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Pas. Jim's Blog

"Parallel Second Chances" by Pastor Welty

Jim Welty

When you "google" the phrase "God of second chances" it leads to a number of interesting discussions. Some interpret that as God's grace that continues to be poured out on us despite our bad choices.  In Romans 6:2 Paul asks the important question:  "We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?"  So while God's grace is beyond measure, it is not carte blanche for us to do as we please.  We as Christ followers are to walk in obedience to God and live our lives according to His word.

 That being said...I'm still thinking about the God of second chances which has meant a lot to me personally and professionally. 

In November of 2017, our church was ripped apart by a controversy.  Sides were taken, lines were drawn, and those of us in the middle were left wondering what had happened to our church and the friendships we had developed over a number of years.  All of it was gone - seemingly overnight.  It was a perfect storm, as I was only about six weeks into recovering from major heart surgery when it happened. 

During the summer of 2017 we had received bids for the building we wanted to construct on Judd Road.  The bids were a little beyond us but we were "tantalizingly close" (as a former member described).  After November's blowup - we were light years away.

But God is the God of second chances, and about one year later, we learned of the possibility that the Colonial Tavern in Oxford could become our church building.  Now we're in it and dreaming about how to make it ours and retro-fit it for our ministry.  God is the God of second chances.

In July of 2009 I learned that my wife, Stephanie, had end stage renal failure.   Not a hopeful diagnosis.  I cared for her for the next six years, and in July of 2015 God finally answered my many prayers and healed her by bringing her home to be with Him.  That wasn't what I had in mind, but we serve a Sovereign God whose ways are higher than ours. 

I was married for nearly 35 years.  When Stephanie died it was the first time I ever lived alone.  It was weird.  I did my best to adjust to my new life - with the help of some very dear friends.  One of my daughters described me as a "professional married man".  That makes sense.

A Barry Manilow song (of all things) sums up where I was.

Safe from the past and doin' okay but not very well
No jolts, no surprises, no crisis arises
My life goes along as it should
It's all very nice, but not very good

But then the song continues:  And I'm ready to take a chance again.  Ready to put my love on the line with you.
On Good Friday of 2017 I was given the opportunity to take a chance again.  I was introduced to a lovely woman named Beth Anderson.  Later I found out that she was single, having been widowed 19 years earlier.  I was also told that if I was interested in going on a date, she might be interested too.  I hadn't been on a date since Jimmy Carter was president, so I was a little rusty.

 Our first date was April 23, 2017, and we both enjoyed it so much that we started seeing each other.   Eventually we both fell in love with each other, and then I strung her along until July 29, 2018 when I asked her to marry me.  She said yes, and I've been given a second chance.  I realize how blessed I am.  God blessed me with an amazing woman for nearly 35 years and now has blessed me with another amazing woman, who stayed by my side during recovery from heart surgery and my dealing with the church problems. Now I'm looking forward to our life together and what God has in store for us.   God is the God of second chances.

 Now those parallel second chances come together for me when on February 23 Beth and I will be married in The Community Chapel's "new" building.  My personal second chance will take place in the symbol of my professional second chance.  Praise God... He is the God of second chances.

What Are You Going to get Jesus for Christmas?

Jim Welty

It seems like a silly question, but since Christmas is Jesus birthday, shouldn't we give that some thought.  I think we get the Christmas thing all wrong, which is why I've been heard to say, "I love Jesus; I'm just not wild about his birthday."   Jesus came to our world in abject poverty, so naturally we spend too much money getting each other gifts to celebrate that fact.  Something about that seems out of wack.

