As I rapidly approach the conclusion of my last full-time assignment, and retirement status, I find myself marveling at God’s grace and the love and goodness that has been showered upon my journey. First I know that without a doubt God has been the architect of this journey. I learned from the moment I first experienced the call to ministry that it was not a call of my own making. I knew I was being called out of my local church to serve the larger church and never presumed to know where it would lead. So first I want to thank God for accomplishing ministry either “through me or in spite of me.” It has been an exciting and enriching journey. I believe there is no higher calling than for any of us to be ambassadors for Jesus Christ.
Secondly I want to recognize that the journey has been blessed with a variety of wonderful people who have loved me, encouraged me, and supported me along the way. Some of you know that The Rev. George Haley was one of my early mentors, assigned to candidates for ordained ministry. Some of you have also experienced the gentle encouragement he could bring and his passion for effectively preaching. Three times in my ministry I have followed George in churches he had served. They were Westfield, Clarence, and Grand Island. I am reminded by that interesting fact that my ministry has not been in isolation. Excellent pastors have lead the way. Some of them I knew well, others I knew little at all. The fact is whatever we can accomplish it is usually done on the foundation laid by others. So I name George as representative of these people who have gone before.
Then of course, I would point to the wonderful and supportive lay people for whom I have been honored to be called “pastor.” What an absolute privilege to have been these person’s spiritual leader. I cannot express adequately the honor of being allowed into these persons’ lives at the level this profession allows. I begin with the Lyndonville church’s people who saw something in me and their very early encouragement. They taught me what it meant to be the church before I really knew what it was. These congregations included Pine Street United Methodist Church when I was student assistant during my time as a student at Lycoming College in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Then a brief time with the Presbyterians at John Calvin Presbyterian Church in Henrietta, New York in a field education assignment during seminary. Then my very own assignments: Wyoming and Covington, East Bloomfield and Ionia, Westfield, Clarence, Cornerstone District Superintendency, and Grand Island. At each of these I recall the people who were truly The Body of Christ in those places for their communities, each other, and for their pastor. My thanks to God for these people, both laity and in the case of the superintending years laity and clergy. Your faith and commitment is often what God provided to keep me going for 43 years.
Finally, I thank God for my own family who nurtured me, and Brenda who grew up in an active and devout United Methodist family and never imagined she would marry “one of those pastors.” But God and people had prepared her well to be a helpmate for me, and yet retain her own wonderful, unique identity and use the gifts and graces God had given her. Certainly one of the greatest privileges has been our relationship that produced Adam and Jordan and our ever widening family relationships. I look forward to being more available to them in the following years, and joyfully shifting fully into the roles of “husband,” “Dad,” and “Grandpa.”
So there you have it. I have been richly and profoundly blessed by God and the people of my journey, and thank YOU for being a part of it. God be with you as the Lees arrive to be a part of your journey. Love and support them and you will be richly blessed! I know. I am a witness.
MOVING ON IN FAITH
by Larry Baird
Changes are pivotal times in our lives. They can be opportunities to move faithfully into the future, or opportunities to regress and send us fleeing for the comfort of the past. Brenda and I have gone through many changes in our lives. Every change in some way is a test of faith.
According to the Easter story in the Gospel of Mark, the women after finding the tomb empty are sent on a mission. The angel says, “Now go and tell his disciples, including Peter that Jesus is going ahead of you to Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you before he died."
I believe that this is the assurance God gives us all when we face a new chapter in our lives. The message is assurance that wherever we go, Jesus goes there before us to prepare opportunities for us to be faithful. There we will see Him working in that new reality.
As Brenda and I face an entirely new chapter in our lives called “retirement,” we confidently anticipate Christ’s presence in it. We believe increased family time and contact with new people will provide opportunities to witness and serve, living out our faith in that new context. If we did not embrace this future, we would instead try to go back and recreate the past, or we would refuse to move on.
We share this with you as members and participants in Trinity Church. You too have an opportunity that will be pivotal to your future. Even though you do not know all the details of what lies ahead, you can be assured that if you move into this new day in faith, you will discover that Jesus is in that future; and that He has incredible opportunities for you to thrive. Or you can seek out the past and try to recreate that. One choice leads to life. The other drags you into the past and there your life as a church will be much diminished.
Shortly we will all, hopefully, be moving on. Brenda and I into a new stage in life, and you into a new chapter in the life of Trinity Church with the leadership of Pastor Sung Ho Lee. Our prayer is you will embrace the future, knowing that Christ is there even now preparing tremendous opportunities for you as a church. Let us all appreciate our past, but move on in faith to embrace the future prepared for us by Jesus himself.
IS THE CROSS OFFENSIVE?
I was standing in Trinity’s main sanctuary showing it to some visitors. Generally people remark at its neoexpressionist beauty and majesty. They generally comment on the powerful witness of the gigantic cross that is front and center in our worship space. This person, however, had a different reaction. They commented that it looked rough, jagged and was somehow disturbing to them. At first I was taken aback by the uncharacteristic reaction. Almost instantaneously, however, I was reminded that the cross and its meaning is offensive to many, and perhaps if we are honest we too have wondered about the crucifixion of Jesus.
