Thoughts and reflections from Liberty’s Pastors

February 14, 2018

Dear Friends,

Today is the first day of Lent and yes, also Valentine’s Day! – or should I say vaLENTine’s Day?!  At first glance, these two holidays have nothing in common. One is deeply spiritual, the other not so much; one often involves fasting, the other feasting on chocolates; one is centered on the cross and the other makes a mint for Hallmark and your local florist.  So, it seems like a trick of the calendar to have these fall on the same day. And yet…and yet both center on that most amazing and transforming gift from God’s hand: the gift of love. “We love,” says the Apostle John, “because He first loved us.” (1 John 4:19)  It’s really that simple.

God our Creator could have made us (his creation) in a million different ways – but He made us with hearts to love Him, and to love one another.  As Jesus reminds us:

“‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul,
and with all your mind…. And your neighbor as yourself.”

~Matthew 22:37-38

Really loving the Lord is hard to do when I am busy focusing on everything else in my world. 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.

Please join us this evening at 7:00 p.m. in the Barn Sanctuary as we celebrate Ash Wednesday and this unique cross-shaped Valentine that God has sent for each of us.

Journeying through Lent with you,
Becky

February 8, 2018

FROM THE DESK OF DAWN PARR

Dear Friends,

Each Sunday I have the wonderful privilege of teaching Sunday school. It is a joy to reveal God’s word to the children and watch them understand more about their relationship with Jesus. This month the grade school classes are hearing Jesus’ parables. They have been introduced to a Good Samaritan, some fruitful Mustard Seeds, a Lost Sheep, and a Sower. It is always interesting to teach a story within a story, especially when children experience life on a literal level. One is never sure how much is understood, but we are always confident that God’s word never returns void.

Recently while teaching about the Parable of the Sower, I had one Kindergartener explain to me her thoughts on the story. She said the Sower is working on her heart, to grow love so that she can give it to others. Wow! What an expression of faith from a six-year-old!

How many of us allow the Sower to work on our hearts? Jesus tells us to come to Him like a little child. Children are full of hope. We need to come to Jesus full of hope, casting out all the doubts the world gives. Changing our hearts is a process. We can allow Jesus to remove us from the path, the rocks and the thorns. However, we must be willing. Like a child, we should yearn to have a heart that seeks after God. We must fix our eyes on Him. Only then can He grow love in our hearts too!

Sowing seeds of love, hope and faith with you!
Dawn

February 1, 2018

Dear Friends,

When the late Steve Jobs, the cofounder of Apple computer, approached John Sculley, then the president of Pepsi-Cola, in late 1982 about becoming the pioneering company’s president, he issued his now famous challenge:  “Do you want to spend the rest of your life selling sugared water or do you want a chance to change the world?”

As we journey through the Bible together, there are certain themes that keep emerging. One of those themes is choice – Do you want to follow the Lord, or are you going to chase after other gods, other goals, other things?  Everyone from Israel’s kings to the least significant member of each tribe seemed to struggle with this.  I think that great leader Joshua put the choice most starkly:

“Now therefore fear the Lord…put away the gods which your fathers served …And if you be unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve…but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” ~Joshua 24:15

It seems odd timing when Joshua asks the Israelites this question; the people are finally settled in the promised land. They have gone through the wilderness wanderings; they survived battles with giants and warrior tribes and more adventures than Indiana Jones.   Now it is time to settle into a suburban lifestyle, build a patio, sign up for Netflix and settle into the Lazyboy.  Why is Joshua being so demanding now, of all times?

Joshua looks at these people that he has served so long, and he sees that of all times in their history together, this is by far the most dangerous.  When they had their backs to the wall they needed a miracle from the very hand of God to survive.  But now, the people were ready to rest on their laurels and settle into suburbia without a backwards glance.  And so, Joshua gathers them for this final charge.  This is the time for them to choose between sugar water and making a difference in the world.  This is the time to choose between a life built on the sand of passing thoughts and ideas or on the firm foundation of God’s love.  “Choose this day whom you will serve…as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”           

May that be our prayer.
Blessings,
Becky

January 25, 2018

Dear Friends,
Jesus had an infamous interchange with a lawyer hoping to trip him up (insert your favorite lawyer joke here!).  I return to this story again and again, because it takes all the different directions I am pulled in a week and focuses it all back on one vital priority:

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”
And Jesus said to him, “‘ You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” ~Matthew 22:36-37

It sounds so simple – love God with everything you’ve got. That’s the first commandment given to Moses and the Israelites (Exodus 20:1) and Jesus doesn’t hesitate to name it as the greatest commandment.  In some ways I think I am doing well by this – I certainly am not worshipping anyone else as Lord!

