"Colossians 1:15-17 “Christ is the visible image of the invisible God. He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation, for through him God created everything in the heavenly realms and on earth. He made the things we can see and the things we can’t see–such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world. Everything was created through him and for him. He existed before anything else, and he holds all creation together.”
God relates to nations in much the same way that he relates to individuals, and Furnace Brook is located in a place with a strong sense of identity. Vermont is as distinct a place as any of the 50 states, with geographic, historic, and social boundaries that anyone might cross, but no one can ignore.
And it’s a wonderful place. It’s incomparably beautiful with a good quality of life. In fact, it’s so good a place that most of the people who enjoy it would scoff at the idea that it might possibly be improved by something as backwards as religion.
5 Reasons Why Vermont Needs Jesus
But here are five reasons why we think that Vermont needs Jesus.
5. Vermont is already a religious place, but without religion.
There is a strong religious impulse in Vermont that has somehow survived the collapse and absence of traditional religion. Vermonters are very concerned with being good people, but their piety gets expressed in a hodgepodge of quasi-religions. For some Vermonters the farmers market has taken the place of church, for instance. And we yield to no one in our love of fresh, local produce, but what makes for a good diet still does little to save a soul. The religiosity of Vermonters would be better spent on a religion that has saving power for both this life and the life to come.
4. The heroin epidemic.
We fully support the efforts of law enforcement to prevent the trafficking of narcotics along with all the crime that attends it. And we fully support the efforts of recovery centers, and the Department of Children and Families, and dedicated healthcare providers and a host of others to stitch back together the pieces of lives fractured by heroin.
But this is as much (or more) a spiritual problem and our best efforts will not solve anything apart from a dramatic change in our state’s spiritual landscape.
3. An entire class of Vermonters is languishing and being priced out.
This is related to the preceding point, but a lot of working class Vermonters are feeling left behind by an economy they feel is arranged mostly for the benefit of affluent people with different values. Recreational drugs and departure are both common responses to that perceived reality. But Jesus is, historically, very good for people at the lower end of the socio-economic spectrum. He gives them worth, purpose, and skills for successful living.
2. The burden of beauty.
Bear with me here; this is going to get a little deep. We can respond to beauty in one of two ways. We can experience beauty with decadence or sublimation. Decadence is when we give ourselves over to the selfish enjoyment of that beauty, as though the beauty of our environment was for the benefit of our pleasure. And sublimation is when we are so moved by the beauty that we offer ourselves in service to the beauty and to the One who can take the credit for it.
Vermont is so beautiful that if its beauty doesn’t result in worship it will result in something subtly poisonous and dangerous to our souls.
As wonderful as Vermont is, it is not perfect. It has skeletons in its closet. There is plenty of corporate sin to repent of. And the idea that we might go on perpetually enjoying God’s blessing while stubbornly rejecting his lordship is a flawed notion.
If you are an American Christian in 2018 there is a sad likelihood that it has been some time since you paused to savor anything.
And that’s not just a shame: it’s shameful. If God is the giver of every good and perfect gift, we are all too often the ingrateful and distracted recipients of those gifts. We might prefer that the sandwich taste good, but we also insist on eating it in so hurried and distracted a fashion that we scarcely taste it.
The Christian Discipline of Savoring
This is a problem for at least three reasons:
2. Sensation Overload
Second, God wants us to be sensitive to stimuli. It is Satan who desires that we be made numb and indifferent. And what he has accomplished through idolatry he is just as pleased to do through devices and a relentless pacing of life. Our frenetic lives and our blunted senses serve Satan’s purposes better than those of the God who created us.
3. Experiencing Grace in the Everyday
Third, the good gifts of God are means of grace to those who receive them. The delicate reach of a twig, the late day sunlight completing its journey in rosy triumph on the rough trunk of a white pine, the way the neighbor’s cat stretches on its morning stoop in what might be worship. The way cool water perfectly satisfies the parched tongue, the way lettuce tastes better for having been crunched between one’s teeth, the pleasure we might take in bathing and being clean. These are all things that have been salvaged from the shipwreck of Eden and as such are means of grace. They make the desert island on which Adam’s sons and Eve’s daughters washed up more survivable. But they also point us away from the desert island to the Promised Land across the waters and to the One who will, in time, bring us there.
