There are times in ministry when we may not be certain what impact or presence we are having on our environs, which is why we wanted to share an encouraging article with our ABCNJ family.
In a letter sent on August 31, 2017 to the ABC General Secretary, the Executive Directors/CEO's of the American Baptist Home Mission Society and International Ministries, Dr. Familiaran wrote:
Everyday we awake, the news bring more unspeakable horror and suffering from the victims of Hurricane Harvey. Words fail to describe what we continue to see unfold.
I write to all of you for several reasons:
- I want to reiterate the unwavering solidarity of ABCNJ with every effort that our national denomination is making in sending aid and relief to the affected people of Texas.
- Many ABCNJ churches have already responded to the OGHS appeal that have been issued in the region. And many more will respond. That appeal will be sustained through every channel in our communications network.
- In massive tragedies like these, it is also a sad reality that many unscrupulous people exploit the chaos and the emotions of people who are eager to help. We also have had many unpleasant experiences of the toxic mix of politics and dysfunctional national relief organizations mismanaging vital relief funds that never reach their intended recipients - a breach of trust that tarnishes the profound acts of mercy of many. I will be assuring our ABCNJ churches by emphasizing in the continuing appeals to ABCNJ the historic track record of ABCUSA of being good and faithful stewards of the relief resources that we deploy here and around the world through the One Great Hour of Sharing (OGHS) offering and the work of the World Relief Committee (WRC) of the Board of General Managers (BGM) in overseeing the dispatch of those vital funds.
- ABCNJ has forged a vital partnership with The American Baptist Home Mission Society (ABHMS) and International Ministries (IM) in disaster relief born out of our joint response to Hurricane Sandy and Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. That partnership has deepened through the years and remains strong, personified in the outstanding team of Vickie Goff of ABHMS and Denise Gratzel of ABCNJ.
- The compassion of Christ is welling up from the hearts of many in our region who yearn to be of help. But we are also aware that organizing our limited resources into a strategic response can multiply its impact manifold. And so I want to assure all of you that ABCNJ stands ready to mobilize when called upon and join our national efforts and ABC regions near Texas in the long rebuilding and rehabilitation phase of this tragedy that lies ahead.
Let us continue to lift the people of Texas in our prayers and actions.
The recent terrorist attacks in England, the apparently politically motivated shooting that took place in Virginia, ongoing debates over how to treat immigrants and visitors to our country, and the struggles of another Baptist denomination to take a clear stand on issues related to white supremacy remind us all that we are living in a violent and divided world that desperately needs to overcome every form of social and political discrimination and search for more just ways to live in harmony.
Have you ever stood under a hot shower after a long day and just experienced the sheer joy of it? That’s how we felt during our recent ministry trip to the Philippines. Only it was a shower of blessings as God kept bringing together the right people at the right time. Here is what our Filipino sisters and brothers said about our time there.
First Baptist Church in Haddonfield was one of many churches throughout our state that hosted or participated in the National Day of Prayer Breakfast movement. The Haddonfield Council of Churches sponsored this event, which was moderated by FBC's Senior Pastor, Rev. Dr. Michael Feicht. The Haddonfield breakfast sold out, with over 100 attendees.
The breakfast featured presentations from the Jewish, Muslim and Christian communities. Representing the Christian churches, Dr. Spitzer lifted up the role that friendship can play in promoting a more civil and healthy society. Quoting from his book, Making Friends, making Disciples (Judson Press, 2010), he said: "How do we practice inter-faith friendships where convictions and acceptance co-exist? The following principles could help create an environment where convictions can be honestly shared and friendships maintained even when differences persist:
- All people groups and individuals have the right to freely choose and practice their religion without governmental or cultural persecution/sanction, and to convert to another faith if they so wish.
- People of faith have the right to share their religious, philosophical and political convictions through peaceful means, and to engage in serious dialogue with people from other religions as we search for truth about God and mutual understanding. Friends can disagree with one another and still love and respect each other.
- It is never permissible, moral or ethical to employ manipulation, violence, harmful threats or coercion in promoting one’s religion.
- When disagreements surface, we agree to maintain respect towards members of other religions and beliefs.
- When common concerns are identified, people of different religions can work together on those issues without denying their differences in other areas."