 For thoughts like that I've been accused of being like Ebenezer Scrooge, the Christmas curmudgeon from Charles Dickens' classic  "The Christmas Carol", but the truth is I do love Jesus; but I'm not fond of how we celebrate his birthday. The only one who should be receiving gifts at Christmas is Jesus because it's his birthday.  In our Kids' Klub program the children used to sing a song at Christmas.  "Happy Birthday Jesus"

Happy Birthday Jesus I'm so glad it's Christmas
All the tinsel and lights And the presents are nice
But the real gift is you!
Happy Birthday Jesus.  Jesus I love you

Happy Birthday Jesus I'm so glad it's Christmas
All the carols and bells Make the holiday swell
And it's all about you!
Happy Birthday Jesus. Jesus I love you

Christmas is Jesus' birthday, but how do we celebrate it, and more importantly, what are we going to give him for his birthday?  Micah 6:8 gives us some help answering that question.

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.  

And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

During this Advent season, we'll be "unpacking" those gifts that we want to give to Jesus.  They are not tangible gifts but gifts of the heart - which is exactly what he wants.



The Importance of A Church Building

Jim Welty

There seemed to be as many cathedrals in Italy as there are Dunkin Donuts in New England.  As my daughter, Emma, and I wandered through Venice and Florence last summer, we encountered many cathedrals.  Some very famous, some less so.  I spent an afternoon in one cathedral in Venice by myself and reflected on the grandeur of the architecture as well as our situation of having a church that meets  in a high school.  I spent some significant time in prayer as I pondered the differences.   I don't have any clear answers, just some random thoughts, so if you can live with the ambiguity, I invite you to join me.   Being a preacher at heart, I came up with three observations all which start with the letter "P".  (I just can't help myself.)

I wondered first of all about purpose.  What is the purpose of a building?  Is it to give us a sense of awe and reverence for the magnificence of God or is it to give us a meeting place for worship and ministry?  Ideally the answer is both.  Some of the cathedrals I visited seemed more like monuments or museums with little evidence of active parish life. 

The Community Chapel has met in Pomperaug High School for over 30 years.  We have worked hard to convert a high school cafeteria into a place to worship the Almighty God.  But there is no comparing a high school cafeteria to an inspiring cathedral with beautiful stained glass windows and vaulted ceilings.  The cafeteria has served us well as a place for gathering and worship, but we all feel the deficiency and look forward to having a beautiful and soothing place for worship. 

But the question of purpose lingers.  Solomon was given the assignment of building the Temple in Jerusalem,  and in preparation for that task he asked an important question in 1 Kings 8:27 -     " But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!"   While a cathedral can give us a sense of awe and reverence, I believe a beautiful sunset or star filled night or any other of creation's beauty can do the same. 

But even more so, seeing the presence of God at work changing a human being to be like Christ - changing hatred to love, fear to hope, degradation to dignity brings glory to God.    As Lehman Strauss  said:  The most sacred spot is no towering cathedral with stained glass windows, but the believer’s heart where God has come to dwell. 

A second question had to do with procedure   How were those buildings built?  Our church is  grappling with how to build a relatively simple yet functional building to serve as a place for worship and ministry.  The struggle has to do with the cost of materials and labor.  

The cathedrals I visited were much larger and architecturally more complicated than the building that we desire to build.  I imagine that much of the labor and materials for these cathedrals was donated.  Maybe people of those eras were less focused on their own kingdoms and more focused on God's Kingdom.  Or maybe there was more to the story. 
 
Throughout church history there also have been accounts of religious manipulation being used to motivate people to contribute to the building of cathedrals.  The fear of hell being held over people's heads to get them to produce results.  These tend to be speculative and are difficult to document.  But it has been reported that when St. Peter’s Basilica was built in Rome, much of the funding came from the sale of indulgences.  This may be true of other cathedrals in Europe as well.

The Biblical account of the building of the Temple reveals that when Solomon built the Temple in Jerusalem, he used conscripted labor with disastrous results.  The Temple was built but the Kingdom was destroyed, and Israel was divided into the Northern and Southern Kingdoms.        (2 Chronicles 10)

So a question I pondered was if these less than ideal procedures were used, could God be pleased or glorified by a building that required manipulating people?  Again I have no answers, only questions.