5 Ways to Stop and Savor
So if we agree that we would be better disciples and happier people if we savored more what must we do to resist the tide of our culture?
I’m sure glad I’m not a gatekeeper. That’s a crummy job.
Whether you are deciding who gets to come into our country or who gets to eat at your restaurant, there will be lots of dilemmas and lots of penalties for getting things wrong and some penalties even for getting things right. Being a gatekeeper is an exhausting business, and rife with second-guessing.
The Gate of Salvation
Now as a pastor I do have to be alert for false teachers, it’s true. And not just anyone can be in leadership. But the gate that I am most concerned with, the gate of salvation, is self-enforcing. It is of specific and unbudging dimensions. I can’t change that gate to suit anyone who finds it too narrow, nor can I block the entrance to that gate for anyone narrowed enough by desperation to find it well suited. Anyone might enter by that gate, but no one gets to enter on any terms but those of the gate.
And so, I am not a gatekeeper, but there is a real sense in which the gate keeps me. The church I pastor serves as both porch and foyer for that beautiful door that leads to the life of salvation. I can not lead the church any distance from that door and have it remain a church.
And in this church I lead there are those who voted for Trump enthusiastically and those who revile him no less now than they did during the election. There are those who would be welcome to eat at the Red Hen and those who would rather protest outside it. That’s a good thing. I am determined that this virus of gatekeeping not infect our church, that our boasting be about the Host and the menu, rather than the guest list and the likemindedness of those on it.
The Crisis of Grace
There has been a lot of recent talk about the lack of civility and respect in our culture. And it is evident that both are lacking. But the current crisis is not a crisis of civility or respect. It is a crisis of grace. We are dismayed by the effect of living in a graceless culture, one in which everyone gets what he deserves and no one is allowed anything that he doesn’t deserve. A graceless culture has some appeal to those who are convinced that they themselves are deserving.
But those of us who’ve been steeped in the gospel know that our hope for this world and the one to come hinges on grace, on us getting exactly what we never deserved. And so we react to the graceless culture with great sorrow, and we insist that even if the angry gods of the hour squeeze grace out of every other public place in our culture, that grace will nonetheless be the lovely condition of the church.
Being the objects of grace ourselves, we extend that grace to our co-worshipers with gospel liberality.
But this condition that distinguishes us from so much of our culture is fragile and if we are determined to bring lots of people to the gate without being gatekeepers there are some things we should keep in mind:
This past Sunday (June 3rd) we honored our graduates at Furnace Brook and I loved every minute of it. I love the video, the gift giving, and the commissioning, because I love the graduates.
The Real Heartache on Graduation Sunday
But I confess, it’s a little bittersweet. Every Graduation Sunday brings to mind some of the people we have celebrated in previous years who are not now “walking with the Lord,” or demonstrating much commitment to the faith that they had once professed.
And that breaks my heart.
Our church is no worse (and may be somewhat better) than most churches in this regard. Around the country a great many young people leave the church at the same time that they leave adolescence. Some come back as they start families of their own or when a crisis changes their outlook. But many others never return to church or to the faith.
Why do sheep get lost and what’s to be done about them?
In the Bible Jesus uses the metaphor of sheep to talk about this phenomenon. (See John 10:11-18 and Luke 15:1-7.) And this is a helpful metaphor to consider as we answer the question: Why do sheep get lost and what's to be done about them?
Why do Sheep get lost?
Sheep are obstinate and willful. And so are we. Pastors and parents can do a lot to push the sheep away by “coming on too strong” with unrealistic expectations, and shepherding with lots of pressure and little grace.
A sheepfold is a place where the shepherd gathers the sheep to keep them safe when they are not in the pasture. So when Jesus talks about the “fold” we have the church in mind. And a bad, unhealthy church can account for the tendency of the sheep to wander.
A lack of shepherding
If bad shepherding is a problem, a lack of shepherding is an even bigger one. A lot of sheep wander because of feeble parents and indifferent pastors. It takes resolute and confident shepherding to get a sheep from one pasture to another.
