was a time when the Brethren were cautious about having their picture
taken. It was about the turn of the last
century, and the technology of photography was still in its infancy. While
remarkable to many, it took time to “sit” for an image. There was significant cost involved. But most of all, there was the issue of
vanity. There was concern that having
one’s image taken would lead to a distorted view of one’s self-importance.
come a long way since then. The world of
photography has moved through magnesium flash powders, to flash bulbs, to
multiple “flash cubes” (remember those?) to large rechargeable flash units, and
on to where every camera has a built- in electronic flash. Talk about advances!
moved from the big box, accordion- lensed monsters to portable “Brownies” and
Instamatics. Mirrors and mechanisms were
refined so that special lenses could be attached for distance and light. Film went from plate to sheets to rolls. Polaroid allowed instant images to be
developed right in the camera. And
finally, film itself slipped into disuse as the digital revolution became
reality. Today, most do not even carry a
camera per se. The smart phone has taken
on that role as one of its many functions.
Recording video, audio and pictures is never further away than the tool
in your pocket…with instant gratification and the ability to send your image
across the room or the world to any and all that you would choose!
would those early Brethren say…now?
Would they say “I told you so”?
They might, though I know that many did have their picture taken; though
with stern and unsmiling visage. What I
can say is that, along with the advances comes a temptation. It’s not built into the camera; whatever the
current technology. It is built into the
human spirit. The temptation is to put
ourselves at the center of…everything.
much as I like taking pictures (and those who know me know that I do) I do
wonder sometimes if the early Brethren were on to something. Could it be that seeing our own image makes
us more conscious of what we look like to the world, and less attentive of what
we look like to God? Does the ubiquitous
presence of the camera make us think too much about what others see, and not enough
about what God sees in us?
your inclination with cameras; whether you run to or shy away from the front of
the lens, think about that. As much fun
as it can be to broadcast “selfies” across the world to prove that we were
“there” in the middle of it all, may we focus not on our makeup for the camera,
but on our appearance before the Almighty, who sees us as we are…through the
lens of Jesus Christ.
Yours in Christ, Pastor Del
news has been devastating. Parents
grieve the death of a two-year old who was struck by his father’s car in their
driveway just this past week. Not far
removed from us, a pastoral family (dear friends) are also grieving the death
this past weekend of their 21 year old daughter to an unintentional overdose.
time we are struck by such news, the reverberations take us back to our own
experience of loss. Back to situations
that don’t make sense, that don’t seem fair, that don’t seem right to us.
imagine the anguish of a father who never intended to harm his child, but through
circumstances and the choices made by each one, irreparable harm came to his
little one. We try to think about the
choices; intentional or inadvertent, that could lead to a vibrant young woman’s
death. And we search for answers.
might say that such things happen for a reason, and I would agree to a
point. When we sort out the events we
begin to see the many choices that lead to sometimes devastating outcomes. Every accident involves choices made by
someone; choices that may simply and devastatingly have placed them in “the
wrong place at the wrong time”. There
are choices by others and choices we make.
most every moment we are making choices.
And, as I often say, choices have consequences. Sometimes we can foresee them; oft-times we
cannot. That reality has the potential
to paralyze us. But even that involves a
choice and a consequence.
persons who follow in the steps of Jesus, we recognize that we are not immune
to the results of our choices. Yet we
are grateful that God has made choices for us so that we could experience the
consequence of forgiveness and grace.
Grace as a consequence? Yes, it
is the result of God’s choice for us: the choice to love and forgive us. The choice to offer himself in the person of
Jesus Christ and his death and resurrection, to both cover our sin and grant us
join me in praying for each of these who have faced tragic loss. Pray that they may grasp God’s grace in the
midst of the choices and resulting tragedies that they could not foresee or
anticipate. And remember that though
there are consequences to our choices, God’s choice for us trumps them
all! May we find hope and courage in
that, even as we extend our care and compassion to one another when tragedies
come our way.
Yours in Christ, Pastor Del
Recently, I suffered a barrage of attention. A collection of friends and acquaintances from across the country took a moment, in playful and attentive ways, to remember me. Social media (in this case, Facebook) made it easier, but the practice of remembering stretches back well before the internet came along! I was on the receiving end of some older technology as well; with thoughtful cards and calls coming my way. All because of something called...a birthday!
It was humbling to be remembered. But also powerful. As my life has gone on and experiences have accumulated, I have been shaped by many lives. I carry that within myself, though many days I do not think much about it. As you likely do, most days I'll go on with the functional illusion that I am on my own as a person, and that I am a discrete individual entity when it comes to my choices and my life.
