Pastoral Relief and Retreat

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Wethersfield, CT, United States
I am Pastor at Poquonock Community Church, Congregational (CCCC) in Windsor, CT. My wife Jama and I live in Wetherfield, CT. We'd like to invite you to Terre Haute -- High Ground -- That's what Jama and I call the retreat space on our property. We offer free intentional get-away retreats. We'll feed you and house you and give you space to be with the Lord. All are welcome; no questions asked. This blog is my daily devotional journal. I write it because it is so easy to go for weeks without ever taking the time to be alone with God. Writing helps me develop a discipline I need.


Monday, January 7, 2013

A baptism of repentance

            John appeared, baptizing in the wilderness and proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. Now John was clothed with camel's hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey. And he preached, saying, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”
(Mark 1:4-8 ESV)

On January 9th, 2009, Jama and I moved into a house on Bow Lake, New Hampshire.  For those of you Wollongong, NWS (that’s in Australia), the “lakes area” of New Hampshire is about as close to wilderness as you get here in the Northeast US, unless you count in places like Ft. Kent, Maine.  Look it up and be amazed. 

Here’s the thing about living “out there”.  You have to import friends.  We just came through the Christmas Season, and I can confidently tell you we had more people over between December 1 and January 1 this year than we did in the entire three years we lived in New Hampshire.  And actually, Northwood was only 30 minutes from anywhere.  You drive six and a half hours in Maine to get to Ft. Kent.   

The point is this.   When John started his ministry, started – out in the Wilderness – preaching to… whom?  Beats me.  It must have been shepherds he ran across out there.  It says he was beyond the Jordan.  Archeologists tell us that John baptized in a place now called Bethany Beyond-the-Jordan, which is in the country of Jordan, just north of the Dead Sea.  That’s a reasonable place as any along the River for the site of John’s baptizing.  It is 26 miles from there to Jerusalem.  Not a huge trip, but certainly one “out to the wilderness.”  It is just about the same distance as from where we lived in New Hampshire to Concord or Portsmouth (the two nearest “cities”). 

The really remarkable thing about John’s ministry is that he didn’t go into Jerusalem to do it.  He simply stayed out where he was.  He didn’t change his habits.  He just kept preaching repentance (a hard sell, mind you).   

The church today goes where the people are.  Actually, it is part of our charter from Jesus to “go” (Matthew 28).  But consider this: the contemporary church has done everything it could to advertise.  And like the Whos down in Whoville in the Dr. Seuss book, we’ve been yelling at the top of our collective lungs and planted new works in prominent and not-so prominent locations in every city, and still church attendance in the US is shrinking yearly. 

I think perhaps the problem is with our message, not our location.  John preached the hard sell.  But there was something that struck at the heart of the culture of his day in his message.  Instead of upsetting people and getting in their face, everyone from farmers to fishermen to political leaders came out to see and be baptized.

John didn’t start a Church.  He pointed to the Savior.  In our preaching, we always need to remember that our message is the same.  The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, as the opening of Mark’s gospel phrases it, is always there: a gospel of repentance for the forgiveness of sins that points to the Savior. 


Saturday, January 5, 2013

Abide in Me

This is one of those rare days in the Lectionary when the chosen Scriptures really tell a tale when put together.  Usually I find myself focusing on one passage.  This morning, elements of all the passages jumped off the page at me, and to use the language of the Scriptures, pierced my soul.

Let’s take them the way Israel received them.  Chronologically…

This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”
(Joshua 1:8-9, events from around 1400 BC)

I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, “You are my Son; today I have begotten you.  Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel.”
(Psalm 2:7-9, ascribed to King David, around 1000 BC)

The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind, “You are a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.”  The Lord is at your right hand; he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath.
(Psalm 110:4-5 also ascribed to David.  Melchizedek was “King of Salem” and “priest of the most high God” during the period of Abraham’s life, around 2100 BC)

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
(Hebrews 12:1-2.  The letter has just recounted the whole history of God’s chosen, from Abel to the Exile.  Written around 64 AD, author unknown)

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.
(John 15:4-5.  The words of Jesus, spoken around 30 AD)

I’ve picked out what seemed to me the key words of each passage and made a sentence out of them:  “The Law will be embodied in a Son who will be a Priest, the founder of our faith.”

There is, of course, much else to mine from these verses.  But the heart of the gospel of Jesus is in each.  The God who is there and who has spoken most fully in his Son speaks through his Word today.  Abide in him, that his word may abide in you.