Thoughts and reflections from Liberty’s Pastors

May 21, 2020

The Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.     Galatians 5:22

 

Dear Friends:

We have been looking at the Fruit of the Spirit in our Daily Inspiration online, and we come to those final two fruit: gentleness and self-control. These go hand in hand.  Gentleness (also translated as “meekness”) is a rare quality these days. It means a tender heart.  It means being humble – treating others with kindness, patience, compassion.  The opposites of gentleness are anger and aggression (whether in person or online!) Jesus gave us the perfect picture of gentleness: “See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey.” Matthew 21:5

To be gentle, or really to exhibit any fruit of the spirit, usually requires the final, perhaps most difficult, fruit: self-control. This is self-denial, practiced on both a large and small scale. Not sending the angry email or tweet, pausing & praying before calling another in anger, being proactive instead of reactive – this all involves self-discipline.  Self-control in this letter also means everything from sobriety to faithfulness in marriage.

Opening ourselves to God’s Spirit means that these fruits will grow in us and change us. They will, in fact, transform us into the image of Jesus. Listen to C.S Lewis:

“People often think of Christian morality as a kind of bargain in which God says, ‘If you keep a lot of rules, I’ll reward you, and if you don’t I’ll do the other thing.’ I do not think that is the best way of looking at it. I would much rather say that every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different from what it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing either into a heavenly creature or into a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow-creatures, and with itself.”

May we show self-control and gentleness toward even those whom we find hardest to love, and may we open our hearts up to the One who will transform us into his image, producing a harvest of glorious fruit in our lives.

Blessings,
Becky

May 14, 2020

FROM ELDER BEV GRAVES

“The LORD gives strength to his people; the LORD blesses his people with peace.”
~Psalm 29:11

Dear Friends:
I’m often “Liberty late”—even to virtual church. But with a lag time of just five minutes, I park myself on my singular worship pew in my sunroom; I power up my iPad; I tune in and focus. I’ve already showered and done my hair, though no will see me. Some Sunday habits still are sacred even though invisibility is a blessing when in need of a haircut eight weeks ago.

I sing “My Life is in You, Lord” along with the worship team and count the number of times the bell rings as I have done regularly in “real” church for ages. I envision kids at home responding to the children’s moment and secretly also interlace my fingers and form a steeple with my index fingers if asked to do so by Pastor John. A child still exists in all of us.

If I miss a line of scripture, I rewind. If I want to write something down word-for-word, no sweat. Virtual reality means virtual repeats. What I can’t completely answer is my need to do this at 10 o’clock Sunday mornings. After all, the podcast is at my beck-and-call in a COVID-19 world because few events in life really need a schedule anymore.

But I just know I am not alone at the 10 o’clock hour even though I am alone. I believe that others in their pews are counting the bells along with me. I sense someone is praying earnestly. I see parents helping their three-year-old’s fold their hands. I drink my coffee knowing that someone else is lifting a cup right along with me, and I believe “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard our hearts and our minds …”—even in cyberspace.

Some of what defines Liberty’s witness as an “all-hands-on-deck” church, such as His Place and Walls Build, is on hold. Some traditions, such as linking hands during worship, may be gone forever. Even though we live in a world of sight, taste, sound, touch, and smell, we thrive in spirit and in peace with others. None of us is alone in truth if worship is four walls enclosing Christians in faith. It doesn’t really make much difference if those walls are virtually constructed for 10 o’clock Sunday mornings. What does matter is that God abides within us so we can single-heartedly bear witness to the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control to a waiting and watching world—YouTube notwithstanding. We still are a community of believers, sensing each other’s presence and God’s perfect peace even in solitude.

Blessings,
Bev

May 7, 2020

“Mom is a title just above Queen.” (Anonymous)

Dear Friends:

A VERY HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY!  Wishing all blessings to you & your Moms, whether they are here or in God’s arms.  Here are a few of my favorite Mother’s Day quotes:

“Being a Mom has made me so tired. And so happy.” (Tina Fey)
“Being a mother is learning about strengths you didn’t know you had and dealing with fears you didn’t know existed.”  (Linda Wooten)
“While we try to teach our children all about life, our children teach us what life is all about.” (Anon.)

