June has traditionally been the month for graduations. And of course, with graduation comes the big question of "What next?" We pepper our graduates with all sorts of questions: "What will you be doing next fall?" "Have you got a job lined up?" "Where do you go from here?"
But it isn't just graduates that need to answer those sorts of questions. I want to invite you to take some time to ask yourself "What next?" "What is the next step in my spiritual journey that God is inviting me to take?" Like our graduates, those of us who are on a spiritual journey (and really, aren't we all, even if we are not aware of it?) are meant to take all that we have learned and experienced and make a life with it. We are supposed to be going somewhere, deeper and deeper into a life of committed discipleship and service to Christ and the world. Yet I have en- countered folks who, even thought they have been going to church their whole lives are still in first grade spiritually, or so it seems.
Of course, in the Christian life, what is important is not where we are, but where we are going. So, then, back to the questions: "What is the next step in my spiritual journey that God is invit- ing me to take?" "From what and to what am I supposed to be graduating in my commitment to follow Jesus?" Each step along the journey, there are new opportunities and challenges. You may find that the next step for you is to really work at forgiving someone that you have been un- able to forgive until now. Or it may be that you need to step out in faith and make that voca- tional change that you have been longing to make, but that you have been too afraid to risk do- ing so until now. Or, for some, the question may be, "now that I am retired, what do I want to do with some of my freed-up time that truly expresses my love for Christ and for the world?"
Followers of Jesus, it is time to graduate, and to move out of our comfort zone into new, exciting, and challenging levels of discipleship. Or as the apostle Paul puts it, "this one thing I do: forget- ting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:13-14)
Grace and peace,
Office Hours: Pastor Tom is normally in his office from 10:00—12:00 Tuesday through Thurs- day. Please feel free to drop in during those times if there is anything you would like to talk with him about. He is also available by appointment, which can be arranged by calling him at 769-0770.
I wanted to use my little space to share a couple of things with you all. First, start- ing on May 11, I will be starting a new sermon series that I trust will be of interest to all of us. The series is called, "Post-Easter Christians in a Pre-Christian World." In this series, I will be trying to do two things; first, I will be exploring what might be called "the community that Easter created." The post-Easter Christian community had a number of winsome characteristics that allowed them to begin spreading the good news of Jesus Christ in ways that are still reverberating throughout our world. Second, I will be trying to draw some similarities between the pagan world that the post-Easter community began to encounter and influence and the essentially pa- gan culture we find ourselves in today. In the end, I hope we will learn from the early church both in terms of how this post-Easter community lives out its faith, and how it connected with the pre-Christian world around it.
Second, on the heels of the wonderful success of our "What is the Bible" classes, we will be offering the next segment of the "Exploring the Bible" series of which "What is the Bible" is the first segment. The next segment is called "Introducing the Old Testament," and as the title implies, it is a six-week long class that will help participants reach a better understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures. We will be offering both a Tuesday evening (7:00-8:30) and a Wednesday day-time (1:00-2:30) session for those who wish to participate. Please be aware that you do not have to have taken the "What is the Bible" class to participate in this class.
There is no cost for taking the class, but a $15 donation to cover the cost of materi- als is requested of those who can afford to give it. A sign up sheet will soon be available in the fellowship hall, or you can register by calling the church office at 524-3289.
I hope that you will have an opportunity to benefit from both of these offerings for spiritual growth and learning.
Grace and peace, Pastor Tom
In the church I grew up in, we paid no attention to Lent, because, as I heard many times, "Lent was for Catholics." It was only when I moved to New England and started attending a United Methodist Church that I first encountered the reality that what I had been taught was wrong—Lent is, indeed, for all Christians, including Protestants. As I have come to know and ex- perience, there is something very powerful about setting aside a time to ramp up our spiritual energy, about the Lenten disciplines of commitment, prayer, study, and sacrifice, and about the intentional focus on some of the aspects of Jesus' life that we would just as soon avoid—his suf- fering, the shameful treatment he endured, and his sacrificial death on the cross.
Lent starts a little later than usual this year, but it is now upon us. I hope that you will join me in seeing this as a time to journey with Jesus as he follows the way of the Cross, and that you will plan now to participate as fully as you can in the various Lenten activities your church will be offering this Lenten Season.
