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Focus Your Vision — 30-Day Challenge

By | Intersections

“If you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith” (Gal. 6:8b-10, NRSV).

On June 24, about sixty people participated in our Focus Your Vision Day in Price Hall that included worship, luncheon, and conversations about the future. It was an engaging and energizing milestone on our transformation journey. A summary of our focused vision includes: 1) Hold on to the best of the past, 2) Explore the new, 3) Plant spiritual seeds, 4) Serve everyone in the community, 5) Grow the ministry. The session will be leading us in th next view months as we put this vision into action.

We are grateful to everyone who participated, offered comments, shared ideas, concerns, and hopes, and affirmed their visions for the future. We expressed thanks to the Mission Study Team, especially to Lenore Bowne for organizing the delicious luncheon and making Price Hall welcoming for everyone, including many first-time and returning visitors and guests.

Keep the best of what you have moving into the future.

Hold On To The Best, Let The Rest Fall Away

About forty-five remained after lunch to watch the Focus Your Vision video and table conversations led by Melissa and Pastor Kevin. We filled a dozen newsprint sheets with great ideas that included:

  1. Celebrated our congregation’s many strengths, staff, leadership, new members, 200 acres including our facilities, cemetery, and historic red brick church
  2. Identified the best of what we do that we want to keep doing as we move into the future including our Reformed worship, events, tours, and dinners, a history of service to veterans, families, and the community at large
  3. Proposed improvements to areas and facilities to make our ministry more welcoming, accessible, and able to serve youth, younger families, and older individuals
  4. Listed priorities to guide us as we follow Jesus Christ into the future to ensure that we do what we agree is important as we grow

Focusing our vision is not just a one day event. Every day we listen to God’s Spirit who is showing us where and how to become more engaged with our community through worship, witness, mission, and service. Our leadership team (Session), caring team (Deacons) and our many groups and committees will ensure that Cold Spring Presbyterian Church continues to learn and grow as we follow Jesus Christ.

Keeping the best of what we have was one of the seven key insights from the video. Blessings from God include tangible assets (people, location, property, buildings, and finances) and intangible assets such as our history, relationships, experiences, passions, hopes, talents, abilities, and our mental, physical, and spiritual gifts.

On June 17, the message Feed the World, Plant More Seeds considered the mustard seed. (Listen to the message by clicking here.) Though it is the smallest of seeds, it will grow into an incredibly large tree. The same is true of our faith. While we may think our faith is small compared to others, it is enough and it can grow. We are in the seed planting business. Not only in our ministry as a Farming Church, planting seeds and sharing the produce with the community at large, but we are planting spiritual seeds, as well. Whatever amount of faith you have, it is sufficient for God to bless and use us in amazing ways! But we don’t want to merely consume the spiritual fruit for ourselves. If we consume all our fruit, we not only will become overfed, but others are left hungry! We want God to produce fruit in abundance to feed us to feed others! So, how can we nurture our community of faith to have spiritual fruit to generously share with the community at large? One way is to accept the 30-Day Challenge.

The 30-Day Challenge I am passing on to you a gift given to me years ago by my mentor, the Rev. Chuck Reinhold, a Presbyterian minister and regional director for Young Life when I was on staff with that national youth ministry.

Like any gift, this gift comes free and is useless unless you use it. As Chuck said, this gift is also very expensive and actually cost Jesus Christ his life, which was his mission and his joy (Heb. 12:12). He died on the cross for our sins in order to bring us to God (John 3:16, John 1:12, 1 John 5:11–12). This gift comes alive to us when we accept the challenge every day.

We can know a lot about religion. We can recount historical facts about faith, the Bible, and might be able to tell wonderful stories about Cold Spring Presbyterian Church, but this gift is not to know more about Jesus Christ, it is to grow in our relationship with Jesus Christ. The gift is received when we accept this Challenge: decide to meet with God every day for thirty straight days by reading a portion of Scripture and asking the Lord for something specific to apply that day. That’s it!

If we miss a day, then we start the thirty-days over again until we read and apply what we read for thirty straight days. If you already set aside time to read Scripture daily, make sure that you actively try to internalize and apply it to your day. The 30-Day Challenge should be challenging! And practical. When we do this, chances are we’ll never quit, and the spiritual seeds planted in our life will continue to grow. What’s more, this gift becomes a gift to others through you!
As you read a portion of Scripture ask yourself, “What does God want me to be, feel, or do today?” Then as you pray, write out a sentence about what you discovered so you will remember to put it into practice. Repeat daily.

As we gathered around the Lord’s Table July 1, we recalled John 15:5 when Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” We are in the seed planting business at Cold Spring Presbyterian Church. Growing is what we do. Imagine the possibilities if each of us in our own way commit to the 30-Day Challenge. Remember, if you miss a day, there is no failure or judgement. Just renew your commitment the next day!

