hope beyond our own believing. God gives us peace beyond our own anxieties. God gives us community when we feel like we are alone. God gives us resources beyond our own efforts. There is far more to say about Grace than what any one sermon can cover but I encourage you to continue to Pause, in the spin of all that’s on your calendars, and all that you have planned and recognize that as hard as we work in our jobs, as loving as we are with our families and as faithful as we are in our faith community, what God is doing here, is PURE GRACE.

Come CELEBRATE all that God is doing here; in the lives of our children, our youth, our confirmands, our choirs, new members, our leaders, and our food pantry.

To quote another one of my favorite theologians (the band ZZ Top) “the future’s so bright (we’ll) have to wear shades.

Celebrating God’s Grace with you,

Jen

Feed My Sheep

Dear Saints,

Two years ago, on April 29th, we had a church-wide retreat in Reighart Hall. It was a wonderful gathering of people of all ages for fellowship, worship, and discernment. We asked ourselves, one another and God, how and where God was calling us next.

Through prayer and conversation with one another, the group split into six main groups for further discussion, prioritizing and planning. Most of those groups have already carried out their initiatives. They ranged from fellowship events like the Summer church picnic and painting parties, game nights, and developing a ministry for more ‘seasoned’ adults. We are still in the process of trying to figure out how to enact sustainable youth ministry. We’ve had some traction but are still in need of strong, regular leadership.

The last group was passionately discussing and debating about how to initiate a sustainable hands-on mission within the church and community. Two years almost to the day, the Loaves and Fishes Food Pantry will have its Grand Opening this Friday Night May 3rd. Although it has already been serving the community for about a month, this is a time to celebrate and thank the dozens of volunteers who have done the extremely challenging work of bringing this from an idea and vision to fruition.

Last week the Rev Sherm Skinner preached on the post-Easter text in John 21, affectionately called “Breakfast on the Beach”. In the course of the story, which is post-resurrection, Jesus asks Peter, three times “Do you love me? , [then] Feed my sheep”.  This text and the whole of John 21 has been the centerpiece and the driving force for this mission and all the volunteers; from long and wide community research to the loving labor of power-washing, painting, plumbing, countless meetings, training, and even—yes– crucial inspections. There was response from others in the community who volunteered their professional services, donated plumbing supplies, shelves from a grocer, and meaningful financial gifts.

So please stop by May 3rd from 6-9 pm and celebrate the occasion of this hands-on and visual reminder of Jesus’ call, post-Easter, to love him by feeding his sheep.

Celebrating with you,
Jen

Seeking Deeper Roots

Dear Saints,

One of the blessings of having Lent/Easter so late in the calendar year is that it [more] naturally coincides with the rhythm and evidence of Spring. Since a ‘late’ Ash Wednesday and the ensuing time-change we have all been hearing more birds chirping in the morning, seeing courageous hyacinths and daffodils pushing through the cold, wet soil, forsythia bushes wearing green/yellow hues and red buds swelling on trees.

Yet, not all branches, trees and vines will produce newness of life this season; some will have to be pruned/cleansed and discarded so that new growth can take place.

This may feel like a time-worn metaphor if you’ve been in worship weekly, attended our Lenten Wednesday events and have followed our ‘devo’ daily. Regardless of whether you are able to ‘stay the course’ daily or you dip in and out, or you are still in need of Lenten inspiration, the Creator is still speaking.  

The beauty of witnessing new life springing up before our very eyes is that regardless of our lingering bad habits and attitudes and our resistance to let go of all that does not serve God, God is still actively inviting us to into a deeper Lenten and Easter experience.

That starts with a new set of ‘silent vignettes’ in Palm Sunday to set the tone for Holy week. Maundy Thursday has some new changes and improvements to both involve our confirmation class and deepen your experience. Good Friday remains deep and dramatic with a powerful retelling of the crucifixion and with trained dramatic readers and powerful music.  

I have heard it said that: “ a tree without roots is just a piece of wood”. Without these Lenten experiences your Easter experience may be pastel-filled but one dimensional. WITH these Holy week events your faith and hope deepens, because you are choosing to connect to the Vine; the  Source of all Creation, and to the One in whom …”we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).

