THOUGHTS FOR A NEW YEAR
"The turn of the year seems to offer an opportunity to start over, to become more like what we want to be. This desire springs from a deep human need. Those who reflect on their lives usually see that they fall short of their own ideals and of God's way, and they yearn for something better" (The Upper Room, Jan.-Feb. 1998).
I came across these words while browsing through a devotional guide that I use on occasion. I found these words to be very profound. The turn of the year has become a time in our lives when we reflect on "who we are" and "what we want to be." Many times, the "who we are" is a person who needs some positive changes in his/her life. The "who we are" is overweight, is physically inactive, works too much, does not have enough free time, lacks direction in his\her life, and so on.
On the other hand, the "what we want to be" person is a person on the opposite end of the spectrum. The "what we want to be" person is a person who maintains an ideal weight, has a body like Mr./Ms. America, has a great career and achieves the proper balance between work, play, and family time.
In our desire to become "what we want to be" many times we set our goals too high, quickly become frustrated, and soon give up on trying to become "what we want to be" and settle for "the way we are."
I would like to propose to you an alternative way of reflecting on your life as you begin this new year. As you reflect, instead of beginning with those things you would like to change, lift up those areas that are positive in your life and bring you great joy. Perhaps you are engaged in some type of volunteer work. You may be active in some ministry at this church or another. Perhaps your occupation affords you the opportunity to help others. Maybe it is a simple act of kindness you were involved in over the Christmas season.
Hopefully, during this new year, you will find positive aspects of your life that you do not want to change, but to celebrate. As the New Year begins it is important to remember that God is behind all that we do for the good of others and ourselves. May you continue to be about the good work of the Lord until we are united in Christ as the Kingdom of God on earth.
Have you given much thought to the concept of a baby’s being the mode in which the very presence of God would be manifested in this world? Think about it: a baby – a helpless, powerless, weak, vulnerable, defenseless baby.
I love babies; I always have. I am glad that I was born into a family with lots of children who wanted to have lots of children. There was never a lack of babies in our family, babies that needed to be held and cuddled and rocked to sleep. Holidays were always special because of babies. The conversations centered around them were always the same: "Look how much he/she has grown!” “Is he/she walking yet?” “He's going to be as big as his father!"
The Savior of this world was once a baby – a helpless, powerless, weak, vulnerable, defenseless baby; a baby who fed at the breast of his dear mother; a baby who needed to be cuddled and rocked to sleep; a baby whose diaper needed to be changed; a baby who got sick, who cried, who cooed, who made other people like me smile when they looked into his beautiful eyes. This was our Jesus.
I guess it is good for us to remember at times what all the celebration is about. What we are celebrating is the birth of a baby – not a king, not a mighty warrior, not a ruler or a person of great wealth and power, but a baby, a baby who would grow up like any other child, a baby who would become the Savior of the world. Once again the birth of the baby, Jesus!
There is a painting that hangs in many homes of a man, sitting at a table, with hands folded in prayer over what appears to be a very simple meal. I believe the painting is named, "Old Man Praying." What sticks out in
my mind as I think about that painting is the Old Man's hands. His hands are large and thick. They look like they are the hands of someone who made a living doing hard work. They are dark, perhaps tanned from long days working in the sun. As he sits at his table hovering over his meal with hands folded in prayer, I see the image of a man who has lived a full and productive life.
Our hands can tell a great deal about us can't they. By shaking someone's hand we can get some idea of what kind of work they do. A rough, calloused hand is evident of a person who has to work with his or her hands on a daily bases. A smooth hand might indicate a person whose work is less manual.
I remember my own hands when I was a farmer. They were very rough and calloused, many times nicked
and scared from working on machinery and such. Wintertime was particularly hard on my dairy- farmer-hands as they became chapped and cracked, a result of the combination of cold and wet working conditions.
Sometimes our occupations can be hazardous to our hands. Whenever I meet a carpenter, I always look at
his hands to see if the power saw he works with has claimed any of his digits.
Henri Nouwen writes about the dual nature of the hand. Nouwen states, "It can create and destroy, caress
and strike, make welcoming gestures and condemning signs; it can bless and curse, heal and wound, beg and give."
In our own lives and in the world around us we have witnessed on many occasions the duality of the hand. Perhaps we have even been the body on the end of the hand. The hand has the option, using Nouwen's analogy, when walking past the poor, to lift up, or to push down. The hand has the option, when confronted with the hurting and lonely, to rest compassionately on a shoulder or to shun and ignore.