It is good, I think, and especially so during Lent to consider this aspect of our faith. What God did on the cross is offensive to human sensibilities. 1 Corinthians 1: 23 (NKJV) references this: “… but we reach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness.” There are also whole alternate movements within Christianity that decry the apparent brutality of it, and claim that a loving God would not have specifically and intentionally required such a sacrifice. I believe, however, that the cross is instructive to the human dilemma, and points to its potential healing. Allow me to explain.
The world is full of human suffering, and our present times seem to reveal an increased intensity. On the other hand our belief is that God operates primarily from a position of profound love. “He who does not have love does not know God, for God is love.” (1 John 4:8 – NKJV) Consequently it would seem that God’s going to the cross in Jesus is a profound act of love.
I believe that what the cross means is that God chose to embrace the world’s broken nature and take it upon himself to redeem us, and heal us. It is our brokenness, the world’s brokenness that God takes to the cross. We praise God for that because it is highly apparent that humanity in and of itself cannot heal itself. God has to do it if he loves us.
Christians know, consequently, that God desires to put an end to suffering. On the cross, God in the person of Jesus, actually says “no” to self-inflicted human suffering. “…who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness -- by whose stripes you were healed.” (1 Peter 2:24 NKJV)
This Lent let us ponder the cross and thereby ponder God’s amazing love, and share it in word and deed. It is the world’s brokenness and consequent suffering that is offensive, not the cross. The cross is the world’s hope.
Grand Island, NY
Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. This constitutes fair warning for all husbands in our congregation, and all others who might want to give tangible expression of love to another.
The symbol for this day is “the heart.” This perfectly symmetrical shape looks nothing like an actual human heart. Somehow the muscle that efficiently pumps blood through our body and quickens at the sight of a lover was not quite the right shape for the graphic artists.
Instead, we have a sterile shape suitable for packaging candy and neat imprints on cards. I have thought about this and it seems to me that this shape is too perfect and uncomplicated. Nothing over which I have experienced love or been passionate about has ever been that neat or uncomplicated. Far from it.
Those ideas, experiences, and relationships have been the most complicated and most dangerous parts of my life. Some of them I thought would be the death of me. Others have given life abundantly.
My theory about the complexity of the human heart is reinforced by the story of John Wesley’s denial of communion to Lucy Cobb, a young woman with whom he had fallen in love. Apparently he proposed marriage to her and she declined the offer. He was so devastated and emotionally shaken that at the next opportunity he refused to offer her communion. Her new husband sued him. Poor John fled America for England. At the very least our methodical church father had lost his pastoral demeanor and perspective! For a time he was a fugitive with a broken heart.
And so, in the middle of winter we are beckoned by Saint Valentine to ponder matters of the heart. The human heart is a complicated thing and needs much tender loving care. If one examines the Biblical admonitions regarding it you will see that it is clear that notwithstanding its complexities, God wants all of our hearts. To me this means he wants the totality of our experience so that our lives can be redeemed, sanctified, and consequently to be made whole and holy.
As I look back over my years of experience, I can affirm that God brings order and contentment to those who offer their hearts in devotion and service to Christ. May it be so with you.
January is the first month of the yearly entrenchment of winter. Christmas and its valiant drive to bring some light and warmth to the darkness and cold is over and reality sets in. I was reminded of this recently when I went out to retrieve our daily copy of The Buffalo News from its delivery tube. As most of you know the parsonage Brenda and I inhabit is right where Whitehaven road widens out into four lanes. That means that the highway plows are nowhere near the edge of the road and simply plow in our mail box and paper tube. So there it was, “the fresh” Buffalo news slushed in without a protective wrapper, and resembling wet toilet paper. Though it was still before Christmas, something of the long winter invaded my psyche. I had visions of the annual futility of trying to keep the dense packed snow away from the mail and paper delivery points. My feelings were intensified by the reality it now takes more effort to clear such than in younger years. And yes, my dear fellow Christians, I had less than benevolent thoughts about the paper carrier who for whatever reason did not bag the paper, The Buffalo News and its liberal bent, the state snow plow driver who forgets just where the road widens, and irritation over a host of things absolutely unrelated to the precipitating event. Surely Scrooge missed the appropriate time for his exclamation “Bah Humbug!” January warrants the exclamation, not Christmas!
OK, I do feel better. Confession has a way of bringing relief to bad attitudes and less than stellar dispositions. Try it sometime. I doubt you are anymore immune to periodic bouts of grumpiness than I, and January is fertile ground for the development of these.
There is an ancient proverb that says “It is better to light one candle than curse the darkness.” I’m going to do that by thinking kindly thoughts of the people who drive our snowplows through terrible weather to keep our roads clear. I’ll do that by appreciating our paper carrier who must arise every morning at the earliest of hours so I can take a short walk down the driveway to find the paper. I’ll even thank the Buffalo News for including a conservative commentary on occasion.
Join me, won’t you, in lighting a candle this January. Soon we will note the lengthening of daylight, and we will look back on the good things that happened this winter. It’s all a matter of perspective.