“Press and Reset” (Retaking the Village Green 8/7/18)

We all have them; at some point we need them, and they are hard to find.

I am not talking about friends when you need to move or relatives when you need money, but reset buttons.

Every electronic device we own that talks, pings or interacts with us has a reset button. They are the “use as a last resort option” when you have tried countless times to restart, reprogram a device and the black box smiles back at you, taunting you seemingly saying, “Now who is in charge.”

You frantically search the internet for directions because you discarded them long ago thinking you will never need them. Once located, you find the clues to uncover the reset button. The small aperture is usually as hard to spot as a needed friend who has a truck, or relative with spare cash, and is as small as Tinkerbell’s pinky. When you finally locate a #2 pencil with a point sharp enough to split an atom, you insert, press, and you and your electronic friend arrive at a restored relationship again. All is well in the universe again- until next time.

There are times in each of our lives when we wish we had a reset button. A relationship sours, jobs overwhelm, life threatens to overcome us. We look for that hidden button which will quickly and painlessly reset our lives to normal- until the next crisis.

God’s grace has provided a “life reset button’ for us. It is not hidden or hard to find. In the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the sign of His life- the cross, God did not hide it. It is easy to access. God has presented to each of us a sign that has emblazoned itself across the course of human history and the lives of those who have already taken advantage of it.

The problem for many is that they have lost the directions. I think of the story of the person walking by a church and asking a friend, “Why is there a plus sign on top of that building?”

Many walk by the symbol of the cross every day. They may even wear it, or have it inked into their skin. When asked some may respond, “I have never seen it.” Alternatively, “I have seen it, but I do not know what it means.” Others, “I once knew but I have forgotten.”

It is up to those who have discovered the power and the meaning of the cross in our lives to provide many opportunities to God’s reset button and make the directions of its use freely available to others.

I am grateful that I have discovered this in my life. I know that as I walk through my days there are many around me who have the need to reset their lives as well. They are more important than any device I may own. I pray I will never become inoculated to that need.

So, who will I help find their reset button next?

“We are under attack! Quick call the Worship Team!” (Retaking the Village Green 5/17/18)

It is hard to imagine this sentence uttered in any modern-day field commander’s tent, or in a meeting in the Pentagon. But have you noticed God has a way of doing things against normal expectations?

Recently, I came across this great story in the Old Testament. Israel is under attack (again). The odds seem overwhelming. The leaders doubt their chances. God shows up in the person of a prophet named Jahaziel (not a top ten name today). His message can be read in 2 Chronicles 20:15, “This is what the Lord says to you; ‘Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours but God’s… Stand firm, take your positions and see the deliverance the Lord will give you.’”  The story goes on that the king listens. The people hear and Levites from the Kohathites stand up and begin to sing songs of praise to God.

Here is where it gets interesting. The king then talks to the people, and in Verse 21, he sets his battle plan into motion. “After consulting the people, Jehoshapat appointed men to sing to the Lord and praise him for the splendor of his holiness as they went out at the head of the army saying, ‘Give thanks to the Lord, for his love endures forever.’” The king’s battle plan is to send out a worship team to lead the army into battle- and Israel wins the day. Who plans that kind of battle strategy and keeps their job? God has His own plan.

If you have been in ministry for more than few years, you may have run into the so called “worship wars” where people sometimes elevate individual preference over congregation benefit. Churches have split, members have left, and pastors are left exhausted. Less frequently do we see and or hear people thanking, praising those who lead their churches faithfully each week.

In this story in my mind’s eye, I pictured choirs in robes, guitar players, percussionists, organist, singers of all shapes, sizes, colors and languages marching in front of the army encouraging them with their songs of praise; reminding God’s people of who He is, and what He has done. That is what our worship leaders are challenged to do each week in the place where they serve. It is a great place, and a tough place to be as they have their own personal, family and sometimes congregational conflicts as well.

So today, I want to give a word of thanks to all the worship leaders, teams and participants out there. If you lead in robes, jeans or shorts… whether your hair is white, pink or non-existent… whether your favorite instrument has keys, strings, pipes, sticks, cymbals or just your hands… no matter if you sing in Old English, Urban slang, Spanish, Telegu or Swahili… if your age is young, old or “none of your business”… if you are musical, or technologically adept… Thank you that each week you remind God’s people of His power, presence and promises. As you do so, you lead all of us into whatever may come before us each week and remind us, “Thanks be to God who gives us the victory in our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Now let me go find my ukulele. I have a battle to fight.

