Bye Bye Bad Times

We had cats for thirty years that lived inside but enjoyed the outdoors most of the day. They wandered, hunted and played. Three summers ago, one by one they disappeared. It was not just my cats that disappeared. Cats all over the neighborhood disappeared. The deer disappeared also. For years the deer that lived in the woods across the street would come to our yard to drink out of the brook. They vanished as well. What was happening?

Coyotes began to be heard at night near the neighborhood golf course. A few sightings followed next. I heard of one report of a small dog and it’s owner getting charged by a coyote. Deer, cats, a dog and a woman all being attacked as the coyotes moved in. There was anger, fear and anxiety on our part of town as people feared to be outside with animals and walker and joggers began to get nervous after dark. I missed my cats and missed seeing the deer in my yard in the morning.

That was then and this is now. Last spring a DPW worker told me that dead coyotes were found next to the golf course when the snow melted. The winter was too severe for them and/or not enough food could be found. This morning I drank my morning coffee and watched six deer graze in my yard. The predetors are gone and things are peaceful and well.

The bad times of a few summers ago are now a memory. Bad times don’t last. If you are having troubles, grief or difficulties don’t give up hope. Pray to God, sing praises. The coyotes will be no more and the deer shall return. Wait for the Lord!

Curious Minds

Blog Number Fifteen

This is a tribute to the four wonderful young people that I teach in my confirmation class.
Confirmation class frequently stirs up apprehension among ministers. I remember as an intern being assigned confirmation class teaching. My supervising minister told me that he enjoyed having interns who could do this job because that was one job that he never enjoyed doing. Since that time, over my past thirty years of ministry I have heard a number of my peers decrying having to teach these classes. Call me odd but I enjoy these classes. I enjoy teaching kids.
Maybe I missed my calling and should have become a schoolteacher. Maybe I spent too much time listening to my father talk about being a schoolteacher. Maybe I simply enjoy doing what most people don’t like to do. I don’t know what the reason is but I find teaching confirmation class to be a wonderfully fulfilling part of being pastoring a congregation.

I get in late on Sunday evenings after teaching the class. It takes a few hours of my week to prep for each class. Are these things burdens for some? I find them to be joys. What is a greater thrill than being with a child who asks the difference between having a sports role model and a sports idol that would break the commandments against idol worship? What is better than answering a teen-agers question about why there aren’t more commandments over and above the existing ten? I can’t think of a better way to spend my time than to talk with teens about what honoring you father and mother really means when parents can be totally “annoying.”

The minds of children really are curious. They ask some of the best questions I have ever heard. They have a love of learning that is genuine and refreshing. Jesus tells us to make disciples and that is what confirmation class is all about. What better joy could a pastor have?

Thank you, students. You are a joy to me each and every week.

Let’s Get Cleaning

Blog Number Fourteen

Friday I celebrated my day off by doing my annual ritual of preparing my back porch for the cold weather. This involves taking fourteen screens out of the window frames out, taking storm windows out of the storage space, washing the windows and placing them where the screens were. This is a job that I don’t like to do but is seasonally necessary. Perhaps the most difficult part is washing each window. They collect a great deal of dirt throughout the year. This reminds me of a great truth in life: dirt collects naturally but it takes effort to keep them clean.
None of us are pure. We can collect dirt without even thinking about it. Our thoughts are often not pure and our behavior is not always what we expect it to be. It takes regular cleaning to keep ourselves from getting consumed by the things that can make us less than as pure as we strive to be. The Holy Spirit daily renews us but we need also to be striving through prayer, worship, good thoughts and actions that honor Jesus to do our part in keeping the dirt at bay.
Feeling a bit dirty? Get cleaning. The cleaner we are the more we can attract others and then we are in a better position to tell others who we work for; Jesus the risen Christ. Men and women of Jesus, let’s get cleaning.

When Is A Jersey Diner a Jersey Diner?

