February is when I start dreaming about other places. The clouds, the cold and the lack of sun make me long for warmer and brighter places. I close my eyes, and I’m sitting on a beach drinking a beverage out of a coconut. Even though the amount of daylight continues to grow each day, the early evenings drag on me. I want to escape to a place where the sun always shines and the clouds are far away.
This dream is probably one reason why I, along with countless others, enter the HGTV Dream House sweepstakes each and every morning. In 2016, HGTV was the 3rd most watched cable TV channel. People all over the country are watching people fix up their homes, decorate new ones and visit flea markets trying to turn a ping-pong table into an armchair. Two or three times a year, HGTV builds or renovates a home and offers it in a contest. All we need to do is enter our email address on a form twice a day. The homes are always well decorated and full of every kind of tech toy we could want. These homes seem to be free and they’re for us. We just need to be declared the winner among the millions and millions of entries cast.
These contests can limit the dreams we think are possible. We think the only dreams worth having are winning highly unlikely events and that this win is all we need to make our lives okay. But the story of Jesus Christ , when it comes to our relationship with God, is that we’ve already won. In our baptism, our name has been selected. We are the winner. We are part of God’s family. This family includes people with homes bigger than ours and homes that are smaller. This family is made up of mansions, apartment buildings, tin shacks and people with no homes at all. God did what we could not do and decided we were worth living and dying for. God wanted to be with you today, tomorrow and always.
So when it comes to Jesus, we’ve already won. So what kind of dreams can dream up with God today?
During Christmas (all 12 days!), this is my altar.
For the last year, I’ve been working with colleagues to revamp and upgrade the amazing work done at the Tri-Boro Food Pantry (formerly known as the Pascack Food Center). For decades, this food pantry (housed at Pascack Reformed Church in Park Ridge) has served people in our community who are in need. Recently, we’ve seen more people using the pantry’s services. Even in an area as wealthy as ours, food insecurity still exists. People in Northern New Jersey are suffering the effects of poverty. And this food pantry continues to grow to meet the needs of all who are looking for milk, eggs and other food for themselves and their families.
Each week, many of the pantry’s new volunteers are busy organizing and sorting food donations as they come in. October, November and December are the busy times for food drives. As we give thanks for our blessings, we feel compelled to help others. Cub scouts, schools and fire departments are busy collecting food and delivering hundreds of items to the pantry. This generosity is amazing and saves lives. We can’t be thankful enough for all who feed people during this time of year.
In the middle of this generosity, however, we need to remember that hunger never takes a vacation. Food insecurity can strike people and families at any time. New people who have never used a pantry before will be visiting the Tri-Boro Food Pantry for the first time in the spring and summer when an unexpected job loss, medical expense or change in lifestyle makes their next meal uncertain. As a church, we do more than feed people during the season of thanksgiving; we feed people all year long. The snack packs we packed to feed elementary school kids, the Genesis garden growing vegetables in the summer, the hunger appeal during Lent, and the dedicated box in the narthex that collects food all year long is just a sample of how we take care of people no matter what time of year it is. At this time, I am thankful for you because of all you contribute and do to fight hunger all year long. I am thankful that the love Jesus showers on you is expressed through your dedication in making a difference in our neighbor. I pray that your November is full of thankfulness, generosity and unbridled grace.
See you in church!
For the last month I’ve noticed a sign on my way to church. It’s a white piece of poster board stapled to a utility pole. Each day the hastily handwritten note on the poster board gets a little more faded but the text is still readable. As I zoom by, I can see an address, the words “garage sale” and a date that simply says “today + tomorrow.” The sign announces a perpetual garage sale that is happening right now and will be coming again tomorrow.
I haven’t taken a drive to see what’s actually happening at that address. I would be surprised if an actual sale is still going on. That sign is pointing to something that no longer exists. Barbie hunters from miles around descended on that spot, not long ago, looking for deals, toys, and things for their home. Hope-filled hosts entered that sale praying they would raise enough to fund that new experiment or vacation they always wanted to go on. In a brief moment of time, people poured into this one spot, talking, laughing and forming relationships with each other as they haggled over the price of a wall mounted dancing fish. The sale might be over but the promise and hope announced by the fading post board sign lives on forever.
This month we will do what we always do: we’ll live into God’s promise of a hope-filled future. We’ll gather on October 16 to do our part so no child, no matter what happens in their home, will have the food they need to learn. We’ll celebrate 9 youths who will affirm their faith and live into their calling as leaders in the body of Christ. And we’ll teach, sign and profess our faith in new and life giving ways because the church is never a static thing. The church, like God’s love, works best as a verb. And like that sign announcing a promise that is here now and coming soon, we’ll keep sharing Jesus because he’s the hope the world needs.
See you in church!
As I write this, our Genesis Garden team is trying to catch a groundhog. In the garden, by the shed, is a humane trap, with apples and broccoli for bait. Each morning, the trap is checked and the food replenished. The team is committed to capturing this groundhog who dug into our garden from the other side of the building. But this groundhog is proving elusive. It must have learned something by watching the other 3 we caught this season.