But moments like this (birthdays and other makers of life) remind me that I am not alone in this life and on this journey. The occasional barrage of attention helps me to remember how much other persons have been a part of my journey, and how I have been a part of them! Truly, my life would be radically different without them! And theirs would be different without me! That's a humbling thought as well!
Now I know that I've been blessed by a web of relationships that stretches across the country and beyond. But it is also a web that stretches across generations. Some of those who had a great impact on my life are long gone from this earthly plane. Death has taken them from their familiar place among us. And I too, when I admit it, will leave a mark on a few lives long after I am gathered to the Lord in death!
It took a birthday to remind me of all that. So, let me pass on the reminder. Even as we have hope in God's promise of life to come, let us remember the great privilege we have while we walk this earth. We are made to be shaped by the lives of others. We are intended to leave a mark in other's lives as well. May we resolve to receive the best that others have to offer, and to shape others with the compassion and care that God through Christ imparts to us. May we "be Jesus" to each other, so that the life we live, and the lives we touch, may bear witness to His great love. What a great way to prepare for our next birthday, no matter which side of "Glory" we are on when we celebrate it!
Yours in Christ, Pastor Del
Behind every graphic image is a personal story. When we see dazed persons walking amidst the debris that once resembled our own homes, we can only imagine how they got there. How did that person or gamily work to build or buy a house to provide for their needs? How did they gather possessions representing a lifetime of effort and the heritage of their ancestors under one roof? Whether one of the 500 homes leveled by the tornado in Washington, IL, or one of those wiped out in the unimaginably massive destruction in the Philippine Islands left in the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan, the losses are not just statistics on a news program. They are about people’s lives and stories that have been forever changed by the forces that swept away their homes.
It is right that those stories move us to compassion. They truly should! I pray that we may be inspired to share what we can through response opportunities like our own denomination’s Disaster Response program. While a tiny response to a massive need, it is what God would desire of us.
But their experience is also a reminder for each of us that life as we know it is uncertain and fragile. It can change in an instant. Possessions and homes…even life itself can be swept away in a moment. Though we try to orchestrate it, there are forces beyond us that shape our lives in powerful and sometimes devastating ways.
How important then, that we allow our lives to be shaped by the faithful promises of God! How important then, that we open ourselves to the powerful wind of God’s love! It is the one thing that nothing, not even the most powerful forces of nature can separate from us!
In this holy season, may your heart be moved with compassion and generosity toward those whose lives have been devastated. But may your heart also be filled with hope, because you have trusted the One whose love will not be thwarted by wind or wave.
Yours in Christ, Pastor Del
I know that’s easy for me to
say. Those of you who know me know that
I like to sing. And I can carry a tune
pretty well. Truth be told, music and
song has been a part of my life as long as I can remember. For those of you who aren't sure if you can
even make a joyful noise, I respect that, though over my years as a musical
camp director I think I found only one youth that truly could not sing. It was a matter of learning to hear and match
sounds, and that’s tougher for some than for others.
I want to share with you why I got a bit choked up this past Sunday when I was
talking about ministry with our friend Neil Justice. Many of you know that Neil served for many
years as our choir director. Most are
aware that his Parkinson’s disease has continued its advance; to the point
where it is difficult for Neil to speak many days. He works to form the words, but the condition
hinders both breath and voice.
has been my practice in recent days, when the moment seems right to sing to
Neil. I’ll often talk with him about the
music ministries of the church, and remember with him the ways that he blessed
us through his service and love for music.
And sometimes I’ll sing. Neil has
been gifted with a very kind and respectful roommate at Manor Care (Mr. Davis),
who is very understanding of these moments.
And often, he’ll just find his way from the room, or at times sit
quietly as we share.
past week, it was a particularly tough time for Neil. He was agitated and struggling after a tough
day. The Parkinsons was kicking up big
time. And after talking gently, I
thought maybe a song would be in order.
I started with the words of “Brother
James Aire”; a setting of the 23rd Psalm that is beloved for
Neil. And then I went on to other hymns
of the faith. In the midst of “Great is Thy Faithfulness”, I found
Neil opening his mouth and a gentle sound flowing forth. He was joining me in the song. Neil did that several times as I shared, and
I celebrated it with him each time. In
the midst of a moment when there were no words that could be spoken to change
it, we sang! And words penned centuries
ago became the words and melodies that gave voice to our hearts.
friends, our own words fail us; due to illness or discouragement or the
accumulated weight of life’s challenges.
Sometimes, all that is left is to sing.
Let us not be afraid to sing out of tune, or to whisper the song if
there is no voice. For it is God’s gift
to us when there is nothing else to say.
