Thoughts and reflections from Liberty’s Pastors

May 25, 2017

Dear Friends:

Brutal. Awful. Unspeakable.  The tragedy in Manchester has broken our hearts. Seeing photos of the far too young victims, seeing 13-year-old girls with shrapnel in their arms and legs, seeing the faces of the families as they raced out of the concert in chaos and fear – it’s more than the heart can bear. As I have written to friends in the U.K., my heart has been heavy with sadness and solidarity.

The reality is, there are times in our lives when lament is the only possible response. Far too often, the Christian faith is portrayed as a series of “ups” and smiley face emojis. But Scripture is full of lament and grief – from the prophets to the Psalms to the Book of LamentationsI am weary with my sighing; Every night I make my bed swim, I dissolve my couch with my tears, cries David (Psalm 6).  “My tears have been my food day and night.” (Psalm 42).  Bitter weeping, young girls and boys grieving, lives shaken beyond understanding – these images are all too relevant not only in ancient Jerusalem, but in Manchester and our inner cities and Syria and Afghanistan and… and… and.

And so, we cry out in lament and we weep with those who weep and we wonder how and why and when it will all end.  And the main difference between us and others is that as believers we hold onto hope even as we lament. We hold onto the hope only God can give.  I turned to Psalm 85 when this tragedy happened – and I am still holding onto these hope-filled promises:

I will listen to what God the Lord says;
he promises peace to his people, his faithful servants….
Love and faithfulness (will) meet;
righteousness and peace kiss each other.
Faithfulness springs forth from the earth,
and righteousness looks down from heaven.

What the Lord has promised will be fulfilled. Someday love and faithfulness will meet; righteousness and peace will kiss each other.  In the meantime, we hope and pray and work for peace – day by day by day.

In His sure grip,
Becky

May 18, 2017

Dear Friends:

Do you have a favorite word?  We used to have a “word of the week” around the dinner table at my home growing up – a tradition John found quite odd when he first met my family. (His week, the word was “estuary” – you can ask him about that later!)

If I had a word of the week these days, it would be compassion. Compassion means “to suffer with” and it suggests showing mercy; a deep tenderness of heart.  I’ve always loved this word because it captures how we are to live our lives as believers – to love mercy and show others, especially the hurting and broken, special care.

But this past week a verse popped out to me on this idea from Isaiah:

“The Lord longs to be gracious to you;
therefore He will rise up to show you compassion.” (Is.30:18)

I’ve always known that God loves me; whether I deserve it or not.  But something about the promise of this verse – that the Lord longs to be full of grace towards you and me – that He actively reaches out and rises up to show us His compassion – that stopped me in my tracks.  I think I tend to think of the Lord’s great love as a passive reality – oh, yeah, He loves me – but to know that He longs to cover us with His mercy and grace?  That fills me with unspeakable joy.May you know God’s tender mercies and great compassion in a new and special way these May days.

All Blessings,
Becky

May 11, 2017

Dear Friends:

A few thoughts on Mother’s Day…

  • I want my children to have all the things I couldn’t afford. Then I want to move in with them. ~Phyllis Diller
  • “Kids, I like to think that I’m a patient, tolerant woman and that there was no line that you could cross that would make me stop loving you. But last night you didn’t just cross that line, you threw up on it!” ~Marge Simpson
  • A suburban mother’s role is to deliver children obstetrically once, and by car for ever after. ~Peter De Vries
  • A mother is a person who seeing there are only four pieces of pie for five people, promptly announces she never did care for pie. ~Tenneva Jordan

This Sunday is Mother’s Day. For some of us it is a bittersweet holiday, since our moms are now in God’s sure arms. For others, the day will include a fun family gathering – or maybe even start with breakfast in bed – as in a rather sticky breakfast will literally end up in your bed! Whatever the circumstances, I hope we can take some time to reflect on two things:

  1. What lessons did I learn from my mom growing up?
  2. What lessons do I want to pass on – to children, grandchildren, nieces & nephews, neighbors, friends…?