Blog Number 13

I met a friend last night. He needed to talk over some things. We went to a diner that I had never been to before. The dinner was on a road that I don’t think I had ever been on. It did not look like and old style diner. It was newer architecture. There was even a carpet on the floor that looked clean. Growing up in Jersey City Diners I get nervous at clean carpets in diners. There were few people in the place. I was looking for the crowd. Few people, new architecture, clean carpet? Was I really in a diner?
The smells of the kitchen came to me as I read the menu. A gabby waitress came to the table and told me about the daily specials and more about her private life than I really wanted to hear. I began to feel at home as she talked. I was slowly getting to the point that I could over look the clean rug and the lack of customers.
The meal was cheap, the food was good, and the company was wonderful. It had all the elements of a wonderful diner. What more could I want? It is a diner that is worthy of the title “Jersey Diner.”
What makes a church a church? Does it have to be full so that no chair is empty? We are small and there are empty chairs. Does it have to have a choir larger than a small country? Our church has a small choir also. Does it have to have a preacher as good as Billy Graham? I’m no Billy Graham, I assure you of that.
What makes a church a church? If a good greeting, being feed with God’s word, singing praise to God and praying to God makes us a church then we are a church and a good one. You are invited to come and join us. It is a real church and you will have an opportunity to feast on the word of God, lift your prayers, and greet and be greeted by a brother or sister in Christ.

Come, join in. We are saving a seat for you.

ESTJ

I recently took a Facebook quiz, one of the many out there, and it was determined that I am an ESTJ. For those unfamiliar with this test the initials mean that I am an Extraverted, Sensing, Thinking and Judging. This quiz confirms what the test I took in Seminary. I’m not surprised. People in this category are called the “Guardians.”

The quiz also gave me a list of famous people sharing this personality profile. Among them are several presidents, Billy Graham, and a number of actors that I admire. I was rather pleased. It is great to be on a list with people that I admire. I was also frightened when I saw names on the list that had less than grand records of fine living. The worst on the list was Saddam Hussein. Imagine being on a list with Saddam Hussein.

How much of our life’s outcome is determined by our personality? How much comes from family of origin? How much is it genetic? How much is it circumstances? How much is God’s influencing our lives and calling us in certain directions?

I don’t pretend to know the answers to any of these questions but I do know that no matter what our genetics, circumstances, upbringing or personalities, we are still responsible for our own actions. Ultimately no matter what hand we are dealt with at birth we can choose how we live and ultimately we shall answer to God for what we do and what we do not do.

I know people who blame their horoscope signs, or their parents, or their genetics, or their personalities for their failures. People who succeed in life find ways to move don’t find excuses. They take responsibility for themselves.

What will we do? Will we take responsibility for our lives or make excuses? Someday God will ask us what we have done with our lives. What will our response be?

On-Line Prayer

Each Monday evening a group of our members gather on-line with Skype technology to hold a prayer group. Our prayer list, which started out as a very small list, has grown. Our most faithful prayer lady told me this evening that our list now numbers ninety individuals and/or families. I am in awe. Ninety people or families entrust us and ask us to pray for them. What a privilege this is to be able to pray for others. There is power in prayer and I am honored to be a part of it.

We publish this list once each month during our healing services that we hold during worship services. At various times a few people have urged us to “pare down” the list, as it gets long. For me, longer is better. A church that does not desire to pray is really not a true church. One thing that marks our congregation as a true church is our prayers that we offer for people in need; those whom we know and those whom we have never met.

You are invited to join us each Monday evening to join in our prayers. Instructions for joining us each week is posted on our Facebook page. Come and join us in prayer. It not only helps those that we pray for. It also changes us as we pray. We benefit from this prayer ministry. You are invited to join us.

Twenty-six Hours

Blog Number Ten

An important series of missions took place in Bergenfield over the past twenty-six hours, engineered and carried out by a small, elite force of disciples of Jesus. I am in awe of what this group accomplished.