“The Saddest Day of the Year?” (Retaking the Village Green 4/5/18)

If I ever change gears in life through either retirement or a new calling, (I still think I want to give the astronaut thing a go), I will say I will miss preaching through the Easter season.

Each message and theme of Holy Week- from the celebration of Palm Sunday to the reflection of Maundy Thursday, the sadness of Good Friday, and finally the triumph of Easter, hold a special place in my life. Each of these events center me again in the truth and reality of what I believe, and the hope that other’s lives and our world can be different if we were to grasp hold and own the truth of the life, death and resurrection in each person. Easter makes ministry and life worthwhile.

After Easter, however, comes the saddest day of the year for me. (Please understand “tongue in cheek” firmly planted.)

During the Easter season, even more than Christmas, people come to worship- to remember and celebrate. Some come because they feel they should. Others because family wants them with them. A few are not sure why, but they still come. Activity is high, smiles are plenty and a joyful ambiance fills the air. Jesus is risen. Let us celebrate!

One week later, on the Sunday after Easter, life for many returns to the new normal. We fill Sundays with opportunities. Some opportunities are mandated, like work schedules which do not distinguish one day from another. Opportunities for kids for sports, community life, friends and other good things. Opportunities for families to spend time on things that are important for them. Opportunities to throw off winter, and begin to prepare for New England outdoor life in the sunshine. Opportunities to go back to a normal routine. The previous Sunday of Easter celebration becomes a memory of something to do next year.

The power and truth of the resurrection is something that lives with us each day, and as such, can be celebrated each day. Easter Sunday is the flag raised we can rally around. It is the symbol to which we can hold in our everyday lives when the image of Jesus grows dim, we are drawn in again to reality of Jesus in the midst of our everyday world.

I for one will always look forward to Easter and its visible reminders of our faith. It is where I plant myself. It is my hope and prayer that for all who took time out of their lives, for whatever reason they came, to join in the celebration; that each one would find a way of discovering and rehearsing the reality of the resurrection in their lives.

I look forward to Sunday, and each day. Jesus is still risen. I can still celebrate. I hope we each can find time to celebrate as well.

“And The Answer Is…” (Retaking the Village Green 2/23/18)

“I am the generation that has always known violence in schools.” That sobering statement was made by one thirteen-year-old survivor of the Florida shooting.

We have all watched in sorrow and felt the outrage at the most recent school shooting. Everyone has an opinion, a solution to offer. This past week, I have heard some civil and not so civil conversations as people wrestle with trying to understand, and solve an abhorrent trend in our culture.

Plans offering arming teachers in schools, staffing more law enforcement on campuses, changing gun laws, providing training to recognized signs, better mental health treatment options will be debated for months to come. The range of discussions highlight the need for a very complex and holistic solution.

In the midst of this maelstrom of pain and suffering another event occurred, the passing of Billy Graham. Mr. Graham from the time he was sixteen to ninety-five dedicated his life to telling people that there was more to life than what we can see. That every life has infinite value and worth because each life was created by a loving God who desired each of us to know his son Jesus, and in the knowing be changed- both now and for eternity.

I stopped to ponder the juxtaposition of these two messages. One a message of confusion, uncertainty and hopelessness; the other a message of love, hope and the power of re-creation.

There are many reasons that come into play that can cause someone to perform such heinous acts as we have seen in Florida, and repeated in far too many schools- and communities. It struck me that one reason I have not heard proposed in any of the moderated discussions is that of a broken moral compass we each carry that would allow someone to contemplate and perform such an act.

There are many contributing factors to violence and the solution needs to be multifaceted. All the laws put into place, all the resources made available, all the preventative solutions provided will still fall short unless the moral compass within us is redirected. It is that compass which regulates the choices we make in our lives, and choices have consequences. God created us to be physical, emotional and spiritual beings and all those pieces need to be addressed in order to be whole. Mr. Graham and others like him understood that truth, and that is why he spent his life addressing the spiritual side of life which is so often neglected.

Solutions will be debated. Meanwhile families and a community will still grieve. The nation will move on, but this tear in the fabric of our individual and collective morality will continue to grow and we will continue to unravel. The good news is that through God’s remaking of our spirits through His son Jesus, help is available.

May that help be invoked for those who are grieving. May that help be invited in by those looking for answers to stop these events in the future.

New Year’s Mayhem in My Life?

He did it.

“Mayhem” is a character created by an insurance company. In their commercials, “Mayhem” created havoc for people, highlighting their need for insurance. On January 1st, “Mayhem” made a resolution to no longer instigate havoc, but to be helpful to people, protecting them, keeping them from harm. Two weeks into the New Year, “Mayhem” decided he just could not do it, and is back enjoying the crisis that he brings to life.