I love the passage from 2 Timothy, where Paul tells the young Timothy: I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice, and I am persuaded now live in you. (2 Timothy 1:5). The bottom line is that the Christian faith is always more caught than taught, so how we pass down our faith, how we model it for the next generation, is vital on Mother’s Day and every day.

May Blessings,
Becky

May 4, 2017

Dear Friends:
Augustine used to say that human beings are what he called capax Dei. That is, you were made with a capacity for God. I was so intrigued by this concept that I looked up the word capacity – it means the ability to receive or contain, as in this hotel has a large capacity for guests. So Augustine is saying that we each have a large capacity to have God in our lives; for His presence through the Spirit to fill us and lead us and guide us.
Of course, that leads to the question: How big is your capax Dei, your capacity for God?  I would say mine needs to do some growing.  The good news is that there are some things that will help me grow in my capacity!  Reciting John 16:33 to myself when I can’t sleep because I am so tied up in knots over something is a good place to start. Praying more for others (and less for myself!). Giving – a meal or a tithe. Taking time to talk with someone who is hurting – that enlarges the heart. Watching something grow in my garden rather than watching another snarky TV show always works. So many things help me to grow in my capax Dei – when I just remember to do them.So please join me as we seek this May to grow a little – or a lot!

Blessings
Becky

April 27, 2017

Dear Friends:

Just when we thought the story is over, God has something to say. In the weeks after Easter, long after the lilies are gone and the strains of Jesus Christ has Risen Today have faded into the air, Jesus is still at work. In fact, the resurrection was only the beginning of transforming the world around us – and through us.

In Matthew 28:16-20, just before Jesus ascends into heaven, he gathers the disciples (both the doubting and the faithful!) and sends them out into the world, saying: “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

This passage always reminds me of those relay races we had in Elementary school, where the fastest runner took off first and carried the baton to the next person, who carried it to the next, and on and onAnd while I never had the lead position, I remember feeling responsible in the middle of that race to get that baton to the next runner.  It never occurred to me to sit down in the middle of the race.  I knew the goal was to pass it on.

So here are some questions for us in this post-Easter time:

  • Where is Christ’s transforming presence needed this day?
  • Where have you seen Jesus at work this week?
  • Where has He met you?  And who have you shared this with?

As we go out into the world to make disciples, we are not alone. Never have been. Never will be. Instead as we go out, we hold onto the power and promise of Jesus’ final words in Matthew: “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” 

Blessings,
Becky

April 20, 2017

Dear Friends:

What a glorious Easter Sunday! It was a joy to celebrate with you, and huge thanks to everyone who helped with worship in ways large and small, from decorating to greeting to singing to welcoming that visiting family on the next bench! Over 1650 people decided to worship with us on Easter – what an incredible blessing!

This coming Sunday, April 23, has a name of its own – or perhaps I should say nickname! The Sunday after Easter is known by pastors as Canon Sunday. Now the word canon has a long religious history and can refer to everything from a code of laws established by a church council to the chapter of priests serving in a cathedral. But that’s not the everyday meaning of Canon Sunday. When pastors say that this is Canon Sunday, they joke that you could shoot off a canon in worship that Sunday and not hit a soul!

But this particular Sunday is going to be anything but empty here at Liberty! We will celebrate the confirmation of 23 youth into the faith and into the life of our church, and get to hear about two personal faith projects created by our youth, with more on display during coffee hour. As I pray for this service, I keep coming back to the words of the Psalmist:

What we have heard and known,
what our fathers have told us.

We will not hide them from their children;
we will tell the next generation
the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD,
his power, and the wonders he has done.
~Psalm 78:3-5
This Sunday, there may not be a canon going off inside, but there will be fireworks inside as we pass the torch of faith from generation to generation.
Blessings,
Becky

April 13, 2017

Dear Friends:

Tonight we gather in a candlelit Sanctuary to celebrate the Last Supper, and to hear Jesus’ last words from the cross. This is a very moving service as we contemplate Jesus’ sacrifice for us.

On Sunday, we gather in a joyous, alleluia-filled celebration of the glorious resurrection of our Lord Jesus!

