Letter from the Pastor May 2015
For many years, our nation has observed a National Day of Prayer. The tradi-tion of national days of prayer for the United States has been around since the earliest days of our nation, and was preceded by days of communal fasting and prayer that were common in colonial times. However, it was not until 1952 that a law formalizing an annual observance was passed, and in 1988 the law was amended so that the Day of Prayer would be held on the first Thursday of May. Each year since then, the president has signed a proclamation encouraging all Americans to pray on this day.
In accordance with this call to prayer, I have been working with a group of folks here in the Lakes Region to organize what we are calling the First Annual In-terfaith Prayer Breakfast to be held at the St. Andre Bessette Parish Hall at 31 Gil-ford Avenue in Laconia on Thursday, May 7, from 6:30 until 8:59 AM. In addi-tion to a delicious breakfast, there will be music, prayer (of course), and a key-note address presented by a featured speaker.
I am proud to be part of this event not only because I believe in the power of prayer, but also because this will be a truly interfaith event, with representatives and attendees from a wide variety of faith communities. This is important to me, because while there has been a concerted effort on the part of some that have tried to turn the National Day of Prayer into a strictly Christian event, and have even excluded those they deemed to be non-Christian from providing leadership in local Day of Prayer observances, our local event seeks to honor the intent of the 1952 law, which empathized the National Day of Prayer as an observance open to all Americans, regardless of their religious background.
Given that we live in an increasingly multi-cultural society, the necessity of learning to live and work together is more important than ever. I believe that we followers of Jesus have a responsibility to be part of this effort, and that, in fact, it is in keeping with our Christian faith to seek to work alongside people of other faiths in the cause of peace and justice. My prayer is that this event will be one small step in the ongoing journey towards mutual respect, understanding and co-operation.
I hope that some of our members and friends will plan to attend what I hope will become an annual event. I have tickets available for sale at $12.00 each, so please feel free to let me know that you are planning to attend.
Grace and peace,
From the Pastor March 2015
Since this past summer, I have recommitted myself to regular exercise. Initially I experienced some immediate benefits, including some initial weight loss. But as the months have worn on, the pounds don't drop off as easily, and sometimes it has taken everything I have to keep going. I have found that simply getting myself off the couch and over to the exercise room doesn't mean that the battle is over. Once I have begun exercising on a given day, I still have to battle the temptation to quit early, to give up at the first or second or third signs of tiredness or struggle. Sometimes it almost feels like I have to make a decision to keep going with every stride. It takes constant and ongoing discipline, and I am thankful to God for giving me the strength I need to keep com-mitted so far.
It is this same sort of commitment that we need in many areas of our lives—in our relationships with our spouses and our families, our work, our community involvements, and our ongoing growth as followers of Jesus. But in Lent, this commitment is most sorely tested, because as we continue along our Lenten journey with Jesus, we know that every step brings us closer to the cross—a place where we, if left to our own devices, would no doubt never choose to go. To follow Jesus means that we open ourselves to feeling his pain, and to experiencing our own pain as we deepen our commitment to go into places of pain and sorrow and self-giving as we serve the world around us, just as Jesus did.
My prayer for myself and for all of us is that we would be given the strength to stay on this journey, not only during Lent, but throughout our lives. May we be given the faith and hope that enables us to trust that the way of Jesus, al-though difficult, is an abundant and joyful life that is worth staying on, and that we would continue "looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame." (Hebrews 12:2, NRSV)
From the Pastor January 2015
I want to invite you to ask yourself, "What are my hopes and goals for this new year? What am I expecting over these next 12 months?" My hope is that as you ponder this question, your answer is not "just more of the same." We only have so much life to live, and my sense from reading the scriptures is that God wants us to invest our time wisely, so that we are continually growing as people and as servants of God.
Not only that, but I believe that God stands ready to help us along, and that with Christ's promise to never leave us or forsake us, we have every reason to expect great things from ourselves and for ourselves. I have always been struck by Paul's description of God in Ephesians 3:20: he describes God as being the One who is "able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine," "by the power at work within us." This is our invitation to dream big and aim high, knowing that our longings and efforts at growing as people are more than matched by God's efforts within us and on our behalf.
