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Turn North

There are times in life, especially as we get older, when we find ourselves looking back over our life and reflecting on what we’ve experienced.

We can see God’s presence and activity in our life as well as our own times of faith and times when we were not so faithful, times when we felt close to God and when God seemed distant, times when we stepped out in faith, and times when fear or something else held us back.

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“You have circled this mountain long enough.  Now turn north,” Deuteronomy 2:3 (NASB)

There are times in life, especially as we get older, when we find ourselves looking back over our life and reflecting on what we’ve experienced.  We can see God’s presence and activity in our life as well as our own times of faith and times when we were not so faithful, times when we felt close to God and when God seemed distant, times when we stepped out in faith, and times when fear or something else held us back.

The book of Deuteronomy begins with Moses looking back and reflecting in this kind of way, and it provides a summary of the Israelite’s experience as they journeyed in the wilderness after leaving Egypt.

Towards the end of chapter one, Moses reminds the people how God had a good future prepared for them, but they were too scared to trust God for their future and instead made a fear-based decision not to trust Joshua and Caleb who encouraged the people that the Lord was with them and they could go forward into the new land God had prepared for them.

In Deuteronomy 1:29-33 (NRSV), Moses says of the people and obstacles of which the people are afraid,

Have no dread or fear of them.  The LORD your God, who goes before you, is the one who will fight for you, just as he did for you in Egypt before your very eyes, and in the wilderness, where you saw how the LORD your God carried you, just as one carries a child, all the way that you traveled until you reached this place.  But in spite of this, you have no trust in the LORD your God, who goes before you on the way to seek out a place for you to camp, in fire by night, and in the cloud by day, to show you the route you should take.”

God is angry at the response of the people and swears that the whole generation of adults won’t enter the Promised Land because of their lack of faith, trust and courage; even Moses is told he won’t enter the land, only Caleb and Joshua of the leaders will be able to do so.

When the people hear this they’re so upset, they say, “We can do it, we’ll fight the Amorites.” God tells them, “Don’t do it, I’m not in your midst,” but the people follow their own will rather than God’s and get routed by the Amorites and end up wandering around in the wilderness for a longer period.

Finally, God speaks again and tells Moses in Deuteronomy 2:3 (NASB), “You have circled this mountain long enough.  Now turn north,” and gives them their new marching orders for the future and the people once again have a decision to make.

I think this is often the way God works. 

God challenges us to go forward in faith, but we hesitate, equivocate, calculate, and negotiate.  We want to know if it’s safe, if sacrifice will be demanded, if change is required, what it will cost us, and if victory is certain before we take a step or a risk, but this isn’t the way faith works.  It’s like God calls, “Charge!” and no one moves forward.

If we have all the resources, talent and wisdom to do what we need to do then we don’t need God at all, nor do we need faith.  I believe we’re moving into a new season at BBC.  I hear God saying (figuratively, of course, because otherwise we’d end up in Cape Cod Bay), “You have circled this mountain long enough.  Now turn north.”  What I believe lies ahead to “the north” are some major steps that take some faith and courage.

Much of what follows about going forward at BBC is influenced and inspired by things we’ve learned over the last couple months of praying, dialoguing and thinking as a pastoral staff and with the Advisory Council.  It’s been shaped by a statement by Jeff Woods, Associate General Secretary of the ABCUSA shared at a colloquium that Jill and I attended in February.

Jeff said there are three things that have proven consistently to correlate with church growth:

  1. Inspiring Worship—style doesn’t matter.
  2. A Sense of Focus—clear direction.
  3. Alignment—all ministries, groups and activities aligned with the clear focus.

What I’m sharing also reflects the wisdom and experience of Larry Osborne, one of the most influential pastors in the USA (https://www.northcoastchurch.com/) who spoke at both our Thrive Cape Cod Conference in March and who I had the opportunity to drive from the Cape to a forum for large church senior pastors in Ashland where he spoke to us for a day.

This is what we believe BBC needs to do

We should make buying a house a top priority.