Our Genesis Garden and our volunteers do amazing work. They use the gifts we are given (our land and time) to provide fresh vegetables to the Center for Food Action in Englewood. Too many people in Northern New Jersey struggle with food insecurity so we use what we have to make a difference in the lives of people we might never meet. This is Godly work – work that even those of us without green thumbs (i.e. me) can participate in. Planting, weeding, watering, and picking; together, we can do so much to love the world.
But sometimes our plans and expectations run into reality. We can lock up our gardens, mend our fences, build our walls tight, but a groundhog will still find a way in. It’s frustrating and disappointing to see our best intentions fall short even when we did nothing wrong. We might feel, after 3 groundhogs, to just give up. But we don’t because Christ doesn’t give up on us.
We’re starting up a new programming year. Our choirs, Sunday School, education programs, and more are all restarting. Our lives are going to get busy with sports, schools, holidays, jobs, and family events. We’re going to run into the groundhogs of our lives or be someone’s groundhog too. But we don’t stop turning to God, listening to the Spirit, and holding close to Jesus. In Christ, groundhogs are not the final word for our lives; love is. So let’s keep loving, feeding, and caring for ourselves and the world, no matter how many groundhogs come.
See you in church!
When was the last time you responded to a call to action? Not a day goes by when I do not receive an email, Facebook post or Tweet asking me to sign a petition, donate to charity or advocate for a social cause. We’re surrounded by invitations to look at our world, notice injustice and do something to make a difference.
At a prayer vigil on June 22, Rabbis and Christian clergy from the Upper Pascack Valley Clergy group participated in a prayer vigil for the victims of the attack on Pulse Nightclub in Orlando. As we gathered to plan the service, the clergy spent time in prayer and conversation trying to craft what this service should look like. We read the names of the victims and raised up prayers for the families, friends and loves ones who are mourning and suffering. It was through prayer and discernment that the clergy decided that we, together, were called to action. Rabbi Noah Fabricant of Temple Beth Or, during the service, invited all of us to take out our phones and to call our representatives in the US Senate and House. We were invited to share with them that we were at an interfaith prayer vigil, gathered as faith-filled people, and wanted to advocate for a change so that this kind of violence and hatred can end. We shared our thoughts and prayers with our representatives, knowing that faith-filled people do have a voice and no one “religious” voice covers all points of views and opinions. We left voicemails in their mailboxes with the sound of other people calling in the background. For the 45 of us gathered that night our call to action was a literal call to action, and we made it so.
So what “call to action” is the Spirit inspiring in you? As followers of Jesus, we’re called to love the world not because we are kind and nice people. We’re called to love the world because Jesus knew the world was worth dying for. When God calls us to make a difference, this isn’t a call for other people to answer. The call God gives is a call we answer because Jesus makes a difference in our lives. So let’s make a difference in the lives of others too.
See you in church!
Whenever I’m asked a question like this, I tend to get visual. I close my eyes, think on the words, and let my mind wander. When I hear the word church, I see buildings with white steeples, crosses on the top, and with bells in the tower. I see a bright red door, long wooden pews, and stained glass windows telling stories about Jesus. The more I think about church, the more the buildings change. My mind visit the buildings I’ve seen, from the neo-gothic stone giants that dot urban spaces to the first church we know, a house church from 233, currently on display at Yale University’s Art Museum. Sacred spaces, set apart to be places where God is encountered, have been a part of Christian identity since Jesus’ ministry.
But buildings are not the limit to what a church is. Churches exist to house communities. They serve as focus points where God’s people gather. Our church more than the building on the corner of Pascack and Church Road. Our church is what you’re holding in your hand. Our church is people, called to walk together as Christ’s people in Northern New Jersey. Like scripture says (Colossians 1:18), we are here as part of Christ’s body in the world. We are connected to each other through the God who calls us to be together. If you find yourself living just down the road from the church or on the other side of the world, through the Spirit, we are always together. We are friends and members, called to love each other and the world.
I invite you to use this directory as a way to connect with each other. And as the information changes and grows, use this directory as a living document. Cross things out, add information, and keep space open for the new names and addresses that we’ll hand out as new people join our community. This is Christ Lutheran Church. This is Christ’s church. We are doing God’s work with our hands.
Yours in Christ,
We’re reprinting an updated church directory. The last one was printed in 2012. I wrote this to be an introduction to the directory itself.
The Tri-Boro Food Pantry (formerly known as the Pascack Valley Food Center) is going through some redevelopment. I stepped in as the new treasurer for their emergency board. On May 16, 2016, we appeared in our local community paper (Community Life), honoring our long-time director. My head kind of fades into the paint in the wall.
Last week, Luther Seminary hosted an event where 300+ leaders gathered to Rethink Confirmation. I wasn’t there but others were. Below is just a collection of tweets from participants. Hopefully these thoughts will help me to rethink confirmation too.