Thanksgiving for Today!
Be not quick in your spirit to become angry, for anger lodges in the heart of fools. Say not, “Why were the former days better than these?” For it is not from wisdom that you ask this. Ecclesiastes 7:9-10
I had a wonderful opportunity this past Sunday. Not only did I get to worship at the congregation where Cheryl and I are members, but I got to attend Bible Class! That doesn’t happen too often with my visitation and service schedule. But it did this past Sunday and I was able to study a portion of Ecclesiastes with the people of God.
The two verses above and the discussion around it captured my attention. While the participants explored why it is not wise to dwell in the quote from verse 10, my mind slipped off to our churches and the situations therein.
It is easy for us to reflect on the situation in our church and say, “Why were the former days better than these?” We remember those days when there were more services and they were all full! We remember when the budget was more robust. We remember when the Sunday School classes were brimming and the youth program was active. We remember when… and the list goes on.
Neither this article nor this verse is meant to deny or diminish the past. We give thanks for the past and the great things that God did in those days. We praise God for the ministry, the grace, and the salvation that was given for we have been recipients and beneficiaries of it.
So, what is the problem of saying? ”Why were the former days better than these?”
First because the very supposition is foolish. Is it really true that the former days were better than today? No doubt there were certain things that were better than today but it is also true that there are certain things that were not! The simple truth of the matter is that every age has its bright spots and its dark sides with unending shades of gray in between. To wistfully say that the former days were better is in short self-deceptive and thus foolish.
Second, as vs 9 reminds us, such a belief can root us in anger. Continually harkening back to the past and romanticizing it can develop in us an inferiority or injustice complex which in turn can lead to bitterness and anger. Dwelling on our perceived misfortune is simply not health. Paul reminds us not to let the sun go down on our anger. It is far better to deal with the source of our anger with the Word of God and in the mercy and forgiveness of Christ.
Third, and perhaps most significant, dwelling on such a saying betrays a misunderstanding of God’s ways and a lack of trust in him. You can never go back nor should we want to. We can thank God for the past but we rightly thank him for the present and the gifts, blessings, and grace that he gives us now! We believe that God has redeemed us in Jesus Christ and has placed us right where we are for his purposes. We believe Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
October has us rolling up on the end of the church year with its focus on the culmination of all things and Thanksgiving. Within that context, how do you view these days in which we live? God reminds us it is foolishness to say the former days were better. Rather he calls us to live in faith and trust, to give thanks for the blessings of this day, and, in the hope of Jesus Christ, to offer ourselves for God’s good purposes.
Pastor Appreciation and Holding Up the Prophet’s Hands
October was Pastor Appreciation Month but our appreciation of our pastors continues. If you missed the opportunity to say thank you to your pastor, no worries. You can show appreciation any time. In fact, Holding Up the Prophet’s Hands is a great way to show appreciation and give support to your pastor all year round.
We want our pastors to be healthy and feel supported. When they are they are able to serve you much better. The Worker Support Team described in the seminar can function in a congregation in many different ways. The point is to have a support system for your pastor.
The goal of this seminar was to two-fold; to equip congregations to better care for their pastor and for pastors to be healthier. If your congregation was unable to send anyone to the seminar the next best thing is to read Dr. Hartung’s book Holding Up the Prophet’s Hand. The District has a few more copies of this book available. Call the District Office and request one or simply order one from CPH or on Amazon.
Initiative for Ministry Development (IMD) and NJDU
The final session of NJDU is scheduled for this month. We will be focusing on outreach and ministry. Each congregation and the District will be offering TED-like talks on a creative or unique ministry they sponsor. The goal is to stimulate these congregations to ever greater and more creative ministry.
IMD is now turning its eyes toward a third phase in 2024 in which half and full day seminars and retreats will be offered to explore new areas of ministry and planning as well as helping congregations keep current with their plans. These additional sessions will be open not only to SCC and NJDU graduates but to all congregations interested in enhancing their ministry.
District Short Clips
Official Visits will continue in November until we take an Advent/Christmas pause. The visits will then resume in January. I am currently scheduled through mid-February. Soon I will be selecting another 7 churches and sending them an invitation to schedule a visit with me. That should just about finish the first year’s visitation (21 churches) and have me right on schedule to visit every congregation in the three-year cycle.
Call Lists. St. John, Bloomfield and Calvary, Verona have received their 3rd call list. St. Paul, Closter has received her 1st call list. Holy Trinity, Somerset, and Christ Memorial, East Brunswick are preparing for their 1st Call List. Rev. Anthony Iovine has three calls which he is considering. Gary Timm has declined a call to Salem, Buffalo, NY and has another call to Bettendorf, IA. Chris Schneider has two calls one to Beautiful Savior, Powell, OH and the other to Grace, Huntsville, AL. Lawrence Gboeah, Christ Assembly, Newark has retired and Borbor Zolue has completed his studies in the EIIT program and will be ordained and installed at Christ Assembly in the near future.
Pastors Conference. Having concluded our Fall Pastors Conference, I am now pleased to announce our Spring Conference on May 13-15 at Tuscarora Conference Center, Mt. Bethel, PA. Our primary speaker will be Dr. Dave Reuter speaking on Growing Young. This conference will help our pastors understand the core principles and practices of congregations that are growing younger (in age). These principles and practices apply not only to larger congregations but to congregations of all sizes. Congregations that desire to do more with Dr. Reuter will be invited to participate in a cohort of NJD congregations and work together at Growing Young.
Pastors Wives. There is a Pastors Wives retreat coming up in February. Please watch the Grapevine for more details.
Outreach Council. The Outreach Council is working on developing a page on our District website that will be a resource of outreach ideas for congregations to use. Each congregation is encouraged to submit one idea along with a one or two paragraph description of the event/activity. Congregations will be able to go to the page for inspiration and encouragement toward outreach through their congregation. Pastors through their Circuit Meetings and Circuit Visitors are being asked to accomplish this.
Synodical Convention Resolutions. In an effort to bring Synod closer to congregations and to make Synodical resolutions relevant to ministry here in NJ, plans are in the making for District representatives to visit each congregation to share Synodical resolutions that are relevant to congregations. Knowing about these resolutions, congregations can then decide if there are any that can assist them in their ministry or decide to take up something new at the suggestion of a resolution. We pray that this can assist and stimulate us to vibrant ministry here in NJ.
The last two months of the year are filled with great blessings; reminders of God bringing his promises to fulfillment as the end draws near, Thanksgiving, Advent, and Christmas! Make every effort to be in person in the Lord’s house each week that you may receive the fullness of God’s blessings.
The LORD with you,