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.
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.
I am many mornings but particularly on Sundays. I NEED to get at least two hours of prayer in before I preach at church. I find that Sunday mornings are one of the most productive periods of my week. This morning I:
read thirty pages in one of the books I have assigned myself ( I actually finished HEY KIDDO, by Jarret J. Krosczka which I am reading along with many citizens of out town in the ONE BOOK ONE COMMUNITY PROJECT sponsored by our local library)
read the Bible
Made my bed (if you want to be a success start by making your bed)
washed the dishes (I should not have left them in the sink last night
Did about 40 minutes of filing and cleaning
Fed the birds
Emptied the dehumidifier
Filled the furnace with water for the day
Had breakfast with Amanda
set up Mom’s pills and gave her her morning pills
Got myself ready for church
And now I am getting the writing done in “NOTES”!
Maybe I didn’t scale Everest, but I feel accomplished.
I was with a friend at breakfast yesterday and we were talking back to the ATOMIC HABITS class we took last year. We were talking about how making small changes really had revolutionized our lives. I am not yet at the point where every morning is like this, but at least four or five mornings a week are. That is a huge change for me and it has upped my feeling of well-being. I was going to say my productivity but as I think about this, this whole atomic habits thing has not been about productivity though I think it is definitely affecting it. It is about helping men change how I view myself and the potential God has put in me.
As I finish up this morning Mom is sitting on the couch with the cat. Mom is really frustrated with her life and what she cannot do anymore. She often gets upset about the fact that she can no longer walk much farther than the front hall. She feels less than because she sometimes needs help changing her clothes. I have praying about her quality of life and God has shown me that I might try some small things for her that can restore some of her confidence and some of her joy. I think that is why I felt so strongly about STORYWORTH this year. The weekly questions have been good to open up conversations about more than the weather. I have been jogging her memory daily and taking her back through the life she has lived. I am wondering what other small things we can do to give her more of a sense of life and hope.
I got home from church and deacon board meeting on Sunday and started feeling sick. By Sunday night I had full on COVID symptoms. I tested, but the test came back negative. By Monday morning I was pretty much relegated to bed. I slept away most of that day. On Tuesday after my second COVID test , which came back positive I slept most of that day too.
By Tuesday I had gotten word that three more of my staff had come down sick and today a fourth member messaged to say she had tested positive. That leaves my daughter (who has just come out of quarantine) and my personal assistant who had COVID in November running the church.
We have just begun 21 days of fasting and prayer with 30 weekly prayer meetings and the church staff is pretty much in quarantine. My daughter was asking God about this and the answer she got was, “This movement is about the church not about the leadership. The church must rise up and the staff must be put in a position to let them.”
apparently that position is COVID POSITIVE.
So I am joining the prayer meetings remotely and am watching as my parishioners rise up to lead this prayer movement for breakthrough! It is POSITIVE indeed.
Yesterday we received a powerful prophetic word that was brought forth by two of our prophetic people and the preacher, all in line with one another in their messages.
Basically the idea put forward was that a storm was upon us, no avoiding it now. God won’t take away the storm. He will walk with us in it and give us power to walk through it miraculously, As we keep our FOCUS ON HIM. Here is one of the Scriptures Carrie Hackett, our guest preacher, used.
“Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. 23 After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, 24 and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.
25 Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake.26 When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.
27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”
29 “Come,” he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”
32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’ ” Ma. 14:22-33
Today, I began preparing for the 21 day fast which starts next week. I am weening myself off of caffeine and processed sugar to begin with. I will be doing the Daniel fast which is a vegetarian fast with no caffeine, sugar or processed flours. The purpose of this fast is going to be for a release of personal growth in our congregation through a process of breakthrough in areas where we are stuck.
Of late I have felt my vision was stuck. So I will be praying for a release of my prophetic vision.
Nothing dramatic to report today. Sometimes the job is just like every other normal job…well almost.
I think I might have mentioned that I bought my mother a subscription to Storyworth for Christmas. It is a neat website that specialises in helping elders tell their stories for posterity. You can check it out here.
Mom and I had our morning interview which consists of me asking the weekly question and letting the conversation go where it will for a half hour or so. Then I sit down and add to the story board we are working on..
The week after Christmas is generally quiet at the church but this is turning out to be fix it week. We have had Tim, the hydrothermal unit repairman here for a few days working on our oldest hydrothermal unit which gave up the ghost back in August.
The plumber was supposed to come today to to replace our sewage pump in the basement. He got stuck at another job.
So I have been printing out devotional material for our upcoming fast and getting it ready for the stapling process tomorrow while waiting for the skilled workers to finish up their work which at the moment seems way more complicated than mine.
I made a devotional video and a few phone calls to congregants who are ill.
Tim is finished now and so is the photocopier, so it’s time to go home and make a healthy dinner and finish my step count for the day….See. It’s just like any other normal job.
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
“I don’t really know how this is going to go”. I guess that’s not exactly a statement that inspires confidence in people, but it is how I feel about this blog and indeed about the whole writing part of my life. I have made so many false starts with this thing called “Notes From the Vicarage”, that I am not about to start out this new year by making a promise to write everyday or something foolish like that.
Honestly, I am at a point where everything in me wants to start writing again. There are a lot of things I would like to do, but I am at the point where I realizer that unless God helps me I am not going anywhere with anything. All my Atomic Habits and all my step by step progress plans. All the practicing breathing and mindfulness are helpful to a point, but the mountain of life isn’t going to move because of anything I do. It’s taken me a long time, but I see that now.
One of my life verses is JOHN 5:19, Jesus gave them this answer: “Very truly I tell you, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.
So what do I see the Father doing?
I clearly see Him bringing a month of fasting and prayer for breakthrough in our congregation:
I see clearly that the first quarter of my pulpit is going to be teaching the people of our congregation how Jesus interacted in community. In this I believe many of the people will discover their inborn gifts from God. I see clearly that Lillie Put will continue to be a place for teaching these truths
I seem to see an increase in the prophetic gift in me and the congregation which will bring me and us deeper healing.
I see that this will be a year of strengthening my earthly body as well as my inner man.
I think I see God opening new doorways of creative writing opening before and me: An opportunity to be part of a launch team for a writer friend; An opportunity to promote a local writer to our church and town;A gift given to my mother that is helping her to remember her own life story; Then there is the dangling string of what I have always wanted tis blog to be….a peek into the family life of people touched by the call to ministry for Jesus; The string of my unfinished book.
Still…my vision has met failure before…. So back to the beginning. I don’t really know where this is going to go, but I am launching out into the deep of the New Year.
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.
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.