As we walk through Holy Week, one of the things that I need to remember is that this is not just about “me and the Lord”. If Jesus really died for our sins and conquered death itself, if Jesus sends his living spirit to work in us and through us, then this is not just good news individually. This is good news – life-changing news – for our whole world. By the resurrection of Jesus, we have infinite power to share infinite hope.

N.T. Wright has written:

The message of the resurrection is that this world matters! That the injustices and pains of this present world must now be addressed with the news that healing, justice, and love have won. If Easter means Jesus Christ is only raised in a spiritual sense—[then] it is only about me, and finding a new dimension in my personal spiritual life. But if Jesus Christ is truly risen from the dead, Christianity becomes good news for the whole world—news which warms our hearts precisely because it isn’t just about warming hearts. Easter means that in a world where injustice, violence and degradation are endemic, God is not prepared to tolerate such things—and that we will work and plan, with all the energy of God, to implement victory of Jesus over them all.

In the sure life-changing, world-changing Hope of Christ,
Becky

April 6, 2017

Dear Friends:

This Sunday is Palm Sunday – the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem!  This begins Holy Week, Jesus’ last week on earth. Nearly one third of all four Gospels focus on this final week of Jesus’ ministry. The action moves quickly through the Gospels, racing through Jesus’ early life, and then the action shifts into slow gear, walking us carefully through these last days of Jesus, and the events leading up to the cross.  The Gospels give us a chance to read and absorb the meaning of this week.  So I offer some passages below to help us journey with Jesus through his final days.

Holy Week:
1. Palm Sunday: The Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem through the “Golden Gate”—the gate of the Messiah, as a great crowd proclaims: “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the King of Israel!” (Zephaniah 9:9, Matthew 21: 1-11)

2. Monday: Jesus cleanses the Temple, clearing out the money changers, declaring: “My Father’s House is to be a house of prayer for all people—but you have made it a den of thieves!” With this, the die is cast. Both the Priests (Sadducees) and the Pharisees (Teachers of the law) determine to kill Jesus. (Matthew 21:12-17)

3. & 4. Tuesday & Wednesday: The last days of public teaching as Jesus speaks in parables of Himself as God’s Son, by whom all will be saved. (Isaiah 53: 1-12, Read any of Matthew 21:28-25:45)

5. Maundy Thursday: After washing the feet of the disciples, Jesus celebrates the Feast of the Passover, instituting the sacrament of communion.  After the supper, Jesus and his disciples went to Gethsemane to pray, where he was betrayed by Judas, arrested by the Temple guard and taken to an illegal night session of the Jewish courts. (Zechariah 11:12, Matthew 26:14-67)

6. Good Friday: The denial by Peter, Jesus’ trial before Pilate and Herod. The crown of thorns. Then the crucifixion between two thieves. At 3:00 p.m. Jesus dies as the “Lamb of God.” There is an earthquake, the centurion confesses his faith and the veil in the temple is torn from top to bottom just as Jesus proclaims that salvation is accomplished: “It is finished!” After His death, Nicodemus and Joseph bury Jesus in a new tomb in a garden.  (Amos 8:9, Psalm 22: 1, 16-18, Psalm 69:21, Psalm 31:5, Mark 10:34, Matthew 27: 1 – 27:61)

7. Saturday: The Jewish leaders break the Sabbath to insure that the tomb is sealed and no one can break in to steal the body.  A Roman guard is posted. (Matthew 27:62-66, Philippians 2; 5-11, Isaiah 52: 13-15)

8. Easter Sunday: Shortly before dawn on the third day, the stone of the tomb is rolled away (by angels) as Jesus triumphs over sin and death. The angels tell the women at the tomb: “He is risen!” Jesus appears to Peter alone, to the two on the Road to Emmaus, and to His disciples in the Upper Room. (Psalm 118:22, Isaiah 26:19, Matthew 28:1-15)

Friends, I invite you to read along with me this holy week. And know that we are walking on holy ground.

In the sure Hope of Christ,
Becky

March 30, 2017

“That where I am, there you may be also…”
(John 14:3)

Dear Friends:

It has been a sad season at Liberty…. With four memorial services this week, we have had a stream of loss, and it is heart-breaking to think that beloved Liberty members won’t be in their usual bench, holding hands across the aisle, enjoying a cup of coffee and some laughter after worship, singing along with the Second Stringers in the Chapel. We miss each and every one.