Seeking deeper roots in the Vine with you,

Jen

Abiding In God

Dear Saints,

In Just 6 days we’ll be kicking off our Lenten season with Ash Wednesday. Our Ash Wednesday service is like no other. It is communal (in that we impose ashes on one another), it is life giving (in that we have a wonderful, uplifting music), and it is meaningful in that we have created yet another activity having to do with our Lenten theme of “Abiding in God” and bearing fruit. If you HAVE been to our Ash service before, you know it is extremely well-attended.  Therefore, we’ve even done some rearranging so that the end of the service will be in small groups. Come try it – you’ll like it!

We’ve also created all new Lenten Wednesday events based on your feedback. This year we’ll begin with a Labyrinth, March 13th. The following Wednesday March 20th, “Planting Vines”; “Soul Yoga“ on March 27th; “Speed Devotions” (details to follow) on April 3rd; and finish with a Lenten Painting on Friday, April 12th. Except for the Painting event ($35 each), all events are free and will conclude with wonderful refreshments and fellowship.

And about our devotional:  If you are new to Lent and/or new to our community, we have crafted our own Lenten devotional. This book has 40 offerings written by people within our faith community. Each devotion also includes a scripture and a prayer. These devotions will also be posted daily on our website www.FPCBoonton.org and on our Facebook page so you can read them while commuting, waiting to pick up one of your kids, or maybe even at work when you need some encouragement! We are printing about 250 copies with the hope that we will all seek out others who might be hungering for something meaningful in their faith journey.

I pray that as the light continues to grow (starting March 10th!) and our days get longer we will find a little more time to spend with God and one another so we can bear more fruit for the sake of Jesus Christ.

Seeking to abide in God with you,

Jen

A Month Of Love

Dear Saints,

Only 5 shopping days left until Valentine’s Day! So…when you just read that, what was your reaction?

Was it “Where did January go?” or perhaps “We’ve got to make reservations!” or maybe…“Ugh, I never know what to get my spouse”. For some Valentine’s Day is just one ‘perfunctory’ holiday that means burdensome card shopping, maybe even perfunctory but hollow flowers (sent or received) or sadness that love seems to have ‘left the building’.

You may remember that last year’s Valentine’s Day was also Ash Wednesday. It set us up for a natural and awesome Lenten theme of  “Love and Forgiveness”.

Last week in our Time for Youth  and Children we explored how to show Love. The kids and youth were mostly stumped, which then surprised and stumped me. But it also inspired me. It means we need reminding of how to show and act out of love, not just Feb 14th but all year long.

So we are going to explore themes of Love all month long (which is supported by our lectionary, in part) since Feb 3rd is 1 Cor 13! You probably know the text by heart or if not, at least a good portion of you had that text read at your wedding, or have heard it at least half the weddings you’ve attended.  The middle section is the juiciest:

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Wow-what a tall order! 15 things that LOVE is NOT- and 5 things that LOVE IS.

Let’s face it- we’ve all had some wonderful Valentine’s Days and we’ve all had some we’d rather forget or have already blocked out.

But what if…we made an intentional commitment to work towards living out 1 Cor 13 Valentine’s Day and every day?  What if we refrained from even some of the things LOVE isn’t for the entire month? OR… what if we committed to  seeking to bear, believe, hope endure…just a little more.? Because dear friends, that’s really the call of the Valentine. It’s a message you give to another without or beyond the candy, flowers, card, or dinner but it pierces the heart in a way Cupid could only imagine.

Maya Angelou famously said “ I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel”

Make this Valentine’s Day and the month that you and at least someone else will remember.

Loving others with you because of Christ,

Jen

Can You Pray 5 Minutes A Day?

Dear Saints,

Happy New Year! I pray that your New Year is already off to a good start! In seeking ideas for a fresh New Year’s message, I googled the history of New Year’s. Among the articles I found, one from Psychology Today, caught my eye. Author, David Ropeik posited that the motivation to celebrate the New Year is rooted in our desire to survive and that making New year’s resolutions is a way to exert control over an uncertain future. I’ll agree with half of that.

We all know how challenging it is to keep our New Year’s resolutions. In a 2007 British study of 3000 people who made New Year’s resolutions, 88% failed to keep their resolutions for the year. That was not surprising but comforting. What was really interesting though was that among the resolutions made by these subjects, the resolution to pray more, was among them. 