I am so grateful for lessons learned from my own mother and grandmothers – and for the village of women who have “mothered” me over the years.

I am especially grateful to my children – who allowed me to practice parenting skills on them!  One of the behaviors I noticed when my children were young was that they would repeat things I had said, in their play. Their dolls, army guys and even trucks would be told that they had to lower their voices, or share, or help each other! To be honest, they were also told in a very Mom-is-tired-of-this voice things like: You have a time out and Stop that right now! And Don’t share your applesauce with the dog – that one is harder to explain!

My deepest prayer is that my children remember and repeat the things of faith that I have instilled in them.  Because for every lesson on sharing, I have tried to pass on the call of faith, the joys of faith, the importance of faith shared (and not just the latest toys & memes!).  In the words of the Psalmist:

We will not hide these truths from our children;
we will tell the next generation
about the glorious deeds of the LORD,
about his power and his mighty wonders.
~Psalm 78:4

Hats off to every Mom out there – and those who have mothered us in all faith, hope and love. Thank you.

Journeying with you,
Becky

April 30, 2020

April 23, 2020

Dear Friends:

Many of you have emailed John and me to ask if this current COVID-19 crisis is like our experiences after 9/11. At first, our response is how different the two are. After 9/11, we were able to be together. The church was open nightly, and we spent so much time together as a church family: praying, singing, and lighting candles to witness to the light amid the darkness. By God’s grace we could serve the workers at Ground Zero, sharing a hot cup of coffee, and a blessing with a hand on a shoulder.

So, the message of stay together by staying apart feels very different and is much harder to live out.

But the similarities keep coming back to us…. There is that same pervasive feeling of fear. In north Jersey, we kept ducking at airplanes overhead for weeks after 9/11. And now, well, fear is in the very air we breathe.

There is the same heartbreak at the loss of so many, and the same full hearts at the kindness of strangers helping one another in ways both large and small.

Then there is the desire to check in with everyone in the church family – to make sure everyone is okay. From the moment the first plane hit, I was on the phone, calling our church members who worked downtown. And now? We are still calling folks, reaching out, with the aid of our amazing Deacons, to make sure folks are all right, that they have supplies, that they do not feel alone in all of this.

But the most common thread is prayer.

Sometimes prayer can feel rote, or rushed, or even repetitive. But in the midst of a national crisis, prayer is incredibly real and personal and life-giving. Prayer – that connection to the Lord – is the life jacket that keeps us afloat.

And it is prayer that leads us to much-needed hope, to peace, to knowing that we are held in Jesus’ sure grip.

May each of us, even from behind our masks and gloves, know the sure hope and peace that Christ brings.

On the Journey with you,
Becky

P.S. If you are a Liberty member currently serving in a medical or first responder capacity during this crisis, could you please send me your name? ([email protected] / Attn. Pastor Becky)  I would like to pray for you by name in worship on the 26th of April.

April 16, 2020

Dear Friends:

I want to invite you along on a journey that two followers of Jesus take after that first Easter. You can read the story here: Luke 24: 13-35, NIV.

Cleopas and his companion were feeling disappointment and discouragement – and all those other D words – doubt, defeat, despair—as they trudged down the road towards Emmaus. The One they had worshipped had been made to suffer the most humiliating death possible. Only a week before, their hopes had risen to fever pitch when the crowds welcomed Jesus into the holy city with cries of “Hosanna”. But now? The cruelty of the cross—not to mention these strange stories suggesting Jesus might be alive?! It’s more than they can grasp.

As they are walking back home, a stranger joins them. We know it’s Jesus, but they don’t. “What are you discussing?” he asks them. Stunned that this man hasn’t heard the news from Jerusalem, they tell him all about Jesus’ life and death and then they utter what are perhaps the 3 saddest words in Scripture: We had hoped. We had hoped Jesus was the one to redeem us. We had hoped He would be the One to save us.

