Thoughts and reflections from Liberty’s Pastors

August 13, 2020


Dear friends,

This is our second-to-last Link that we will be writing to you as your pastors. We will greatly miss you and all things Liberty. There is nowhere else like Liberty! After an “extended-delayed retirement”, Becky’s and my last Sunday will be August 23.

A long time ago (in COVID years!)—back in February—we walked you through the slide at the bottom of this letter. It lays out the three stages of transition between now and when Liberty’s new permanent pastor arrives.  Let me review it again.

The first stage is the shortest. Rev. Don Hilkerbaumer will be Liberty’s Bridge Pastor from August 24 until sometime (most likely) in October. Many of you remember Don when he was Liberty’s “Interim Pastor of Visitation” in 2014-2015. Don is a retired Presbyterian minister, having served many years as pastor at the Plain City Presbyterian Church, and as a Bridge Pastor at several local churches. Don will be working part-time, focusing on online worship, supervising the staff, moderating Session, and providing pastoral care. You will enjoy his ministry!

The second stage will last from 1 to 1.5 years – the “Transitional Pastor”. Your Transitional Pastor Search Committee (Heather Burger, Jeremy Carpenter, Bridget Kaltenmark, Linda Kemp, Carlos Lima, and Jim Mohr) are hard at work, sifting through résumés, checking out online sermons, setting up interviews, and checking references. It is hoped the Transitional Pastor will arrive sometime in October. He or she will work full-time, doing much the same work Becky and I do. In addition to serving as Liberty’s pastor, the Transitional Pastor has the special task of experimenting — not making major changes but trying out new ways of doing things for Liberty. An early focus of the Transitional Pastor will be working with Session to run an all-church “mission study” — a multi-pronged process to help Liberty clarify where it’s been, where it is now, and where it believes God is calling it to go in the future.

The final stage is the search for and arrival of your new pastor. Most likely in early 2021, the church Nominating Committee will nominate a “Pastor Nominating Committee” (PNC) to be elected by the congregation, comprised of 9-12 members who will be charged with finding Liberty’s new pastor. Once the PNC is elected and completes the necessary forms and job description, they will read through applications, do research online, set up interviews, check references, and bring 2-3 finalists to Liberty for a final evaluation. This culminates when the nominee will preach at Liberty, followed by a congregational meeting to extend him or her a call. It’s hard to know how long this will take, especially given the changes wrought by COVID, but somewhere between November 2021 and March 2022 should see Liberty’s new pastor arriving.

Liberty is entering a time of transition, which means a time of change. None of us are crazy about change! But always remember we serve a living Lord, who is even now actively leading Liberty into His future for us. So, when you find this transition to be a bit trying, remember this Gospel truth: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” (Hebrews 13:8)

Serving Jesus with you,

Farewell to the Harts

We invite you to join us in two ways of saying farewell to the Harts as they retire:

  1. Watch worship online on August 23rd.

    During the service, John and Becky will be presented with gifts from the congregation and Session, and a speaker will express our appreciation for the past 14 years.

  2. Following the service on August 23rd from 11:30 a.m. until 1:00 p.m., we will be having a drive-through farewell.

    Cars will enter at the lower level of the church and drive up to the upper level where John and Becky will be outside to say goodbye. We are encouraging people to decorate their cars and to have signs of well wishes.  There will be a basket for cards for those who would like to leave a written goodbye. Please wear masks!


Please abide by the following Liberty safety protocols:

  • Take your temperature to ensure no fever before coming to Liberty’s campus.
  • Wear a mask at all times on the campus, both inside and outside.
  • Maintain social distancing (minimum of 6 ft. apart) at all times on campus, including in the parking areas.
  • Bring your own hand sanitizer and as possible use the bathroom facilities in your own home prior to attending a gathering at Liberty.
  • Do not attend if you have a temperature or a cough, have been ill in the last two weeks, or have traveled out of the country or to a “hot spot” in the last two weeks.

August 6, 2020

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD,
thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

Jeremiah 29:11

Dear Friends:

Do you remember that TV classic, I Love Lucy, with Lucille Ball? Every episode had some wacky encounter between Lucy and her far more feet-on-the-ground husband, Ricky. One night he come homes, and he finds her in a frenzy, which was her usual state, looking for a lost earring in the living room. She is so frantic that, rather than ask questions, Ricky just immediately gets down on his hands and knees and helps her search. After a few minutes of not finding it, he asks, “Lucy, did you lose your earring in the living room?” She says, “No. I lost it in the bedroom, but the light is better in here.”

So often we look in all the wrong places to find guidance, wisdom, hope.

