A heavy snow has fallen in Winchendon Massachusetts. We got about 8 more inches of heavy wet snow along with a mix of ice.
The snow has painted everything white and crystal. It is absolutely beautiful…. and dangerous.
The branches are weighted down with the heavy white stuff. Many areas of our community lost power for almost twenty four hours and some areas just to our north have been without power now for two days.
There is a word in Hebrew for glory, “chabod”. It means “the weightiness of God’s presence”….”the heaviness of God’s presence”.
As I am walking through this first season of fasting and prayer in 2023 one of the truths I have begun to see very clearly is that the work ahead of us is filled with “chabod”. It is heavy lifting. It is work that is beyond me or us. It is breakthrough in a region that currently walks with the burden of massive addiction, abuse and mental illness. I am feeling in my spirit that the time has come for the church to step up and out of its comfort zone into the place of joining with the rest of our community to address the deep needs of our region. We bring to the table the power of our God. If we do not step up or if we fail at this endeavor I sense that our community may well break, like so many of our grand trees, under the weight of these heavy burdens.
Everything in me cries for comfort from the weight of the work I see ahead and yet there is this space in my heart that is filled with an incredible sense of anticipation for the answers to so many of the prayers we have prayed over the years.
The season has changed again. We are right back to winter overnight. This is one of the warmest winters I remember. I have only worn a coat one or two days this year. Maybe it’s just my thick northern blood, but something is changing. All season we have been going back and forth between freeze and melt. Today the ground is covered with snow. Tomorrow we could be back to the mud. It’s a change.
I am currently taking part as a reader in a book launch for a friend. Poet and story teller Tracy Rittmueller has written a book of poetry entitled, Still Life, Broken and Repaired. The book is about life changes, especially those changes between life partners as aging happens. The effects of dementia on relationships is a key theme in her poetry. Right now this book is speaking to me about the plethora of changes I am walking through with my own Mom and with my life long friend Grace.
In her poem, “Healing Is a Never Ending Departure”, Tracy writes
“Life calls us to our never ending story. All is still well. Take heart, dear heart. Release, that you may heal.”
Excerpt From: Tracy Rittmueller. “Still Life, Broken and Repaired.” Apple Books.
Right now life is requiring a constant releasing. My mom’s life, Grace’s life are like this winter. Some days you get warm sunshine and all is well. Other days are filled with mud and confusion. And then there are the days where the cold chill of the future just sort of sweeps over you. Each day requires a releasing of what was and an acceptance of what is now. My world is busy and grand in its smallness. On that note I leave you with these thoughts from Tracy’s poem, “In A Cove In The Yorks, Maine, I Dare To Hope Again.”
“And so I sit here for hours intent to hear the healing beginning of another pilgrimage, any conscious progress to inspire our next, necessary transformation.”
Excerpt From: Tracy Rittmueller. “Still Life, Broken and Repaired final.” Apple Books.
I am embracing the change whatever it may be. I know God has us in the midst of it.
One of my goals for 2023 is to lead my church into greater community outreach. Our missions statement is,
WHILE DOING LIFE TOGETHER
WE WILL REACH THE LOST
BY SENDING THE FOUND
AS WE DISCOVER OUR GIFTS
WE WILL CHANGE THE WORLD.
Some have suggested that the word lost is a “hot button” word. I think it’s honest. “Lostness” is a condition we humans often find ourselves in. It’s that place in life where we wonder “How’d I end up in this mess?” and conclude “I have no idea where to go from here.” In matters of faith to be lost means to be separated from God and being unable to find your way back to Him. As I said it’s an honest assessment of the human condition.
Foundness is another matter. I have learned well and paid the price of assuming everyone who goes to church is “found”. Foundness is not really about what a person does at all. It’s a condition of the heart. It’s that position of feeling centered…known…seen…and cherished. In matters of Christian faith it is that condition of having had an experience of meeting Christ and knowing that He is now with you on the journey of life no matter where you may go. This fulfills the old adage “not all who wander are lost”.
I long to bring the answer I have found to my lostness to my greater community, so that those who would choose it could walk into this thing I call Christian faith as well. As I have prayed one of the projects that has sparked my interest in partnership is a project our local library is doing in conjunction with the YMCA, the public school system and a local private school (called The Winchendon School), the local Community Action Center and a few other local organizations. It is called The One Book One Community Project.