But then, when I really meditate on this commandment, I realize how far I fall short. We keep reading in Long Story Short about the sin of idolatry; the besetting sin of the Israelites. When I am honest with myself, and the Lord, I realize on a day-to-day basis, I am probably creating idols all over the place. We worship many things in modern life, and God is not often at the top of the list. Having as nice a home as the neighbors, a vacation as nice as the coworkers, kid’s achievements, ambition, outward success – there are a lot of golden calves on the streets where we live! It’s easy to exalt created things over the Creator. None of these are bad in themselves; it’s just that they take up time and priorities that could be given to the Lord.

I love Madeleine L’Engle’s observation: “Following Christ has nothing to do with success as the world sees success. It has to do with love.” That love starts with loving our Lord lock, stock and barrel, and then overflows out to our neighbor and our world.

So, what is claiming first place in your life these days? May we love the Lord our God “with all our heart, with all our soul and with all our mind.”

With warm blessings on this cold day,
Becky

P.S. A Worship Note: In this cold and flu season, feel free to wave at your neighbor in worship rather than hold hands!

January 18, 2018

Dear Friends,

I hope that you are surviving the freezing temperatures and the snow! It is so beautiful to look at — from my cozy room inside my cozy home! This blanket of snow revives all my best hopes for a new year. It reminds me that this new year is truly new – stretched out endlessly before us – unblemished, just awaiting our footprints. Even as I write this, I can see a deer crossing behind our home – leaving its tracks in the snow. What are the tracks you hope to leave this year? What footprint do you want to leave for others to follow? We pastors hope that we can help you put fresh footprints of faith in the snow this coming year. There are so many ways to do this…

  • You may want to join a group discussing Long Story Short – Liberty’s walk through the big story of scripture. Here’s what one member said about this journey: “Liberty has been a complete blessing for my family. My husband’s faith has blossomed here. He is so eager to follow along with the Long Story Short readings that he asked for a new, easier-to understand Bible for his birthday. It has been such a joy for me to see his faith come alive.”
  • You may want to join a small group for fellowship and faith conversation.
  • Some of the best fellowship around is found in our Top of the Hill Group, which offers everything from Bible Study to Book Discussions to Sunday Brunch to Movie Nights – and more!
  • Or maybe you’d like to roll up your sleeves and get involved in missions – perhaps serving at St. John’s His Place Soup Kitchen, or People in Need, or with our Sister church in Honduras.
  • Or join a committee! You will hear lots of laughter in our committee meetings, meet some new people at Liberty, and have a chance to help shape the life of Liberty.
  • Finally, if you are a friend or visitor, the Spirit may be tugging on your sleeve, nudging you to join Liberty as a member. This four-week experience contains lots of fellowship & new insights into the life of Liberty.

Details of all these opportunities can be found throughout our website or by calling the Church Office (740-548-6075).

Friends, how are you going to connect with God this year? May there be two sets of footprints in the snow as we follow Jesus ever more closely into this new year.

With Warm Blessings on these Wintry Days,
Becky

January 11, 2018

Dear Friends,

In 1968, I sat horrified with my mom and brothers, watching race riots break out across the country, from as far as Los Angeles to as near as Baltimore.  As a young girl I didn’t understand a lot of what I was seeing, except that it was close to our Maryland home – too close –  and that things, events, people – were angry, frustrated, outraged.  It was like watching something boil over on the stove – but it was over an entire nation.

We’ve seen more days than we can count since then where color divides us, where anger boils over, where justice seems distant.  God reminds the prophet Samuel, when he anoints the shepherd David as King, “People judge by outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7).  How we wish that were true of our world!

There is much to reflect on – as individuals, as a society – as we observe the birthday of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. this weekend. So how can we observe his legacy of peace and justice?  I hope that each of us at Liberty can make this a time when we reach out to someone who seems a little different than we are – maybe their background, their life experiences, the color of their skin.  I hope that instead of hate boiling over, we can be a small part of a fountain overflowing with things like hope and kindness and forgiveness.  I hope we can be a fount of listening across an ocean of differences. I hope we can become even more a people of love – real, hands-on, Jesus kind of love.  As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said: Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.