They reach Emmaus and in the tradition of mid-eastern hospitality, they beg the stranger to stay and break bread with them. And then everything changes: “When Jesus was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.  And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.”

As soon as they recognize Jesus, he disappears—but they know now that He is risen. They know now that he was walking alongside them all the time.  And that’s all they needed to know.

For the two men from Emmaus, hope had passed them by. And then Jesus came looking for them, just likes he comes looking for you and for me. Jesus walked alongside them.

So, if you’re on the Emmaus road—the road of doubt and discouragement—take heart, be prayerful, and keep your eyes open. Because soon you will discover that Jesus is walking right there beside you.

On the Journey with you,
Becky

P.S. If you are a Liberty member currently serving in a medical or first responder capacity during this crisis, could you please send me your name? ([email protected]/ Attn. Pastor Becky)  I would like to pray for you by name in worship on the 26th of April.

April 9, 2020

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” ~Matthew 27:46

Dear Friends:

The Gospel of Matthew records only one of Jesus’ words from this cross, and it is this heart-rending, heart-breaking cry: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” This was a cry of such utter desolation that we stagger under its weight. If we allow the events of the cross to pierce our hands and our hearts, then we find ourselves crying out with Jesus. The hardest part is that there is no quick answer to this cry of abandonment, no angelic rescue. Just the absolute silence of God.

Over the years, theologians have struggled with this word and its implications. Many see this cry as the beginning of a quote from Psalm 22. If you read this Psalm, you will see that this cry of despair slowly works itself back into hope and reaffirmation of God’s presence.

A second interpretation sees Jesus’ cry from the cross as pointing to the power of sin to separate us from God. As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5: “For our sake, He made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

As for me – I think that both camps are right. This is both the utterance of a Psalm Jesus knew well, and a reminder of the heavy price of our sins. But I also believe that it is something more: this is a testimony to how Jesus has plumbed the very depths of human existence. There are times when we feel that God has forgotten us; when we feel forsaken, particularly in these fearful days.
And then we look at the cross, and we know that there is One who walked this way before us. We look at the cross and know that there is no darkness that He has not already entered for us, illuminating it with His saving grace. As Barbara Brown Taylor writes:

“As awful as it is, I will tell you something shocking: There are people who say that Good Friday means more to them than Easter does. They have nothing against the lilies, the trumpets, the lovely children. It is just that Good Friday, as awful as it is, is more recognizable. They know about suffering. They know their way around this wreckage, and there is comfort in the fact that God knows it too. …We live in the land at the foot of the cross.”

Joining you at the foot of the cross,
Becky

April 2, 2020

Dear Friends:

As Dr. Amy Acton has been reminding us at the Governor’s news conferences, “The situation is changing hour by hour.” It certainly is! One of those changes is the Harts’ retirement. In light of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and in conversation with Ryan Johnson (President of the Corporation) and the Session, we are planning to delay our retirement as co-pastors of Liberty. Our desire is to stay on and provide continuity until a greater sense of normalcy returns to our country, our daily routines, and Liberty’s life. We very much want to walk beside you through these difficult days, even if it is virtually!

Because governmental guidance & orders are continually revised, our plan is not to set a definite “last day”. Rather, we will decide month-by-month, giving the Session and you several weeks’ notice once things stabilize. As things stand now, we assume this means we’ll be staying into the summer.

Our hope is that before our revised retirement date arrives:

  • Liberty will have celebrated three consecutive live Sunday worship services.
  • We will have a chance to visit in person our homebound members whom we can only speak to via phone right now, and to perform delayed weddings & funerals.

Once we set a retirement date, we will resume the transition process with our Bridge Pastor, the Rev. Don Hilkerbaumer, seeking a Transitional Pastor, and forward.

We cannot imagine leaving Liberty during this pandemic. May this proposal bring added stability during these uncertain times. We, with all the staff, desire to serve Liberty with great faith and faithfulness during this time.

