Thoughts and reflections from Liberty’s Pastors

April 18, 2019

Dear Friends:
The damage to Notre Dame Cathedral has filled our news – and our hearts – this week. It is such a vital symbol of France and of faith – with its flying buttresses, stained glass rose windows and ancient relics (including a crown of thorns). It was heartbreaking to watch its towering spire and roof collapse in Monday’s fire. Watching the crowds sing hymns as the firefighters and human chains rescued parts of this living landmark brought tears to the eyes.

One of the facts about the cathedral that I was reminded of by the news was that all roads in Paris are measured from Notre Dame. It is the literal heart of the city. This Holy Week we are reminded that everything we do is measured from the cross and empty tomb. These are the heart of our faith. Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins on the cross, and His resurrection are the center from which we live out our daily lives.

Please join us as we journey through this Holy Week with you,
Easter Blessings,

April 11, 2019

Dear Friends:
Lent is a time of following Jesus ever more closely. It is a time of both giving up some of the things of this world and adding on the things of God. English missionary William Ward refers to this as Fasting and Feasting. I have adapted his work in the prayer below:

O Lord, in this Lenten season we pray to both
Fast and to feast…
We pray Lord, to
Fast from complaining, Feast on gratitude.
Fast from judgment, Feast on compassion
Fast from greed, Feast on sharing
Fast from fear, Feast on peace
Fast from lies, Feast on truth
Fast from apathy, Feast on engagement
Fast from discontent, Feast on thankfulness
Fast from noise, Feast on quiet
Fast from discouragement, Feast on hope
And above all, to:
Fast from hatred, Feast on love

May this be our prayer.

Journeying through Lent with you,

April 4, 2019

Dear Friends:

Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, so we may sing for joy to the end of our lives. ~Psalm 90:14

This Psalm is associated with Moses – and it is a cry from the heart of a people who are tired – exhausted – by years wandering in the desert. They are worn to the bone. And their cry to the Lord pierces us to the bone too: Satisfy us – meet all our needs with your love, Lord! Fill us to overflowing with yourself that our days may end not in futility, but in the joy of knowing you.

Believe it or not, God desires to meet all our needs. The cry of this Psalm is a witness to the truth that the Israelites have experienced – that the God who provides manna to feed them at daybreak also awakens them at daybreak with his unfailing love. Because with God, the dawn doesn’t just bring another day on the tread mill of life; he brings a new day filled with new hope and new life in Him.

The hard truth for many of us to grasp is that God is most satisfied when we are most satisfied in Him; He wants to fill us with his loving presence, if only we can create space for him among the demands of the day. In other words, God doesn’t want you to do more for Him; He wants you to be more with Him.

Sarah Edwards, who was a part of the Great Awakening with her husband, Jonathan, wrote in January 1742 about being filled with Jesus’ presence:

“All night, I continued in a constant, clear and lively sense of the heavenly sweetness of Christ’s excellent and transcendent love, of his nearness to me and of my dearness to Him….What I felt each minute…was worth more than all the outward comfort and pleasure which I had enjoyed in my whole life together. It was a pure delight, which fed and satisfied the soul.”

May our prayer during these Lenten days be that our ever-hungry hearts would be awakened to God’s love every morning and that we would find our fullest satisfaction in Him alone.

Journeying through Lent with you,

March 28, 2019

How wonderful and pleasant it is when brothers and sisters live together in harmony! – Psalm 133


Dear Friends,
Many of you have asked how Liberty’s recent Medical Mission to Honduras went. Each year I come back, and I say that we had the best team yet. This year—just like in all the previous years—I think that this may have been our best team yet. First things first, I want to thank the 13 folks who traveled as a part of our team. Our team members come from every age and stage, ranging from high school student interested in studying medicine, to business owners, to students at OSU, to professors of nursing, to doctors and nurses currently practicing in local hospitals, to folks who have retired after long, distinguished careers in practice. God has blessed this congregation both with the desire to serve others and with the ability to serve those who dream of better access to healthcare. It is inspiring to see.