Yours in Christ, Pastor Del
As I mentioned this past
week, I was surprised and touched by the number of times our congregation was
noted in the stories, experience and roles that were shared at our recent
district conference. It didn't hurt the cause that Larry Dentler was
moderator and that Jan Custer was one of the devotional speakers during the
conference. By the end of the conference (when I shared the closing
devotional time), I was almost embarrassed to mention that I was also from
But actually, I was
quite pleased to reflect on the variety of ways that our community has
contributed to the district. Through those called to ministry or to teach
those in training, through those serving directly in the district’s work, and
through those serving district agencies, we have had the privilege and
opportunity to support the wider church.
I've also found myself
wondering why? Certainly we have been blessed with talented people. But there is more at work than that.
believe that we as a congregation clearly see ourselves as part of something
bigger; as part of a larger whole.
In recent days within our district, that has been a struggle for some.
Others have wondered how much they are or want to be a part of this larger
work. We may have had our own thoughts about that amidst strong
differences, but it has not hindered our inclination to contribute to that
which is bigger than us.
It is always valuable to
remind ourselves that our little congregation is indeed part of a larger whole:
one congregation in a district of 44 congregations, one district among 23
districts, one denomination among many others who name Jesus Christ as Lord and
But today, I simply want
to pause and give thanks. Thanks to each who has been
willing to serve here among us, as well as on behalf of the wider church.
Thanks to each who has been committed, in spite of the challenges of diverse
viewpoints, to serve others in Jesus’ name. And thanks to those who
continue to remind us that we are not alone in our service to Christ.
May we continue to claim
this opportunity to work with others for Jesus’ sake and for His Kingdom.
Yours in Him, Pastor Del
"What is this place where we are meeting?" is a marvelous hymn that the church has claimed in recent years. Residing as number 1 in our hymnbook, it reminds us that both the place and the people are precious, but that the first serves the second! In the midst of the hymn, the words "walls and a roof sheltering people, windows for light, and open door" describe the common characteristics of our churches. Though their locations are different, and the walls and windows do not look the same, each place is a place of gathering; of service and of ministry!
I mention this to help us keep in perspective a looming project ahead for our congregation. Truth is, walls and roofs do deteriorate over time. And sometimes...they leak! Many of you already know that we've been sleuthing out and combating several leaks in our own facility without much luck. the simple efforts have had limited success. Now, we have (through our Stewards Team) scheduled to do a repair that will preserve some of the underlying structure of a portion of our roof. But more work is coming. Likely we will be talking about a new roof for the whole church building in the near future! We expect you to be included in that conversation when the time is right and the decisions are before us.
But I mention it now because I believe that we need to maintain a healthy perspective of our facility. A roof is not exposed to much "traffic." Truth be told, it doesn't matter how many or how few feet walk beneath its shelter over the years. Roofs wear out from "above", and then start to leak "below". Sun and wind...rain and snow...and yes, the occasional hailstorm join together to break down roofs we put in place. When that happens, we need to replace them!
Still, it's not the roof that makes the church! It is what happens beneath the roof is truly what is important! what the roof shelters is truly what God cares about! Not the flooring or the pews, of course, but the people. The Lord is fine with the roofs that keep us dry, and the walls the hold them up! But let us remember that such things are here to provide an environment where God's love can be shared and Christ's community can grow!
How wonderful it was that we could keep our neighbors dry and covered for a yard sale! How marvelous it is that some funds raised could help fix a roof! How important it is that we tend to roof repairs and even replacement when those things are needed. But how much more precious it is that in Christ's name we are able to welcome our community and to be a part of God touching the lives of those around us! By the way, the verse of the hymn, after talking about walls and roofs, ends this way: "...yet it becomes a body that lives when we are gathered here and know the Lord is near." That is a good reminder of what roofs and walls truly serve!
Yours in Him, Pastor Del
Sometimes opportunities surprise us. That was the case with the handbells that we have recently purchased for our congregation. As you know, we've enjoyed the occasional sound of English bells in our worship. Our minister of music, Larry Landis, had borrowed them from a former congregation where he served. And we put them to use at Christmas and with the occasional anthem. Unfortunately, one of the bells (a "G6" for those interested) was gone from the set; having been buried with its donor as a request from the family!
A set of bells seemed to be a distant opportunity. And then we learned of the reconfiguration of three Methodist congregations in Carlisle; combining to become one later this summer. And we discovered that one of those congregations (First U.M.) would be selling their bells! At the time, we had no idea if we would be able to make the purchase. But our Leadership Team authorized memorial funds for an offer, and the leadership at First United Methodist accepted! We now have a four octave set of English bells!
There's more to the story, of course. It had been over a decade since the bells were actively used in their church. It was exciting for them to think that these bells would again ring out in honor to God; albeit in another community of faith. Tarnished by disuse, but well-cared for, they understood that the bells could contribute to another congregation's worship. And so they were willing to accept our offer and to bless us with bells and related equipment (tables and pads; and music as well) at a price that we could afford! If you are wondering, the bells, equipment and music were purchased for $4,200; roughly a quarter of what new equipment might cost.