If St. Luke’s had hands, what do you think they would look like? Would they be blistered and calloused from toiling in God's Kingdom? Would they be folded to our chest complacently, or out stretched to those in
During this season of Thanksgiving, it is a good time to take a look at our hands, both individually and corporately as members of the Body of Christ. As we are seated at our tables spread in abundance, and as we fold our hands in prayer, let us all remember that we are called to be the hands of Christ, reaching out to those in need. We are called to be the people of God, with hands lifted up in praise to God's holy name. We are called to be grateful people with hands folded in thankful prayer.
A Time to Gather
As you drive through the countryside, it is not hard to identify the season of the year. Farmers are busy harvesting their fall crops, making the last cuttings of hay, and harvesting their corn. The harvest will be stored away in barns and silos, made ready to see the animals through another winter.
Those of you who have gardens are busy as well, taking off the last of the vegetables and preparing your home garden for its rest through the winter.
I am not sure how many people still "put up" produce from their gardens. I know that when Sharon and I lived in Virginia we canned and froze lots of vegetables that we raised in our garden. The three tomato plants Sharon and I planted on our hillside garden yielded abundantly, so much so that we canned dozens of pints of soup.
Have you ever stopped to think about the concept of harvesting? Harvest is an important part of life in a region where one experiences drastic changes in the climate. In most parts of the world, if you live near the equator, the growing season is practically year-round. If there is sufficient moisture, you can grow crops 365 days a year.
This is certainly not the case for this part of the world. There was a time, perhaps some of you can remember it, when you had to store foods in order to have something to eat during the winter. Vegetables were canned or frozen, and hogs and beeves were butchered and stored in smokehouses, ready to feed the family during the cold winter months. This is not a present reality thanks to the modern day grocery store.
Harvest time was an important part of the rural life. It was a time of preparation, a time of celebration. It was a time when families worked together in a shared labor, preparing for the cold months ahead.
Even though the majority of us do not need to engage in a physical harvest, we still need to be concerned about our spiritual harvest. When times get tough and life gets cold, will you have sufficient spiritual nourishment to see you through these rough times? There will be times in all our lives when we will have to call upon the depths of our faith in order to endure the winters that life has to offer. In order to endure, we all need to store up enough "spiritual food" to see us through.
You may have heard people ask, "What is the point in going to church?" You may have even asked the question yourself. As your pastor, I see the church experience as a "spiritual warehouse" where we come and are fed, where we come and are nourished by God's Word. Many times Jesus used the imagery of eating to illustrate the importance of spiritual growth. The Lord's Supper is not only symbolic of the sacrificial nature of God's love, but of our need as brothers and sisters in the faith to stay in constant fellowship with one another.
My hope and my prayer for you is that you are being fed spiritually at St. Luke’s. I hope you are finding all the nourishment of a spiritual nature that you are seeking. If you are not, please let me know how I can help.
As we approach the season of harvest and thanksgiving, let us all be mindful of our own need for spiritual nourishment. As we face the cold winters that lay before us, let us rest assured that we will have the strength to endure.
God's Blessings, Pastor Pat
My sister Carol and her husband Ray visited with us the middle of June. Their first comment as they pulled into our drive was how green everything is. Unfortunately, they have not received the rain in North Carolina as we have had and their brown yards are a testimony. New plants that were just planted will most likely
die. The opposite has been true for this part of Berks County. It has been perfect grass-growing weather and I have a newly planted yard to prove it!
It’s the farmer in me that keeps me fixated on the weather, I just can’t help myself. “Weather can make you or break you,” as the saying goes. There is another saying that proclaims “you can talk about the weather but you can’t do anything about it.” Truer words were never spoken!
During times of heavy rains the name “Noah” and the idea of “ark construction” comes to mind. The story of Noah is perhaps the most well known of all Bible stories. You cannot go into a craft shop without seeing some reference to Noah, a dove, or the rainbow.
The one take away for me when I think of the story is “trust.” The story of Noah is about a man doing something totally ridiculous simply because God asked him to. I know I am over simplifying the story, but when you boil the story down to its most minute particle, “trust” is the message.
Faith is another word we use to talk about trust. I have faith in God. As New Testament believers we are called to have faith in Jesus, God incarnate. That faith will be tested from time to time; you may be in the midst of that testing this very day, but this is what I believe. God may have created the world but God does not control the world. The planet that we live on is alive and sometimes rain comes and sometimes it does not. Fires will burn out of control and if we are not careful we will get in the way. Volcanoes erupt, sea winds ravage the coast, and the blustery winter winds will blow. And all of the weather-related phenomena can also be used metaphorically to talk about life.