Ropeik claims that psychologically, people find more ‘control’ over the fear of death by “affiliating with religions that promise happy endings. Pray more and death is less scary”. Granted this article is in Psychology Today, not Christianity Today but it got me thinking. ‘Praying more’ is a terrific resolution to make ANY time of year but it still seemed a little vague. So, I’m challenging all of us to create a new daily habit of: praying each day, for 5 minutes a day, for the next 30 days. 5 minutes may seem like a small amount of time but if you were with us in worship during Advent, you know how long even a minute of silence can be, but how fruitful it was!

One Sunday after ‘pondering the meaning of Advent’ as part of our Time for Youth and Children, one of our Sunday School teachers asked his students “What did you learn during today’s Time for Youth and Children?” Their responses? “I can tell them the story of Jesus.”, “Know that God hears your stress and anxiety.”, “To focus on Jesus and God.”, “I should ponder about my choices.”, “Always believe that God is around.”, “I should ponder about what God does for me every day of my life.”, “We don’t need to gift each other but love each other”.

Saints!!!, if our kids are getting this from a brief story retold and a minute to ponder about God’s activity, just imagine how our lives can be impacted with an intentional 5 minutes each day in prayer?

Maybe we’ll feel more in control. Maybe we’ll have less fear of death. Maybe we’ll even shift from ‘surviving’ to thriving. But since our future is already certain because of what God did for us in Jesus Christ, maybe we can start to enjoy the present with God, for even 5 minutes a day. That’s why the present is called a gift.

Praying for 5 minutes a day with you,

Jen

Ponder and seek peace

Dear Saints,

It’s that time again, when I pick out (and pick on) a Christmas-themed commercial that whips me up. This year, there are two, juxtaposed to make a point. The first of my picks is an ad for a cell phone company  where we see back-to-back home videos of individuals in utter delight (screaming, dancing, laughing and crying) as they open a gift of the new cell phone.

The second commercial however is not Christmas or holiday-themed at all. It’s the next in a series of commercials where’s there an exchange between a yoga/sage-like man who has appeared at someone’s home and is inviting them to try ginger ale. The drink offers a retreat from the chaos as well as an invitation to ‘drink in the peace’.

Hmmm delight… and peace… I’m sure that’s what we hope for each year as Christmas arrives, but I imagine that, as the scriptures tell us God hopes for us to experience a goodly amount of delight, peace, surprise and hope even before Jesus is born.

To that end, we have created our Advent and Christmas services to reflect a time to ponder, to seek peace and find hope and perhaps even time to be quenched from whatever you’re thirsting for. This is not only for adults but for youth  and children alike. The more we all focus on pondering what God is about to do and the peace that God desires for us, the more we can enjoy and truly celebrate the Advent season and feel the joy when the child is born.

It’s a simple idea, it’s hard to do. But I promise you, if you seek delight over disappointment, joy over judgmentalism and peace over perfectionism you will find and rediscover that Immanuel (God with us) is actually already with you.

If Mary and Joseph, who had no security and an uncertain future BEFORE the angels shared the news of Jesus coming and they chose to be faithful, trust God and let God reveal God hopes for the future, than maybe we can too.

Waiting and pondering about Jesus with you,

Jen

Yes, We Are Blessed

Dear Saints,

To begin our November newsletter by saying , “It’s that time of year again”….or “it’s the ‘holiday’ season and time to give thanks” … is not only trite and hackneyed (my favorite SAT word) but can also produce anxiety and/or dread around both the holidays and stewardship.  It’s also like every other (boring) church appeal.

BUT, we are not like every other church. In fact, I believe we’re not like ANY other church. We’re atypical in almost every way. For starters, we have kids! And lots of them! We have not only a wide range of kids ranging from 12 months to 18 years old we have a wide range of opportunities for them from experiencing worship and communion but also super experiences in Sunday school, youth group and confirmation. Trust me, this is not only a huge blessing in the life of our church, but highly enviable in most every church our size as well as churches much larger.

We also have a truly awesome music program which is ever-changing, life-giving and relevant. We have a superb organ as well as other offered instruments and instrumentalists who add weekly to our worship. And our choir? The BOMB. Choir director/organist? Talented, creative, dedicated and always partnering with our worship committee and me and to bring fresh, new and meaningful ways to re-invent worship to add meaning and depth.

We also have a great church administrator who goes above and beyond; whether it’s being pastoral to a parishioner, patient with an elusive vendor, taking out the garbage or shifting support to the ever-changing needs of what’s urgent or important.