The housing situation on Cape Cod is past a critical stage.  The impact of people buying homes for seasonal occupation and to generate income as Airbnb properties is rapidly reshaping the housing market.  Alisa Galozzi, the CEO of the Housing Assistance Corporation shared—at their 45th anniversary celebration on May 8 that Jill and I attended—that the Cape has lost 3,000 year-round homes in the last 5 years and gained 5,000 seasonal homes.  There are now 60,000 second homes in our region.  There are barely 1% rentals available when it should be at least 5-7% in a reasonable market.  She shared that the crisis is continuing to get worse and businesses are now buying houses for their employees.  If you want to know more about the housing situation on the Cape, Jill has organized a Community Housing Forum that will be next door at the Brewster Ladies Library on Thursday evening from 5:30 to 7:30 pm.  If something happened to David or me and BBC needed to find a new pastor, there are very few pastors who could buy into the Cape Cod market.  It’s in the church’s long-term best interest to purchase a second house, comparable to the parsonage as soon as we can.

Search for an excellent Pastor of Worship

Someone who can also serve and assist in a few other areas (such as Students, Spiritual Formation or Pastoral Care, for example).  It’s important to understand this is not someone to replace Chris Morris, who has been incredibly reliable and dependable ever since he became our Music Director, but someone to work with Chris and me.

When our worship attendance was at its peak back in the early years of this century, we had me, Chris, Phyllis Van Nest, and Jean Anderson who both could play the organ and piano, and Phyllis and Chris could both lead the choir, as well as Kevin Saxton who oversaw the media booth.  We had five staff members who were contributing to what we did in worship on Sunday morning.  Now we have two, Chris and me.

We have been blessed to have many talented young people at our church for more than a decade, but they have grown up, graduated and moved on.  We’re thrilled to have Sherley-Ann Belleus home for a few weeks before she goes to the prestigious Aspen Music Festival in Colorado this summer.  We need someone who can both lead worship personally through their vocal and/or musical ability as well as empower, recruit, train, and disciple other people to grow this vitally important part of our ministry.

Worship has long been the engine that drives all that we do in and through BBC.  It would be highly preferable to see if we can find someone in the ABCUSA family through our contacts and getting the word out.  We’d like someone who is ordained (because he or she could do some weddings and funerals) and has some years of experience in a local church.  If a denominational search does not prove fruitful, then we will consider our next step at that point.

Refocus our Vision and Mission on Luke 10:27, the verse that’s on the wall in the lobby, and three simple words:  Love, Grow and Share.

If you can picture three circles that all overlap in the center, all our current ministries fit within the three overlapping circles of these words.  This is what we want to focus on as individuals and as a congregation.

Continue to review our Constitution and By-Laws.

This spring all the American Baptist Churches in our region received a mailing from our Executive Minister asking each church to take a close look at their documents and included were suggested statements and changes to make sure it is very difficult for a pastor or a small group to take over a congregation and its building and property.  Jerry Cerasale who is an attorney and a super volunteer here at BBC in many capacities including serving on the Advisory Council, went through our Constitution and By-Laws very thoroughly, and Steve Jones who is also an attorney and a past AC member also reviewed Jerry’s recommendations.  We also will continue to see if there are ways to simplify our church structure to make things operate as effectively as possible.

We’re going to make the “Art of Neighboring” a missional priority.

You’ll be hearing about this in worship throughout the month of June so stay tuned for more about loving and getting to know our actual neighbors where we live, but this will be an ongoing effort for the long term.

We’re excited to have three interns this summer.

It’s important for us as a healthy church to do what we can both to support our own young people as well as to help train the next generation of Christian leaders.  Nate Ryan and Christina Tomasik have grown up in our church.  Nate, who graduated from Gordon College yesterday, will serve as a general pastoral intern.  Christina will be working with Barbara in Children’s Ministry.  Jennie Segal who graduated from Gordon two years ago will be a Worship intern and will be working with Chris and me.  Nate and Jennie will both be attending graduate schools in Boston this fall.

In addition to all these ventures, Tom Swaida and David Pranga have been working with our super Buildings & Grounds Team on several significant projects.  Repairs have been completed to the area in Community Hall that suffered water damage from a failed sprinkler head in January, the roof of the parsonage and garage have been replaced, and the area under the Chapel has been repainted.  Two other significant projects are demolishing and replacing the concrete under the portico, which will be done in June, and replacing the roof top HVAC units in the fall.