And yet, as Paul reminds us, “we do not grieve as those without hope.”  Instead we know that the One who came from heaven to earth for us, the One who lived for us and died for us and rose again for us, holds our loved ones in His everlasting arms. Far from being an ending, this life is only a prelude to the sure hope of eternal life Jesus promises us in God’s kingdom. In C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, one of the main characters discovers what each of us will discover one day:

I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now…Come further up, come further in!

Friends, we know that there is a life after this one; that illness and death are never the last word; that the last and lasting word of our lives will always be Jesus – new life, eternal life in Jesus. And so the words of Jesus speak into our hearts in a special way this season: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. (John 14)

In the sure Hope of Christ,
Becky

March 23, 2017

FROM THE DESK OF JOHN HART

 

Dear Friends:

On March 9-12, I attended the Walk to Emmaus weekend.  As I’ve written before,

The “Walk to Emmaus” weekend is a once-in-a-lifetime spiritual retreat that will grow your Christian walk. Emmaus focuses on the basics of Christian faith and living.  Through presentations by clergy & lay leaders and through discussions with fellow walkers, the Walk to Emmaus is a profoundly helpful means of spiritual renewal.  Whether you are still questioning your faith commitment or have been active in church for many years, the Walk to Emmaus offers you to the opportunity to deepen and strengthen your faith. 

I had an outstanding experience on my Walk to Emmaus!  The presentations by ministers and laypersons were excellent and practical, the discussions were engaging and interesting, and I also had a whole lot of fun.  All in all, it was a moving spiritual retreat.

Here’s why I highly recommend you consider attending a Walk to Emmaus retreat:

  • Focus:  There is nothing like a retreat to focus on your life with God.  Our lives are busy and full of distractions.  One hour of worship on Sunday helps, but a three-day retreat enables you to really focus on your Christian walk and what God means to you.
  • Intentional:  The Walk to Emmaus is designed to help you build an intentional Christian life.  What are the skills, the tools, and the mindset we need to be consistent disciples of Jesus?  The Emmaus Walk addresses these issues in a winsome and effective manner.
  • Commitment: As you proceed through your Emmaus weekend, you are amazed again and again by the commitment of so many people to make your Walk to Emmaus meaningful: your sponsor, the speakers, the discussion leaders, and many more.  Emmaus is an incredibly well-designed, well-run Christian retreat.

Please give prayerful consideration to attending an Emmaus Walk yourself.  Talk to one of the 32 Liberty members* who have taken the Walk.  Details concerning dates, place & cost can be found by clicking here.

If you want to deepen your faith, here’s a perfect way to do it – take a Walk!

Serving Jesus with you,
John

*K.C. & Debbie Baker, John & Sandy Brenner, Denise Buyaky, Annette Diller, Kyle Doebler, Carolee Fugate, Mark & Penny Hampshire, John & Becky Hart, Rachel Haugk, Sandi Hess, Joyce Johnson, Linda Johnson, Kristin Morton, Phil & Linda Ranck, Dave & Karen Ross, Ree Simpson, Tamara Steele, Colleen Teahan, Verna Tetz, Todd Tracy, Sue Tucker, Jill Wentz, Ellen Willet, Chuck & Michelle Wilson, Jeff Young

March 16, 2017

FROM THE DESK OF TODD TRACY

Hello,

During the season of Lent, the High School Digging Deeper Bible Study is spending time digging into the the lectionary texts for Lent. The lectionary is a three-year schedule of scripture texts that many churches use to guide their scripture choices for their worship services. While Liberty is not a church that uses these texts, the Digging Deeper group has found it to be a helpful way to focus in on scripture that is particularly focused on Lent. So each week, we get together and we spend time exploring the four passages that the lectionary has laid out for the following Sunday. These passages always include a Psalm, another Old Testament passage, a Gospel reading, and a passage from somewhere else in the New Testament. Our pattern during this time together has been that we read through three of the passages fairly quickly, and then we take our time with the fourth passage (a different one each week) by doing a version of something called Lectio Divina.