The Biblical story, from start to finish, is a story of  hope. Over and over again, from Exodus to those often-confused disciples, Scripture teaches us to look in the right place—to look to the Lord instead of to the world around us—to find hope in the hard times.

This is a very hard time in history. And it is easy to lose hope. Some days, I wake up eager and expectant for the day, and then remember—oh yeah, Covid—and sink back down under the covers. But even in these difficult days, we can find in hope in knowing that Jesus is with us, right here and right now, in the darkest valleys.

So I find myself drawn to the Apostle Paul’s call to not only those Roman believers, but us today: “Do not let your zeal subside; keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, persistent in prayer. “ (Romans 12)

May that be our prayer.


July 30, 2020

Dear Friends:

I want to share with you some great insights by theologian Abraham Heschel (1907-1972). Heschel was a Polish-born American rabbi, theologian, and philosopher.  After beginning his academic career in Germany, in the late 1930’s Heschel was arrested by the Gestapo and returned to Poland. He escaped to London and then on to the United States, eventually earning his U.S. citizenship and teaching at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City.

Heschel wrote on a wide variety of theological topics, and one has a certain expectation that he would be hard to read, complex, too academic.  But Heschel could touch the soul of everyone.  These days, his encouragement is especially relevant.  Below is one passage I especially love.

“Our goal should be to live life in radical amazement. …. get up in the morning and look at the world in a way that takes nothing for granted. Everything is phenomenal; everything is precious; everything is incredible. Never treat life casually. To be spiritual is to be amazed.”

“Never once in my life did I ask God for success or wisdom or power or fame. I asked for wonder, and he gave it to me.”

“When I was young, I admired clever people. Now that I am old, I admire kind people.”

With amazement,

July 23, 2020

From the Desk of Elder Melinda Wood




Dear Liberty Family:

As one of the committee members responsible for planning the “farewell event” for the Harts’ retirement, I have been having a difficult time because I wanted to have a PARTY!! for the Harts before they left. It took my 29-year-old son to set me straight.

Many of you know that my oldest son is getting married in May of 2021. While I was talking with him about his plans, I mentioned that he might want to think about possible changes that would have to be made if we are still struggling with COVID.  His response?  “Mom, we are getting married no matter what. We may have 20 or 200 guests. We are ready to commit to each other and see no reason why anything should stand in our way”. My son was saying that the “why” we are getting married is more important than “how” we celebrate.

Many of our Liberty members lives have been touched by the Harts over the past 14 years.

The Harts have helped us grow in our faith, planted seeds of hope and love in our lives, and truly made a difference. Becky’s prayers are powerful and healing. Along with John’s awesome Cardinal stories, with his incredible financial abilities, has led Liberty into a solid future where our children and grandchildren will have a place of worship. Many of you have already sent in your cards of tearful goodbyes and words of friendship and encouragement. These caring words cannot be compared to a full-blown party. They are thoughtful, meaningful, and touching—something that a room full of 200 people cannot convey.

Will there be a final farewell to the Harts on August 23rd? Of course!

Time will tell whether we have a larger gathering under the pavilion or a more intimate “goodbye” at their last church service, whether it be online or in-person. We will, of course, keep you updated as to the “HOW” we are going to say farewell.

As to the “WHY” — the Harts have shared their deep compassion, dedication, friendship and faithful service with us. Your prayers, cards and emails of thanks, and well wishes to our pastors are something they will never forget. The Harts have touched our lives as much as Liberty, and its members have touched theirs.

Melinda Wood,
Elder, Clerk of Session, “Farewell” committee member, and one of the lives that the Harts have deeply touched

July 16, 2020

Dear Friends:

John Calvin once called the psalms “a mirror of the soul”, and perhaps more than any other book of the Bible, we find our cries of the soul echoed in the Psalms.  As one theologian notes: “Wherever our souls have ventured over the past year, we have not been far from the psalms.”  There are psalms of lament, in which the psalmist cries out: My God, my God why have you forsaken me?”  There are psalms of joy, in which the psalmist prays, “Let everything that lives and breathes praise the Lord!”  There are psalms of need, with their cries of “Deliver me from mine enemies, O Lord…” And there are psalms of hope, in which the psalmist reaffirms the sure and living hope and that we have in our Lord.

This summer we are going to look at perhaps the most famous psalm of hope, the 23rd Psalm.  Take time to read this well-known Psalm through again.