The faith is hard and so is church
Even sheep who have good folds and good leadership from parents and pastors can still reject the faith and the church and when they do it is often (whatever pretenses they suggest) on account of laziness. The faith is hard and so is church. G.K. Chesterton famously said that “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.” Sometimes we have to give our unfaithful youth credit for counting the cost, even if we fault them for deciding that Jesus isn’t worth it.
What’s to be done for lost sheep?
Put work into the fold.
Make your church a good, purposeful place to be. Not a resort: comfortable chairs and a good sound system won’t keep a sheep from wandering. But soul nourishment, a meaningful assignment, and a lovely flock just might.
Shepherd the sheep who haven’t wandered yet.
The best recovery policy prevents the loss in the first place. Do not take for granted the faithfulness of young sheep. Celebrate it frequently and loudly.
Go after the lost sheep.
Make them a priority. Pray for them (set yourself a prayer prompt: every time you exit a building, for instance, pray for the lost sheep you know who exited the fold and never came back.) Reach out to a young person who appears to have walked away and ask how he is doing with Jesus, ask her how you can be praying for her. Remind them that they can come back.
Trust Jesus by obeying Jesus.
Concerning the lost sheep, don’t despair on the one hand or give in to complacent “faith” on the other. You can trust that Jesus will be relentless in pursuit of those to whom he has given his name. So be cheerfully and hopefully relentless yourself. Those lost sheep are infinitely worth it.
Women in ministry can be a heated and often confusing topic. Let’s start by putting all our cards on the table: at Furnace Brook we favor women in ministry. We’re unapologetic about this fact.
However, we share a movement with a lot of churches and believers that do not. We would like to persuade fellow believers to our point of view with good biblical arguments, but it’s not an argument we need to win. We are comfortable sharing a movement with people who see things differently on this issue because we see their hearts.
Below are the best reasons (we know of) for why faithful brothers and sisters might believe differently than we do.
Reasons for Not Favoring Women in Ministry
1. The Bible- It was our reading of the Bible (as described in this recent sermon) that led us to our position. In Sunday’s sermon, Pastor Jordan highlighted the historical context for 1 Timothy 2:8-15, which is an admonishment to women and men to co-labor. He also noted the whole of Timothy (and Paul’s) writing, which encourages women as leaders in prayer, and ministry.
Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing. I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, but with good deeds,appropriate for women who profess to worship God. A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve.And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.- 1 Timothy 2:8-15
However, we recognize that there are a lot of smart and earnest believers who have read the same passage(s) and arrived at a different conclusion.
Even though we listed the Bible above as a good faith reason for opposing women in ministry, not all biblical arguments are the same. A lot of people who oppose women in ministry start with an opposition and then go to scripture for proof texts. We have no patience for lazy and agenda-driven interpretation of the text.
2. Preference- Some of us (both men and women,) if we are honest about it, just simply prefer to be led and taught by men. We prefer to hear things from a man’s voice. And a preference for men does not necessarily indicate a hatred of women. Just as we have preferences for one sort of man (or woman) over another, we might have preferences for men in general over women in general. Sometimes preference can simply be a reflection of what we’ve been exposed to, what we’ve seen our parents endorse.
It would be wrong to insist on our preference, but there is nothing wrong with being honest about it.
3. Liberal Women in Ministry- Many of us are concerned about the fact that many of our examples of women in ministry involve women who are liberal and even radical in their interpretation of scripture and approach to the church. Because we know some women in ministry who are conservative and some men in ministry who are radically progressive this is not a concern we share, but it is a concern we can honor.
4. The Feminization of the Church- Even some women in ministry share this concern. Church can be a place where feminine norms in aesthetics, worship, fellowship, and values lead to decreased male participation which, in turn, exacerbates the problem. The fear is that elevating women to positions of leadership will only heighten the problem. Again, it’s not a concern we share, but it is one we can honor.
Unreasonable Reasons for Excluding Women from Ministry
There are, however, other reasons for opposing women in ministry for which we have no patience.