Lectio Divina (Divine Reading) is a way of slowing down and really entering into a text, and letting God use the text to speak to you. In the version of Lectio Divina that we are doing, we have the passage read three times by three different readers, and each time we focus on a something different.. First, we look for a word or phrase that jumps out to us, then we think about how the passage makes us feel, and finally we think about what God might be saying to us through the passage. What is amazing about this method of studying scripture is that each time we enter into the text we seem to see different things. Our focus changes the way we encounter the very same words.

In High School Youth Group on Sunday night, we had a “couch conversation” about the Bible, where it came from, and how we approach it. During that conversation the concept of the Bible being a “living” word was brought up. I immediately thought about our Lectio Divina time in Digging Deeper. Each week as I experience this with the group, I am amazed by the way God can speak through the scripture even when we are reading the same words over and over again. Isn’t it amazing how the Holy Spirit uses those ancient words to speak to us today?

Will you join the High School Youth this Lent in slowing down, even if just for a few minutes each day, or an hour each week, and really entering in to the scripture? Take your time, don’t try to read a lot, instead try to read deeply. Ask God to open your mind, heart, and soul so that the words on the page can truly become the Word of God in your life. I am confident that if and when we do this, God will speak!

Grace and Peace,
Todd

March 9, 2017

Dear Friends:

We have entered the season of Lent, which leads more than the children to ask what it is all about. The word “Lent comes from an Old English word which simply means “long. Lent usually comes at the start of Spring – that time of the year when the days are getting longer and we enjoy more and more daylight. And that’s what Lent is supposed to do for us – to shed more and more light in our lives so that the darkness disappears.

I John 1 talks about walking in the light: “This, in essence, is the message we heard from Christ and are passing on to you: God is light, pure light; there’s not a trace of darkness in him.  If we claim that we experience a shared life with him and continue to stumble around in the dark, we’re obviously lying through our teeth—we’re not living what we claim. But if we walk in the light, God himself being the light, we also experience a shared life with one another, as the sacrificed blood of Jesus, God’s Son, purges all our sin.” (The Message Bible)

Here at Liberty we are handing out crosses for you to carry with you through the season of Lent. Our prayer is that the feeling of the cross – in your hand, your pocket, your key chain – might remind you to walk in the light of Christ every day.

May these longer days bring all kinds of light into our lives.

And as we send off a medical team to Honduras – may their beautiful ministry in the name of Christ spread the light!

Lenten Blessings,
Becky

PS: Please join me in daily prayers for our team; click here for the prayer guide

March 2, 2017

Dear Friends:

With last evening’s Ash Wednesday service, we begin the season of Lent – those 40 days in which we focus our steps on following Jesus and the way of the cross. (For those of you who are keeping score at home, we skip Sundays when we count the forty days, because Sundays commemorate the Resurrection. So Lent began on March 1 and ends on April 15, which is the day before Easter.) Lent is a season for reflection and taking stock. It began in the earliest days of the Church as a time of preparation for Easter, through acts of sacrifice and repentance. I discovered this quote from the Iona Community in Scotland to inspire us through this Lenten season:

“To arrive at newness of life, we first name parts of our lives that are shrouded in darkness. To put it very dramatically… your first order of business is to break your heart for God. We walk through some muck so that we can leave it behind and find Easter joy beyond…. With God’s help we will clear the darkness away and begin to experience greater joy and newness of life.  Sure, there’s work to be done during Lent, but it’s the work of opening one’s heart and mind to grace.”

As we walk through Lent together, I invite you to rededicate yourself to prayer and worship and scripture – and maybe even a little time to be quiet and simply listen for the Spirit at work.  These are the essentials that help us to grow in Him.

Journeying through Lent with you,
Becky

February 23, 2017

Dear Friends:

I love this reminder from John Calvin: “Our job is to make the invisible reign of God visible to the world.”

That is our goal all the time at Liberty, but we have a special weekend coming June 9-11 when we hope to have all of us here at Liberty put feet to this vision.  We are calling the weekend “Be the Church” and our goal is to be Christ’s church out in our community in a wide variety of ways.

