Back to Normal

It is chilly outside this morning.

While thermometers say it is 9 degrees outside, the real feel temperature is -8.

That’s cold.

Here in Northern New Jersey, we received anywhere from 5 to 9 inches of snow during Thursday’s nor’easter that walloped a large chunk of the northeast. But we remember the people of the area in and around Boston where high tides washed seawater onto the streets that froze. Cars are encased in feet of ice and the more than the foot of snow that fell. And with the frigid weather pounding the region today, it isn’t melting anytime soon.

It is going to be a miserable time up in Massachusetts for the next couple of days.

Around here, we’ve cleaned up pretty well. Streets are drivable, many of the main roads are down to blacktop. Side streets are mostly a mix of icy blacktop and snow. Schools here in New Milford are open but are under a 2-hour delay. Life is getting back to normal quickly, though I think our supermarkets are going to be a little low on bread and milk following Wednesday’s onslaught of people rushing to stock up before the storm.

For us at St. Matthew’s in New Milford, it means that our regular schedule is back on track. This schedule includes Saturday morning’s “undecorating” of the church beginning at 10:00 AM.

Yeah, it is going to be a cold weekend. Dress warmly. See you Saturday morning at church.

Canceling a Funeral in a Snowstorm

For the first time in my ministry, I had to cancel a scheduled funeral because of bad weather. We are under a Winter Storm Warning for my area of northern New Jersey, expecting anywhere from 4 to 8 inches of snow coupled with winds in excess of 30 miles per hour. These blizzard-like conditions are making it very hazardous to drive.

Not that I didn’t attempt to drive to the funeral, scheduled in Garfield, New Jersey at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church. The roads in New Milford are typically horrific – the locals get to cleaning things up as the storm winds down and they do a great job. However, at the start of a storm, our local workers don’t do much to make the roads passable. Driving down River Road to Route 4 was slow and slippery. Adding to the bad driving conditions is the belief I have the worst tires in the history of the automotive industry. I slipped more than I care to admit.

But it was when I got onto Route 4 when my heart was in my throat. The westbound lanes were treacherous and snow covered. The plows seemingly didn’t touch this side of the Route 4; eastbound at least had tire lanes that were down to the blacktop. This makes sense because more people head off to New York City to work and the eastbound lanes need to be at least treated once or twice.

Driving slowly westbound, I was sliding all over the place. But it was the two times when the rear of my car decided it wanted to be the front of my car and spun that I decided to stop and return home. The back roads of Paramus and Oradell were not great, but it was drivable. Of course, when I drove down Oradell Avenue and turned onto Boulevard in New Milford is where the untreated roads greeted me with slipping tires.

Sitting now in the home office, my heart beating normally after pounding really hard after spinning around on Route 4, I can relax and get some office work done.

The funeral was pushed off until tomorrow at 10:00 AM.

(The photo above is of the Gapstow Bridge in Central Park during winter.)

Common-sense Ten Commandments

If we pray the Ten Commandments each night before going to bed, then we’d see their actual importance for our lives. When we recognize our failures in each of the commands of God to the Israelites, we see ourselves as sinners who are not only are in need of forgiveness, but also of guidance to be better people.

In this morning’s Your View section of the Editorial page, a writer from Paramus states that as we enter the New Year, we all pray and hope that the world will become a better place. I don’t think many people say to themselves, “You know, I want this new year to be miserable for everyone.” Most of us do hope that the coming year is better for us as individuals, but also for others.

We all want our hopes to overcome the sadness.

The letter writer gets it.

The Ten Commandments are an authoritative guide to our everyday behavior.

In my sermons recently, I’ve preached on the importance of living one’s faith, expressing the love of God in words and deeds. See, the center of the Christian heart is on the confession of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit and what it means for us individually. When we confess God in words and deeds, we are saying something about what God has done for us – saving us from the eternity away from Him and creating in us a new person each day where we love God above all things and love one another without condition.

The Ten Commandments stress these points out clearly. In the first three commandments, we are shown the importance of putting God above everything, of respecting and loving HIm like He has loved us, of receiving Him and responding to His love as we worship Him. When God is at the center of our lives, we are different. We hold onto God’s grace and love and mercy and announce it to others. No matter our lots in life, we trust God through everything.

The remaining commandments show us the same point of the first three: We are to love and respect all people. Of course, the hard part is doing it because there are way too many people who get on our nerves. God wants us to be His agents of love and mercy and grace in this world. The specific commandments show us how we are kind and merciful and gracious and loving to others.

As the letter writer wrote, the world would be a better place if we all tried to follow the commandments.

Day One

When I came downstairs to start my January 1, 2018, Alexa proudly showed off this morning’s temperature: 7 degrees. This cold snap is getting extensive coverage by the local news organizations, notable due to the thousands upon thousands of people who spent their New Year’s Eve penned in outside in Times Square in single-digit temperatures with real feel values much colder than those 9’s on thermometers.

