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 had two days of real sickness where I didn’t get out of bed. The rest of the week the sickness has been pushed back to a stuffy nose and a sometimes tickle in the throat that makes me cough.
My energy level feels good today and for that I am very happy.
However, Mom tested positive for COVID this morning . She is asymptomatic so I am praying that she stays that way.
I am still in quarantine for two more days; So Amanda has been holding down the church and doing all the errands and housework. I so appreciate this daughter of mine who is such a talented pastor and who can run things in my absence. Most of the staff also has COVID so she has been the only one in office a few days this week.
This week has also been the beginning of our church-wide 21 Days of Fasting and Prayer…. 30 hours a week of church prayer scheduled and I haven’t been able to make one session in person.
I am so grateful to Jon Bauver and his team for running these sessions with their ministry, The Worship Room.
Jon’s ministry is a missionary prayer movement dedicated to bringing twenty-four-seven prayer to our region. They opened about two years ago and they are up to twenty hours of regular prayer every week. For the next twenty-one days they have really stretched themselves towards thirty hours a week to partner with us and I so appreciate it.
Of course when the plan was laid to let The Worship Room take the lead on this year’s 21 days I had no idea I was going to be out of commission for the first whole week of the fast. BUT GOD DID!
So here I stand or sit as the case were and instead of leading prayer meetings I get to bask in the radiance of the Son of God as a long distance participant rather than a leader. I am taking these moments to listen deeply and breathe in the grace of God for all the ministry that lies ahead. I am intensely aware that these moments of quarantine without strong sickness are a gift from God to help me prepare. Sometimes God needs to force us to our necessary rest.
Morning’s are my best time. I find the hours between 5 A.M. and Noon to be my most productive. Something about the first rays of morning light (even when the sky is gray) just fills me with energy to get up and get going.
Don’t get me wrong a good cup of coffee helps too.
But since we are at the beginning of our church’s yearly 21 days of fasting and prayer coffee is off the table. So the morning sun will be enough along with my herbal tea to get me going in the morning’s.
This morning I have done morning devotions walked the dogs, played with dogs, fed the dogs, made breakfast, read the first ten pages of my daily reading regimen and finished up the second chapter in Storyworth. This week my mother and I conversed about her father. Busyness is coming forward as the chief theme of my mother’s early life. I get the sense she understood the busyness but resented it as a dynamic in her family’s household.
I am finding for myself, busyness is a cautionary theme. I also think that there is a pendulum in my life that swings between busyness and lassitude.
I think I am looking for a happy medium somewhere between hyperactivity and complete indolence.
Maybe the morning light is my answer. Perhaps the balance is a morning of great productivity and afternoon of slower more concentrated work and the evening of recovery.
I am not sure exactly how that works with my schedule but it surely is something I am going to be praying into in the next 21 days as I seek greater breakthrough.
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.
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.