I don't want to sound as if I believe there will not be bumps along the road, or that the trajec- tory of our spiritual lives will always be on a steady incline. Nor do I believe that this means that nothing bad will happen to us in our lives. I only mean that it is reasonable for us to expect and aim for ongoing growth and abundant spiritual fruit in our lives.
For that reason, I am expecting great things in 2015, for myself, for you, and for our church as a whole. I don't know what form it will take or what it will look like, but I believe that 2015 has the potential to be a year of incredible blessing for our church and for you and me. That is my prayer as we enter this new year. I hope you will join me!
Grace and peace, Pastor Tom
Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all genera- tions, forever and ever. Amen.
P.S. Wendy and I would like to thank our church family for their generous gifts, cards, and other expressions of good wishes during the Christmas season. We are so glad to be a part of this great church!
I often joke with folks that I regularly violate one of the ten commandments, the one that commands us to honor the Sabbath and keep it holy (Exodus 20:8). The joke, of course, is that I break this commandment by working (in my case, performing my preaching and worship leadership duties) every Sunday.
I sometimes wonder if I am doing a disservice by making light of what is a truly serious spiritual issue—the need that each of us have for time for rest, ces-sation of work, and taking time to enjoy the gifts that God has given to us. Of all the ten commandments, perhaps it is the command to keep the Sabbath that is certainly among the least kept, and it is to our deep spiritual detriment.
For that reason, I am inviting our members and friends to join me in a Lenten study that will help us find ways to reconnect with the ancient practice of Sabbath keeping, not as a legalistic duty, but as an eagerly anticipated and delightful spiritual practice that has the potential to hugely impact our spiritual, emotional, and physical health. We will be using the book Sabbath Keeping: Finding Freedom in the Rhythms of Rest by Lynn M. Baab as our resource as we explore this important topic.
The class will meet on Saturdays from 9:00-10:30 for six weeks, beginning on February 21. We are asking for a donation of $15 to cover the cost of books. If you would prefer to purchase the book electronically, you may do so through Amazon. A sign-up sheet will be available in the fellowship hall, or you may reg-ister for the class by calling the church office at 524-3289.
While we are on the subject of Lent, please don't forget that we will mark the beginning of Lent with a service on Ash Wednesday, February 18, at 7:00. Please keep your eyes open to other opportunities for deepening your Lenten journey as we get closer to the start of Lent.
Grace and peace.
From the Pastor December 2014
Are you familiar with the "Advent Conspiracy"? It all began in 2006, when five pastors imagined a better Christmas practice for their own communities. Today, Advent Conspiracy is a global movement of people and churches conspiring together to resist the cultural Christ- mas narrative of consumption, and regain the revolutionary meaning of Christmas. While we at FUMC will not be formally participating in this program, at least not this December, there are some concepts upon which this program is based that we might want to consider as we once again face the onslaught of the Christmas machine that is already in full gear.
As the Advent Conspiracy website puts it, "The Christmas story is a story of love, hope, re- demption and relationship. So, what happened? How did it turn into stuff, stress and debt? Somehow, we've traded the best story in the world for the story of what's on sale." In order to counter this captivity to consumerism, the Advent Conspiracy suggest these four revolu- tionary strategies for connecting with Christmas in a more meaningful way. They are:
We tend to forget that Christmas is, first and foremost, a time of awe and wonder as we contemplate again the powerful message of God's invasion of planet earth in the form of the Christ Child
The average American family spends about $800 a year on Christmas gifts. We're not talking about cutting out gift-giving altogether, but scaling back—maybe one less gift to each member of our immediate family.
While it might seem a contradiction to say, "spend less" right after we are en- couraged to spend less, but what the Advent Conspiracy folks mean is that we are invited to replace some of the material gifts we give our family and friends with the gifts of our time— going sledding, making cookies, or having a family Christmas carol sing.
Having scaled back our spending, why not take some or all of the money we would have spent and give it to organizations that feed the hungry and encourage development. Our family has developed a tradition where one of the gifts we exchange is a group donation to the Heifer Project. Find a way to spread the love that came down at Christmas far and wide.
I invite you to join the Advent Conspiracy this year!
Grace and peace, Pastor Tom