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.
Are Any Sins Unforgivable?
A question came up this week in the church office about an obscure passage of scripture having to do with the “unforgivable sin.”
In Matthew 12:31 Jesus says “And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.”
The very idea of a sin that cannot be forgiven is disturbing and can lead to some insecurity among those who are uncertain as to whether or not they may have committed that sin, even unwittingly. It’s important to remember the context of the verse, though. Jesus had just driven a demon out of a man and the Pharisees, desperate to avoid having to acknowledge Jesus’ identity, attributed to Satan what God’s Holy Spirit had done through Jesus. This was the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit that Jesus was referring to. And it’s not unique to the Pharisees.
Jesus is Lord of All
All those who seek to avoid Jesus’ lordship by denying the Spirit’s identity commit the same grave error.
In C.S. Lewis’ Narnian adventure, The Last Battle, there is a scene toward the end of the book when heaven is erupting across the Narnian landscape and a group of stubbornly resistant dwarves hole themselves up in a stable to maintain a dismal objection to redemption.
The feast that is spread before them they regard as straw and dung. The stable fades away and everything is suffused with radiant light, but they feel themselves confined to a small and dingy stable and grope about in the dark that they insist surrounds them. The heroes of the story regard the dwarves with horror and pity when all efforts to make the dwarves aware of the grace available to them fail because of the dwarves’ insistence that Aslan, the Christ figure, is a monstrous enemy and not the redeeming king. Sadly, they must resign themselves to the fact that the dwarves cannot be blessed because they will not agree to the blessing.
That, I think, is the gist of the unforgivable sin. It is not that this sin, being uniquely wicked, has found out the limitation of grace.
The sin of blaspheming the Holy Spirit is that terrible malady that convinces the afflicted that the remedy is actually poison. The resulting death is not proof of the malady’s virulence or the remedy’s impotence, but the sad and unnecessary result of the victim’s insistence on a lie.
The sin is not unforgivable because the perversity of the sin exceeds the efficacy of grace, but because the very nature of the sin prevents the sinner from subjecting the perversity of the one to the efficacy of the other.
We say all of this because we do not want followers of Jesus to ever doubt the sufficiency of grace for their salvation. And because we do not want followers of Jesus to end up, like the dwarves, confined in a prison of their own creation because of a reluctance to correctly identify the Holy Spirit and give him credit for his activity.
What do you think? What is your take on this passage?
Furnace Brook Wesleyan Church Blog