5. Women are Inherently Unsuited to Ministry- Claiming, as some do, that women are inherently unsuited to the work of ministry is true, but in a way that manages to be false. Men, too, are inherently unsuited to the work of ministry. When someone suggests that women are uniquely unsuitable to ministry what they are saying is that God’s power is great enough to make use of men, but not sufficiently great to make use of women. It’s an unwise criticism of women that amounts to a dangerous criticism of God.
6. Women are God's Plan B- We have no patience for the suggestion that if God does call women to ministry it is as a reluctant “plan B,” owing to the failure of men to live up to that call. There is no biblical or theological basis for this notion and it slights all women in ministry while impugning all our brothers in the church.
It is worth noting that there are reasons some have for supporting women in ministry that we object to as well. But that’s a whole ‘nother blog post.
You're Welcome at Furnace Brook!
While we are unapologetic in supporting women in ministry, we acknowledge this is a topic with varying view points and arguments. We are a church that wants to encourage believers to search the Bible for answers, to seek out counsel from multiple faith leaders, and to pray earnestly for wisdom.
We are also comfortable if you do not agree on every point above. We seek to glorify Jesus and bring people to know him. If you are interested in the same- we welcome you to worship with us!
As the pastor of a rural congregation in an overwhelmingly white community I face a temptation to ignore the whole topic of racial reconciliation within the church.
After all, why pick a fight you may not survive when it doesn’t seem that anything would really change even if you somehow won it.
Even if I got everyone to agree with me that racial reconciliation should be a gospel priority we are still left ministering in a context where about 99 of every one hundred neighbors are, if anything, even whiter than we are.
And yet. Maybe it’s because it’s April and there’s still snow in the forecast, maybe it’s because I have a complicated personal history with race, maybe it’s because Jesus is making me do it. Whatever the reason, here I am picking that fight.
Jesus calls us to form faith communities that more accurately reflect the beauty of the Kingdom than the ugly realities of our culture by taking to heart what Paul teaches when he says:
There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.- Gal 3:28
Getting our backs up
We all have blind spots. Areas in our life where our vantage point prevents us from correctly perceiving the reality about us. I have blind spots where my parenting is concerned, for example. However, I only know this because I’ve had those blind spots pointed out to me.
It’s generally no surprise to me to discover that I do have various blind spots, but it is surprising how eager I am to resist their exposure.
Having your ignorance exposed can be hard, but in most of my life I’m at least curious to know what it is I don’t know. But when it comes to race, I really bristle at the idea that my being white can significantly handicap my efforts to get race right.
It’s not having racial blind spots or resisting that awareness that comes as a surprise. It’s the ferocity of my resistance that surprises me.
It has too often been the case in my life that “getting my back up” is an indication that I am letting pride and sin determine my approach to the matter. I’m learning to pause, reflect, and invite conviction in precisely those places where I least want to.
Reconciliation on our terms
We pray for patience, but are frustrated when God then puts us in situations where we are required to be patient. We pray for ‘that person’ who is in a sin struggle, but chafe when the Holy Spirit prompts us to see them through his eyes. We want His Kingdom, we just want it on our own terms.
We do this individually, but also, tragically, as a church body. We want children in church, but expect them to behave like adults. We want millennials to attend, but experience annoyance when the ‘young people’ aren’t tithing as much, or won’t sing a hymn!
And whether we realize it or not, we can also approach the possible inclusion of people from other ethnic groups in the same way.
It’s not out of malice that churches are imposing their preferences and on others, but out of our natural state as humans. We experience life, relationships and ministry through our own perspective- and it can be a challenge to see through someone else's eyes.
Desire without knowledge is not good-- how much more will hasty feet miss the way!- Proverbs 19:2
Jesus is calling us to see his people through HIS eyes, not our own. To adjust how we approach and minister to those around us based on their needs, and preferences, and not our own.
A "white" church that never examines its "default settings," that is pleased to include minorities so long as those minorities content themselves with expressions of church that are "white," is missing the point.
I’m tired of my own assumptions and my own outcomes. I’m so eager for this to happen that I’m not going to insist that it happens on my terms.
