Saturday, March 14, 2020

The Journey Continues Extra March 2020

The Journey Continues…

I am sure you’ve noticed, there is a growing level of uncertainty and anxiety in our lives these days. The biggest issue we are facing is the Coronavirus. I’m not going to rehash the statistics about how many people have been infected in our country and around the world from the Coronavirus. It wouldn’t matter anyway because the numbers are constantly being updated. What we do know is this: international travel is being banned, professional and collegiate leagues and tournaments are suspending their games, the VA Hospital in Lebanon has limited its access, and colleges and universities are shutting down their campuses and conducting the remainder of their classes this semester online.

As the fear rises and the virus spreads, more and more businesses, schools, and places of public gathering are going to close down. But the question remains: what are we going to do? Are we going to suspend our worship services and gatherings until the danger passes? Well, for right now (at least as I am writing this) no, we are not planning on suspending our activities at church. At least not yet. If we are required to shut down (by a local, state, or federal agency), then we will comply with the directives so that we can do our part to control the spread of the pandemic. But while we remain open, we are going to need to do things a little differently.

First of all, as much as I enjoy shaking hands with everyone after the worship service, we are going to need to stop shaking hands for a while. Not because I am worried about catching a disease from you, but because I am also worried about spreading a disease to you. We can still talk, we can still say hello, we can even bump elbows if you want, but we need to do our part to keep each other safe until the danger of the pandemic passes.

And speaking of keeping each other safe…if you are feeling sick, please stay at home and take care of yourself. If your immune system is weakened for any reason  and you are worried about being in a group of people, then it is OK to stay home. Think of it this way: if there was a major snow storm and you didn’t feel safe going out, would you go out? Probably not. Treat the Coronavirus the same way. But whether you go out or you stay in, please wash your hands. It’s hard to imagine we have to tell people to wash their hands (didn’t we learn this as children?), but I’ll still remind us now: wash your hands often and wash them thoroughly. If you have to cough or sneeze, use the crook of your elbow instead of your hand to provide cover. And try to limit how much you touch your face.

Do you know what else you can do? Please don’t forget the church in this time. Even if you aren’t able to be in attendance or we need to suspend our gatherings for a few weeks, we still have bills to pay, we still have financial obligations to meet, and we still have ministries that need our support. So please remember, giving to the church in difficult times is just as important as giving to the church when times are good.

We are currently exploring the potential of using a simple form of technology to keep us connected as a church in these times of uncertainty. We are testing a program this Sunday (March 15th) that will be as simple as calling a phone number and listening to our worship services over the phone. And it won’t matter if you are calling from a landline, a cell phone, or a computer, if this program works like we hope, you will be able to listen to our worship service from the comfort of your home and with the simplicity of any phone you have. As soon as we have more information about the viability of this program, we will pass that information along to you.

Compounding the challenges we have with the Coronavirus are the uncertainties facing St. Mark’s and St. John’s as the two churches become one in just a few months. The members of St. John’s are dealing with a lot of sadness, grief, and frustration right now and I am sharing their sadness, grief, and frustration. The members of St. Mark’s are dealing with a lot of anxiety and uncertainty over the large gap that will be in their budget when June rolls around and I am sharing in their anxiety over the uncertainties ahead. With the changes in our churches, there are a lot of unknowns in our lives right now. But we need to remember that God is still God and God is in control. And it doesn’t hurt to take a few deep breaths (just like we do at the beginning of our worship service) to breathe in the breath and the Spirit of God as we seek healing, peace, and comfort from the Creator of the universe in these times of difficulty and uncertainty.

God didn’t create the miracle of life only to abandon us when May 31st, 2020 rolls around and St. John’s closes its doors. I believe God will see us through the challenges of becoming one church just as I believe God will share the journey with us until the danger of the Coronavirus pandemic passes. What we need to do is be patient and trust in God to journey with us as we do the challenging work of bringing two congregations together and as we face the changes in our lives due to the Coronavirus.

Let’s face it, we are dealing with a new normal these days. So long as we turn to God for strength, hope, guidance, and healing, we will be able to adjust to anything that comes our way.

The Journey Continues…

Pastor Dave

Friday, February 28, 2020

The Journey Continues March 2020

The Journey Continues .....

      There is an old saying that goes, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”
Truer words have never be spoken. Our lives are in a constant state of change. Whether we are
1 year old or 100 years old, every day of our lives our bodies get a little bit older and we change
a little bit more. Most of the changes we experience are imperceptible moment by moment, such
as younger folks getting taller or older folks getting shorter. But when we look back over time,
we can see how much those little changes add up.