But here, my beloved, is the bottom line; the dove will always, always, return with a branch of life in its beak and the rainbow will always, always be a sign of God’s promise. It is where I place my trust. To coin a phrase of a friend Ernest Ephriam, The God I worship is not a liar! Amen and Amen
An Update From Our Mission In Ghana
I received this email from Rev. Lordson, the Pastor of the Evangelical Churches in Vakpo Todzi and Vakpo Fu.
Peace and Grace from our Lord Jesus the Christ be with you!
I am happy to write to you after a little break in communications. I hope you’re doing well and your ministry. We are also fine, and the school is also in progress. The churches are also thriving in His grace. The Fu congregation which was at the verge of collapse is gaining momentum day by day through the grace of God and the cooperation of the new Catechist. The motor bike is put into good use and helping the ministry in the village. On many occasions it was used to help sick members access the nearby clinic. It is also helping the Catechists to reach out to backsliding members outside the community, in the cottages.
Vakpo Todzi on the other hand is working hard to put up the Pastors residence started last year under my leadership. The wall is almost completed and we have started mobilizing financial resources to roof it by the beginning of the last quarter of the year (September). We are waiting for the final estimate from the artisans, and I will share that with you in due course. Included in the building is a well-designed guest room, which we hope you will lodge in when you visit Ghana the next time or any of our mission partners is in Ghana. It is planned with you in mind.
The ministry generally is doing well and the bond between the church and community is growing stronger every day. Church attendance and outreach is getting better every day. Even though general economic situations are not getting better, faith in divine providence of God is increasing. I would end here today but look forward to share more updates with you in coming days.
Least I forget, please how is the fund raising for the bus going? I am praying for divine intervention. May God bless and keep you.
With lots of love from Rev. Lordson
I encourage you to continue your support to these mission projects, As you can see from above, our assistance is making a huge difference in the life and vitality of these two church communities.
A TIME TO SOW
I am ready for Spring and so is the world around me. The trees are full of blossoms and they seem to be bursting with buds. By the time this newsletter reaches your hands we will be in the full season of Spring. Farmers and gardeners will have tilled to soil for another growing season.
Growing things certainly is a satisfying task. One of the parts of farm life that I miss the most is planting
season. By mid-April, we had started planting corn and were usually finished by mid-May. After the seeds were in the ground it was a matter of keeping an eye on the weeds, praying for sufficient rains, and watching the corn grow. Sharon and I also had a garden; however, most of its care was given by Sharon. We planted what most people plant in a home garden; onions, lettuce, carrots, peas, beans, potatoes, tomatoes, cabbage, and so on. Nothing is more satisfying than going out to the garden, picking fresh vegetables, and preparing a delicious meal.
The month of May will usher in the season of planting. On Sunday, May 22, we will hold our traditional service
of "The Blessing of The Fields.” It is so fitting, in our modern world, that we remain connected religiously with the seasons of planting and harvesting. It would be so easy, in this world where family farms are diminishing and corporate farms are the norm, where suburbia is swallowing our rural landscape, to loose the connection that we as a people have to the land. More and more, our planting and harvesting takes place when we go to the grocery store and buy what it is we need. As the suburban world encroaches upon us, this will be a scenario common to the majority of residents of our area.
Many times, Jesus would use agrarian images as methods of teaching those who would listen. The parable of the "sower" clearly describes the perils of a farmer who is trying to establish a crop. It is also a story about how vulnerable the word of God is when it is trying to become established in the hearts of those who hear. Those who listened to Jesus understood the importance of a productive fig tree, a well cared for vineyard, and the necessity to separate chaff from grain. Jesus used these images as a way to connect with those who listened. These images served as the vehicle for his word.
Besides being useful as a means of telling the story, images of planting and harvesting also illustrate a
fundamental understanding of God's creation. This world we live in is alive. God created it that way. God created humanity and the earth to exist in harmony, with one interacting with the other to produce good things. And in the midst of the interaction, there is the hand of God.
As we go about our planting this spring, let us all remember the sacredness of what we are about. We are carrying out a practice that has gone on for literally thousands of years. Let us all find time in our busy schedules to thank and praise God for our fertile soil and the bounty that it will produce. Let us also take time to see, and touch, and smell the beauty that spring brings.
Come Drink From the Well!
One of the things I have to do is drink more water. Most doctors and dieticians tell me that I should be drinking at least eight, eight ounces glasses of water a day. If you have ever tried to do it, you know that this is a lot of water. To make consuming this much water a little easier, we usually by those 2 1/2 gallon containers of spring water from the store and put it in the refrigerator so that it is always available and always cold.