One of the most humbling moments in my life came when an African-American preacher friend of mine told the nurse guarding his family-only Hospital Room door that he considered me family.  As followers of Christ we need to build family across every possible divide. After all, as King reminded us: “The time is always right to do what is right.”

May we grow ever closer in Christ,
Becky

January 4, 2018

FROM THE DESK OF PASTOR KYLE

Dear Friends:

Never have the words “better late than never” been truer than right now at Liberty. Last week we picked back up with our year-long sermon series, Long Story Short. Back in September, we began our year-long look at the big story of the Bible. After a brief break to consider the miracle of Christmas, we are going back to immerse ourselves in God’s big story, and now is the perfect time to join us on the journey.

Liberty has a number of ways you can participate in Long Story Short: you can use the reflection guides published each week to guide your daily Bible reading. Join a Bible Study, and dig deeper into the overarching story of Scripture. You can find all kinds of resources—from Bible recommendations, reading plans, reflection guides, and past sermons—right here on our website.

It’s not too late to join us on the journey. Better late than never!

Grace and peace,
Kyle

December 28, 2017

FROM THE DESK OF PASTOR KYLE

Dear Friends:

Isn’t it amazing how quickly Christmas ends? After what feels like an interminably long season of Christmas lights and wreaths as far as the eye can see, snowmen and angels dotting yards, and bright red bows adorning everything from chocolate boxes to new cars, in the blink of an eye, Christmas is over. If you’re like me, you wake up on December 26 with celebratory whiplash. Can I still greet someone with “Merry Christmas?” When does the appropriate greeting change over to “Happy New Year?” When, exactly, does decorum dictate that I stash the Christmas decorations? I wonder if the mad dash to Christmas day fools us into believing that Jesus’ arrival in Bethlehem so long ago is the end of the story. And while God’s appearance in the flesh and weakness of a new born child points to the mystery of God, Jesus’ story doesn’t end in rough-hewn manger, but on a rough-hewn cross and an empty tomb.

And that, friends, is good news that lasts longer than a season.

Grace and peace,
Pastor Kyle

December 21, 2017

Dear Friends:

I love Christmas Eve!  I love the carols, the candles, the families bundled together in a pew and the familiar words of Luke 2 being shared anew: And they laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn …. I love that moment when we raise our voices to Silent Night.  And afterwards, I cannot wait to walk out in the cold night air, look to the stars and think that nearly 2,000 years earlier our Lord was born into this world, for us.  That moment is filled with a calm and peace that seems to escape me the rest of the season.  John and I wish each of you the great comfort and joy of this season, and moments where Jesus’ birth captures you, heart and soul.

We would also like to express our great gratitude to all of the people who are the saints behind Advent & Christmas at Liberty!

Special thanks to our wonderful:
Liberty staff, Deacons, Elders,
Greeters, Musicians, Singers, Choir,
Concert Musicians & Singers
Artists, Photographers,
Worship committee members, Cookie Caper-ers,
Adopt-a-Family & Angel Tree-ers, 
Advent Devotional writers,
Deck the Hall-ers, Food servers,
St. John’s supporters, Stephen Ministers,
Church School Teachers, Pageant leaders,
Christmas Eve readers, Child care providers,
AND Parking lot chaos directors!
Christmas at Liberty could not happen without YOU!

From our Harts to yours,
All the Blessings of Christmas, 
Becky & John

December 14, 2017

Dear Friends:
I was sitting at the intersection of Powell Road and Sawmill on a blustery Tuesday afternoon, and was caught by the unexpected sight of several large holiday inflatables lying on their sides, liked bowling pins that had been knocked down. There were elves and reindeer lying sideways, barely holding on by a tether to the ground, and then a large deflated Santa.  It was a strange sight!

As I sat at that red light, staring at these Christmas figures, my first reaction was: Yep, me too! I think many of us feel that was at this time of year: buffeted by the winds, holding on by a tether, maybe a bit deflated like that poor Santa. Just when we think we have things under control, there is another event, another letter from the school about a special Christmas drive, another family crisis, another – well, you fill in the blank.  One year, I had to get my kids through Jersey traffic to the mall to purchase three plain white shirts for that evening’s Christmas concerts – not one child had told me about this until they came home from school!  The atmosphere in the drive to the mall was quite Christmassy — if you count frost coming out of my ears as a Christmas miracle!