As a congregation with a love for and commitment to music, I am delighted in this opportunity. It has been fascinating to learn that we have a number of folk in the congregation who have rung bells before in other settings, or who have an interest in participating! Perhaps you are one of them that we've not yet heard from. Of course, developing a bell choir program will take time and effort. But I look forward to the blessing that this ministry can bring to our worship life.
Even as we enjoy this blessing, I invite you to remember the folk at First United Methodist in Carlisle. This is a significant change for them and their sister congregations, as they come together to become one church. They are letting go of much of their history (far more than bells) as they make this move. Please keep them in prayer as they move through this transition and leave their familiar place of worship.
~~ Yours in Him, Pastor Del
I've been thinking about all of our graduates in this season. Some finishing High School and headed off toward further training. Some completing college and seeking a job or considering additional study. And two, Glenn and Mark, who have now completed the Master's degree for Ministry (M.Div.).
Mark and Glenn's journeys remind me of my own. In my case, I went straight through from high school to college to seminary. Twelve years of primary and secondary school led to one graduation. Then it was off to Manchester for four years and another degree. Finally on to Bethany Seminary (in Oak Brook, IL at the that time) for three more years!
By the time I was finished with school, I was really finished! I felt saturated, and was truly ready for the real deal! I was energized and excited about the path of ministry that was before me! I was ready to go, and ready to see where God's call for me would lead!
Thankfully, I didn't stop learning. Looking back on the 30 plus years since then, I've discovered a few helpful insights along the way that may be worth passing along. One is that school (including college and seminary) can give you tools for your calling, but there are somethings you just have to learn on the job! You don't understand the application until you do it! Initially, I was surprised by that, but in time, the truth made sense. Ia m grateful for those communities of growth and training; knowing now that they could not fully prepare me for the ministry ahead.
Another of those insights came toward the end of my first pastorate. As a young minister, I had been asked to consider another placement. It was difficult and gut-wrenching time of discernment. In the midst of that time, I remember wondering deeply if the ministry I was doing at that moment was the "main event". Or, was what I was doing "preparation for something more?" The answer, slow in coming, but clear in its truth, was "yes." I discovered that what I was doing was always both; always the "main event" in being God's real work, and always preparation for what God still had in store!
Looking back now, I marvel the manifold ways that God has both used and prepared me and others for God's work. To our graduates, I would offer this simple bit of wisdom to carry with you. When you wonder if what you are doing is what God has for you, or if it is preparation for something more, remember that it is both! When we are open, God is always in the business of using our gifts in the here and now, and always preparing us for "something more."
Yours in Him, Pastor Del
it ever feel to you like you’ve just “seen too much”? Too much hurt? Too much violence? Too much tragedy? We all have absorbed a great deal in the past
weeks, as we’ve rehearsed the tragic and explosive scenes before our eyes in
Boston and Texas. The intensity of those
scenes drowns out some lesser ones, but both close to home and far away, the
sights we see overwhelm us!
is a tension as we view each scene.
There is a part of us that wants to stay and watch, while another part
wants to run and hide our eyes. But
beyond the moment, we can do neither. We
need to go on, and we need to see what has happened. It is a difficult, but essential part of
life. To do both, we must somehow make
sense of what we have seen. I’m not
speaking so much about making sense of the reasons for the tragedies. Portions of those truths will be revealed in
time. I’m talking more about
understanding what we have seen amidst those tragic events, and how people have
responded to them.
we have looked on, the larger picture seems truly chaotic. But as we have learned, a different look can
reveal much more. What appears to be
chaos is really the reaction of many individuals responding to what has
happened. We see that when we do what the
experts do: when we break down the scene in little pieces. Our security experts and police have shown us
how to view the scene in little pieces, and to break down what we see into
slices of time and activity. When we do,
we discover individuals making choices.
We are reminded that even the most chaotic times are filled with
followers of Christ, we are not immune to the emotions of fear and threat. We share those with all those around us when
crisis hits. But we are given the
opportunity to see what is before us differently. Our choices are not simply to
fight or to flee. Like many of those
courageous responders in Boston or Texas, we are given the choice to stay and
to help. To do what we need to do to
ease another’s suffering. For, while
fear may stir in us, we have the reminder that even in chaos, we are not
alone. Walking in the way of Jesus, we
can be redemptive, even when disaster strikes and chaos ensues.
we see too much. But may we never close
our eyes to those Christ gives us to serve, even when chaos reigns.
Yours in Him, Pastor Del