Here are just a few highlights I want to share:
  • Throughout the week, our 4 clinics were able see more than 500 people. In many cases, our doctors, nurses, and pharmacist were able to provide treatments that can significantly improve our patients’ health. In every case, our patients left the clinic knowing that we cared about them, that we valued them, and that our prayers were with them.
  • Sustainable development is happening. Our partner church in El Olvido is capably led by Pastors Noé and Keila Castro, and they are pouring themselves into making their community a better place. They are investing in young people to keep them away from the corrupting influences that are all around them and to shape them into virtuous leaders. In a huge win almost four years in the making, they are encouraging people to take charge of making El Olvido a better place, working with local leaders as they begin improvements to the local water system. This work takes time, but it is exciting to see God at work through the church in El Olvido.
  • We need you. One of the most common questions I get is, “Is there a job for me if I join the team?” The answer is an unqualified “Yes!” If you speak Spanish, we need you. If you are licensed as a medical professional, we need you. If you can carry a box filled with supplies, we need you. If you can pray, we need you. If you can play games with a Honduran child, we need you. If you can share your faith in Jesus Christ with someone, we need you. If you have ever thought about being a part of one of our Honduras teams, talk with a previous team member or with me about what it might look like for you to join us.

Together Liberty and our ministry partners in Honduras are doing incredible work. Thank you for all you do to support us as we follow Jesus together!

Gracia y paz (grace and peace),

March 21, 2019


Dear Friends:

Several people asked about the author I quoted at length at the end of my sermon on Sunday. He is Frederick Buechner – an author, novelist, and Presbyterian minister (check out his Wikipedia page).  Buechner has written several books, but two of his books are special favorites of mine and Becky’s:

  • Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC is the book I quoted from on Sunday.  In Wishful Thinking, Buechner writes short and long entries on some 140 religious words: angels, baptism, despair, gospel, love, parable, sin, etc.  Sometimes laugh-out-loud funny, sometimes deeply poignant, always profoundly insightful (e.g. Envy: “Envy is the consuming desire to have everybody else as unsuccessful as you are.”)
  • In the same manner, Buechner treats Bible characters in Peculiar Treasures: A Biblical Who’s Who.  Becky & I love this book so much that we give a copy each year to the outgoing elders and deacons as a thank-you gift.

Here’s Buechner’s (unabridged) entry on “Word”:

The Hebrew term dabar means both “word” and “deed”.  Thus, to say something is to do something.  I love you.  I hate you.  I forgive you.  I am afraid.  Who knows what such words do, but whatever it is, it can never be undone.  Something that lay hidden in the heart is irrevocably released through speech into time, is given substance and tossed like a stone into the pool of history, where the concentric rings lap out endlessly.

Words are power, essentially the power of creation.  By my words I both discover and create who I am.  By my words I elicit a word from you.  Through our converse we create each other.

When God said, “Let there be light,” there was light where before there was only darkness.  When I say I love you, there is love where before there was only ambiguous silence.  In a sense I do not love you first and then speak it, but only by speaking it give it reality.

   “In the beginning was the Word,” says John, meaning perhaps that before the beginning there was something like Silence: not the absence of sound because there was no sound yet to be absent, but the absence of absence: nothing nothing’d: everything.  Then the Word.  The Deed.  The Beginning.  The beginning in time of time.  “The Word was with God, and the Word was God.”  By uttering himself, God makes himself heard and makes himself hearers.

God never seems to weary of trying to get himself across.  Word after word he tries in search of the right word.  When the Creation itself doesn’t seem to say it right – sun, moon, stars, all of it – he tries flesh and blood.

He tried saying it in Noah, but Noah was a drinking man.  He tried saying it in Abraham, but Abraham was a little too Mesopotamian with all those wives and whiskers.  He tried Moses, but Moses himself was trying too hard; tried David, but David was too pretty for his own good.  Toward the end of his rope, God tried saying it in John the Baptist with his locusts and honey and hellfire preaching, and you get the feeling that John might almost have worked except that he lacked something small but crucial like a sense of the ridiculous or a balanced diet.

So, he tried once more.  Jesus as le mot juste of God.

   “The Word became flesh,” John said, of all flesh this flesh: holy hick, whore’s hero, poor man’s Messiah, savior as schlemiel.  Jesus as Word made flesh means take it or leave it: in this life, death, life, God finally manages to say what God is and what man is.  Means: just as your words have you in them – your breath, spirit, power, hiddenness – so Jesus has God in him.

Journeying through Lent with you,

March 14, 2019

Dear Friends:

I ran across this poem the other day from a fellow Presbyterian pastor and had to pass it on:

every morning, 
i pour a big bowl 
of grudges 
for breakfast,

the box of 
unopened on the 

(Thom Shuman)

I think that Lent is the perfect time to let go of some long-held grudges and walk in thankfulness day by day. I write this as if it’s easy – and I know that it is not!  Some days the best I can do is scan the skies for grace as I wrestle with the challenges before me.  But in Lent we try to put on some spiritual practices – like forgiveness and daily prayer and sharing grace – while we put off some of our worse habits (my list is too long for this email but suffice it to say I will need all of Lent to make this happen!)

