Many of you have been watching the construction of my 2018 Christmas train village as I have posted some progress reports on Facebook. You have been patiently waiting for the “finished product.” Here it is, though tweaks continue. Pictures are in the gallery below. It’s really about interacting with people. That’s one reason why my picture of Sam is the featured picture. Already the grandchildren have run the trains. JoAnne has hosted some ladies of the church who surveyed the set before it was quite finished. Sarah Oliver sat Jake down next to the tracks and his eyes followed the engines as they moved! Then Tuesday, Mike and Karen Ahijevych stopped in to help with the preparation of the church’s Every Door Direct mailing and took a moment to see the trains too. In the next two weeks we will also host three open houses, two for our church family and one for our neighborhood. JoAnne bakes special treats for these occasions.
A question that I am asked every year is: “What is new this year?” There always seems to be something. Last year, one big new thing was changing all the track over to FasTrack. Another was a new Lion Chief Patriot engine. Also last year I bought a Snowy Village Dept 56 church, and was given a Dickens Village Dept 56 church by Ken and Carolyn D’Annolfo. In addition a small country meeting-house type church showed up at our church tag sale, perfect for a pastor whose church meets in an old-style New England Methodist meeting house. So I gained three beautiful churches last year. This year the new items are “Polar Express.” I have a new North Pole station and a Polar Express train complete with the recorded “All aboard” announcement from the movie.
I was thinking about how this came to be. Everyone asks how long I have been doing this. Each year for about 25 years I have had trains around the tree. But each year the project has evolved. It all began when friends in my second church, Bill and Jackie Quick, gave me a classic O-Gauge Lionel set just like the one my brothers and I shared as children. I found three ceramic houses on sale at the local drugstore in East Syracuse and the Christmas hobby began. I couldn’t remember when it started, but Stacey Totoritis Rogan remembered seeing it near its primitive beginning in 1993 on a visit to Kirkville with her parents. It took a big step when the Kirkville parsonage was remodeled around 2001. The display moved upstairs and began to acquire additional houses, accessory wiring, and more than one level. It gained the large front-and-center train station. By then we made no attempt to put presents under the tree. We started inviting children of the church over to run the trains at open house events. In 2013, when we moved to the West Granby parsonage, I had more space so the set grew. But as it has grown more complex, so the time it takes to assemble and dissemble it has increased. However, this year, I was able to assemble it a little quicker, taking only 10 days instead of the usual two weeks.
That is a crucial spiritual question in our everyday struggle with temptation of all kinds. Will we take the long view of what leads to long term wholeness for ourselves and those close to us according to the gathered wisdom of our human race or will we choose what we currently crave? It is also a question that is at the heart of current medical and political debates about issues such as transgender surgeries. Should counselors, doctors, psychologists, pastors, etc just serve as hired or volunteer facilitators to help a person get what they currently want, or should they serve the acquired wisdom of humankind in promoting healing and wholeness, personal growth and maturity? This article focuses on that choice as it applies to the issue of gender reassignment surgeries. The article by Ryan T. Anderson is enlightening and gives valuable perspective for this debate. The question raised by this article is much broader than transgender issues. But as regards gender dysphoria, the standpoint of health and wholeness makes a much better starting point for the discussion of transgender than do moral codes. Ethics then enters into the picture as wholeness is defined as a moral good.
Alcohol abuse is a problem no one wants to talk about. But it is an increasing problem in the US. And more and younger people are losing their lives because of it as this recent news article in USA Today reports. While the Bible does not prohibit alcohol use, there are several warnings about it. For example, Solomon wrote, “Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise”(Prov 20:1 NIV). Today the church can encourage those who are trapped by addiction by offering space for AA, by sponsoring Celebrate Recovery Groups, and through pastoral counsel. We can also help by countering the popular narrative that alcohol is needed for a good time. And we can help provide hope for those who are discouraged and, seemingly lacking options, often turn to alcohol to cope.
I ask your patience as I add earlier sermons to my database. I’m happy to announce that I have recently been able to import sermons from the plugin that I previously used. The first six months of messages at Copper Hill are included in those. In addition, there are some messages available going back to 2010 when I began blogging. However, I ask your patience as I work to fill in some of the remaining gaps and fix minor issues resulting from the transfer from one plug-in to the other.
Dan Reiland is a wise and experienced pastoral leader. In this article, he articulates well something that I have said for years. Churches must focus on the children and youth. If we cater mostly to the current generation, we risk accelerating the aging of our church. If we focus on the children, we renew our church. Wisdom from Reiland
Here is something that common sense has always suspected. Applied religious faith makes a practical difference in the wholeness of people. Now we can say that the sociologists have confirmed it. A new study has shown statistically that religious practice by kids in childhood and teen years results in better well-being as young adults in crucial areas. Here are the links to both the news article reporting on the study and to the study itself. Among the list of positive effects carrying over into young adulthood are increased reported happiness, decreased drug use, and much less sexually transmitted disease.
If we needed it, it should be just one more reason to take the Bible seriously. And it certainly is an encouragement to parents that practicing faith as a family has a salutary effect on children in so many ways. Remember King David said; Blessed is the one… whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. (Psalm 1:1, 3 NIV)
Jesus said; “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. Matt 7:24-25 NIV
Here is a link to one of the best articles I have seen analyzing the historical and current situation in the United Methodist church. It is well worth reading. Chaplain Philips has both the wisdom of a long time United Methodist and the slight detachment and broad perspective provided by his years in the military chaplaincy.
I just read a great Carey Nieuwhof article
that deals with one of the persistent issues for small churches that average less than 200 in attendance. This includes most of the churches in America. Even a cursory glance at the relatively flat statistical history of most such churches will cause the curious reviewer to ask the probing question, “Why do they usually stay small?” Sometimes there are obvious physical barriers such as the size of the building or a shortage of parking, but most of the time such external factors are not adequate to explain the struggles small congregations have. In this article, Nieuwhof puts his finger on a some other key issues that are so relevant. In my experience as a pastor, I can say that I would affirm this list of issues that hinder the growth of small churches. Overcoming these becomes as much part of the strategy for growth as adding methods of outreach or staffing a nursery or improving parking.
I don't very often comment on cartoons. But this one hit it out of the park! The only thing topping the disgusting lack of ability to accomplish common sense agenda by Democrats and Republicans in Congress is the inane babble of some of their supporters. I love it!