The town is reading the graphic novel, HEY KIDDO. The library is hosting 5 town wide seminars throughout the winter and into the Spring to bring awareness of the book’s themes which are : domestic violence, trauma in the life of children, what makes a family, and issues surrounding addiction and the family.
I attended the first of the seminars last Saturday. It was so informative and challenging to me as a pastor. It both excited me and sobered me to what lies ahead. Here are a few of my take aways so far:
THE AMOUNT OF WORK BEFORE US IS ENORMOUS.
WE WILL NOT FINISH IT BY OURSELVES. IN FACT IT WILL NOT BE FINISHED WHEN JESUS COMES TO TAKE US HOME.
IT IS NOT OUR JOB TO FIX PEOPLE. WE ARE JUST HANDS EXTENDED.
WHERE WE CANNOT MEET A NEED THERE ARE OTHERS WHO CAN. WE HAVE TO BE WILLING TO PARTNER AND REFER.
I DON’T HAVE ALL THE ANSWERS. BUT I KNOW WHO DOES.
For the director of music. Of David.
1 In the Lord I take refuge. How then can you say to me: “Flee like a bird to your mountain. 2 For look, the wicked bend their bows; they set their arrows against the strings to shoot from the shadows at the upright in heart. 3 When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?”
4 The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord is on his heavenly throne. He observes everyone on earth; his eyes examine them. 5 The Lord examines the righteous, but the wicked, those who love violence, he hates with a passion. 6 On the wicked he will rain fiery coals and burning sulfur; a scorching wind will be their lot.
7 For the Lord is righteous, he loves justice; the upright will see his face.
2020 COVID brought more than disease and quarantine to our house. It brought rats. My family has lived in The Vicarage for something like 45 years and up until pandemic I never saw a rat in the neighborhood. Then in 2020 they were everywhere. I started seeing them on the side property. I would meet them on walks at dusk or dawn with the dogs over by the Catholic Church. Then I started noticing their leavings in our cellar. I put out poison in the cellar. Bought sonic deterrents. Filled in holes where I thought their dens might be. Cleaned out the cellar and sprayed strong fragrances.
The rats went away and I have not seen them again ….until. Today.
You may remember we had the old stone porch taken off the house this past summer. It was falling down and had become a hazard.
We also had to dig up all the pipes in the side yard and have them replaced. Some of the rock that was in the stone porch got buried in the refilling afterwards. Also a couple of larger stones (boulders really) got left in the front by the flower garden. I thought they Made a great lawn ornament. That is until this morning when I noticed that something has taken up residence under the boulders.
I waited to see what would come out of the hole and wouldn’t you know the rats are back. Or at least rat is back. But with Spring coming on I don’t want to have rat babies so…..it’s time to prepare for rat battle again!
Every year I ask God to give me a word for the year, a theme of sorts towards which I can direct my energy. I have done this for long enough and publicly enough that a large part of the congregation around me also seeks for a word for their lives each year.
At Christmas my daughter asked me what my word was and I had to be honest, I didn’t really have one.
I have a word for our upcoming season of fasting and prayer. That word is “BREAKTHROUGH”. It’s a great word but it didn’t really resonate with me regarding my own personal life journey for the year.
I usually have the word for the next year by at least the middle of December…this year NOTHIN!
Honestly, I was getting a bit nervous about not having a word. Then today at last it came!
My word for the year is…..
Here are some Scriptures to go with it.
I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? 3Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? a4Have you experienced b so much in vain—if it really was in vain? 5So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard? Gal. 3:2-5.
But now, this is what the Lord says— he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. 2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. 3 For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; Isa. 43:1-3
The Lillies of The Vicarage send you Christmas greeting and well wishes for the New Year.
The Vicarage is nearly ready for the Christmas holiday. We set up the main tree on my birthday. Melanie, James, Amanda, Daniella and Abigail all helped. It was a truly wonderful day.
Since then I have been setting up little bits and pieces of Christmas each day. It has been a wonderfully relaxed way to decorate during this normally very busy season.
The first snow has fallen making the outside of the Vicarage look all Christmassy. It is heavy shoveling but perfect snowman snow.
Last Tuesday two of my grandys came over to stay with me for a few hours. James, Melanie and Amanda all had ministry commitments at the church. That left Oz (that’s what the grandys call me) to sit with them for the evening. So they came to the Vicarage. The girls visited with Great Gramma, and we set up the children’s tree and then baked cookies.