And…we are blessed to have two parish associates who have been teaching, preaching, caring and supporting with and for us, for almost 4 years.

Our space? Always in progress…we’ve received grants to renew our two most cherished stained-glass windows’ we’ve cared and upgraded our manse for our wonderful tenants and are in the process of making a transformational  changes to our (L2L) basement space to create a food bank where kids, youth and adults can connect and carry out our Mission statement: “Faith, Hope and Love in Action”.

We also enjoy fellowship together in all its forms from weekly coffee hours, a traditional Christmas dinner and many new and fin ways to connect like paint parties and create-your-own wreath!

I pray that as you remember all the blessings that come from this community of faith and pray about your part in the future, that you can HONOR your part in its past, CELEBRATE all you’ve done it its present and DEDICATE yourselves to participating it its bright, hopeful and generous future in every way you can.

Giving with you in Christ,

Jen

Vine-Sign

Dear Saints,

If you have taken exit 44 on Route 287 (north bound) anytime in the last 6 weeks, I wonder if you have seen anything unusual or ‘out of place’.  What I’m referring to is the vine growing on the guard rail on the left-hand side of the off ramp.

Initially I thought it might be a zucchini vine and considered harvesting a few of the blossoms (a delicacy that chefs pay large sums for) Then I realized it would be both a safety issue and a health issue in harvesting a few of them, given their location.

I’ve since come to believe that the vine is indeed not a zucchini, given that it is fall, it is still blooming, and the blossoms are actually too large to be zucchini. Yes Charlie Brown, it’s a pumpkin! Each day that I come to church I look forward to seeing its’ progress and keep marveling at its’ tenacity to grow, in the midst of this very unlikely and unfavorable environment. The vine is deep green, healthy and the blossoms are gorgeous, big, orange flowers.

This pumpkin vine is a sign that reminds us that God begins new life and supports growth even against all odds. At a time of year when we are slowly letting go of our grip on summer, trying to ‘keep it all together’ in the spin of a new school year, contending with deeply distressing political headlines, destructive storms, and worried for our children’s lives and choices, this pumpkin vine reminds us: God will find a way where there seems to be none. The Spirit blows new seeds of opportunity where we least expect it and “Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. Apart from him, we can do nothing. (John 15)

May you be inspired to take exit 44 to see this “vine-sign”.  May you trust that God has planted many seeds in you, even if you are unaware of them. And may you stop and take notice of even the smallest of gifts God has blessed you with and find a way to plant the seeds of the gospel.

Planting with you in Christ,

Jen

Mathematical Fraction

Dear Saints,

As I left church on last Sunday, freshly back from vacation, I had three immediate thoughts. “Great to be back”, “What a gift to have a Baptism today” and “Where did the summer go?”. The last thought/lament is likely being echoed among many parents, teachers, administrators, bus drivers and the like as we approach Labor Day and all of us who love summer. Sigh…

Author and entrepreneur, Ken Dychtwald explained the phenomena of “Where did the (fill in the blank here) go?” is in his book “Age Wave” (published 30 years ago). He claims that mathematically as we age, a span of time is shorter in comparison to our life span, so any event or span literally it feels shorter to us because it is a smaller fraction of our lifespan. That’s helpful and I think it’s also a reminder to “live life to its fullest” and …“stay in the moment”.

Now back to my first two thoughts.

The first: is “Being back”. This is a challenge for all of us as we shift from our summer with more relaxed rhythms to the fall drive which seemingly increases with speed: Increased traffic, increased schedules/demands for our time, and likely a decrease in relaxation, quality time spent with family and of course, a daily decrease in sunlight. Sigh

But the second though is what I want to land with: “What a gift to have a Baptism today”. We had a baptism On August 26th. The 2nd of two children. The baby was a prince. His older sister was so sweet and didn’t laugh at me when I spilled the entire pouring pitcher onto the chancel floor before it had even begun. Sigh

My point? Yes, we are starting another fall and with it another church program year. Now we have yet another child to make sure we love, educate and form in faith.

When his parents got back into their car after the service they didn’t say “thank God that’s over”, they said “We needed that”.

As we all shift back into the fall and manage the change in rhythm, may we also remember we’ve added another child to be responsible for. That’s a mathematical fraction we can all praise God about.

Serving with you in Christ,

Jen