Blessings,
PB&J

P.S. Please update your phone number and email address with us—plus any other contact information that may have changed. This will help our staff and deacons to be in touch! Send updated contact information to [email protected]. You may also send prayer requests to this address.

March 26, 2020

March 19, 2020

“So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”
(Psalm 90:12)

“Redeem the time….” (Ephesians 5:16) 

Dear Friends: 

Plan B. 

That’s what we create when Plan A has turned to dust in our hands.  We come up with an alternate plan – like my premed friends who flunked out of organic chemistry and became everything from engineers to English majors. 

The Bible is full of Plan B’s.

Moses was raised to be a Prince of Egypt. He ended up as shepherd – first of sheep, then of God’s beloved people. Mary planned to wed her beloved Joseph and live a quiet life in the village of Nazareth.  Gabriel announced a far different plan!  Then there’s Paul, who was going to spend his life as a leading rabbinic authority.  Instead he ended up traveling the Roman world, supporting himself with tent-making, and sharing the good news.   

It turns out, God does some pretty powerful stuff with Plan B. In fact, God redeems Plan B and uses it for His glory. 

So, we are in Plan B now as a church. 

And I hope you are waiting with an open heart to see just what the Lord has planned. Because God is going to work in us and through us to redeem this time.  I can’t wait to see what He’s got up His sleeves. 

Waiting in all Faith & Hope, with you,
Pastor Becky 

March 12, 2020

Celebrating the 200th Anniversary of the Chapel

An especially fun memory of the Chapel from: Longtime Liberty Member Barbara Taylor and former member Lisa Little

We had the Active Christian Thespians, a drama group that was organized to give a three-minute skit once a month. The skits were for the most part written by Pam Rush, at that time the bookkeeper, and me, with very little supervision. The only instructions were that they could be no longer than three-minutes. The elders even sent us to two workshops at Grace Baptist Church to further enhance our writing and acting skills. Really needed!

One skit was about three different people from different vocations – one a “woman of the night”; one a young father who had lost his way; and a teenager looking to find his way. Each had a chance meeting with a stranger who said just the right thing at the right time. Another was three vignettes about the Bible, with the end being the Energizer Bunny coming down the aisle in a pink bunny costume with a bass drum we borrowed from the Olentangy High School Band, beating the drum and saying, “The Bible just keeps going and going and going”. And knowing David’s sermon was that day on the Bible and it always there for us, in the middle of David’s sermon, the Energizer Bunny came down the aisle again, beating in rhythm and saying, “The Bible just keeps going and going and going.” (David did not know this was going to happen – he wasn’t happy). For a while we had to clear the skits through him. We had about 25 members in our group – from teens to senior citizens.

Our biggest hit was “Elvis Returns – 1994”. We had a huge cast – from Tom Wood to Larry Griffin, to Annette Diller, to a live baby in the manger – Max Messick (the son of David’s secretary), Debbie Williams, The Elvetts, The Jordanaires, the Liberty Choir, and Jim Beck as Elvis.

The Elvis skit can be viewed on video in the 12-Step room this coming Sunday, March 15, after each service – or after our 7:00 p.m. Lenten service on the 18th!

March 5, 2020

Celebrating the 200th Anniversary of the Chapel

Memories of the Chapel from: Tracey Scott, longtime Liberty member and elder

The Chapel was much bigger in the 80’s than it is now. We entered each week up the steps and through the “narthex” where we gathered before and after services. There were no offices in that area so the space was large enough for many to meet and greet, then run into the Chapel to find a seat just before the bell rang for worship.

The Chapel was returned to its original 1820’s size and orientation after the Barn was built in 1995 (with special thanks to Bill Porterfield and Andy Little.)  When we worshiped in the Chapel in the 80’s and 90’s, the Sanctuary included the space where the 12-Step Room is now. The windows on the east end were covered by wood siding where our rustic wooden cross hung above the pulpit area. The Chapel now has pews but in the 80’s and ‘90’s, we sat on folding metal chairs without chair pads. No wonder services never ran longer than an hour!