     Beyond the changes we experience in our physical bodies, we also face changes in the
circumstances of our lives. Sometimes – as with graduations, weddings, or the birth of a child –
our circumstances change and we have time to make plans so that we can adjust to whatever
the new normal might be. But often times, events happen suddenly and unexpectedly – as with
a medical event, an accident, or the loss of a loved one – and we have little if any time to make
plans. I don’t know about you, but I find situations that leave no opportunity to plan rather
stressful and unappealing. But I wonder, is it the change that is unappealing, or is it the lack of
control that is unappealing? Hmmmmm, that’s an interesting thought isn’t it? Maybe the lack of
control is what makes changes so unappealing in our lives? But that’s a topic for another day.

     Whether we embrace change or stubbornly resist change, there will be changes coming
to St. Mark’s and St. John’s in 2020. I can make a pretty good guess as to what those changes
will be, and I know the vision I will work towards as the changes take place, but I’m only 50%
sure what those changes will look like as 2020 unfolds. Time will tell. The only thing I am sure
about is this: we are going to need each other in the weeks and months ahead. I am going to
need you as much as you are going to need me. And together we will need the wisdom and
strength, the peace and comfort, the patience and understanding, and the hope and promise we
have through our relationship with God.

     While no one likes times of uncertainty and change, we read in the Bible that God works
miracles in the midst of chaos and instability. When facing the most impossible situations, God
works through the most unlikely people. Whether it is an undersized David defeating the giant
Goliath, or it is Abraham and Sarah giving birth to their first son when they were in their late 90’s,
or it is an 80 year old Moses who was sent to confront the ruler of the world’s military super
power to free the Israelites from slavery, or it is Jesus overcoming the brutality of the cross
through the glory of the resurrection, or it was Jesus confronting the chief persecutor of
Christians on the road to Damascus (Saul of Tarsus) and transforming him into the greatest
voice for proclaiming Christianity since John the Baptist (the Apostle Paul). God always seems
to perform miracles in times of uncertainty and challenge because we (as in the human race)
tend to step back and get out of the way when we feel overwhelmed. Whenever we step back,
we allow God the space He needs for the miracle to take place.

     Well, I believe God is going to work a miracle in our lives in the midst of our uncertainty
and instability, too. But we need to trust God will bring that miracle when the miracle is ready for
us and when we are ready for the miracle. Until God’s miracle arrives, we need to continue to
step out in faith and believe that God will be with us every step of the way. And we need to be
patient, and understanding, and forgiving of ourselves and others as we seek to discover our
new normal. These will be challenging times for sure, but if we lean on God and become closer
to each other on the journey ahead, then we will look back on this time and be thankful for all
the ways God has worked in and through our lives.

The Journey Continues…
Pastor Dave

The Journey Continues February 2020

The Journey Continues…

For the past four years, when the third week in January arrives, I have taken advantage of the
opportunity to attend a clergy retreat through the Penn Central Conference. Each year, the planning
committee for the retreat selects a theme that is designed to help an aspect of our lives and our ministry.  This year, the theme chosen was “Peace in the Balance”. Honestly, I couldn’t have asked for a topic that is more needed in my life. As a pastor, it is extremely challenging to find balance in my professional life and in my personal life. But pastors aren’t unique in the need to find “Peace in the Balance”. I often talk to people who struggle to find balance in their lives and even more who struggle to achieve peace. We talked a lot during the retreat about the reasons why we lose balance, and we spent time learning ways to help regain the balance we have lost. Now for those who appreciate visuals (like me), it helps to see an image of what we are learning. So here is a picture of balance:


With this image, the beam is in perfect balance. If we could keep our lives in balance like this,
then we would be peaceful and happy. But as each day unfolds, outside forces interact with us that are beyond our control. Accidents happen. Distractions arise. Unexpected events materialize. People make choices that affect us in ways we never planned for. Every single event in our lives has the potential to move us away from the center, and you don’t have to go very far from center before becoming unbalanced. When you add in the emotional ups and downs of these events, the challenge of maintaining balance becomes even harder. For example, how many times in your life have you made good decisions when you are angry or frustrated? Probably never, right? How many times in your life have you held a positive vision of the future when you are grieving or depressed? Again, probably never. In either case, finding balance is even harder to achieve because of the additional challenges from our emotions.

Although we can try to control everything that goes on in our lives (which actually leads to even
greater imbalance), there are practices we can put to use to handle the challenges that come our way.
We start by changing the foundation. A different foundation will produce much better results, and it is
not as hard to change the foundation as you may think. Here is a visual of what we learned during our


                                  /                                                \

                                 /                                                  \

Do you see how much easier it would be to keep this beam balanced as opposed to the beam
resting on a single point? With the first example, one step away from center will cause the beam to be
unbalanced. Whenever we rely solely on ourselves – and our efforts to be in control – to keep our lives balanced, then we are trying to keep balance on a single point. But with the second example, you can go all the way to the edges and the beam will remain balanced. So the key is to widen our base, right? But how do we do that? Actually, widening the base is not as hard as you think. In fact, by keeping things simple and basic, we can create a wider base that will help us maintain balance in our lives and achieve peace at the same time.