So, what do we do when we are overwhelmed by chaos of the season?  I like to sit by the Christmas tree and listen to carols, even if it is just ten minutes after dinner.  I read (and reread!) our Advent Devotional – it really helps! And I ran across a prayer several years back that I adapted, that helps to re-center me when all else fails. I hope it blesses you too!

Advent God,
I come to You with longing in my heart,
crying out for your power and your peace, awaiting Your coming.
I grow deaf amidst overpacked days, 
endless to-do and to-be lists, 
and the expectations of living the “perfect” Christmas.
Save me, O Lord, from too many demands; especially the ones I make of myself.
Help me to look for You… and welcome You into the real places of
my life, where I so desperately need your coming.
Come, Lord Jesus!
Amen.

In His grace, power, and peace,
Becky

December 7, 2017

Dear Friends:

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

I used to brave Black Friday in New York City – just the first two hours at Macy’s – but that was crazy enough!  That wild morning would end at Rockefeller Center, with the girls and I collapsed on a park bench, recovering.  Eventually, we’d look up and there you will see two very different visions of the peace on earth. There’s the giant Atlas, who is straining and struggling to carry the world on his shoulders. You can see his muscles popping as he carries all the weight of the world.  Then, you go across the street to beautiful St. Patrick’s cathedral, where behind the altar there is a statue of the young Jesus. There Jesus is effortlessly holding the whole world in His hands.

I suppose we all have a choice these December days: to continue to carry the world on our shoulders like Atlas – or to give these days over to Jesus, who will hold them for us…and give us in exchange His great gift of peace.

Seeking Advent peace with you,
Becky

November 30, 2017

Dear Friends:

This time last year, I was still recovering from our daughter’s wedding – which took place during Hurricane Matthew! We had planned for a year for this event – and thank goodness, given how crazy it got! (Okay, we did not plan for trees flying, but we did have an abundance of flashlights!) All that planning started me thinking about Advent.  The word “Advent” means the arrival of someone or something important. When an important event like wedding or a child’s birth is coming, we work hard to make sure everything is perfect. From dresses to flowers to decorating a nursery, we don’t just wait until the last minute and throw something together. We plan for this exciting event with great anticipation and joy.

So it is with Advent. This Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent. As a church, we light the Advent candles, remember His coming in word & prayer, watch the children act out the Christmas story (gotta love those sheepies!), and sing with joy of the coming of the Emmanuel. But my hope is that we are also anticipating and preparing for his coming anew in our everyday lives. When our children were younger, we always gathered around the Christmas tree after dinner and each child got to pick a favorite Christmas carol to sing, and we read a bit of the Christmas story.

There are so many ways – large and small – to keep Jesus as the reason for the season:

  • With our Jesse Tree (see Isaiah 11:1)
  • Lighting Advent Candles
  • Creches for young or old!
  • Reading through our LPC daily Advent Devotionals
  • Making a prayer garland day by day
  • Having the children or grandchildren act out the Christmas Story at home (with a few simple costumes and props!)
  • Inviting a neighbor to church or an Advent Concert
  • Making cards & posters of the Christmas story
  • Giving to a family in need
  • Random acts of kindness
  • Baking a Birthday Cake for Jesus 
  • May this Advent be a time of joyous anticipation for you & yours.

In Advent’s bright light,
Becky

November 22, 2017

“That I may make the voice of thanksgiving heard 
And tell of all Your wondrous works.” 
– Psalm 26:7

Dear Friends,

Tomorrow is a national day of Thanksgiving, but if you listen to the news long enough, you will think it is a day to be spent complaining about the weather, possible stampedes at early holiday sales, and the inevitable traffic stand still on 23 and 270.  And to add to the irony, Thanksgiving is followed by Black Friday!  It seems that the world is full of noise about everything we are not thankful for! So, what would it look like to be thankful people?  Thomas Merton (Trappist Monk, author of The Seven Story Mountain) describes it this way:

“To be grateful is to recognize the Love of God in everything He has given us – and He has given us everything. Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from Him.

Gratitude therefore takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder and to praise of the goodness of God. For the grateful person knows that God is good, not by hearsay but by experience. And that is what makes all the difference.” 

May each of you have a blessed Thanksgiving, and may you know God’s immense goodness and grace as you gather around the table.

All Blessings,
Becky

November 16, 2017

Dear Friends:

Now is the time to RENEW!

