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Pas. Jim's Blog

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.

What I Learned From Heart Surgery - Pastor Welty

Jim Welty

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

 Part 2 The Power of Life and Healing

In my journal on September 7 I wrote the following entry:  “One week ago I walked into the hospital for heart surgery. It’s an amazing process and an even more amazing recovery.   That surgical team could do incredible and awful things to my body for its good because they had the confidence in the power of life,  the power of life giving blood and oxygen flowing through by body bringing healing.  They knew they could tear me apart and put be back together again and that I would be fine.  The body is resilient – life is powerful – God is good. “

A healthy body has an amazing capacity for healing.  Life is a powerful force.

Almost immediately the nursing team worked to cooperate with process.  They gradually removed all the tubes that had been inserted in my body.  The breathing tube was the first to go; it was removed the first day. Then a tube a day got removed until finally the drainage tubes from abdomen were removed causing me to sing for joy.

They had me walking very soon.  My friend Chuck, who had similar surgery in 2011, told me that the first time I walked I would feel like the old man that Tim Conway played on the "Carol Burnett Show".  He was spot on.  There I was with my walker and all kind of drainage receptacles hanging off of it.  Off I went.

Watching my body gradually heal was an amazing process.  By the last day in the hospital, I had no encumbering tubes and was walking all around like I owned the place - greeting all the doctors and nurses.

God created the body with an amazing capacity to heal itself and as I said in my journal, the surgical team could tear me apart and put me back together again because they understand that power. 

God also provided a way for spiritual healing as well.  In scripture we read of the power of the blood of Christ that  purifies us from all sin. ( 1 John 1:7) and that provides redemption.  (Ephesians 1:7) In the incarnation and sacrifice of Christ God exerted a powerful life giving force on our world. Christ’s sacrificial death brought the only healing possible for our sin wrecked lives as Paul noted in Romans 7.

In scripture we also read of the power of the resurrection.  In Acts 2:24 - Peter said of Jesus that  “it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.”  That is an amazing idea to ponder. Death with its awesome power was no match for the Lord of life. That’s the power of Christ resurrection  that overcame sin, hell and the grave

Ephesians 1:19-20 –Paul spoke of God’s “incomparably great power for us who believe” Saying that it was the same power “he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead”

We also read of the power of New Creation.  In 2 Corinthians 5:17 we read, "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!"

So even though our spiritual DNA is a problem, the power of Christ’s redemption and sacrifice gives us new life.  There is power in the blood of Jesus, power in the resurrection of Jesus and power in the new creation.