It’s time to open that box of gratitude on the shelf.

Journeying through Lent with you,

P.S.: This Sunday we will again be passing out Lenten coins, as a sign of Jesus’ presence with us, and a reminder to rededicate ourselves to prayer this holy season. 

March 7, 2019

Dear Friends:
I love what John Ortberg writes about worship: “I need to worship because without it I lose a sense of wonder and gratitude and plod through life with blinders on.”  In Lent here at Liberty, we offer an extra experience of worship on Wednesday evenings to provide more time for meditation, wonder and gratitude. We provide time to take off the blinders and reflect on our lives in the light of Jesus’ call.  We follow Jesus a little more closely throughout Lent, from the wilderness to the cross on Good Friday and finally the abounding joy of the resurrection.

Lent begins the process of cleansing our lives so that the miracle of the resurrection might take hold of us anew. We need the waters of God’s grace and forgiveness to wash over us, so that we can stand in Easter’s redeeming light.

On Sundays in this holy season, we will be preaching on the names of Jesus. This Sunday, we will look at the name Jesus itself. On Wednesday evenings, the Second Stringers and Steve Banks will lead us in joyful gospel music, and a member of Liberty will share a little of their faith journey with us. I find these personal times of sharing unbelievably moving. They both remind me that others have taken a few detours on the way (I’m not the only one!) and inspire me to follow Jesus more closely on the journey.

“I need to worship because without it I lose a sense of wonder and gratitude and plod through life with blinders on.”   I invite you to join us for a little extra worship and wonder this Lenten season.

Lenten Blessings,

P.S.: This Sunday you will receive special Lenten coins to carry with you throughout this season as a reminder of our Lord’s presence with you in a special way these next 40 days. The coins are made possible this year through gifts in memory of Liberty member Tom Jones.

February 28, 2019


Dear Friends:
Every year in early February, Becky and I sit down and select the songs to sing in worship during Lent.  Over the years, we’ve whittled it down to these six hymns:

  • Amazing Grace
  • Beneath The Cross Of Jesus
  • When I Survey The Wondrous Cross
  • There Is A Redeemer
  • Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?
  • The Old Rugged Cross

Each one of these is a great hymn, with powerful words and moving music.  I love them all!

As we enter the season of Lent next Wednesday, I commend to you “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”.  This hymn was written by Isaac Watts, widely known as the “father of English hymnody.” (Watts also wrote “Joy To The World”, “O God, Our Help In Ages Past”, “Jesus Shall Reign”, and many other well-loved hymns).  Watts wrote “When I Survey” in 1707 after studying Galatians 6:14 – May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

I encourage you to pray through the lyrics to “When I Survey The Wondrous Cross” as you prepare for your own Lenten journey:

When I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss and pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast save in the death of Christ my God!
All the vain things that charm me most, I sacrifice them to His blood.

See from His head, His hands, His feet, sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet or thorns compose so rich a crown?

Were the whole realm of nature mine, that were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.

And please plan to take full advantage of Lent at Liberty:

  • Ash Wednesday service, March 6, 7:00 p.m. in the Barn Sanctuary.
  • Weekly Wednesday Lenten Soup Suppers (6:15 in Barn Lower Level) and Services (7:00 in the Chapel) on March 13, 20, 27, April 3 & 10, featuring the Second Stringers and testimonies by your Liberty friends.
  • Maundy Thursday Tenebrae & Communion Service, April 18, 7:30 p.m. in the Barn.
  • Prayer time in the Chapel on Good Friday (9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.).

Serving Jesus with you,

February 21, 2019

Dear Friends:

As I write this Link, I am looking outside my window at snow falling everywhere! “He spreads the snow like wool and scatters the frost like ashes,” (Psalm 147). What was once brown winter land is now blanketed in a soft layer of white. John and I were driving in this snow, and all we could do was say how beautiful it is. Our Creator does good work! As you can imagine, there are not a lot of references to snow in Scripture. Deserts and heat – yes; snow – no. But when we do find snow in scripture, it is used as an image for cleansing from sin:

Psalm 51:7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; Wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Isaiah 1:18 Come now, and let us reason together, Says the LORD, though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool.

God’s word uses snow as an image of purity, and of God’s grace and forgiveness. It is a powerful image. As I look out my window, I can’t help but marvel at how every branch is covered with snow. And all I can think is how very much I need every part of my life covered with His grace and love.

