Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Rain, Rain, Don’t Go Away

It is raining here in Connecticut today. The rain really is good for us but annoying as it is happening to be sure. It’s kind of funny. I know we don’t like the effects of a drought or the wildfires like those ravaging California right now, but we also hate it when it rains. I hate the water spots that get on my glasses. That’s why I own four umbrellas strategically placed at home, in my car, and at church, so that I will always have access to one when needed. I enjoy watching people in the rain. I know they all own umbrellas too but no one ever seems to use it. Are they unfashionable? People usually just hunch their shoulders and run. Does that work? Does that really help keep you dry? As much as we dislike the rain. Plants need rain. Flowers need rain. Crops need rain. Water fills wells for drinking water. Yes, rain is annoying, but necessary. Water is the building block of life. 

There is a scripture verse that always comes to my mind when I think about rain. In Matthew 5, Jesus says, “For he [God] gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and he sends rain on the just and the unjust alike” (Matt. 5:45). It’s true. When it rains, everyone gets wet. It doesn’t matter who you are. Rich, poor, young, old, man, woman, child, good or bad. Similarly, everyone experiences difficulty in their life. The “just,” those who are “good,” and the “unjust,” those who seem not to be. Why not just have bad things happen to bad people? That’s the age-old question we all have, isn’t it? Why do bad things happen to good people? They happen because this is a fallen world full of fallen people. There is a bumper sticker I have seen, which I cannot repeat. My version of it says, “Stuff Happens.” That’s essentially correct. When it rains, it rains on everyone at one time or another – sinner and saint.

Like flowers, crops, trees, and plants benefit from rain, we too benefit from struggle. We really do. The Bible say in Romans 5, “We can rejoice, too, when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character, and character strengthens our confident hope of salvation” (Romans 5:3-4). Yes, problems and trial, like rain, are annoying, but dealing with difficult circumstances is where we grow. We get stronger overcoming challenges. No one learns from winning all the time. We learn from our losses. Our mistakes. Our lapses in judgment. Our poor choices. Without the lessons learned from challenges, we would dry up and wilt. 

So, the next time you are struggling with something, think of it as rain. Yes, it is annoying, but often needed, and remember, it is not raining on you because you are bad. “[God] sends rain on the just and the unjust alike.” Just pull out your spiritual umbrella (the Word of God), spend some time in prayer, and listen for what God is trying to teach you. You will be amazed at how much you will grow.   


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Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Happy Re-birthday!

In Matthew 3, is the story of Jesus’ baptism. Jesus arrives at the Jordan River where John the Baptist is performing baptisms and presents Himself to be baptized. Matthew tells us John tried to talk him out of it. “‘I am the one who needs to be baptized by you,’ he said, ‘so why are you coming to me?’ But Jesus said, ‘It should be done, for we must carry out all that God requires.’ So John agreed to baptize him. After his baptism, as Jesus came up out of the water, the heavens were opened and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and settling on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my dearly loved Son, who brings me great joy’” (Matthew 3:14-17). Then, at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus gives us what has come to be known as “The Great Commission” saying, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:18-19). Mark recorded it this way in his gospel. Jesus tells the disciples, “Go into all the world and preach the Good News to everyone. Anyone who believes and is baptized will be saved” (Mark 16:15-16).

Did you notice that “believes” comes first, then baptism? It happens that way every single time throughout the New Testament. From Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8, to Peter and Cornelius in Acts 10. A person comes to faith in Christ – first. They understand who Jesus is and what He did on the cross for them. A light bulb goes off in their head and heart and completely changes them inside and out. Then they are baptized. However, the baptism does not save them any more than it saves us. Our faith in Jesus is what saves us. For instance, when Jesus was on the cross, one of the thieves hanging next to Him came to believe who He was. He said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom” (Luke 23:42). Do you remember how Jesus replied to him? “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). Moments away from his death, he confesses faith in Jesus and is saved. There was no opportunity for him to be baptized. It’s okay, because it is our faith that saves us. There is no magic in the water. Romans 10:9, “If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”

Nonetheless, although baptism is not necessary for salvation, Jesus does tell us to do it. Why? Baptism is a public declaration – an opportunity to tell the world who Christ is, what He did, and of our faith in Him. Baptism is the day when we publicly celebrate being “born again!” It really is a birthday party or perhaps a “re-birthday party.”

Why all of this talk about baptism? A couple of Sunday’s back, I was blessed to do three full immersion baptisms in our baptistery. Marielise, Erica, and Miracle all went under the water that symbolizes our sin being put under the ground (in the tomb), and then they came up out of the water symbolizing coming back to life again (as Jesus did on that first Easter morning)! They now have a new life in Christ!

Hands down, baptism is my most favorite sacrament. It is a day of great celebration! A day we recognized three more people who fully understand who Jesus is and what He did for them. Even more so than our earthly birthday, I believe we should celebrate our baptism day every year. The day we recognize we celebrate our free gift from God – salvation.