The scales come off
When you’re part of a church full of white people in a community where almost everyone else is white, it’s easy to absolve yourself of any responsibility to pursue racial diversity at your church.
But, when you start getting excited about what racial diversity could mean for your church and its testimony to the redemptive work of Christ- you will start looking at your community with new eyes. You will begin seeing people you hadn’t really noticed before and you will see them in a new light.
On the day I called, You answered me; You made me bold with strength in my soul.- Psalm 138:3
Every Sunday I include points in my message to encourage you to think, to feel, and to do something. Today I would encourage you to pray for a fresh revelation of God’s love for his people. Pray that you would feel his love for those around you in a deeper way. Pray that the Holy Spirit would show you where he would have you reach out, or step up for your neighbors.
This year has been one of change and growth for Furnace Brook. God has been faithfully growing, challenging and molding our Church to align with his vision for Making More and Better Disciples.
We are so thankful for our Church, and all of the people who are diligently serving, sharing their faith, and laboring to grow disciples in our church family.
As spring approaches, we are pleased to see God continuing to do his work in our church community, specifically at the Forest Dale Campus.
` Yet this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.- Lamentations 3:21-23
Forest Dale Sprouts
Furnace Brook Wesleyan Church is pleased to announce two exciting updates in regards to our Forest Dale Campus community.
1) We are changing the service time from 11:00 to 10:00 at the Forest Dale location starting on Easter Sunday, April 1st.
Our heart for the Forest Dale Campus is to see the Brandon and Forest Dale community blessed, to bring more people to Jesus, and to grow the relationship of current believers in that community. With this pursuit, we are shifting service times in an effort to make service more accessible to a larger number of people. With this ideal, we are changing the service time at Forest Dale from 11AM to 10AM. While this may seem like a small shift, we are praying that God would work mightily to bless the faith community in Brandon through the Forest Dale Campus and Church family.
2) We are making Abigail Elliott our Campus Pastor at the Forest Dale location.
In the time since the former Forest Dale and Furnace Brook Wesleyan Churches merged a succession of leaders have worked to keep things running smoothly at the Forest Dale Campus. We are so thankful for the heart and service of all those who have poured into the Forest Dale Campus.
As Abbey Elliott steps into this role, she is taking on more leadership to pursue the vision for a Campus that is vibrant, intergenerational and local. We love Forest Dale. We love the Forest Dale community, we have a heart for its mission, and we are eager to see Forest Dale flourish under God’s hand. Forest Dale is an important and integrated part of Furnace Brook, and we are so pleased to have Abbey come alongside this Campus to Make More and Better Disciples.
We are thankful for Abbey’s servant heart, and ask that you would pray alongside us to bless her, and honor her willingness to pour into the Forest Dale Campus.
Abbey Elliott grew up as part of Furnace Brook Wesleyan and has served in a variety of roles doing everything from leading Bible studies to preparing slides and teaching kids the motions to loud songs. She has been serving in the audio/visual area at the Forest Dale Campus since the merger in 2016, and is committed to the work in that location. We are excited about her leadership and the gifts and insights she brings as a woman in her early twenties.
Please pray for Abbey and the rest of the team at Forest Dale and consider what else you might do through attendance and work to encourage and bolster what it is that God is doing at Forest Dale.
Why Should I Go To Church On Easter?
I've been thinking about getting a gym membership, but I'm not a "gym person." And that's a bigger deal than you might think. I've never been to a gym. My people are not gym people. I have put a lot more effort into avoiding locker rooms than I have ever put into my health.
And so no one needs to convince me that the gym would be a good thing for me. I know I need it. But there is just a huge psychological hurdle and a lot of inhibition to overcome before I get there.
It's much the same with church for people who don't think of themselves as "church people." And I sympathize with that.
But Easter is one of those times when the intrigued and the desperate, the hopeful and the nostalgic have a pretense for overcoming their inhibitions about coming to church. But that's also what makes it hard. No one wants to be dismissed as a "Cheaster" Christian (Christmas and Easter.) If you, or someone you know, is struggling with this tension I want to give you five good reasons for attending church on Easter, even if you have no intention of going again.