Songwriter David Stearman Hayes captures this idea in his song, Somewhere It’s Snowing. He writes:

Now, I’ve heard that the angels
lift their hearts and rejoice,
When one traveler turns homeward
from his ways, to the Lord.
If somewhere someone’s turning, he’s giving his all,
And God’s grace, like the snow, is beginning to fall!

So that is my prayer for each of us. May 2019 not just be remembered for polar vortexes and other dramatic weather events, but may it be a time when we experience God’s grace, like the snow, falling all around us.

With warm blessings,

February 14, 2019

Dear Friends:

Happy Valentine’s Day! Today is a day all about love! As we walk through Ephesians, Paul writes about love over and over, using the Greek “agape” to convey God’s kind of love. The Greeks had several words for love, including philia (brotherly love), storge (familial love, or love for your favorite team), eros (you get that one!) and agape. Agape is a love that is constant, rather than changeable. It is unconditional – there is nothing you must do to earn it. Agape is a love that is selfless and always giving, even sacrificial. For centuries, English Bible translators did not use the word “love” to capture the meaning of “agape” . Instead, they used the word “charity“. We don’t use that word much these days, except to refer to those whose well-being is dependent on others. We pride ourselves on never needing the charity of others; of being the givers and not the receivers. And yet, when it comes to the love of God, we are all charity cases.

God’s love is pure, undeserved gift. It is the gift above all gifts, and Paul prays for us to know this blessing in fullness:

And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully.Ephesians 3:18-19

Friends: You are loved by God. May you know the agape that Jesus longs to pour into each of our hearts.

Valentine’s Blessings,

February 7, 2019

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved. ~Ephesians 2:4-5

Dear Friends:

As I’ve been spending time in Ephesians this season, certain words and phrases have come alive for me: living in Christ, the glories of His grace, being rooted and grounded in His love, and that wonderful word we rarely hear anymore: mercy. Our God, says Paul, is rich in mercy. To be merciful is to show kindness or compassion to someone whom you have every right to judge or even harm. Mercy captures the miraculously good news that “while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). God pours out His grace and mercy on us, undeservedly, abundantly.  As the old hymn puts it, there is a wideness to God’s mercy, like the wideness of the sea…. As we read the gospels, we see the wideness of mercy of Jesus time and time again, from healing the blind man, the hemorrhaging woman, the leper – all the way to forgiving the thief on the cross.

As I was reading some tweets this morning about a range of topics (including the Superbowl halftime show!) – I could not find much mercy. And yet we are called to show others the same mercy that the Lord has shown us. As I was reflecting on God’s mercy in my own life, I remembered a Rich Mullins song with lyrics that speak straight to my wandering heart:

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy
I cannot find in my own
And He keeps His fire burning
To melt this heart of stone
Keeps me aching with a yearning
Keeps me glad to have been caught
In the reckless raging fury
That they call the love of God.

May we be drenched in His mercy. And may we broaden our circle to include others to whom the world is often unmerciful, that they too might know the blessed wideness of God’s mercy.

In Him,

January 31, 2019

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 14:3

Dear Friends:

As a pastor, I have so many privileges – I baptize babies and proclaim that they are children of God, crying or not! I preside over weddings which are full of goose bump moments – that moment when the dad walks his daughter down the aisle or when a misty-eyed bride and groom whisper “I do”. I also have the immense privilege of being with you in the sad times – holding your hand in prayer when you are in the hospital or standing with the family graveside as they say a final heartfelt goodbye to a beloved parent or grandparent. I want to talk a little about this last one with you now.

Loss is such a difficult thing – I can’t even begin to find adequate words to describe the experience of the valley of grief. The good news is that funerals and memorial services can be a time of real healing for family and friends as we talk about Jesus’ sure promise of eternal life. We here at Liberty want to do the best job possible on this service. So, we have come up with two documents to help:

  • One is a Liberty Funeral Planner, to use as a guide when you lose someone you love. It answers many of your questions and gives ideas for scripture and other service parts. It is available on our website under worship. A pastor (of your choice) will walk beside you in this time and through this planning, but this gives you some of the information you may like ahead of time.
  • The second document is called Liberty Funeral Wishes and this helps you plan for your own service. It is a very simple brochure designed to help your family know your wishes ahead of time.  Given the height of emotions in a time of loss, discussions over what the deceased would have wanted can be difficult. To let your loved ones – and our pastors – know your thoughts ahead of time is a great gift to them and to us. Your wishes will remove much of the burden of planning from your loved ones. You can download either form from our website: Go to worship/ funerals.