A simple crown of thorns was laid on top of the cross during Lent, when Wednesday evening Lenten services were held. Those services were much the same as they are now. If you’d like a taste of “old Liberty,” attend a Lenten service in the Chapel!

For many years, Margie Wells was Liberty’s receptionist. She warmly welcomed visitors and members alike to the old Chapel, answering our questions and asking about our children by name, remembering the details of their lives, just as she remembers them today!

We sang from leather hymnals, lovingly handmade by members. The hymnals had only words, no music notes, so we often listened to the melody on the piano before our voices were lifted in song. The congregation sang loudly enough to raise the rafters as we praised God. Then, as now, there was no weekly choir, but we had wonderful musicians including David Tolley, Cara Markley (at age 10, I think), her father, Craig Markley, and our concert violinist, Mary Irwin, among others.

As a college student, David Tolley played in the old Chapel on an upright piano. We were in awe of how his fingers flew over the keys. Hum a few bars of your favorite hymn to him and immediately he could play it, adding beautiful embellishments to the original…. just like now!

February 27, 2020

Dear Friends:

Last night was Ash Wednesday, the first day of the forty days of Lent, in which we prepare to celebrate Jesus’ death and resurrection.  (For those of you who are wondering, we skip Sundays when we count the forty days, because Sundays commemorate the Resurrection.)

But the question my kids always asked me about this season was: Why Lent?

Really, why observe Lent?  We all have a favorite holiday – usually Christmas, or even that fun Fourth of July cookout – but Lent?  It is one of those seasons that seems to be made up by the church, kind of a killjoy after all the splendor of Christmas. No presents, no catchy songs, no family traditions – let’s face it, Lent seems to be 40 long days spent not doing things – how do you sell that? Or maybe it’s Lent’s themes that are so uninviting. Repentance. Sacrifice. Reflection. These are the words of Lent, and I, for one, have a hard time believing they were popular even with the Puritans – you remember, the folks who actually held competitions to see who could resist the greatest temptation or avoid the most pleasure.

So, back to our original question: Why Lent?

For me, Lent is about stripping away some of the busyness and distractions of my life, to focus more on Jesus and less on me.  I don’t give up chocolate – we Protestants don’t usually do the give-up-things-for-Lent deal, plus I would need a signed letter from the heavenly host to make me give up M&Ms. But I do add on more time for faith – more time for prayer that is not done on the run but deep in my bones, more time for soaking in God’s word, usually a Gospel, more time for getting straight with God.  Why Lent? Do you remember our theme verse for our 200th anniversary in 2010? It’s Hebrews 12:1-2:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith….

Fixing my eyes on Jesus is hard to do when I am so busy focusing on everything and everyone else.  So, I try to slow down a little in Lent, and look at the One who calls us his beloved and who loved us to the cross and beyond.

Why Lent? Not because God needs it, but because I do.

Lenten Blessings,
Becky

February 20, 2020

“Jesus said again, ‘Very truly I tell you, I am the DOOR for the sheep…. I am the door; whoever enters through me will be saved.…The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly.'” ~John 10: 7-11

Dear Friends:

As we walk through the Gospel of John together, I am always struck by the “I AM” statements by Jesus that shape this gospel: I am the bread of life. I am the light. I am the way. I am the vine. And in chapter 10, one that we rarely talk about: I am the door.

Life is full of doors.

The doors that we enter tell the stories of our lives. There are all kinds of doors in this world: There are open doors, closed doors, swinging doors, revolving doors, and even trap doors (!).

Several doors stand out in my memory.

I will never forget watching my children go through that open yellow door onto their school bus for their first day of school. That door opening – my first-born walking up those three steps – symbolized growing up, the first step in going out into the world. (I sobbed!)

Other doors come to mind, all quite real, even if invisible.

There is the door to marriage – that symbolic crossing of the threshold (which, no, John did not carry me over). There is the door to our careers. There is the door to parenthood. And maybe even a roller-coaster ride or two behind some doors. What doors into new adventures and chapters have you crossed lately?