A final question is a question of process  and product.   We live in an age of instant gratification; we want results right away. Cathedrals took hundreds of years to build.  Generations of builders worked and many died without seeing the finished product.

Os Guiness describes the cathedrals this way: "Built patiently over many generations rather than by a short, sharp bench-press of modern engineering, designed and adorned by countless anonymous craftsmen rather than raised by a firm of internationally renowned architects, the cathedrals are surely a symphony in stone to the glory of God rather than a humanist tract on "the will of man- made visible."

So we may want things right now or in six months max, but might there be a bigger lesson for us?  Might the bigger lesson be about the process and not the product.  Might the bigger issue be the life of faith that Paul speaks about in 2 Corinthians 5:7.   Seeing how God who has led us in this process will continue to lead us and complete the task.

I am very much looking forward to the day when we meet for worship in our own space, but I am also happy that God has seen fit to lead us on a great journey of faith.  Ultimately the church is not about us or a man made monument, but about the life changing, life giving presence of Jesus among us. 

What I Learned From Heart Surgery by Pastor Welty

Jim Welty

This is part four of a four part blog series based on a message I shared in October, a reflection on lessons learned from my heart surgery. 

 Part 4 The Stewardship of  New Heart

Since the surgery, my diet has changed a lot.  I am now de-caffeinated,  sodium free and fat free.  I’ll be participating in cardiac rehab at the hospital and will try to get back into my exercise routine.

I don't view heart surgery as  a “mulligan”,  a do over.  It's not a chance to eat more bacon and cheese but a chance to avoid behaviors that contributed to the problem.  That's challenging because I like bacon, cheese, ice cream, etc.  But I don’t want to repeat that surgery, so I plan to strive to live a life that honors the surgery and the recovery.  I want to take care of or steward my new heart. 

In Romans 6 Paul asked some helpful, diagnostic questions.  (verses 1-2)  "What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?  By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?"

Then he gave this challenge in Romans 6:11-13,  "In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.  Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.   Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness."

Paul was challenging us to live lives that honor God, and  like I don’t want to take my surgery or recovery for granted, I also don’t want to take my redemption for granted.   I don’t want to take the cross of Christ for granted.  I want to steward my new physical heart carefully which reminds me to steward my new spiritual heart carefully as well.

 

What I Learned From Heart Surgery by Pastor Welty

Jim Welty

This is part three of a four part blog series based on a message I shared in October , a reflection on lessons learned from my heart surgery. 

 Part 3. The Blessing of  New Heart

 Last summer I was feeling discomfort in my chest, but I tried not to think about it.  I was able to manage and aggressive trip to Italy with my daughter without a problem.  God was looking out for me.

Then on July 24, a day before the 2 year anniversary of Stephanie’s death, I was out for a nice long walk and began to experience bad chest pains. I called my doctor who referred me to a cardiologist who scheduled a stress test.  That led to a catheterization on August 14 with the possible insertion of a stent.  The doctor was not able to insert the stent because the blockage was too severe.  I had 4 vessels that were 90% blocked.

CS Lewis once said: “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”  I have been known to be a stubborn man at times and may have been inclined to ignore my chest pain, but I listened as the pain yelled at me, and I responded.  “Pain is God’s megaphone”.

 My doctor told me that my heart is very strong and that I am fortunate that there was no damage to my heart.  It was just some plumbing problems that needed to be repaired.  So I am blessed with a new heart that was my old heart – a second chance at life.

 The prophet Ezekiel spoke to people of Israel about their heart condition saying that their spiritual hearts were hard and resistant to God, but God promised to do something very special for them.  Ezekiel 36:26-27 -  I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.

 This experience has reminded me to be grateful that my physical heart wasn’t damaged and that it is a strong pump doing what it’s supposed to do. So I'm grateful  not only for my “made over” physical heart but also for the new heart, the new sensitivity I’ve been given as a child of the living God.