Pastor Paul’s Ponderings
Good Evening New Hope!
Today is Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras. There may be no better example of the excesses of our culture than what takes place in many places today. New Orleans draws most of the attention with the raucous activity of Bourbon Street. But there will be celebrations of excess attached to Mardi Gras throughout the world.Fat Tuesday is just one day of the year but it is a reflection of the way many live on a regular basis. There is a love for indulging in things that bring physical and mental pleasure.
It is not by accident that Fat Tuesday is the day before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. We immerse ourselves in the worldly pleasures the day before we are called to enter a time of sacrifice and self-examination. Mardi Gras serves as a vivid reminder of our need for salvation – especially salvation from ourselves. The stark contrast between the excess of Fat Tuesday and the sacrifice of Lent is symbolic of the life change we are called to make as followers of Jesus. Ash Wednesday is a time to be drawn back to that life of sacrifice. It is a time to make commitments or renew commitments. It is a time to remember that those who become Jesus followers are following the one who made the greatest sacrifice of all – his life.
I encourage you, even challenge you, to make a commitment right now to make Lent a time in which you will truly examine where you are in your walk with Jesus. Begin this journey with your New Hope Family on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m by participating in the Service of Ashes. Then continue that journey that leads us to the magnificent celebration of the resurrection on Easter by being in worship every Sunday. Beginning this Sunday, March 10, I will begin a sermon series entitle, CROSS. This five-part series will examine some of the primary teachings of Jesus in relationship to being one of his disciples. This series will take us to Holy Week which begins on Palm Sunday, April 14, and concludes with Easter, Sunday, April 21. This year durig Holy Week we will have two special services. Rather than a single service combining The Last Supper and Good Friday we will observe them separately. This will allow us to give even greater focus to each of these important events. Thursday, April 18, we will observe Maundy Thursday and celebrate The Last Supper. Friday, April 19, we will remember the day of Jesus’ crucifixion. I hope you will make a commitment to attend these specail services. I believe, and I have heard many people give testimony to this, that Easter has even greater meaning following Lent when we have walked every step of that journey.
Grace and peace,
Hello New Hope and friends,
I have added “and friends” because some folks who are not members or attendees of New Hope have asked to receive my “Pastor Paul’s Ponderings”. This is a wonderful reminder to me that the Church is not defined by signs in front of buildings, documents that explain the specific beliefs about scripture that certain denominations adhere to, the method or our baptism, the “rules” concerning receiving communion, or the statements made by the humans who were instrumental in establishing the wide array of denominations or congregations identified as non-denominational. The Church is not buildings, documents stating our beliefs, or the myriad of other human contrived things we use to define her. Before any of these things were developed the Church existed. Without even the guidance of the written scripture we now have, the Church was established and thrived. A very small group of Jesus’ followers waited for the coming of a power that had been promised and then after receiving that promised power they followed the leading of that power. The Holy Spirt, Holy Ghost, “power from on high”, paraclete, Comforter, and many other names have been used as a name for this power. She is the 3rd person of the Holy Trinity – the supernatural presence of God within the lives of those who believe. Those who believe that Jesus is Savior and died for the sins of the world, acknowledge and confess their sins, and surrender their lives to live in complete devotion to him are promised the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is those first believers who became the Church and it is those who believe today who continue to be the Church.
Our current model has created division, distrust, destruction of our testimony, and a spirit of competition that has no place in the Church. While it might be naive to think that we can do away with the over 2,000 different groups that identify as Christian churches throughout the world, we must do something to unite us in our common faith in Jesus so that the testimony of the Church can once again have real power. A close look at the statistical data over the last two decades will reveal that within the borders of the United States of America there is a rapidly decreasing number of new believers or followers of Jesus. It will also show that the church as a whole continues to decline in membership each year. The majority of new members that individual congregations receive are people moving from one congregation to another because of a physical move, a bad experience at the previous congregation, a lack of certain programs at the previous congregation, a disagreement with doctrine or change of doctrine in the previous congregation or getting married and choosing a totally new congregation than either person previously attended. (This may not always be evident because certain denominations and some non-denominational groups do not recognize a person’s baptism from anywhere else and baptize them again considering them to be new believers). Also, in many ways a large segment of Christian congregations in the USA resemble clubs and/or social organizations more than being the Body of Christ. We “market” for new members, create programs to meet the needs of existing members, and focus most of the money given by these members on staff salaries, building maintenance, new building projects, and making sure the members are “happy”. It is not unusual to find 75% of a congregation’s budget being spent on these areas. That leaves just one quarter of the gifts being given to Christian congregations going to fund the ministries of sharing the gospel (that fear inspiring concept of Evangelism), meeting physical needs (food, clothing, shelter, health care, etc.), and addressing the many types of injustice that exist in the USA. These are the things that were emphasized by Jesus as being the primary purposes of those who proclaimed to be his followers. Something, or many things, must change if the Body of Christ is to be returned to who she was intended to be.