I am so looking forward to next Christmas when I am hoping to have a tree set up, and Christmas cookie night with Oz. for all my grandys.
Joe, Kristine and Sevy are still wading through the immigration process from South Korea. But I am hoping that sometime this winter they will be here with us at The Vicarage for keeps.
The church is also set for Christmas thanks to a team of very dedicated volunteers who came just after Thanksgiving to deck the halls.
Of course there is much more to a year than Christmas. This year I took my first sabbatical of ministry. It was a powerful time of prayer and prophetic utterance for me and for the church. It is leading us into the new year with a greater sense of destiny and soberness than I have ever felt before in my thirty one years of ministry.
Brenda was home at the end of my sabbatical and we took a much needed day up to Maine. This photo was taken at Nubble Light
Also during sabbatical, work on the Vicarage continued. After the tear down of the stone porch we had the pipes to the street dug up and replaced and this fall just before snow flew the town came in and replaced the pipes from the edge of our property to the main pipe in the center of the street
We have stopped work now for the winter, but come Spring we will have a lot of landscaping to do. I am looking forward to that time. I think we are about to invest lots of sweat equity into this place. I sense things are about to change for us as a church and a family. I am excited and trepidatious as I look into the future. I feel we are about to face some of our greatest challenges and some of our greatest victories.
We have gone through a tremendous change in the last year.
Both at home, and at the church.
The changes have been both physical and spiritual. We don’t look the same. We are not the same.
I also know the changing is not done. We are on the edge, in the place of preparation for the biggest changes yet. What has changed is just a seed, a spout of what is to come.
I have not yet spoken about Mom and the changes that have overtaken her this year. Mom has struggled with vascular dementia for the last several years. This year it has advanced significantly and her physical condition has slowly declined as well. She wonders many times why she is still here. I know it is for us kids. Mom still remembers much of the distant past and the stories she is able to tell are important for us to know. Our lives today are links in a very long chain. History is not just prequel. It is also the key to prophecy. What was shall be again. The foundation laid determines the course of the construction. What we are is, in part because of those who came before us. So the story of our lives has been told in the stories of those who have gone before us. Mom still has a job to do. My hope is that as we all face this future together she will embrace her new role even as we each have to embrace ours.
God has told me that the world is a tapestry that is torn. Each of us are threads in that tapestry and our future relies on us being able to see both where our threads have come from and where they are going. Success demands that we fix all the tears and bring the tapestry back together…. Destiny and sobriety…..
Christmas is a time of great rejoicing. We rejoice over what has been. We rejoice over what has been accomplished. And we rejoice over the possibilities yet to come.
I am on a pastoral retreat this week, until Wednesday.
This is a time to Rest, Reflect and Relate with and to my fellow ministers.
The schedule leaves lots of time for personal reflection and prayer, but last night we had dinner together as ministers of our network. I got to catch up with some ministers from the town next door and then we went into a worship and prayer session that lasted until about 10 P.M.
This morning I had breakfast with some mister friends from Framingham and the Cape and then we went into a time of spiritual discussion.
One of the main things I have heard as I have talked with ministers is about how COVID has changed the church and how so many of us as church leaders are still trying to figure out how to bring restoration to what we lost in the pandemic.
During my time of spiritual discussion with my minister friend from Framingham we chose to talk about what God did during pandemic to bless the church. How the pandemic wrought change in us that was actually positive.
As I got thinking about it the events of the recent past have really stood to inform my church’s future direction. Here are some of the changes I see in no particular order.
We have become much more focused on the value of personal relationships
We have become more committed to the purpose of the church in the world
We have built new and exciting ideas about outreach and how to do it in a relational context
We have grown in passion and love for one another and for those who are within our communities
We have grown in the area of creative thinking.
There are more changes that have come to us in the last two years, but these are some of the most profound.
WHAT ARE SOME POSITIVE THINGS THAT TOOK PLACE IN YOUR LIFE AND COMMUNITY OVER THE LAST TWO YEARS?
One of the prophetic words our congregation received during our recent period of pastoral sabbatical was, “STRENGTHEN THE NETS/ MEND THE NETS BEFORE THE TIME OF HARVEST OR THE FISH WILL SLIP THROUGH THE HOLES.”