Here it is in the King James Version, because a beloved older friend always insisted that I read it in the King James….
The Lord is my shepherd: I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures;
he leadeth me beside the still waters. 
            He restoreth my soul; he leadeth me in the paths of
righteousness for his name’s sake.
            Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death
I will fear no evil for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
            Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies;
thou anointest my head with oil, my cup runneth over.
            Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life;
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. 

May God’s goodness and mercy follow you wherever you go.

With warm summer blessings,

July 9, 2020

July 2, 2020

Dear Friends:

It is almost Independence Day!

Happy 244th Birthday!

Yes, America is 244 years old today.

July 2, 1776 is the date that the Second Continental Congress voted to approve a Resolution of Independence from Great Britain. Two days later, the Continental Congress approved the full Declaration of Independence.

Here is what John Adams, one of the authors with Thomas Jefferson, wrote to his wife Abigail:

The second day of July 1776 will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.

Adams’ prediction was off by two days, but the rest remains true. We do celebrate as a nation, and we celebrate those inalienable rights our forefathers fought for: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

This year, our celebrations will be tamer than in years past. But maybe that frees us up to do the part of the Independence celebrations that we usually skip – acts of devotion to God, giving thanks to God Almighty, who has so blessed our nation. May we never take for granted what this nation stands for.

With thanksgiving for all that we have,

June 25, 2020

Dear Friends:

Our Worship Committee and Session have been hard at work on reopening Liberty step by step!

Through the end of July, we are offering open prayer time in the Sanctuary on Mondays and Thursdays.

The next step will be [email protected]!

Starting Sunday July 12th and continuing on Sundays through August 2nd or 9th, we will be offering a small, informal outdoor evening service on the church lawn, modeled after our Wednesday evening Lenten services.  There will be a layperson sharing, pastors’ praying, music with Steve on the piano, John on the guitar, and some of our singers. We hope this feels like vespers for those of you who went to a summer camp with those wonderful evening gatherings (that I remember fondly!), or like you are experiencing a Lenten evening service, but outside in the beauty of God’s creation.

[email protected]’ will be bring your own chair, sit in marked socially distanced pre-marked spots, and wear a mask – all going the extra mile for our brothers and sisters in Christ.  Everything that we are doing these days is a pilot program, and we are piloting this with 70 folks, plus helping deacons and staff. You will be able to sign-up through SignUp Genius – which will go out by church-wide email on July 1st.  Our primary Sunday service will continue to be offered online, but as we take small steps in reopening, we hope this simple evening service will be an additional blessing.  And we look forward on your behalf to next summer when things return to normal!

Finally, just a note that John & my last Sunday is August 23rd. Our Transitional Pastor Search Committee, chaired by K.C. Baker, is already hard at work!

We look forward to sharing in prayer and worship in these ways and more.

May we stay strong as a family of faith, even through the challenges of Covid-19.  And may you know the presence of the Lord with you and yours.

With All Blessings,

June 18, 2020

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! …. The reason I came baptizing with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.” I have seen, and I testify that this is the Son of God.”…. The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, John said, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” –John 1: 29-35

The beginning of Jesus’ ministry is nothing like we expect it to be. John the Baptist is in the desert by the Jordan river, calling people to repent of their sins and to be baptized in the name of coming Messiah. And despite the starkness of his message, (“You brood of vipers” being one of John’s favorite phrases!) people are coming to him in droves, walking through miles of desert just to hear his message.  At the start of his ministry, Jesus himself comes to be baptized by John. Overcome, John cries out: “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.”  In other words, “This is the one! It’s him – the One we’ve waited centuries for.” And John chooses – out of all the messianic images of Jesus – the Lamb of God.  It is this symbol of the lamb that hangs from the balcony above our communion table in the Barn.

Now I might have chosen differently.  King of kings is a title we admire because it seems so grand, as does Almighty, Deliverer, Redeemer – but Lamb of God?  Sounds a little underwhelming, doesn’t it?  But then we open God’s word, and from beginning to end, runs this image of the lamb as the sacrifice for our sins.

In response our sin, God’s final answer wasn’t some bigger or better sacrifice. No! The one perfect sacrifice would be made by God himself, in the gift of his only Son. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son…”  (John 3:16).  On the cross, Jesus took upon himself all the brokenness and alienation of our sin and offers us forgiveness and a new beginning. As C.S. Lewis wrote, “Christ offers us something for nothing. He even offers us everything for nothing. In a sense the whole Christian life consists in accepting this remarkable offer.”

So the next time we are in the Barn together again, look at that beautiful wall hanging of a lamb up front – and may it remind you of a love that went all the way to the cross, and the new life that is ours in Jesus.


P.S. – Special thanks to Marlene Peele, who created our beautiful quilts and wall hangings!