Our three themes for this weekend are: Worship, Service and Gratitude – and our projects will reflect those themes.

Projects may include: serving at St. Johns, Common Ground Free Store, and Basement Blessings, helping with repairs at the Furniture Bank, making meals in our kitchen, yard work for seniors, delivering gratitude baskets to our hospitals and fire stations, organizing supplies at People in Need, gardening, knitting, singing and sharing in worship at local nursing homes and retirement communities, creating care packages for hospitalized children, making beautiful cards for everyone from abandoned local teens to our sister church, praying for our community, mission partners and our nation  … all to spread the light and love of Christ!

So where do you come in?
First: We are asking you to set aside Sunday, June 11, as a day of service and gratitude. Most of our projects will follow immediately after our 10:00 a.m. summer service – where we will be sent out into the world in teams.

Second: We are looking for folks who want to head up an individual project – including any of the above – or a project you may envision. Contact Penny Hampshire or Becky Hart for more information! As we get closer, we will begin taking sign-ups for specific projects.

Help Liberty impact our community outside our doors. Help us to make the love of God visible near & far.

Blessings,
Becky

February 16, 2017

Dear Friends:

We are in a season as a church where we are suffering loss and also celebrating – even through our tears – the sure hope we have in Christ.  As we find in 1 John: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.(1 John 5:13)  I want to point out two very practical resources that we have online for you that may be of help in this season. The first is our Liberty Funeral Planner. I wrote that to help when you find yourself doing something you never wanted to do: plan a memorial service for a loved one. A pastor will meet with you to gently guide you through this planning process, but reviewing this brochure ahead of time (especially the questions on the back page) may be helpful.

Second, we have a Personal Funeral Wishes Form. This is for you to share privately with the Pastors any wishes for the future.  Often, family members are not aware of your favorite hymn or scripture passage – or that you always hoped to have a violinist or a special solo at your service – or even whether you prefer the Sanctuary or the Chapel. This will let us know your thoughts.  John’s parents both left us very specific plans for their memorials, from scripture to speaker to songs. In a sad time, this was a great help, and a great encouragement to see their faith-filled wishes. You may want to send a copy of these wishes to your nearest & dearest.

Both of these planning documents are located at www.libertybarnchurch.com/worship/funerals. You can download them or you can contact the Church Office to have them sent to you. Please note that there are two easy steps to enter your personal wishes. You are asked to “register” by entering your email, and then your name. This then leads you to the Personal Wishes form.

Friends, the Psalmist promises that God draws us close to himself in our grief: “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted, and he saves those whose spirits have been crushed.” (Psalm 34:18).  May these practical helps free us to lean on the Lord in our seasons of sadness.

With warmest blessings,
Becky

February 9, 2017

So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us.
We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!”
~2 Corinthians 5:20

 

Dear Friends:

I have been greatly enjoying our walk through 2 Corinthians on Sunday mornings. It is a fascinating letter written to a struggling church founded by Paul, with the aid of Timothy and Silas, and that original clergy couple, Priscilla and Aquila. One of the themes that keeps jumping out at me is that of the church living out faith together; the church as a group of people “called out” to meet and to glorify God. The church is to represent the very kingdom of God to a broken world. So much of the New Testament is about shared faith and community. And yet again and again we modern believers fall into the trap of private faith, individual faith, faith defined by me, myself and mine. A friend was joking the other day about writing a book entitled: How I Conquered My Narcissism. But self-focus–while completely natural–keeps us from living into the community Christ has called us into.

So Paul calls us out of these contemporary pitfalls into being a real and living church, with reminders that together we are the “aroma of Christ,” (2 Cor. 2:15), “reflections of His glory” (2 Cor. 3:18), “Christ’s ambassadors,” (2 Cor. 5:20), “God’s fellow workers,”  (2 Cor. 6:1) and famously from his first letter to Corinth, the very “body of Christ.” (1 Cor. 12).

May we live into our high calling.

With warm blessings,
Becky

February 2, 2017

FROM THE DESK OF JOHN HART

 

Dear Friends:

Several people have asked me more about the book I referenced in last Sunday’s sermon.  The book is entitled How Can It Be All Right When Everything Is All Wrong? by Lewis Smedes (ISBN 978-0877883586; San Francisco: Colorado Springs: Shaw Books, 1999).