This group hosted a community dinner for twenty-seven people, conducted two worship services, educated Sunday School children, conducted an animal blessing service, and educated a class of confirmation class. During this period six seekers were introduced to the love of Christ. And two complete strangers walked into the church for the first time and were greeted by mentoring Christians.

Well done, men and women of Clinton Avenue Reformed Church! You have done well for Jesus.

I am grateful that God has given me this wonderful group of Christian men and women to work with. Most folks have to work with people of less dedication. I get to work with energized Christian men and women and I will always be grateful that God has given me this gift.

Impatience

Impatience

I sat in a gas station on Route 17 this morning. Of course I was impatient. I hate waiting and I really hate lines. The driver in front of me was even less patient. He sat and tapped his hand against the car door as he waited for the gas attendant to be finished. Six cars were getting fueled and the service was, understandably not that fast. Finally the car was full of gas and the attendant took the driver’s money. In his impatience the driver pulled out, not realizing that the gas hose was still attached to his car. This caused a great commotion as the attendant and manager ran after him urging him to stop. The hose was banging against the car.

My wait, and the wait of all those around me was now greater as we waited for the employees to sort things out and reattach the hose. An incident report had to be filled out. His impatience caused difficulties for all of us, including himself.

I guess the lesson of the day is that impatience causes trouble for us and all of those around us. Certain things come at the proper time and cannot be rushed. Our impatience can cause problems for others.

“Be patient,” we are told in scripture. “Wait for the Lord.” As hard as this can be it might be something worth practicing.

God, Please Forgive Me

Blog Number Seven

I took a quick trip to Staples to pick up six small items. I found them rather quickly and began to wait on line. The line was rather long with only one cashier opened. This cashier, in between customers, called on the intercom for another cashier. He was calling out a male name but no man ever came. I hate lines but felt forced to put up the wait. I was getting aggravated.

Finally a woman came to open a second register and I was her first costumer. She scanned in the church rewards card, church credit card and the tax-exempt card. I was ready to sign when she realized that tax still had been charged. She explained that it was too late to void the order but she would scan the items as returns and start over. I sighed but went along with it.

She began for the second time and the tax-exempt card did not scan once again. She called a corporate number and explained the situation. Corporate told her that the tax-exempt network was down. We would have to pay tax now and come back in two days to get our tax payment refunded. I sighed twice as loud and said, “fine.”

The cashier finished the order but the computer would not authorize the charge that this order put on the Staples credit card. She had to call corporate again but a different number this time. Soon she was speaking to a lady and then handed the phone to me. Now I was speaking with a lady who explained to me that our credit limit was low and we had just exceeded it with this last purchase.

“This purchase had been authorized. We then did a return and re-purchased. If it was authorized once it can be authorized again.”

“Returns are not processed as fast as purchases. Until the return clears you are over your credit limit by $ 80.00.”

“This order couldn’t have reached our credit limit.”

“No but the check for your warehouse order hasn’t cleared yet so you are over the limit. If you are authorized you can ask for a higher credit limit.”

“How do I do that?”

“Ask me.”

“Now? On the phone?”

“Yes.”

“Please raise my credit limit.”

“Ok.”

“OK? It’s done?”

“Yes. Please put the cashier back on.”

And so I waited twenty minutes to do one six item transaction and have to return in two days to get our five-dollar rebate from sales tax. I was a bit steamed up.

Forty-eight hours ago I attended my wife’s presentation of her trip to Nicaragua with Global Health Outreach (GHO) of Christian Medical and Dental Associates. She described people living in poverty waiting out in the sun, and 90 degrees to see a doctor. Most of these folks had not seen a doctor since the last GHO mission six months before. Ten hours in the sun they waited for a doctor and I was griping about waiting twenty minutes for a sales transaction! What a sin.

God, I am arrogant, entitled and prideful. Please forgive me.

The Friendly Church