A LENTEN MEDITATION
The notion of royalty these days no longer just means monarchy. They also refer to celebrities of our day who get the "royal" treatment. We have celebrities in the secular world. We also have celebrities in the religious world. In whatever stripe they come, the usual signs of power and influence in the world unmistakably accompany them - pomp, pageantry, wealth, fame, luxury, and the adulation of many.
But nowhere else do the ways of the world and ways of Jesus diverge than on the issue of power.
Lent has essentially disciplined us to follow the gospel story of Jesus' ministry and teachings that all lead to his entry into Jerusalem - his confrontation with the religious powers who were in cahoots with imperial Rome, the Last Supper, the lonely agony in the garden of Gethsemane, the betrayal by Judas, the denial of Peter, the humiliation before Herod and Pilate, and the shouts of the crowds for his death, "crucify him!"
"I am among you as one who serves", Jesus said to his disciples during the last Passover meal they were to share together on earth. These words remain to be antithetical to the world's understanding of power, and continue to be the most challenging gospel imperative that even the church finds difficult to appropriate. Jesus' final entry into Jerusalem before his crucifixion and death was to proclaim the scandalous love of God, a scandalous kind of power - one made perfect in weakness.
What are the implications of this scandalous love for us today? God's love in Christ is not passive love. It is active, irrepressible love because it always seeks the other. Its cause is to bring back the alienated and the estranged. This is why that the public face of love is always justice, because its very nature rights every wrong. And herein lies the power of love - in its radical other-centredness.
What are the implications of this scandalous love to the church today? What did Jesus confront and resist?
An invitation from the Men of ABCOPAD to the Men of ABCNJ
We are so glad that 161 registered participants came to our 62nd Annual Retreat of the American Baptist Men of PA and DE in 2016, one of the longest on-going Baptist events in our country. We also had many new men and young men to our retreat this year. It was great to see new churches from all across our region, like the Philadelphia area and the western side of PA.
Our organization has been going through a refocusing, a remolding, and a refining process as we truly seek “QUALITY OVER QUANTITY”! We believe so strongly that, with God's help, we are forging servants for Christ's Kingdom as we grow in our relationship with Him and each other to reach out to change lives for Jesus' sake. Yes, we would love to have many more men come to our retreat.
But, most of all, our desire is to have the best quality conference that meets and challenges the needs of men in this 21st Century.
We would love to see our brothers and Pastors in the American Baptist Churches of New Jersey take advantage of this great opportunity as we host retreat number 63 for men and young men at Shippensburg University, July 28 - 30, 2017. Please read the attached information and prayerfully consider coming this year.
A friend recently asked us: “What do you do as missionaries?” Great question! Since you may be wondering the same thing, here’s our quick answer: Right now, you are partners with us in equipping young Bible school students at a refugee camp, providing more accessible theological education to oral learners through brand new initiatives in two countries, helping Christian workers use business tools to develop innovative and sustainable solutions to pressing social problems, and mentoring the next generation of cross-cultural mission workers.
A few days ago three of us in the region office staff went to get a sandwich for lunch at the neighboring Primo's Hoagie Shop. Placed prominently up front next to cashier's box was this "Lent Menu", obviously made with non-meat products - hearkening to the popular tradition of fasting during Lent which has evolved to simply mean "depriving" one's self of certain enjoyable food - in this case, meat products. And to a certain degree, Lent in America has taken on a cartoonish visage. This morning the news showed a clip of Alec Baldwin who was a guest of Jimmy Kimmel the night before, having a jovial conversation about Lent. It turns out that both are Catholics. Asked what he is giving up for Lent, Baldwin responded, to the laughter of the audience, that he once tried to give up cursing, being the foul-mouthed person that he claims to be.
What does Lent mean to you? Is it fasting from your favorite food? Is it giving up momentarily and lightheartedly a peculiar habit?
The gospel writers made a theological connection between the wilderness wandering of the Hebrew slaves, and Jesus' sojourn in the wilderness following his baptism. Whether the number 40 is an actual mathematical number is not the main point of the assertion. Rather, the salient theological basis of the connection is that as God's incarnate Son, Jesus is the "New Israel", God's final covenant, and the inner unity of the Old Testament and the New Testament is celebrated.