Let me say again: How Can It Be All Right When Everything Is All Wrong? is the best Christian book I’ve ever read. Smedes is so articulate in expressing the many different faces of grace. Here are some other chapter titles from the book:

  • “All the World’s a Critic, and You’re Tired of Reading the Reviews: The Gift of Freedom”
  • “When You Hurt with Hurting People, You Are Dancing to the Rhythm of God: The Gift of Suffering”
  • “If You Just Can’t Cope, You Are Ripe for God’s Opening Move: The Gift of an Open Heart”

Here is one of the banes of growing older: all my favorite Christian books are out of print!  But Smedes’ books can still be found on Amazon (and other online booksellers as well).  (I’m sorry – the Liberty Library doesn’t own any books by Smedes – but we will work on it!).  And How Can It Be All Right When Everything Is All Wrong? isn’t the only excellent book Smedes has written.  Here are some others:

  • The Art of Forgiving: When You Need to Forgive and Don’t Know How (ISBN 978-0345413444; Ballantine Books, 1997) – the single best book I’ve ever read on understanding how to forgive the people who have hurt us
  • Love Within Limits: Realizing Selfless Love in a Selfish World (ISBN 978-0802817532; Eerdmans, 1989) – an insightful exploration of expressing Christian love in a complex world.
  • Shame & Grace: Healing the Shame We Don’t Deserve (978-0060675226; HarperOne, 2009) – a profound book on a sensitive subject.

Let me entice you with a few more quotes from Smedes:

“The complaint is that forgiving violates our native human nature.  Vengeance, they say, is natural.  In reality, however, forgiving expresses our true and best natures.  If it is human to be free for the future, unshackled to pasts we cannot change, then forgiving is natural.  If it is human to create new paths out of old ruts, forgiving is natural.  If it is human to see beyond what was to what can be, forgiving is natural.”  (The Art of Forgiving)

“Many of us have pressed our feelings down beneath the surface the way trash compactors compress our garbage behind our kitchen cupboards.  But we cannot shoo our shadows away by denying them.  Grace-based people dare to own any current, any drive, any sadness, any urge that might show up in their spiritual basements.  They know that nothing in their conscious or unconscious selves can make them unacceptable to God.  Grace makes self-knowledge bearable.”  (Shame & Grace)

“Love carries people’s burdens.  When we hear ‘love bears all things’, we think first of its power to support the burden-bearers of the world.  Why should love drive us to bear burdens for neighbors?  The answer is that love drives us to do things for people that they cannot do for themselves.  No one can carry every burden alone — or indeed almost any burden alone.  To carry it alone presses our very humanity from us.  We are created to be with somebody in our burden bearing.” (Love Within Limits)

“I do not want to mislead you.  I have no bag of religious tricks to make everything turn out well for you.  I do not know how to stage-manage grace.  I do not know how to command grace when to appear and how to make its entrance.  I think it fiercely sinful to try.  I know only how to recognize the gifts of grace when I see them, strangely and freely given.  Grace does happen; this I know for sure.  It happens on many layers of my life.  But one thing is the same all the way through.  Grace makes me feel that it’s all right even when everything is all wrong.”  (How Can It Be All Right When Everything is All Wrong?)

Blessed reading!
John

January 26, 2017

FROM THE DESK OF TODD TRACY

In the Confirmation class this past Sunday, we spent some time trying to answer the question, “Why Worship?” The key element of this discussion was establishing, through a Bible study of the story of the Exodus, the purposes of worship. We discovered that worship is three things:

  1. an “expression of relationship”,
  2. an “expression of appreciation”, and
  3. an “expression of awe”.

Worship provides us with a chance to be in and deepen our relationship with God and each other, it offers us an opportunity to thank God for what he has done for us, and it gives us a chance to acknowledge God’s presence in our lives and stand in amazement of who God is. It was interesting looking through the order of service here at Liberty and thinking about how the elements help us to express these three things.