As usual, our Lenten observance will begin on Wednesday, March 5, when we will be holding an Ash Wednesday service in the sanctuary at 7:00 PM. This contemplative service will feature some of the beautiful music from the Taize Community in France, and will also provide you with an opportunity to receive the imposition of ashes as a sign of our desire to turn away from the mistakes and habits of the past, our need for God's forgiveness and grace, and our de- sire to live a new life in Christ.
In addition, starting that next Saturday, March 8, at 9:00 AM and continuing each Satur- day through April 12, I will be leading a Lenten study utilizing a wonderful resource called "The Way: Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus." This study of the life of Jesus has been put together by well-known pastor and author Adam Hamilton. Using historical information, archeological data, and DVD segments set in some of the major sites of Jesus' life and ministry, we will follow in the footsteps of Jesus from his baptism to the parables he taught to the enemies he made to the healing that he brought. Each participant will have daily readings from a study guide that we will provide for you. To register for the study, please call the church office or sign up on the sign-up sheet that will be posted in fellowship hall. A suggested donation of $10 will help to cover the cost of materials.Keep your eyes open for other Lenten opportunities for spiritual growth, and, of course, make sure you are here each Sunday for worship. I look forward to making this Lenten journey together with you and the rest of our church family!
Grace and peace, Pastor Tom
Imagine a person who never waited to read the end of a book. Imagine a per-
son who never watched the beginning of a movie, but instead fast- forwarded to the last fifteen minutes of the movie. Or imagine a person who always waited until the last few minutes of a big game before tuning in to see the closing moments.
I suspect that we would think of such a person as strange. So, then, why is it that so many of us followers of Jesus do that exact thing with Holy Week and Easter? Sure, we think we know the story, and, of course, we know how it's going to end. But even so, why the rush to get to the end of the story without going through all the twists and turns that got us to that end?
We Christians have an incredibly powerful story, from beginning to end. That is what the Christian year is all about—we meet Jesus at the beginning of that year, as a tiny and vulnerable baby. We journey with him through the beginnings of his ministry, stopping along the way to wonder at his wisdom, to marvel at his healing power, to find ourselves frustrated at the disciples when they just don't get it, or at the religious leaders who just seem so blind to the beauty of Jesus' way and teach- ings. Then, finally during Holy Week we walk with Jesus and the disciples through his final days—days full of tension and fear, of heartbreak and betrayal, of unimag- inable injustice and pain, but with Jesus rising to the occasion to offer forgiveness even to those who are putting him to death, and then, finally, literally rising to the occasion to defeat all the forces of darkness, even death.
That is why I hope that all of our members and friends will do everything they can to be present for all of the Holy Week services being offered this year, or, barring that, that each of us will do everything we can to observe the events of Holy Week on our own, beginning with Palm Sunday, April 13, and continuing through Easter Sunday, April 20. You will find announcements and descriptions of all our Holy Week offerings in this edition of the Traveler.
I look forward to sharing in this profound journey with you, and to joyously celebrating Easter with you as well.
Grace and peace,
Some of you are perhaps familiar with the song, "Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?" I can't help thinking about that song when I think about my FUMC church family. In the short time that I have been here in Gilford, I have decided that I honestly love being your pastor. Of course, there are those moments when I get frustrated, where I wish this or that particular feature of our life together was somehow different, or when I just feel tired or even a bit discouraged. But for eve- ry one of those times when I feel those sorts of feelings, there are probably ten times when I am filled with gratitude and joy because of the part I am blessed to play in the life of this wonderful church family.
I hope that you, too, experience a sense of joy from your connection to our faith community, no matter what your relationship with FUMC. And if that is true, I want to ask you: have you taken the time to say "thank you" to those people in our fellowship who give so much of themselves and who shine the light of Christ so brightly? Have you thanked God for those persons who have touched and enriched your life? And have you thanked God for your place in the church, and asked God to show you how you can help make FUMC an even better church?
We are blessed to be a part of a loving, caring, serving community of Christ fol- lowers. Of course, there is always more that we can do, and always more ways that we can be more faithful. Sometimes our shortcomings are very obvious to see. But let us never forget how blessed we are. In the words of the apostle Paul, "How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you?" As you read this edition of The Traveler, know that I thank God for you, and that you are encouraged and invited to express your gratitude to God for each other as well.
Grace and peace,Pastor Tom
P. S. Wendy and I want to thank our church family for their generous Christmas gift, along with the many cards, treats, and well-wishes we received during our first Christmas with you all.