We widen our base by getting back to basics and keeping things simple: setting aside time each
day to read the scriptures and to pray. But it’s not the quantity of Bible verses that we read every day
that makes a difference. It is quality in how we read the Bible. Even if we read only one verse a day, if that verse is read the right way, we can change our perspectives and achieve peace in the balance.
Likewise, it is not the quantity of time we spend in prayer, it is the quality of time we spend in prayer.
When we spend quality time in prayer (I’m not talking about reciting a laundry list of requests like a child sitting on Santa’s lap...I’m talking about spending time in the presence of God that gives us the
opportunity to reconnect with our Creator in a spiritual way), then we can recognize a sense of peace
and balance that God has always been willing to share with us. The only thing that has been missing
is our awareness of God’s presence all around us.

I don’t have the space needed this month to explain how we can read the scriptures and pray in
ways that are transformative in our lives. But over the next few months, I will share some of what I
learned the past few days with you. If you want to look ahead, you can look up “Lectio Divina” online at and you can look up “Body Prayer” online at There is a two minute video at the bottom of the web page that shows you what a “body prayer” looks like, but I’ll describe things in more detail next month.

Whether you look things up now or wait for me to share with you over the next few months (or
you do both), my hope is to draw all of us closer to God so that we can handle the storms of life and
find peace in the balance. Life will push us to the extremes; we can’t avoid it no matter how hard we
try. But we don’t have to go through life helpless and out of balance. We can be prepared for those
extremes by using the tools that are available to help us maintain balance until the storm passes.

The Journey Continues…
Pastor Dave

Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.
I do not give to you as the world gives.
So do not let your hearts be troubled,
and do not let them be afraid.”
- John 14:27

Journey Continues January 2020

The Journey Continues… 

       You don’t have to be a follower of Jesus for long to realize how hard it is to live into Jesus’ commandment to love our neighbors. It’s not that we are unloving people; we have lots of love to share with those who love us in return. But when it comes to our loving our enemies, then Jesus’ command seems to be impossible. But our Savior was clear: we are required to love our neighbors – friends and enemies alike – without condition and without reservation.

      Jesus showed us what loving our neighbor looks like when he washed the feet of the disciples  (including the feet of Judas) despite knowing Judas was going to betray him to the religious authorities (see the Gospel of John 13: 1 – 20). In another instance, Jesus showed us what loving our neighbor looks like when he pleaded for God to forgive those who were nailing him to the cross (see the Gospel of Luke 23: 32 – 34). That is our standard and what we are called to do as followers of Jesus. While we we have never faced betrayal like the betrayal Jesus faced, nor have we been nailed to a cross, the mandate and example set forth by our Savior still seems impossible for us to achieve. And there are good reasons why.
     Nearly every day we hear of another mass shooting or act of terrorism that causes us fear and concern. In addition, the deep divisions and polarization of ideologies has created a time of anxiety, tension and anger in our society. There is very little tolerance these days for opinions that are different from our own. On top of that, attendance in our churches has been declining for decades. With all of the challenges to overcome, it is harder than ever to love our neighbors. But I believe we can do better because we are called to be and do more as Christians than we are right now.

     While we can’t control the actions of others, we can work to improve our own actions, especially the reactions we have to the behavior of others. If you remember the lyrics to the song, “Let There Be Peace on Earth”, who does peace begin with? Peace begins with me, doesn’t it? The lyric isn’t “Let there be peace on earth after I get even”…the lyric is “Let there be peace on Earth, and let it begin with me.” In others words, peace will begin when we live and love the way Jesus lived and loved.

     But how do we do it? Is there is a way forward and a vision of behavior that we can follow? Well, yes there is. I saw a vision of the behavior we need to follow on Facebook a while ago. If we follow this formula, then we will take a huge step towards loving our neighbor, bringing peace to earth, and being the followers of Jesus we are called to be. So here is the plan: before we say something, before we forward an email, before we share something on social media, before we react to the behavior of someone else, let us see if the words or actions we want to use pass all five questions of the T.H.I.N.K. test:

       Is it True?
       Is it Helpful?
       Is it Inspiring?
       Is it Necessary?
       Is it Kind?

      If your answer is no to any of these five questions, then what you are about to say or do should be kept to yourself. On the other hand, if you answer yes to all five questions, then you can go ahead and say it or do it. That seems easy enough, right? Do you believe your relationships will be better (not to mention your outlook on the world) if you T.H.I.N.K. before you speak? I sure do. Consider the two examples of Jesus’ behavior I gave you above. Did Jesus’ actions pass the T.H.I.N.K. test? They sure did!

      Our role as Christians is to be a safe space where people experience the light of Christ emanating from our lives. If our goal is to T.H.I.N.K. before we do anything else, then we will be doing what Jesus has called us to do, we will grow in our relationship with our Creator, and we will experience far more peace in our lives than if we react in anger and revenge. So let us take the time to T.H.I.N.K. before we do anything else and may we all grow in love and peace in the New Year.

 The Journey Continues…

Pastor Dave