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


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.


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.


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.


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.

Deliver Us From Evil…

There is one thing about God that all of us need to realize: He doesn’t sit on a throne in heaven eating popcorn while watching what’s going on down here on earth on the large TV in His room. God doesn’t have His holy computer opened up to His huge contact list where every now and then He comes across a name and hits a “PAIN” button so that person could be hurt or sick or have some evil come into their lives.

If this was the God I prayed to, then I wouldn’t want to pray or believe in Him.

The horrific events that have hit our nation in the past week – the terrorist attack last Tuesday in New York City that took the life of one our neighbors here in New Milford or the crazed gunman who hated his former mother-in-law and went in and shot up her church – have brought out the worst in us. From the left, we have attacks calling for the end of gun rights in America and anyone who disagrees with this idea hates little kids because children were slaughtered in that church in Texas. From the right, calls for greater control over immigration and anyone who disagrees with the motivation of curtailing immigration clearly supports letting terrorists into America. On Twitter, hate filled tweets assail anyone who disagrees with a tweeter’s opinion.

America is angry.

It has been for a long time.

The debate over how and why hatred and anger is what now fuels our debate is something that our nation will have to tackle.

An LCMS pastor is under fire for an article he wrote for The Federalist website where he wrote that the congregants who lost their lives in the Sutherland, Texas church had their prayers answered by God. The atheist left on Twitter went apoplectic and some websites have assailed him for being out of touch, and that is being kind.

Our words sometimes get us in trouble.

It is not that the pastor, a gentleman I went to seminary with, was incorrect in his understanding of God and Holy Scripture. But sometimes we say things that may make sense in our minds, but in reality they come across as cold. Pastor Fiene’s words, while theologically on par with our faith, they came across as cold and unfeeling. When people are mourning and are planning to bury their loved ones hear that God answered their dead relative’s prayers, one can’t but see those words as lacking heart.

That was not Pastor Fiene’s intention.

My words have gotten me in trouble in the past, especially when I either said or wrote something I thought was a clear as the summertime sky, but others read it differently.

The only thing us pastors can do is work harder to make our ideas clearer in our spoken and written word. Our confession of Jesus Christ must remain bold, but understandable to people.

The God I believe in and trust in and have hope in tells me that while I live in this fallen world, He’s still near. My faith keeps me on the path of loving those around me and keeping Him at the center of my life. I’m not perfect; I sin more that I like. But God’s forgiveness through Jesus Christ is mine.

All around us we see the heartache of our fallen world. The pain and suffering caused by diseases and the actions of people drive us to question whether there is a God. We want a God who stops evil and curtails sin in real time. But that is not realistic.

The seeds of evil and sin are planted all around us, even in each of us. We fail ourselves and others all the time. The crazed man in Texas should have never been able to purchase the guns He used in his attack. Apparently, the Air Force never forwarded to the FBI this man’s record of assault against his wife. If they did, then he would have never been able to buy the guns because he would have failed a background check.

We don’t live a perfect world.

In a perfect world, bad things wouldn’t happen. Evil wouldn’t exist.

But it does.

It is how we respond to sin and evil that shows Christ living in us. And yes, we pray “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” May the will of God for those who are mourning be for comfort in this dark time. May His will be for His people to be a strong arm for those whose lives are shattered. And may His will be for us that we be better people.


Tonight’s Vision Team Meeting @ St. Matthew’s

Tonight our evangelism team here at St. Matthew’s meets to discuss the future.

What do we want to do for the rest of year to show Jesus to people?

How are we going to tackle the challenges facing a small congregation in Bergen County while putting Jesus at the forefront?

Are we going to make some series changes to how we outreach and teach and worship, all of which can alienate some people at church, but make the church more open to others?

How are we going to bring Jesus to people to show them how He changes the world?

Personally, I believe we are at a very unique time in our church’s 120+ year history to challenge ourselves as Christians to make changes in order to express the Word in more vibrant and exciting ways. Our lives at St. Matthew’s shouldn’t be dictated by how we’ve always done things or directed by our comfort zones.

We need to challenge ourselves to be different. We need to be Christ to those in need.

And tonight, we need to commit to showing our faith in our lives and reaching those who need the wholeness that comes through Jesus Christ, our Lord.

I made a challenge last Sunday to look at the Reformation not as a day, but as a starting point of revival, both spiritually for each of personally but equally to those in and out of our community that are not being fed by the Bread of Life regularly. It came down to three points:

  1. Reaching 500 people personally with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The number ‘500’ doesn’t sound so daunting. It is a challenge that can be met by our congregation fairly quickly. But what about taking up this challenge individually? The task seems more mountainous, doesn’t it? If we challenge each of our members to reach out with the Gospel, we don’t stop when the church as a whole reaches 500, but we continue to do so each day of the next year to strive to touch others with Jesus Christ. We’ll pray for people. We’ll invite them to church. We’ll show them Christ’s love. 500 is a good number for the church, but an even better number for each of us individually.
  2. Adding 50 people to our worship attendance. I know, I know – adding 50 people seems very unreachable. But why is it NOT reachable? The only thing stopping us from adding people to our worship community is fear. We see a big number and shake our heads, saying that it is not possible. But what is impossible with God? NOTHING! And it all starts with one.
  3. Establishing 5 new ministries over the course of the next year. These ministries don’t have to be completely new – we have a number of ministry areas at St. Matthew’s that have been dormant for a while. Why can’t we electrify these ministries with a new focus and rebuild them?


Tonight we meet at 6:30 PM to begin the revival. I look forward to seeing you at 225 Center Street in New Milford. See you later!