New Hope, Day One

No one at St. Matthew’s in New Milford, NJ has ever gone through the process of starting a new church. The challenges, the fears, the “where are we going to worship” questions have never been a part of the everyday Christian life of any of the congregants of our 123 year old church in northern New Milford.

A series of challenges over the past few years has opened the doors to the exciting opportunity of spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ to lots of people simply by cutting away that which is holding us back, namely our fears and our building.

The fifty year old structure we call our spiritual home is in trouble. Well, it has been for a long time. We’ve put in thousands upon thousands of dollars to upgrade pieces of the building – a new roof, parking lot, handicap ramp, and the heating system, to name a few. But overwhelming problems are on the horizon – the electrical system needs to get up to code; our furnace is very old and even with the upgrades to the heating system, the furnace doesn’t have a lot of life left in her; the building really needs a cooling system because without it, our lights sometimes do not go on during the humid days of the summer; and the stucco on the outside of the building needs repair in numerous places. Oh, and that steeple leaking issue continues to vex us.

Financially, we are facing tough times. We’re a small congregation with limited financial resources. Not that small congregations are bad, but when financial issues come up, struggling with how to deal with them is a major challenge. With a building that is not attractive even with the bandages we’ve placed covering over our issues, the congregation has made the bold choice to bring the Gospel to people.

New Hope 3In early June, St. Matthew’s voted to sell our property in New Milford and move, to take up the mantle of bringing Jesus to His people, to partner with our LCMS friends to build a new St. Matthew’s and a new suburban ministry effort in Bergen County. A joyfully Lutheran ministry effort that shows and builds on the strengths of Jesus Christ. We want to bring to God’s people the hope of life centered on faith in Jesus, to be a people not worried about making mistakes, but seeking forgiveness from God and of one another. We want ministries that change lives for the better. And we want to build a community in different places that focuses on the hope that lives can get better and, by working with God, we can change them forever!

Essentially, we want to center our new church on the mission of bringing New Hope to people in our faith community now and those outside of it who need to hear the love of God in Jesus Christ.

As I was praying this afternoon after eating lunch, I don’t know if it was the Spirit or not but I had an urge to start this new church project. Why wait until the fall when people come back from summer vacation?

Why not kick off the New Hope project today?

There is plenty that needs to get done at St. Matthew’s in both the near and long term to make this project come to life. It starts now. We’ll need to hold lots of meetings with pastors and churches and church leaders and towns people. Inside St. Matthew’s, we need to discuss a lot of things about all of our “stuff” and what we’re going to do with all of it. We need to plan and most importantly, we need to pray.

We’re starting over.

It’s all about the New Hope found only in Jesus.

 

Life

Anger and hatred.

There is way too much of it in our world.

Politics. Family. You name it.

Anger and hatred are tearing apart our lives.

But there is a way to change it, to make life better.

It’s all about living Life to the fullest.

This Sunday, our new sermon series begins.

What does God say about all that vitriol in our nation?

How do we respond to it?

Join us Sunday morning at 9:30 AM at St. Matthew’s in New Milford, NJ and 11:30 AM at Holy Trinity in Garfield as we take a serious look at Life.

How God shows us that we can be better people.

We have one Life to live in Jesus. Let’s make our lives the best we can.

See you Sunday as we talk about Life.

Meatless Good Friday

Balancing the spiritual desires of Holy Week with the realities of real life sometimes causes me to shake my head.

I’ve been asked a half-dozen times in the course the last two days whether it is a church rule that you can’t eat meat on Good Friday. The “understanding” of not eating meat on Friday is burned into the minds of Roman Catholics who will this Friday eat enough salmon or tilapia that will cause a shortage of the little critters come Saturday morning. And because most of us here in New Jersey have relatives who are Roman Catholics, their ideas on refraining from meat on Fridays is passed onto us non-Catholics through words or osmosis.

It is not a church law that you must refrain from eating chicken nuggets on Good Friday.

Coming from a strictly Lutheran perspective, Good Friday is a holy, introspective day where one could, if they so choose, fast, that is, to refrain from eating. Good Friday offers Christians an opportunity to use that day as a spiritual exercise by reflecting on our lives as God’s children knowing that He sent His Son to pay our debt of sin. But this is an exercise, not a law. So, if you really are hankering for a cheeseburger on Friday, God isn’t going to hit you with lightning as you walk out of Burger King.

Yet the “eating fish, not meat on Good Friday” lives on.

The owner of a local deli told me yesterday that he is going to have four fish options for “Christians” on Friday, one of which is a lobster bisque soup, another is pan fried tilapia. Supermarkets have great sales on everything fish this week including tuna in a can that is going for less than a buck at some stores. And as I see what deli owners and supermarkets do for us “Christians” this week, I wonder why don’t they offer deals on tofu dishes? That way, no animal flesh at all on Good Friday!

Well, I don’t eat meat any day. It’s not a spiritual exercise; it’s a health exercise. Should you stop eating meat this Friday for a day? It won’t kill you, but don’t do it because you may think it may make you more holy. Focus your day on Christ and fasting. That’s a better way to tackle the spiritual aspect of Good Friday.

Well Done, Good and Faithful Servant

Some Lutheran pastors I know weren’t thrilled with the theology espoused by the Rev. Billy Graham, America’s pastor who was called to his eternal rest at age 99 this week. They viewed his preaching as being filled with ‘works righteousness,’ namely that faith in Jesus isn’t enough and one needs to “do something good” to earn salvation. It is the earning that riled them up.

I, too, wasn’t thrilled with Rev. Graham’s works’ centered theology.

But you can’t deny that there are a lot more Christians in America today because of Billy Graham. They may not receive the Lord’s Supper regularly or they may have been baptized in a pool instead of at a font, but in the end, they all believe that Jesus died for them. In the whole scheme of things labeled ‘eternal life,’ it is faith in Jesus that counts. And for that, we Lutherans should be grateful for all the work that Billy Graham did to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ around the world.

See, when Lutherans from the LCMS get to heaven, there are going to a lot of people there who weren’t followers of the church that bears Martin Luther’s name. We aren’t going to be subjected to a theology test at the pearly gates.There isn’t going to be a quiz about what is the true understanding of the Lord’s Supper or whether it is good to chant the Gospel on Sunday mornings. Believers in Jesus Christ are going to hear the words, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Rev. Billy Graham was a good and faithful servant. May he rest in peace.

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.)