Thank you for allowing me to bring up such a sensitive topic. This is part of what a family does with one another – discuss the hard things. And remember: the good news that we as people of faith can hold onto is that death is not an ending, but a doorway into God’s waiting arms.

With warm blessings on these very cold winter days,

January 24, 2019

Dear Friends:
One of the themes that stands out in our journey through Ephesians is Paul’s call to unity:

Therefore (I)… entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all. ~Eph. 4: 1-6

And yet, when I read the news, I see anything but unity – in our nation, or in our world.

And it is beyond discouraging.  I find myself asking, where do we as Christians start to do this?  How do we model unity and the bond of peace for others?

What came to mind was something I read on Monday – the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s contract from the 1963 Alabama Christian Movement for Civil Rights. A word for his time, and a word for our time too.  It struck me as a starting point. The Contract reads:

I hereby pledge myself to hold to the following:
1. Meditate daily on the teachings and life of Jesus.
 2. Remember always that the non-violent movement seeks justice and reconciliation — not victory. 
3. Walk and talk in the manner of love, for God is love. 
4. Pray daily to be used by God in order that all might be free. 
5. Sacrifice personal wishes in order that all might be free. 
6. Observe with both friend and foe the ordinary rules of courtesy.
 7. Seek to perform regular service for others and for the world. 
8. Refrain from the violence of fist, tongue, or heart.
 9. Strive to be in good spiritual and bodily health.

With warm blessings on these cold winter days,

January 17, 2019

“Even before he made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ….”
Ephesians 1:4

Dear Friends:
I am loving our journey through Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians. How about you?

Ephesians is a letter where Paul’s sheer wonder at life in Christ overwhelms him, and in phrase after phrase he pours out passionate praise to God. The writer Anne Lamott has said that there are only three basic prayers: “Help!”, “Thanks!” and “Wow!” Ephesians is chock-full of wow moments.

Running underneath all these Wow moments is a description of the new life we have in Jesus Christ. The phrase “in Christ” or its equivalent is used about 27 times by Paul in this letter. “In Christ” is one of the hinges of the letter – a shorthand for the vital, life-giving union between Christ and his people. Paul is reminding us of our new identity since we have placed our faith in Jesus Christ. In fact, Paul says that we have been adopted by God; we are now not just followers but family.

Taking the first seven verses of Ephesians, we are told that in Christ we are:
and Redeemed.

And that’s just the first seven verses! I hope you can take some time these coming days to ponder these promises and how they shape who we are (and Whose we are). And of course, enjoy some WOW moments!

With warm blessings on these cold winter days,

January 10, 2019

“ See, I am doing a new thing!
    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?”
~Isaiah 43: 19

Dear Friends:

I don’t know about you, but John and I spent last weekend “de-Christmasing” the house.  It is never fun to take down all the bright red and green decorations, the beautiful silver bulbs from my mother, the handmade, heavily glued ornaments from the kids, the creche scenes I have collected over the years with Mary holding Jesus so serenely, and the shepherds looking on in wonder.  The house feels bare when we are done. Is it really all over until next year?

And then I read this poem by Ann Weems, and it was a great reminder that Christ is born anew every day; that He is always doing a new thing.  May that be our prayer.

It Is Not Over
by Ann Weems

It is not over,
this birthing.
There are always newer skies
into which God can throw stars.

When we begin to think
that we can predict the Advent of God,
that we can box the Christ
in a stable in Bethlehem,
that’s just the time that God will be born
in a place we can’t imagine and won’t believe.

Those who wait for God
watch with their hearts and not their eyes,
always listening
for angel words.

New Year Blessings,

January 3, 2019


Dear Friends:

This Sunday, we will begin our winter sermon series exploring the Book of Ephesians. It is hard to imagine a part of Scripture more relevant than the Letter to the Ephesians. Throughout its beautiful language, this letter is clear about three things: ravaged by evil, sin, and brokenness, our world is not the way it is supposed to be; God rules over every speck of creation, and in Jesus Christ, God has acted decisively to make all things right; and, as the Church—Christ’s body on Earth—we have work to do. This is a letter that tells us who we are, calls us to lean into the calling we all received when we first believed in Christ.

As we begin this series, and with a letter as relevant as this one, I encourage you to dive deeply into Ephesians with us. Read the letter in its entirety—ideally more than once. Savor its soaring language, take comfort in its promises, and be challenged and encouraged by its call to live as Christians in the world. Consider joining the Pastors’ Bible Study and learn even more about how these ancient words continue to give life and hope.

Grace and peace,