Like many of you perhaps, I was baptized as an infant. It was the tradition of my faith at the time. I was re-baptized at church summer camp in 1997, because it was then that I fully understood. It is never too late to openly declare your transformation. That your old life is gone and a new life in Christ has begun. If you were never fully immersed in the waters of baptism, I highly recommend it. It is an amazing experience! Think about it. Pray about it. Talk to your pastor. Call me. I’ll be happy to dunk you!      


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Wednesday, October 14, 2020

The Countdown Begins

The countdown is on. There are only seventeen days to go! I know. You are all wondering, “What is he talking about?” There are seventeen days until November 01. What happens on November 01? Beginning on November 01, Pastor Adam starts playing Christmas music! That’s right! Joy to the World, the Lord is coming! Why? Why start so early? Well, first of all, I really enjoy Christmas music. Secondly, it began back when I worked for the Postal Service. The Christmas rush is not really all that fun for post office employees. It is like Black Friday six days a week. The stress and anxiety tends to drain dry whatever well of holiday cheer one has stored up. In fact, after a number of years, I began to detest the season rather than rejoice in it. So, I made a decision to start the day after Halloween instead. That way, I got a solid month of the scent of Balsam and Cedar candles, and Good King Wenceslas before the craziness began.

I left my job as postmaster in June of 1997, to head up to Maine and Bangor Theological Seminary. However, I never stopped the practice of my early Christmas celebration. Partly, because I quickly discovered serving a church during the Christmas season is not that much less hectic than it was in the post office, but mostly because, why not? In the Gospel of John we read, “So the Word [Jesus] became human and made his home among us. He was full of unfailing love and faithfulness” (John 1:14). God left heaven and broke into this world to save us – from ourselves. “…God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation” (Romans 5:8-9). I will not spend an eternity in hell – separated from God. All because His Son Jesus was willing to go to the cross and put my sins (not His) to death and forgive me. As Peter tells us, “He [Jesus] personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed” (1 Peter 2:24). That is worthy of my attention. Not just on Sunday, or during the twelve days of Christmas, or in December, or even during Advent. That sacrifice. That gift deserves my attention every day.  

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love Thanksgiving too, and as the pilgrims were Congregationalist’s, like me, I do feel connected to that holiday as well. I enjoy the fact that we gather together to ask the Lord’s blessing, and, it is no secret I love to eat! Nonetheless, a feast here on earth pales in comparison to a feast in heaven at the table of the Lord, and how do I get there? “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). I believe.

So, you start celebrating Christmas whenever you like. For me, I only have seventeen more days. That’s when I like to begin to go tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere; that Jesus Christ is born!            


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Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Happy Anniversary!

One summer night in 1981, my high school girlfriend and I took a walk on Hampton beach after our senior prom, and I asked her to marry me. She said, “Yes.” I was sixteen years old. In fact, my dad had to sign for the financing for the engagement ring from Zales jewelers, because I was not old enough to sign legally myself.

When I look back on it now, I am shocked. What was I thinking? Who makes that kind of a decision at that age? If any of my boys came to me at sixteen and asked me the same thing, I would have replied, “Absolutely not! Are you crazy?” I am so blessed my dad’s reply was different. How could I have possibly known this was the one for me? I did not. God did. IN Genesis 2:18, God says, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper who is just right for him.” God goes on to make all the wild animals and all the birds of the sky. Now, God is God. He is all-powerful. He created the universe – the sun, moon and stars. He created the earth, the land, sea, and sky. God could have made whatever or whomever He wanted for the man, but after making all the animals and birds, the Bible says in verse 20, “…still there was no helper just right for him.” God then made woman. She is the only one, in His infinite wisdom, who is just right for man. “This explains,” Genesis 2:24 tells us, “why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.” Here, God creates marriage. One man. One woman for life.  

Since sin entered the world after the fall, humans have decided to redefine marriage, but it is quite clear. The woman is the only one God created to be “just right” for the man, and they are united into one as husband and wife in the relationship called marriage.

I do not know why I was in such a hurry to be married. Renée was not pregnant. I was not in the service getting ready to ship off overseas. I really cannot explain it. I just knew. God had created her as the one who was “just right” for me, and thirty-nine years later, this Saturday, October 10, it seems as if He was right. Imagine that. God was right. Surprise!  

Now, I would be lying if I said these past thirty-nine years were all wedded bliss. No. Marriage is work. Sometimes it is very hard work, because all marriages are made up of two sinners. As 1 John 1:8 reminds us, “If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth.” Because of this, husbands and wives push each other to the limits of our forgiveness, mercy, and grace. We are all called, as the Bible says, to, “Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others” (Colossians 3:13). Especially, with those to whom we made vows and promises of love and devotion before God. It is not always easy, but worth the work.

If you are struggling in your marriage right now, keep trying. Lord knows what I put Renée through over the past thirty-nine years. Pray through Colossians 3:13. When the two of you have Christ at the center of your relationship, you can overcome anything. If you are still looking, be patient. Remember, Abraham had to wait until he was one hundred years old before his son Isaac was born. Don’t worry. Like this Adam, and the first Adam, God made someone just right for you too. 

And, a very happy anniversary to my honey bunches of oats!    


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