Pastor's Blog

The Most Wonderful Time of Year

As we head into the holidays and the days grow short and the weather cools, those of you older than fifty may find yourself humming the tune made famous by Andy Williams lo those many years ago, It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year. Whether or not you agree with the song, most people look forward to the “trinity” of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day with at least a warm feeling as they anticipate a day or two off, the music, the pageantry, the lights, the food, the gift giving and receiving — the joy and laughter of gathering with family and friends.

Alternately, some view the holiday season as The Most Stressful Time of the Year or The Most Melancholy Time of the Year as they worry about preparations to be made, money to be spent, family to be accommodated and griefs revisited. The truth is that for most of us, this time of year confronts us with a broad range of opportunities and emotions.  We manage as best we can, and try to hang on to and foster a sense of peace and goodwill in the context of the reality of our daily lives. The reality is that some years are easier to manage than others. With the economy on the skids, a looming contentious election cycle, the continuation of war, rumors of wars, and the threat of a winter COVID surge, this might be one of those years when the demons of anxiety, depression and despair seek to overthrow the angels of peace, joy and hope.

Trying to Follow Jesus

Today is the first of September, and while most school districts begin classes sometime in August these days, Labor Day weekend still has that sense of marking the end of summer and the beginning of the school year.

Reflecting on my childhood and adolescence, I recall I was never a great student. If you look up average in the dictionary, you might have a picture of me. However, each September as the start of school approached, I was filled with anticipation, and a resolve to do better. I loved the new folders and notebooks, and assured myself this was the year I would be more organized and stay on top of my homework. But alas, within a week or two, I was overwhelmed, underprepared, and most likely behind on an assignment or two—and lacking motivation.

An Adventure in Saying "Yes"

The adventure began on Tuesday, April 5th, as Rhonda and I met Pastor Steve and Tammie Babbitt from Spring Valley Community Church (SVCC) for an early evening walk around our neighborhood as we try to do as often as possible. We had hardly begun when Pastor Steve stopped in mid-stride and turned toward Rhonda and me. “I need your help,” he said.

Steve then summarized a meeting he had just attended with pastors and denominational leaders from the Church of the Nazarene fellowship with which SVCC is associated. The topic was an opportunity to assist Ukrainian refugees coming into the US via Tijuana, Mexico. Steve said that he and his church would love to help, and the next thing he knew he was given leadership of the entire project. It quickly became apparent that the most urgent need was for overnight housing hubs where the Ukrainians could be brought from the border to get a meal, hopefully, a shower, some rest, and a ride to the airport or train station, or help with other travel plans.

Life Finds A Way

Several years ago on my birthday, friends gave me the kind of gift that truly keeps on giving —a dwarf Bearss lime tree. It came in a large, beautiful clay pot that has graced our patio and produced juicy limes, that for almost a decade have added zing and zest to a variety of drinks and meals.

Sadly, over the past year or so, likely due to my lack of gardening know-how, my Bearss lime tree seemed to be dead or dying. I tried pruning, fertilizing and watering, but alas, my efforts were fruitless. A couple of months ago, I finally gave up and cut the tree down to a bare stump in preparation for removing the plant from its pot and starting over with something else. However, within a few days of my drastic —should I say, fatal, action —a small green shoot appeared next to the dead stump. At first, I assumed it was a weed, but it now appears to be a new Bearss lime sapling. In a few weeks, the dead stump has disappeared behind a small, verdant forest of new growth. Whether my lime tree will recover and bear delicious limes again remains to be seen. But the sight of this luxurious new growth from something I had assumed was dead, has been a beautiful, humbling reminder—while death and decay are undeniable in this fallen world—life is at work too, often in ways not immediately obvious to my eyes or my intellect.

Kingdom Confusion

 Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.  

These are the inaugural words of Jesus’ ministry as recounted by Matthew in his gospel, (Mt. 4:17, NIV). Mark’s account of the same event is similar but more detailed: The time has come, Jesus said, The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news, (Mk. 1:15, NIV). Throughout the gospels, the phrases, kingdom of God and kingdom of heaven are used interchangeably to speak of the breaking in of God’s rule, reign and work into human history through the coming of Jesus Christ.  

During the three years or so of Jesus’ public ministry, the kingdom of God was the primary topic of his teaching. Most of the parables that Jesus employed began with the familiar refrain, The kingdom of God is like, or similarly, The kingdom of heaven is like. At other times, Jesus used the phrase, To what shall I compare the kingdom, to begin another parable.