RENEW is devoted to the renewal of our church, our faith, ourselves as we commit to supporting God’s ministries and missions at Liberty in 2018 and 2019 and to complete several projects that are critical to our life together – re-siding the Barn, reconfiguring our driveways & parking as the county expands Home Road, renovating the Youth Room and Old Hall, and many other important improvements.

RENEW can be summarized as “ONE-TWO-THREE”:

  • We are making ONE ask of the congregation, asking you to return a RENEWcommitment card this Sunday, November 19.
  • This one ask is for a TWO-year financial commitment – pledging how you will support Liberty financially in 2018 and 2019.
  • This two-year financial commitment will support THREE projects:
    1. The 2018 operating budget ($1,252,000)
    2. The 2019 operating budget ($1,290,000)
    3. Critical improvement and repair projects ($1,900,000)

This Sunday, November 19,  is RENEW Commitment Sunday.  Please bring your completed RENEW commitment card with you to worship. As I reported last Sunday, advance commitments from 62 Liberty families (9% of our givers) total $1,293,876 – an annual increase of 2.2 times their 2017 financial support, and 29% of the RENEW goal.  With your participation today, you will be an important part of RENEW’s success.

Following the sermon, everyone will be invited to come forward to place their RENEWcommitment card in the basket on the table.  Some have already returned their card (thank you!) and some aren’t able to make a financial commitment right now — still, we invite everyone to come forward to express your commitment to Liberty through your gifts and prayers. Extra RENEW commitment cards are provided in the benches and in the Barn entrance area.  (When you fill out your RENEW commitment card, the key figure is the white box at the bottom, just above the space to write your name and information: “My Two-Year RENEW Commitment”).

What we have achieved in these past five weeks will impact Liberty for years to come.  Thank you for your commitment to RENEW!

Serving Jesus with you.
John

November 9, 2017

FROM THE DESK OF DAWN PARR, CHILDREN’S MINISTRY

Dear Friends:
Liberty has a unique Sunday school program, the Rotation Workshop Model. This is a unique format that is based upon weekly rotations. For each rotation, a focal Bible story is chosen and then five different workshops are created to teach that story. This year our focus is the “Long Story Short”.

The workshop classrooms for grade school ages are: Art, Drama, Games, Cooking, as well Geography & Mission. As the kids rotate through each class, their Bible knowledge grows deeper, and they reflect on their journey of faith.

This past month our Mission & Geography Class examined the life of Joseph. They studied our World Map to understand Joseph’s journey to Egypt and how God’s blessings can be found in all situations. They read about Joseph saving Egypt and his family from famine, and then realized they, too, can help others in need. The class discussed the devastation from Hurricanes Irma and Harvey and were given an opportunity to help.

Each child created a Gift of the Heart School Kit. They decorated a bag with the words “Have Faith” and then filled them with school supplies. We completed 75 school kits, which will be sent to those children devastated by the hurricanes (pictured above).

Our memory verse in this classroom came from Romans 8:28, “I can do all things through Christ Jesus who strengthens me”. God can take things that are bad and work them for His good and His glory. Whatever circumstances come to us, we can rely on God’s promise and be assured that He can bring it to His good.

In Christ,
Dawn

November 2, 2017

Dear Friends:
“Days pass, and years vanish, and we walk sightless among miracles.”  With these words observant Jews begin their prayers at the start of the weekly Sabbath. It is a confession of too busy lives, and it announces their intention to the pay attention to God’s hand at work, not only on the Sabbath, but every day. “Days pass, and years vanish, and we walk sightless among miracles.”

This week in Long Story Short we are reading about the Israelites wandering in the wilderness. Their wanderings, of course, are punctuated by complaints against Moses and against the Lord.  And yet there are miracles there – if only they opened their eyes to see: the gift of manna, God’s bread; the gift of a cloud by day and a pillar of fire of night to lead them; the gift of God’s commandments.  I often think if I had been there – with such clear miracles – I would not have been among the murmurers.  But the reality is we tend to live looking at lists rather than God moments, and challenges rather than the miracles that are right before us.

So, as we enter the season of Thanksgiving, let’s keep our eyes open to God’s hand at work, and our hearts grateful.

Blessings,
Becky

PS: We are going to do a little holy wandering ourselves this coming Sunday, November 5, after each worship service!  Meet us in the Chapel and Join our Prayer Trail for RENEW!