Local news organizations have discussed the issues that these freezing temperatures bring to homeless populations, those living in substandard housing, seniors who may not be able to pay the heating bill, and even to animals.

While we here in northern New Jersey are at 7, many other places around the US are even colder. As my mother would remind my brother and I when we’d complain about the cold, “What do you want? It’s winter.”

Today starts 2018. I have never met anyone who goes into a new year without some optimistic outlook. The blank canvas of the new year provides everyone, especially those of us in the church, with a high chance to make a difference in the lives of people. We can show the righteousness of God in our lives by letting our faith’s lead us, not the gremlins of negativity that can cloud our thoughts and actions.

While not a fan of New Year’s Resolutions, I feel that all Christians should challenge themselves to be faithful, courageous, and more trusting in 2018. We should look forward and not back. The light of Jesus Christ must be at the heart of all our goals.

At St. Matthew’s, we’ve challenged ourselves to grow in faith and show our lives in Christ throughout 2018. We want to touch more people with the Gospel, improve our worship life, and provide more people with opportunities to understand what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. We plan to just “do the faith” in words and actions.

A cornerstone of “doing” my part is writing. We, pastors, ask the members of our congregations to use their talents from God to make the church a stronger place. For some reason, God has blessed me with a love of writing. It may not be Ernest Hemmingway or Danielle Steele writing, but God has given me a passion for expressing myself in words. I’m not promising a daily recitation of living the faith or a devotional to spark one’s journey in the Christian life. I’ll just write – mostly good posts about life, posting stories that shine a good light on people. Of course, the New Yorker in me will pop up now and then, where sarcasm will be the norm of that particular day. I’ll try to keep it to a minimum, though I can’t promise anything.

May our Lord bless you as you enter this new year.

Remember – it’s all about faith in Jesus.

Monday Morning, November 13th

A few years ago when I was sick, one of my doctors told me rather emphatically to stay away from sugared cereal, especially every brand of Cheerios. Considering the advice was coming from a doctor promoting a whole food, plant-based diet, the “stay away from the presweetened cereal aisle” advice didn’t seem so far-fetched.

Yet to the doctor, the importance of staying away from added sugar was important since a number of studies showed that sugar helps feed cancer. And if you have cancer, my doctor believed the best way to stop feeding it was to stay away from added sugar in foods.

CheeriosA couple of days ago, the New York Times ran a story about Honey Nut Cheerios, asking whether or not this sugar-laden cereal was healthy. Over the years, General Mills, the creators of the Cheerios brand, have reduced the serving size of the Honey Nut cereal from one cup to three-quarters of a cup to reduce the sugar-per-serving visual on boxes. Honestly, have you ever eaten just three-quarters of a cup of Honey Nut Cheerios? No. Do people actually follow the serving size suggestions on the sides of their breakfast cereals? No. All of us end up pouring cereal into a bowl until our eyes smile saying “Yeah, that’s enough.”

My doctor from years ago suggested I eat a more balanced whole foods breakfast. Maybe some scrambled tofu with vegetables, or if I am more adventurous, eat a salad. But my doctor’s advice was clear – stay away from the cereal aisle.

Hat Tip to The New York Times: Are Honey Nut Cheerios Healthy? We Look Inside the Box https://nyti.ms/2hpLggR

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Yesterday, our Voters’ Body at church held their not-so-monthly, not-so-bimonthly meeting. Usually, we hunker down in the weeds of finances and budgets, the workings of ministries and calendar issues, business plans and worship thoughts. Essentially, it is a business meeting that most people don’t want to go to, but do because the running of the operations of the church is important.

One idea that I brought up was to start a conversation that builds on our evangelism team’s efforts to rebuild the outreach of St. Matthew’s. I asked if it would be prudent to sit down with our paid staff at church – our music director, church secretary, and pastor – and evaluate what we expect from and determine the future duties of our staff. Our evangelism team is working on the outreach part of our church life. Our Voters’ Body is going to focus on the structure of our operations. To me, both our Vision and Voters’ initiatives will help redevelop the direction of St. Matthew’s for the future. Both church entities are on the same page, yet are doing different and very important leadership tasks. Sunday’s meeting was good.

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This week, we are going to re-launch our Prayer Team’s digital webpage and newsletter. The webpage should be live on Wednesday, the same day we’re sending out the newsletter.

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One question that we received at church this weekend was when were church announcements due in the church office for publication on the weekend? Wednesday at noon has been our traditional date and time. We’re going to stick with it.

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The recent explosion in sexual harassment and assault allegations against a large contingent of male Hollywood stars and leaders shows us once again that our world is sick. Today, say a prayer for an end to this violence, healing for the victims, and that those who committed the acts repent.