This is the story for many with New Year’s resolutions.

We make resolutions with the best intentions and desires. People want to improve their lives, their well-being and give themselves a chance at a fresh start- only to find that the power, desire, and ability to sustain those resolutions fade quickly and we convert back to old patterns and behaviors.

God is not interested in bringing about a new resolution in our life, but a revolution. His revolutions are life altering, life changing and sustaining. Nowhere in Scripture do I see God desiring to “fine tune” us, but always wants to remold, remake us into something brand new.

Nicodemus was a teacher. He knew his theology. He had studied scripture and taught it well. One day he meets Jesus and tells him that he knows God is with Jesus because of the miracles he sees Jesus doing. He affirms that he sees the supernatural at work. Jesus turns the tables on him and says (my paraphrase), “Great that you see it, but it means nothing unless you have allowed God to bring about a spiritual revolution in your life, unless He has totally changed you from the ground up.”

For most of us, we ask God for “fine tuning.” That is what most of our resolutions are- “tweaks” to our lives. We find after a short time, we have reverted to old patterns, behaviors and nothing has changed.

This year, I do not want another resolution I make to come and go. I want God to bring about a revolution in me- one that is fueled and filled by a fresh encounter with Him. A revolution that will be sustained and bring about lasting change in me, and in others around me.

“Mayhem’s” character may continue to sell insurance for those whose lives need repair. I want my life this year to create wholeness in myself, and others around me. I need God’s revolution.

What about you?

“Repeat the Sounding Joy?” (Retaking the Village Green 12/6/17)

During this season, the emphasis is on joy, happiness and celebration. As followers of Christ, we have reasons for great joy as we remember the birth of Jesus the Savior.

For many, the season is less about celebrating than surviving. Alongside the smiles and greetings of “good cheer” are those who simply wishing to “get through” these days. Next to the wrapped presents, hiding delights are the unwrapped boxes of lives filled with hurts.

This morning, I opened an email to discover that a pastor friend of mine elsewhere in the country weighed the hidden hurts in his life against the joy of the season- and he allowed the hurts to win over the joy. He leaves behind a grieving and bewildered church and family.

At Christmastime, God gives the entire world a reminder of his overwhelming love, patience and presence. The birth of Jesus causes us to annually stop and remember God who has not left the “phone off the hook” in the midst of our trials, and the struggles of the world. That in the birth of Christ, we have the opportunity to reflect that there is hope despite what we are seeing or experiencing.

It takes special courage in a person to come alongside someone who is struggling. Most people want to avoid those who seem down, lonely or depressed. We tend to shy away from those who we feel will “steal our joy.” This season is filled with people, who because of events in their own lives, or the actions of others feel lost, alone and abandoned. This Christmas, can we especially be on watch for those who are sidelined from the joy of the season. May we, by God’s leading, step out of our carefully orchestrated holiday plans, and with courage take a step into another’s world.

In the wonderful prophesy of Isaiah 11, Isaiah describes the realm and impact of the coming Messiah. That His rule and reign will be one filled with peace, “The wolf will live with the lamb…”

Christmas reminds us that the Messiah, Jesus has come. His reign of peace has begun, and one day it will find its culmination. In the meantime, may each of us be prepared to be His ambassadors of peace to all we meet- especially those we tend to pass by.

The sound, the message, of the joy of Christ’s birth needs to be repeated as often as we can, because we never know whom we pass that may need to know that the joy of Jesus can overcome their hurts.

“Will the Last Peacemaker Leaving the Room, Please Turn Off the Lights?” (Retaking the Village Green 11/6/17)

Headlines no longer surprise me.

This past week we watched in horror as a person used a rented truck as an instrument of devastation on the streets in New York. Just as that story began to fall out of the news cycle, our focus was again transfixed on a story of a lone gunman opening fire and wounding or killing an entire congregation in Texas. We wonder if sanity and peace have left our corporate consciousness.

It seems today that all the adults have left the room when talking about peace. There is no model of peace coming from public figures. Peace is elusive from legislators, pundits and commentator’s posts, blogs, tweets and comments. Creating chaos makes better headlines than forging peace.

Peace is that fleeting commodity that people long for, but its presence is far too fleeting. Peace is treated as a feeling or emotion. “I feel at peace today,” some will say, until something rattles that peace.

Peace is sometimes treated as an equation: “My weapons – your weapons + luck = peace”

Peace is sometimes seen simply as a lack of conflict- a truce that has been called by parties in disagreement.