The first thing that I believe must change is that individual believers must take a close look at what they believe the Church is supposed to be. She must be more than a place to go on Sunday to spend an hour or so gathering with other believers who are very much like me to follow a ritual that is primarily performed by a select few as the majority spectate. She must be more than “a family” (that in many ways can be closed to newcomers) that provides me with a wonderful feeling of belonging when we gather. She must be more than the place where I attend a weekly service, get baptized, get married, and have my funeral. She must be a place of love and confrontation. She must be a place of birth and death. She must be a place of proclamation and admonition. She must be a gathering place and a sending place. She must be at times a place of comfort and at times a place to be made uncomfortable. She must be the living, growing, thriving, learning, and transforming Body of Christ she was intended to be. This will require those who call her their home to get off their seats and be the self-denying followers of Jesus we are called to be. We must once again listen to the voice of the one we are supposed to be following and hear his call to “sell all we have” and give it to the poor, which for us may simply mean to sell or give up the Church simply being a place of comfort we have let her become and once again give ourselves completely to being the Body of Christ!
Grace and peace,
Happy Friday New Hope!
Here are a few reminders of some upcoming and some ongoing ministries at New Hope.
Souper Sunday – We had an awesome kick-off last week to our emphasis on soup and canned meals with meat for the Wilson County Community Help Center. Well over 100 cans came in toward our goal of 200. This Sunday is the final day for this emphasis. Bring your canned soup and other canned meals with meat (no tuna please) and place them under the goalpost in the Welcome Area.
Remember you can bring food items for WCCHC every Sunday. In addition to soup and canned meals with meat there is always a need for boxed cereal. pork-n-beans, and canned fruit.
Valentine Banquet – Sunday, February 17 at 6:00 p.m. – Please sign up today at the Welcome Booth for our annual banquet. This is for everyone – not just couples. You are also encouraged to invite your family members, neighbors, and work associates that are unchurched to join us. We just need to know how many will be attending and what your entrée and dessert choices are by Sunday so we can purchase the appropriate amount of food.
Compassionate Hands – We are nearing the end of another year of hosting our homeless guests. There are a few more Saturdays that we need men to spend the night, lunches provided, breakfast prepared and served, and laundry done. Check the sign up sheet at the Welcome Booth to see where you are needed.
Haiti – I am planning to join a group going to do ministry in Haiti March 19-27. The church budgets some money to assist with these trips. There is also opportunity for you to give toward the work projects that are taking place in our 6 congregations in Haiti. A Mission Fund is in place for the Haiti ministry and you may make a gift to that by marking you check or envelope for the New Hope Mission Fund. Some current projects in Haiti are completing the church/school building in Pastor Eddy’s community, completing the church/school building in Pastor Kemson’s community, completing the church/school building in Pastor Evetual’s community, and the ongoing need of teacher’s salaries in all 6 communities. Every penny donated to the New Hope Mission Fund goes to one of these or other approved projects in Haiti.
Ministry Groups – We had a tremendous turn out for our first Ministry Groups gathering after worship on January 7. Five groups have been established – Community Outreach, Hospitality, Discipleship, Prayer, and Fellowship. Our second gathering will be after worship on Sunday, March 10. If you were not able to attend the first gathering you are encouraged to join us for this one. We will be finalizing the purpose for each group and establishing plans for fulfilling these purposes. Lunch will be provided.
It is exciting to see how God is using the followers of His Son, Jesus, through he ministries of New Hope!
Grace and peace,