Finally, I want us to keep our Bicentennial in mind – what do we want BBC to look like on December 23, 2024, the 200th anniversary of our founding?  I hope we will have inspiring worship, a clear focus on Luke 10:27 and Love, Grow, Share, and our ministries and staff aligned with that focus

Throughout the Bible we see God’s people faced with the choice to be faithful and embrace risk and change, or to be unfaithful, to trust themselves rather than God, and to fall back in fear. 

There are many stories that illustrate this theme, but one is found in 1 Chronicles where King Saul is found by God to be unfaithful, and he and his three sons all die (1 Chronicles 10:1-7) and the Lord turns the kingdom over to David (1 Chronicles 10:14).  In 1 Chronicles 12, people from the different tribes of Israel rallied to David to make him king.

Listen to 1 Chronicles 12:24-33, 24:

The people of Judah bearing shield and spear numbered six thousand eight hundred armed troops.  Of the Simeonites, mighty warriors, seven thousand one hundred.  Of the Levites four thousand six hundred.  Jehoiada, leader of the house of Aaron, and with him three thousand seven hundred.  Zadok, a young warrior, and twenty-two commanders from his own ancestral house.  Of the Benjaminites, the kindred of Saul, three thousand, of whom the majority had continued to keep their allegiance to the house of Saul.  Of the Ephraimites, twenty thousand eight hundred, mighty warriors, notables in their ancestral houses.  Of the half-tribe of Manasseh, eighteen thousand, who were expressly named to come and make David king.  Of Issachar, those who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do, two hundred chiefs, and all their kindred under their command.  Of Zebulun, fifty thousand seasoned troops, equipped for battle with all the weapons of war, to help David with singleness of purpose.”

This passage reveals more than I can share right now, but here is what I think is most important, notice all the different ages, gifts and skills that are present and shared that enabled God’s people to be successful.  There are seasoned troops, presumably older men who were more experienced.  There are mighty warriors, young warriors, some with shield and spear, others with all the weapons of war.  There are people from many different tribes and ancestral houses.  There are also the men of “Issachar, those who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do.” All these people of different tribes, skills, gifts, abilities, and tools were completely united “to help David with singleness of purpose.” When God’s people are united by singleness of purpose, they can accomplish great things.

We’re going to have a congregational meeting on Sunday, June 9 at 12:15pm here in the sanctuary to vote on two things:  authorize the church to buy a second parsonage and form a pastoral search team to seek a Pastor of Worship who would also have a couple other areas of responsibility.  There will be information sessions on Thursday, May 30 at 7:00 pm and Saturday, June 1, at 9:00am for anyone who wishes to ask questions or hear more information before the congregational meeting on June 9 at 12:15pm.

Helen Keller was a famous American author, political activist, lecturer, and the first deaf-blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree.  She spent time right here in Brewster.  She said, Life is a daring adventure or nothing.”  That’s especially true for followers of Christ.  We like to say the adventure of a lifetime begins here.  It’s time for us to step out in faith once again.

Blessing: “May your choices reflect your hopes not your fears.”  – Nelson Mandela

Questions for Discussion & Reflection:

  1. Regardless of all the Lord did for the Israelites during the Exodus, they were afraid and lacking in faith and didn’t go forward into the Promised Land, and it cost them dearly. Have you ever made a fear-based decision that you later regretted?  What was it?
  2. While it can be easy for us to criticize the Israelites, we are more like them than we may care to admit. Why can it be difficult for you to go somewhere you’ve never been?  To change a familiar and comfortable routine?  To do something new or different?
  3. For some people, faith seems to mean clinging to or holding on to what is known, rather than a willingness to risk, trust God and move forward. What do Hebrews 11 and Deuteronomy tell us about what faith truly is?
  4. 1 Chronicles 12:24-33 details another time in Israel’s history when people had a choice about what they were going to do—how did the tribes respond at that time? What happened as a result?
  5. How do the stories of God’s people we’ve looked at this week speak to you and our church today?
  6. What steps can you take daily to help you live with greater faith, trust and courage? In what ways is God telling you, “You have circled this mountain long enough.  Now turn north,”?