Five Good Reasons for Attending Church on Easter, Even If You Have No Intention of Coming Again:
And if you've never been to church before and you show up on Easter morning at Furnace Brook I will take my cue from you and head to the gym on Monday morning. But I'm confident of this: good as the gym may be, the church could mean better things for your soul than the gym could ever mean for my body. If my body gets fit it will still be mortal, but on Easter I will celebration Jesus' resurrection from the dead and the hope that resurrection gives me for my own.
Hope to see you there!
Love Letter to a Church
Back in October, the church collected gifts for us for Pastor Appreciation Month to go toward a future family vacation. If they had not done this (or if the gift had not been so generous) we would never have piled into the van and headed south.
My brother, Joshua Tate, and his family live in Lake City, Florida, where he pastors the Lulu Advent Christian Church. Josh and Sarah have five children and we brought four children with us. It was a lot of Tates in one place, let me tell you. There was laughter, mischief, and the magic of cousin friendships quickly kindled.
The Squalor Express
But let me tell you something about the ride back north. None of us were reluctant to return to Vermont, exactly. In fact, we were eager to be home. It was just that none of us were excited about what it would take to get here. I came down with a fever on our last day in Florida which made me a poor travel companion, I’m afraid.
There comes a point in every road trip when all of the car’s inmates collectively resign themselves to the swelling filth of their shared experience. This point came pretty early on the first of our two days of northward driving. None of the minivan’s doors could be opened without trash spilling out. We scooped it up and tossed it back in. The designated “trash” bag being full and inadequate to the task, we settled for tossing wrappers and apple cores in its general direction and hoped for the best.
And yet, for all that, we laughed and enjoyed each other’s company. We savored our recent time in Florida and thought about Vermont with pleasant anticipation as we hurtled over the interstate. It was a wonderful trip.
Four Thoughts From The Pastor
I’d like to quickly share a few thoughts with you all about this trip.
First, it means a lot to me that the Pastoral Appreciation gift was a gift to the pastoral family. The families of pastors make a lot of sacrifices for the ministry that no one ever knows about and they get less of the rewards than the pastor does. And my family in particular is very involved in the ministry of the church. As a pastor’s kid myself, I don’t remember the church of my upbringing ever indicating appreciation to my father’s family. This means a lot.
Second, it was a very generous gift. And it wasn’t just the amount that made it generous: I really appreciate that it came with a suggestion about how we might use it, and nothing else.
Third, we have a great team. That the pastor can be absent for two consecutive Sundays without the church missing a beat, is great for his peace of mind and terrible for the size of his ego. Both are good things.
Fourth, absence really does make the heart grow fonder. There is nowhere else I would rather be on Sunday morning, and no one else I would rather be with.
Thank you, again, Furnace Brook, for making it possible for us to do this. God bless you all.
We made two pans of enchilada and, as it turned out, one of them was just for Sean.
That young man knew how to eat.
Sean was a high school student whose bus stop was at the church and that winter I made a habit of timing my snow shoveling to coincide with his wait.
I know it sounds creepy, but in time Sean became a regular guest at our table where he goofed off with our young children and astonished us with his prodigious appetite.
It Starts at The Dinner Table
In time there were conversations about Jesus and I will always remember his first visit to the church, but it started at the dinner table.
But, sadly, the dinner table is not only not where many of us start, the dinner table is something that many of us never get around to at all.
Feasting Not Fasting This Lent
Many of us associate Lent with the spiritual discipline of fasting, but this year at Furnace Brook we are going to feast.
We are encouraging you to take what we are calling the Lenten Meal Challenge where you will commit to having at least once a week a meal at which there would be a guest.
The guest could be someone you've known all your life or someone you've only just met. It could be someone from the church or someone who's never been to a church of any sort.
And if you sign up we will provide you with accountability for your intentions, as well as recipes and helpful tips. Sign up here.
This may not lead directly or indirectly to conversions, and it may cost you whole pans of enchiladas, but but what makes a meal successful is the fact that it happened, because you never have the same relationship with someone after eating at his table that you did before.
Furnace Brook Wesleyan Church Blog