As you have heard, John and are crossing a new door this May: retirement.

It is a bittersweet crossing – we love Liberty and it is very hard to leave, but the call of being nearer our children, and having time to spend with them, is sweet. We don’t know much about what is behind this door, but we have some dreams that we hope are God-given and God-breathed. And the good news in the midst of this time of change is that Jesus is the One who stands at all the doors you and I enter. He is the One who calls us forward, and who by His amazing grace, walks beside every step of the way.

“I am the door,” says Jesus. Amen!

With blessings on all our journeys,
Becky

February 13, 2020

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”
~ 1 John 4: 7-8

Dear Friends:

It is almost Valentine’s Day and I want to share a rather unusual Valentine’s encounter with you. John and I were out at Easton having a romantic Valentine’s dinner last year – and our waiter joined us! This young man wanted to talk with us about his parents. And no – neither one of us was wearing a big cross or our pastor IDs!  John and I were simply talking and holding hands and I think John kissed my hand at one point and our young waiter came over deeply distressed.
     “How long have you two been married?”, he asked, eyeing the reading glasses and iPhone lights to see our menus!
     “Almost 40 years,” we replied.
     “And you still love each other?”, he asked.
     “Yes, lots.”
     “All my parents do is complain about each other. I’ve never seen them hold hands or laugh together. I can’t wait to move out of the house.”

Well, the conversation went from there. People kept trying to wave him over to take their order, but he wanted to talk about love, because he was skeptical about the whole thing.
Frankly, it was a pretty depressing conversation to have over cheese fondue!

But it became clear that the big piece this young man and his folks were missing was God’s love. That’s where it all starts; we are God’s beloved. God’s love for us is immeasurable – it is higher and wider and deeper than creation itself. As we dwell in that great truth, we can begin to love others – parent, child, spouse, friend, neighbor, stranger – with God’s limitless love. Saint Augustine once said of his conversion, “Lord, you have pierced my heart with the arrow of your love.” When we allow Jesus to pierce our hearts with His love, everything else begins to fall into place.

However you celebrate tomorrow, my prayer is that Jesus may pierce your heart anew with His abounding love.

In His Love,
Becky

February 6, 2020

FROM THE DESK OF PASTOR JOHN

Dear Friends:

There is much to say in this time of change – but at this point, I want to focus on security at Liberty.

Future Liberty Link emails will have more on transition! (Transition will also be the focus of our Congregational Meeting on February 23rd.)

As you are aware, the Session and its Security Committee have been taking many steps over the past year to enhance the safety of our congregation. In more than 200 years, Liberty has never had a security incident, and we want to ensure it stays that way!

At its January 29 meeting, the Session voted to implement two improvements to our campus security:

First, beginning as soon as possible, the church will hire a Delaware County deputy sheriff to provide security every Sunday. Connected with this change is the option that, on some weeks, we will need to hire a person supplied by a private security firm, since many churches are looking to hire sheriffs on Sunday mornings.

Second, we will continue to lock the entrance doors into the Barn once worship services have begun. However, we are making adjustments:

  • The doors will now be locked at 9:15 and 11:15 – five minutes later than our current practice.
  • Starting March 1st, there will be no door monitor at the Barn Lower Level entrance after 9:15 and 11:15. A sign will be posted on the BLL door stating: “In consideration of the church’s security, this door will be locked on Sundays from 15 minutes after worship begins. Please use the main entrance on the other side of the Barn.”
  • A Deacon or Elder will be at the main Barn entrance doors throughout the service.
  • This second change will be reviewed at the April Session and Deacon meetings to assess its effectiveness.
We appreciate your understanding and cooperation as we seek to implement enhanced security measures at Liberty.

We apologize for the inconvenience but want to be as responsible as possible on Sunday mornings. Please also note that our Church School and Youth Room are locked down when classes are meeting, with strong safety measures already in place.

A special thanks to our Deacons, who have been a huge help in this process.

Serving Jesus with you,
John