At the end of the class, we had the parents come for a brief time in order to discuss what we had learned, and to help us think a little deeper about worship. We read together Romans 12, which begins with Paul giving us this instruction:

And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.

Paul calls us to think about worship as something much bigger than what we do together for one hour on a Sunday morning. Additionally, Paul suggests that our whole lives should be an act of worship. Everything we do should be done to express our relationship with God, our appreciation for God, and our awe of God. This is a much harder thing to do than to just come to church on a Sunday and say we have done our worship for the week.

I challenged the Confirmation class and their parents, and now I challenge all the rest of us, to think about how we would shape our day to day lives differently if we began to think of everything we did as an act of worship.

  • How would today be different if you stayed focused on your relationship with God and with your neighbors?
  • How would your mindset change if you worked to daily express gratitude to God?
  • How would your perspective on the world be transformed if every day you were aware of God’s presence and stood in awe of it?

Will you join the Confirmation class and me this week in working to begin to reorder our lives so that they can become acts of true worship of our amazing God?

Grace and Peace,
Todd

January 19, 2017

Dear Friends,

On our recent trip out West, John and I ended up in Palm Desert, looking at a kind of beauty that our eyes are not accustomed to – the kind of beauty you can only find in the desert. The photo above I took while touring a cactus garden – where succulents find and store water and seemingly miraculously grow. You couldn’t help but look at this beautiful sight and think of Isaiah 35:

The desert and the parched land will be glad;
the wilderness will rejoice and blossom.
Like the crocus, it will burst into bloom…
Water will gush forth in the wilderness
and streams in the desert.

In the Bible, deserts are dried up places. They’re barren, dry, thirsty. No one confuses the desert for a place of lushness and plenty. And yet, to a people in exile, at one of the Israelites’ lowest ebbs, God gives them this vision of hope and new life through the prophet Isaiah. There is going to be “water in the wilderness, and streams in the desert.”

I have seen some streams in the desert lately, particularly in our community. Unexpected kindnesses. Meals made. Rides shared. Hands joined in prayer or in welcome. Offers to help, to support, to share laughter or tears. Signs of grace in even the hardest of times. These are some rivers in the desert that I have seen right here.

Where have you seen a stream or two lately?

New Year’s Blessings,
Becky

January 12, 2017

FROM THE DESK OF JOHN HART

Dear Friends,

The New Year is a great time to make resolutions. And spiritual resolutions can be particularly meaningful.

If you were to resolve to commit yourself to spiritual growth in 2017, the best thing I would recommend is that you sign up for a “Walk to Emmaus” weekend.

The Walk to Emmaus has been around for 40 years. It is a three-day Christian retreat that focuses on the basics of our faith — the love of God, the grace of Jesus, the power of the Spirit, the gifts of faith and hope and love. It is powerful weekend — most people experience God’s love and acceptance in new ways.

Over thirty Liberty members have participated in a Walk to Emmaus weekend:

KC & Debbie Baker, John & Sandy Brenner, Denise Buyaky, Annette Diller, Kyle Doebler, Carolee Fugate, Mark & Penny Hampshire,
John & Becky Hart, Rachel Haugk, Sandi Hess, Joyce Johnson, Linda Johnson, Kristin Morton, Hope North, Phil & Linda Ranck, Dave & Karen Ross,
Ree Simpson, Tamara Steele, Colleen Teahan, Verna Tetz, Todd Tracy, Sue Tucker, Jill Wentz, Ellen Willet, Chuck & Michelle Wilson, Jeff Young

Each one of these folks will tell you that their Emmaus experience made a big impact on their spiritual growth. Please make the opportunity to ask them about their weekend!

Although I attended an Emmaus Walk back in 1986, I have signed up for the next Men’s Walk this coming March because I am committed to supporting this great ministry and seeing its influence grow at Liberty.

Please give prayer consideration to attending an Emmaus Walk in 2017. It will be the best resolution you make this year.

Serving Jesus with you,
John

Emmaus Walks are held at Reynoldsburg United Methodist Church and are scheduled for these dates in 2017:

  • Men: March 9-12
  • Women: April 27-30
  • Women: July 27-30
  • Men: October 12-15
  • Women: November 9-12