June 11, 2020

And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it….”  ~Isaiah 30:21

Dear Friends:
As I write this, John and I are on a “staycation”.  We are taking the week to pack up our condo and move to a small apartment in Dublin.  From there, once we retire in late summer, we will head to the Berkshires for a few weeks, and then find an apartment in Charlotte near our kids.  And then a permanent home!

Thinking about all this is somewhat crazy making.  But I am comforted by the fact that the Bible is full of stories of believers on a journey of faith. Like the ancient Hebrews, we are all on a faith journey—just with less boxes!  I have always loved the imagery of Exodus—that of the cloud and the pillar of fire leading the Hebrews to the promised land. The earliest Christians knew this truth and referred to themselves as followers “of the Way.”

So, as the Harts look at the calendar, we want you to know two things:

First: It is a joy and a privilege to be here and to take this journey together during this critical time of both pandemic and heart-felt protests
Second: We appreciate your prayers as we try new things at Liberty during Covid-19—and as we try to find our socks!

My prayer for us as individuals and as a church is always that the Lord goes before us to show us the way—pillar or otherwise—and that we may faithfully follow.


June 4, 2020

“God has told you what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8)

Dear Friends:

We are watching our nation gripped by forces that seem beyond our control – “a pandemic of racism” as the headline for USA Today read on Monday, rioting, fear and confusion on every level.  I have no solutions – but maybe we can start slow and build from there.  We can start with friendship with someone of a different color or culture, some meaningful conversation.  My current hero is the policeman in Flint, Michigan who in response to the protestors chanting “walk with us,” took off his helmet and put down his stick and walked with the protestors. This is not always possible in our current climate, but what a witness.

Here’s one small incident that opened my youngest daughter’s eyes….

White Privilege! Those were the words yelled at my youngest daughter awhile back – with lots of laughter – by a group of coworkers, all varied races, and ethnicities – in other words, not a whiter shade of pale, like my girl. White what? was her response. And they said it again, White privilege! She looked around, and she was the only one in her group jaywalking on a Washington D.C. street to their destination.  She was taking her work team out to a restaurant after work. (Which, by the way, I am going to guess was a bar, but when you have two Presbyterian Ministers as parents you tend to substitute “restaurant” for “bar” in all your conversations!) 

With red lights in either direction, she jaywalked to their destination, but none of the rest of her team did.  They all walked two long city blocks out of their way to wait for an official crossing light.  After they arrived and sat at the table, several African American males told our daughter at length why they don’t jaywalk; and how quickly they get picked up if they do.  There are some worlds in this world we know nothing about. 

So maybe we start by admitting how much more we need to know; that we need to open our eyes and our hearts. The prophet Micah calls us to do justice and love mercy and walk humbly with our God.  Justice, after all, is not only for “just us.”

Friends, may we be faithful in prayer, may we find ways to reach out to someone across our country’s color barriers, and may God pour out calming waters of mercy on our boiling nation. 

May God’s blessing cover you, your loved ones, our church, and our great nation.
Pastor Becky

May 28, 2020


Dear Friends:

I have some wonderful news: Liberty Church is the recipient of federal PPP funds!

As many of you know, the “Payroll Protection Program” is an initiative of the Small Business Administration designed to support business payrolls during this time of economic shock as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to the extent of the crisis, non-profit groups are also eligible to receive assistance. PPP funds are given as an interest-free loan—the principal of which will be completely forgiven—if they are used to continue to pay employees in the eight weeks following receipt of the loan.

Here are the details:
  • Liberty received $171,740 into our bank account on May 1st — the maximum amount for which the church was eligible according to the SBA guidelines.
  • The funds are currently being used to cover payroll for both the church and preschool staff in May and June. If there are PPP funds left over, the Program permits the church to use these funds to pay utility bills.

The Session has already been paying our staff since the lockdown phase of the pandemic, even those who have been unable to work because their church programs have been cancelled. However, offerings have been behind budget since March 15 — due to the lack of live Sunday services and since some members have lost income or even jobs because of the crisis. In response, the Session has identified $80,000 in 2020 budget cuts and instituted a “non-essential spending” freeze. The PPP funds will help Liberty cover the ongoing shortfall in 2020 offerings.

The Session will continue to keep you up to date on Liberty’s finances. In the meantime, we are so thankful for all of you who have been faithful in your financial support of Liberty during this emergency time. And we look forward to your continued support since we know you believe that Liberty is a good investment because “God is changing lives at Liberty.”

May God’s blessing cover you, your loved ones, our church, and our world.

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.


May 14, 2020


“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.


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,

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,

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,

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,