Jesus said, “follow me and I will make you fishers of men.” Gospel of Matthew 4:19
I am currently taking all the words that the church received from God during the month of August and diagramming them into a sentence that will lead us into the future God would choose for us.
This word about “mending the nets/ strengthening the nets”, really has me thinking, “What do we need to do to strengthen and mend our congregational net?”
The thought has really put our recent preaching into a new light. Our current series Is called, “THE STEPS IS OURS. THE POWER IS GOD’S.”. The campy title is actually tied to a banner we once bought for the front of the church. It was supposed to read….
THE STEP IS OURS. THE POWER IS GOD’S.
An unfortunate typo got us the former banner instead of the latter. But it also got me thinking that for our congregation maybe there is more than one step.
As I prayed back in August God showed me three and then four:
THE STEP OF FAITH
THE STEP OF HOPE
THE STEP OF IDENTITY
THE STEP OF LOVE
Four steps into our future selves. Four steps to strengthen and mend the nets. Four steps to become the fishers of men we are meant to be.
On Sunday after church I had a wonderful opportunity to drive to Hartford Hospital to visit two of our parishioners who had been placed there for treatment
It is strange how health care is changing here in the Northeast. I have never had to go to Hartford before for a pastoral visit, but for some reason there were no beds in MA or NH to be had for what these ladies needed treatment for. One of them actually had to travel 3 and a half hours by ambulance to get there.
But I am a firm believer in the fact that God knows what He is doing and He has the people of our church in the palm of His hand.
The roundtrip drive to Hartford is 4 hours. It was a beautiful trip accentuated by autumn colored roadsides. I wish I had thought to stop and take some picture but these photos are near enough representations to show you the beauty I was driving through.
I seldom have four hours to myself. So the time to drive and talk with God was absolutely welcomed. I talked with Him about adjustments He is bringing to my life schedule. I asked Him about the upcoming pastor’s gathering at the Cape and how I am going to best use those hours. I listened to Him to hear what He would say about my next sermons on the step of love, and I prayed for the needs of several folks in our congregation who are sick like these two ladies.
The visits accomplished their God-given purpose and the time on the road did too. I am so thankful God gave me this extra time.
I have had lots to do over this last week, but I have been arranging a few minutes here and there to journal. It’s a little something I am trying to do everyday. I have always loved writing and I have missed it.
Since I started the Atomic Habits training with our church leadership I have been asking myself who I am and what my identity is in the world. I have asked myself what small thing I can do everyday that will be a vote towards that identity.
Writing for just ten minutes a day is one of the one things. I know that ten minutes of writing does not make me a professional writer, anymore than reading ten pages of a book everyday (another of my new micro habits) makes me a full time student, but both of these things are a vote in the direction of who I know I was made to be.
Honestly I haven’t even made it to the 10 minutes of daily writing. I missed yesterday. But I am beginning to understand it is not about the failures as much as it is about the successes. Every step takes me closer to the man I want to be, towards a clearer understanding of the man God made me to be.
The man in the mirror, if you will, is: a man of God, a man of letters, a man of relationships, and a man of learning. There are lots of little things I am trying to do to shift towards that identity.
Intentional prayer and study. This is something I have been working on for years and am actually pretty stable in. That said balancing my private relationship time with God, and my ministry time since I became lead pastor has actually been a bit of an adjustment. Whatever people may think, ministry is not a thing which pushes you intrinsically toward God. There will be more written on that subject later.
By intentionally scheduling relationships into my schedule. I have had to ask myself as I looked at my schedule, “How does this make me a more relational person?” “How does this make me a more relational pastor?” Those things that don’t feed into my identity, even those things which are necessary must be adjusted so they don’t take up my whole life. Let me give you an example. I am now scheduling 15 minutes a day to billing and planning. Rather than allowing finances to take up a whole afternoon once a month I am doing a little everyday.
Becoming a man of letters and a man of learning? Well that as I said is about practicing here and reading a bit everyday. It’s not all I want it to be but if I have learned anything over the years is you have to plant a seed before you can harvest an apple. I was once a writer…a pretty serious writer. I lost that man temporarily when I took on this new role as lead pastor. I can’t just go back to where I was with my writing. So I am planting seeds again 10 minutes at a time.
The man in the mirror is becoming clearer to me with each step of the journey.
WHAT ONE THING COULD YOU DO TODAY TO MAKE YOUR MIRROR IMAGE REFLECT YOUR IDENTITY?