We are once again in the season of Lent, the 40-day period (Quadragesima in Latin; and Cuaresma in Spanish) in the Christian liturgical calendar which began on Ash Wednesday and ends the day before Easter Sunday. Yet this very sacred season in Christianity has almost been subsumed in our predominantly consumerist, individualistic and secularized religion of American popular culture.
The Lenten season is a period when the Christian believer is invited back to enter the "sanctuary" of God's presence, the pathway of Jesus - to once again walk in his footsteps, that in so doing we are renewed and reanchored in this lifetime journey of being formed ever closer into the image of Christ. Lent is a time of disciplined spiritual reflection, spiritual self-emptying, repentance and atonement as preparation to commemorate the sacrificial and loving self-giving of God through Jesus and his cross. It is a time to rededicate ourselves to the never-ending ethical imperative of the disciple to be a living and faithful example of whom we follow.
These words from the prophet Amos instruct us:
"I hate, I despise your festivals, and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Even though you offer me your burnt offerings, I will not accept them; and the offerings of well-being of your fatted animals I will not look upon. Take away from me the noise of your songs; I will not listen to the melody of your harps. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream." Amos 5: 21-24 (NRSV)
Camp Lebanon has been in my life for a long time. My mother attended camp when it first opened and her experiences at Lebanon led her to become an active member of her church – Grace Baptist Church in Trenton, NJ. Later, she married and became a member of First Park Baptist Church in Plainfield, NJ. Which is the church in which I grew up.
It was not too long ago that First Baptist Church of Pitman called Randy Van Osten to be their new pastor - July 20, 2016 to be exact. It signaled a new day for the congregation, as clearly it was evident all around that the call between pastor and people was anointed by the Holy Spirit.
The congregation - and more importantly, Randy - passed another significant milestone recently. On Sunday, January 22, 2017, Pastor (now Reverend!) Randy Van Osten was ordained by the First Baptist Church of Pitman.
The ordination of a new pastor is one of the cherished milestones in our shared regional life. It is also a significant milestone in the life of a congregation and in the life of the pastor that it ordains.
The church sanctuary was filled with members of the church, community clergy, representatives and pastors from the Greater Delaware Valley Association, and ABCNJ regional pastoral staff.
We thank God for calling together the Rev. Randy Van Osten and the First Baptist Church of Pitman, and now offer our prayerful support as a regional family to their new journey.
When we moved to our current home a little over 12 years ago, my wife and I decided that we make it a tradition moving forward to have a freshly cut Christmas tree in our home during Advent and Christmas. For some reason the tree that I cut this past Christmas was the tallest we have had so far - a little over 9 feet. The height of the tree is not the priority for us, but we always are drawn to the best shaped tree we can find at the Christmas tree farm. This time around when we found the best shaped tree that suited our purpose, it just happened to be much taller.
Our son usually comes with us to help. But this time he was not able to do so because of a schedule conflict. So I had to do the cutting myself with some help from my wife. Needless to say, it was quite a challenge for me. It was heavy, but I managed to cut it and get it on the cart and pulled it to the store where the workers helped to tie it on top of our vehicle. Getting it off the car when we got home, taking it inside the house, and mounting it on the stand was another challenge. But we did it, and it was beautiful where it stood.
It was not until January 9 of this year, after Epiphany, that I had the chance to take out our Christmas tree to the curb to be picked up for recycling. I watered and fertilized it regularly so, as you can see in the photo, it retained its shape and fresh look the entire season. But I noticed something rather remarkable when I had to finally pick it up to take it out of the house - the tree was so light, that I could literally lift it up over my head! It was clear that, while it retained its "fresh" appearance, the tree had lost much of its weight - its sap and fluids that gave it turgidity.
A new metaphor for the new year suddenly came to me: not only did the calendar change, not only did Epiphany liturgically book-ended Advent and Christmas, but the weight of all the cares and the burdens of the previous year now belong to that moment in time. In the new year the receptacle of my experience has been lightened, emptied and ready to receive the new joys, the cares, and even the burdens of the new year. May we look at this new year with great anticipation of the new encounters that will fill our cups with child-like wonder and gratitude to God who is the Lord of the Journey, and to Christ who is the Word become flesh.
The New Year has begun, and we are looking forward to many new opportunities to serve God and God’s people in the coming year. We wear many “hats” in our new role as missionaries serving Baptist partners in the Asia Pacific region. Below are a few that we wore recently, and will be putting on again in 2017.