Pastor's Blog

Cut tree stump with plant growing out of it

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.

Spring Valley Community Church with Ukrainian blue and yellow overlay

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.

Field of grass at sunset

See I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?1 Thus says God, through the prophet Isaiah to the people of Israel, as a message of hope and exhortation during a time of discipline and destruction. As we begin the year 2022, after so many months of disruption, death and despair, can we bring ourselves to believe that God is in all of this, is with us, and is even up to something new and beautiful?

In the verse just before the one quoted above, God says, Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.2 We must learn from our individual and corporate histories, and tradition has its place. Yet, if we are going to perceive and participate in the new things of God, we must extricate ourselves from the anesthetizing effects of nostalgia, and free ourselves from the paralyzing bonds of past failures. God is with us and for us, and though He disciplines us as our loving heavenly Father, He is always calling us out of our sin, fear and complacency to new adventures in faith and faithfulness.

Image of Roman Soldier with cross overlay

 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. 

Front of Central Congregational Church

Wow! What a wonderful, joyful first Sunday back after an almost fourteen-month hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic! For those of you that were able to join us on May 2nd, I am sure that you would agree with me that this will go down as one of the most memorable and meaningful Sunday services in the long history of Central Congregational Church.

That said, there was – and will be for at least a while – one key ingredient missing in our Sunday morning gathering: Fellowship Hour! One of the hallmarks of CCC for the past many years, at least, is the practice of most of the congregation gathering in the Fellowship Hall after service for up to an hour or more of, well, fellowship – and food, always fellowship with food. I am not sure exactly when Fellowship Hour will be reinstituted, but for most of us that are a regular part of the CCC family, Sunday mornings will not be complete until it is back.