Because our understanding of peace varies, we do not really know it when it occurs, or where to look.

So where do we look for peace?

Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.”

Peacemakers are called God’s children. That means that God’s children should be the peacemakers that people need and to whom they should look.

It means that to see lasting peace- peace that bridges race, gender, socio-economics, family structures, we should pursue to understand what it means to be God’s children, grow as His children, and then step into our culture to be enactors of God’s peace. It should be the people of God, followers of Christ, whose voices we hear in the media, whose hands we see at work in the community, and whose are lives are lived in such a way that people see and experience peace at work. Peace that will last. Peace will never come from a politician’s tirade, or banalities made, but only through God’s presence practiced and enacted by His people.

As we watch events unfold, it can appear that all the adults have left the room. It is time for the true peacemakers to step up, and step into the fray and lead.

The motto of Motel Six is, “We’ll leave the light on.”

Will I be a light of peace, a person of peace, a child of God?

Our culture is waiting for our answer.



“Hurricane? What Hurricane?” (Retaking the Village Green 9/19/17)

I should not be surprised.

After watching the morning news headlines I was informed, “The Emmy’s were political, North Korea was aggressive, new tropical storms were forming in the Caribbean, and whales were seen off our coast.”

Didn’t we just suffer through two devastating hurricanes in the Caribbean and in the south?

The hurricanes past, people not suffering have moved on.

The media programs us to have our attention drawn to crisis, but then after a few news cycles, we are diverted on to other stories. The problem is most of life’s pains cannot be solved within the context of normal broadcast cycle.

Jesus told his followers, “The poor you will have with you always.” He knew, and wanted to make his followers know that there will always be people in pain, people suffering around us. There will be people overlooked, forgotten or quickly passed by. The challenge for Jesus followers is not to have our compassion or our vision diverted. I was thrilled to hear that we were able to send over $13,000 to “Samaritan’s Purse” to help with relief efforts. That is a great gift to those in need. Let us make sure that unlike the images we see on TV that can quickly fade, we do not allow our compassion to fade. We are reminded in Scripture, “not to become weary in doing good.” God enables us to act and respond to the needs around us, well beyond what our natural ability allows.

Next month we will engage in our second “Day of Service”- helping people in need in our own communities. Last year we had a great response for those helping, and those that received help. Let us be able to extend the compassion of Jesus, even when images fade and the story lines change.

Remember, after a crisis, people still have to pick up the pieces of their lives- Houston, Florida, or right next door to us. They will still need help delivered.

Let us make sure we are ready to respond.

“Does Your Church Have a Purple Door?” (Retaking the Village Green 6/28/17)

You could not miss it.

My wife and I were out for a casual drive years ago. We were meandering around roads in New England, when suddenly on the left- there it was. A typical small New England style church, with an atypical glaring purple front door. Being a pastor in New England for 30 years, it caught my eye. I slowed down to try and catch a glimpse of what flavor church it was and who was listed on the sign as pastor. I had a few questions. To my disappointment the marquee outside did not list the expected “First_____ Church” (fill in your favorite denomination), but had a name of a village art gallery. After driving away, disappointed there was no bold church decorating team to interview, I determined to do some research later. I learned that the former church had existed for over 75 years in that location, and when it could no longer attract new members, it finally had to sell the property and encourage its dwindling membership to seek solace elsewhere. As the years went on, I began to notice more buildings throughout our region, that at one time were set aside for worship, now commissioned for other purposes. For many, their story was the same as the “Church of the Purple Door.”

There could be many reasons for a church to fade away. Economic realities and population shifts can hurt. The saddest reason of all is when a local church loses its focus and ceases to be a lighthouse, and begins to exist only as a clubhouse for those who attend. A clubhouse exists for the comfort of its members. A lighthouse always has an eye on the community around and asks, “How can we welcome others in? How can we serve others in order that they can meet Jesus?”

I have been fortunate in the churches I have served in New England that each one has had as its mission a desire to welcome and serve others in the name of Christ. To be a lighthouse. To do that is hard work. Ask a lighthouse keeper. It sometimes means, like in a marriage, to set aside personal preferences, for the well-being and advancement of another. It means living, as Jesus did, sacrificially and lovingly.

Purple is a great color for some clothing, select sports cars, and maybe even hair- on the right person. I am glad the people in the churches I have served have had Jesus’ vision and the building will never be set aside for any other purpose than to fulfill the mission of being a lighthouse and an outpost for God’s kingdom in their community.

I pray God would raise up more outposts in our region in the years ahead.
Pastor Kevin