Perhaps it is only physiological but the spring water we buy always taste better then the tap water in our
house. A bias I have toward spring water may be due to my memories of drinking water from the spring house when I was a boy. My dad owned a farm that was several miles from where we lived. When my brothers and I would go there to work, digging thistles or cutting brush, there was never a need to bring water to drink. We could always go to the spring house and be refreshed with the clearest, coldest water in the world.
I am sure many of you can resonate with what I am saying. The fact of the matter is, being refreshed by the waters of a spring is nothing new. It is a concept that is as old as time itself. That is why the imagery of Jesus as "living water" is such a powerful image in the New Testament.
No where is this image more powerful than the story of Jesus and his encounter with a Samaritan woman at
Jacob's well. (John 4:1-42) This woman was not only a social and religious outcast, but also a person of questionable moral character. However, because of her encounter with Jesus she was able to drink from the well of "living water." And the most amazing thing is, not only was her life changed, but because of her testimony, "many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him." (v. 4:39)
Just as water was a source of life to people in one of the most arid regions of the world, Jesus was and continues to be a source of life to a thirsty soul. During this season of Easter I urge you to come to the spring
house and drink deep from the waters of the well. My prayer for you is that you will experience the life giving
and life changing powers of the "living waters" of Jesus Christ.
A Bus for Vakpo Fu
It is with great joy I share with you the good news from Vakpo Todzi, Ghana. This is one of the many villages we visited on our trip in August. The church members shared with us the need for a daycare center in the village where mothers could leave their children while they went to the fields to work. Tom Lloyd and I shared the need with you, and you responded. The St. Luke’s Daycare is finished, and it is filled with children. Please visit our St. Luke’s webpage to see a full pictorial report of the school because a picture is worth a thousand words.
A sister congregation to Vakpo Todzi is Vakpo Fu. Fu is a remote village in a very rural area. Like Todzi, they are farmers growing pineapple. Their challenge is with educating their children from the village and the surrounding area. The children find it very difficult to get to school in a timely fashion. There is no services offered to them for travel. Very few people in the area own a car. It was suggested that the church could buy bicycles for them but that would be a logistical nightmare.
The solution I suggested was to buy a van or a bus to transport these children. The congregation is in full support of the idea. The St. Luke’s Mission Committee has embraced the idea of raising funds for the bus. They have set a goal of at least $10,000 to go toward the bus. The Ghana account has about $5000 earmarked for the bus. The Missions Committee will be promoting this projects in the months to come with various fundraising ideas. I hope you wholeheartedly support this very special project.
If you have any questions, let me know. We are also looking for other church communities or civic organizations who might be interested in hearing about our work in Ghana and the opportunity to support this mission project.
I saw an interesting program on Television the other evening. Actually, I tuned in about the middle. It was a PBS presentation on sheep farming in Europe. The focus of the program was the triadic relationship that exist between the sheep, the shepherd and the shepherd's dog.
An interesting point that was made was that the sheep dog, who's ancestors lived in the wild as natural predators of the sheep, has been bred and trained to co-exist with sheep in a harmonious relationship. What makes this relationship possible is the presence of the shepherd who assures the proper training of the dog which insures the safety of the sheep.
As I sat and watched this program, I could not help but think of the scripture passage found in John 10:3a-4. "He calls his sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice."
A primary image of our Christian faith is that of Jesus as the "Shepherd." Indeed, as sheep of his pasture, many times, Jesus stands between us and those things in the world we perceive as the enemy. Jesus intervenes on behalf of the sheep to insure a harmonious relationship.
For instance, I recall a story shared with me by a colleague. At the time this incident took place, my friend was a pastor of an inner city church in Boston. It seems that one of his parishioners, a young teen was gun down by another teen in some sort of street violence. As the day of the funeral approached, rumors began to fly about how friends and family members of the slain teen were going to retaliate against the family of the accused killer.
As the church filled with nervous and anxious mourners, my friend searched his soul and heart for words to ease the tension among the gathered body. His only restitution was to surrender the situation to the Shepherd.
As the service was about to begin, a brother of the fallen teen approach the pastor and requested the opportunity to speak before the service began. Unsure as to what he might say, my friend granted the request, and prayerfully waited for the youth to speak.
What the youth had to say was very short and simple. "One death in our community is enough. I call on all my family members and friends to let go of the anger within them and let my brother rest in peace." What he did next shocked, then brought to tears the gathered body. The brother of the slain youth, walked over to the youth accused of taking his brothers life and embraced him.
"Jesus is the good shepherds, he calls his sheep out and they know his voice. And the lion will lie down with the lamb and the wolf and the lamb will feed together."
What a wonderful Shepherd we have! My prayer for you this new year is that you will continue to know the voice of the Good Shepherd and you will head his call to gather as his flock.
God's Blessings, Pastor Pat