To bring our focused vision to life we need nourishment to grow. Let’s plant spiritual seeds. Let’s share God’s abundance and grace with others. It sounds pretty simple, but many things most treasured in life are just that, simple. So start the 30-Day Challenge today to spend time with God and you will enjoy renewed energy, insight, sensitivity, and love for yourself and others, too. You might want to share your experience, too. As you keep the gift going you will be amazed how your life, our congregation, and community are being transformed!

Let’s get growing!
Sincerely,

Memories for the Imagination

By | Intersections

Memories for the Imagination

“Now when all the nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the Lord spoke to Joshua, saying, “Take for yourselves twelve men from the people, one man from each tribe, and command them, saying, ‘Take up for yourselves twelve stones from here out of the middle of the Jordan, from the place where the priests’ feet are standing firm, and carry them over with you and lay them down in the lodging place where you will lodge tonight.’”… Let this be a sign among you, so that when your children ask later, saying, ‘What do these stones mean to you?’ then you shall say to them, ‘Because the waters of the Jordan were cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord’… So these stones shall become a memorial to the sons of Israel forever” (Joshua 4:1-7, NASB).

What do you remember? We recall lots of facts, but many important events and experiences are often forgotten. When the nation of Israel was freed from slavery and led to the promised land about 3,400 years ago (circa1451-1260 BCE), God wanted them to remember how the waters of the Jordan Rover were held back allowing the people to cross on dry ground! He instructed that 12 large stones carried from the other side be placed along the river bank as a memorial. “When the children ask, ‘What do these stones man to you?’” They can tell the amazing story of safe passage. God knows we need help remembering from time to time and memorial stones become an object lesson with a story.

Cold Spring Church Historic Ancestors Walk– One way Cold Spring Presbyterian Church remembers God’s activity in our lives during three centuries is through the thousands of markers and memorial stones placed across our cemetery campus. Our cemetery staff continue the tradition of dignified and personalized service to families. In all shapes and sizes, stones not only mark where the remains of loved ones were safely laid, but they also represent individual and community stories worth retelling. Later this month our Historic Ancestors Walk cemetery tours will invite the Cape May community to enjoy its new season. Our history-loving team of costumed docents and storytellers will recount heartfelt struggles, sadness, and grief along with inspiring stories of success, triumph, and hope of those who have been buried here. Visit online for our schedule to be posted soon. If you enjoy history and would like to join the team, please contact Elaine Jordan or email hello@coldspringchurch.com for more information.

How We Remember– There are three main memory functions in our brains: Sensory, Short-term, and Long-term. Sensory memory fills up with what’s happening now. Short-term memory processes information for a few minutes longer. If we attribute importance to it and repeatedly access it, it becomes a short-term working memory. Information that has great value to us is kept indefinitely as Long-term memory. This is the “remembering” part of the brain that is encoded with meaning, smells, colors, and other sensory attributes. These memories can deeply affect our future behaviors and attitudes. Being aware of what we remember informs our future.

Memorial Day each year represents personal (and national) awareness and reverence, honoring those Americans who died while defending our Nation and its values. Our national “Remembering Day” emerged before the end of the Civil War when women who lost family and friends annually gathered to place flowers on the graves of those who had fallen in the service of their country. A hymn published in 1867, “Kneel Where Our Loves are Sleeping” by Nella L. Sweet carried the dedication “To The Ladies of the South who are Decorating the Graves of the Confederate Dead” (Source: Duke University’s Historic American Sheet Music, 1850-1920).

In what part of your brain’s memory is Memorial Day remembered? Many visited our cemetery last weekend. The Veterans’ graves were honored with flowers. Memorial Day can be a gratitude-driven day of remembering.

Communities Have Memories– Listening to each other’s “memories” and honoring the values attributed to them is a great way to build a sense of neighborliness, solidarity, and a spirit of humble gratitude in the community at large.

Not only do individuals have memory, but so do communities, groups, institutions, and companies. Kensington, a northeast Philadelphia community, suffered from traumatic and troubled neighborhood memories. These memories were reinforced by racism, classism, and sexism which later stigmatized not only the people, but the place, as well. The neighborhood’s quality of life and associated economies promoted historical and persistent injustice and the abuse fragmented families and communities. Instead of ignoring the community’s stigma, we embraced the community through personal and direct engagement which empowered the neighborhood to imagine a new future.

Our love for the entire community and an empathetic recognition of those painful memories created positive connections. Leaders accepted and reframed painful memories to empowering stories during individual and small group exercises. Resolution and hopefulness emerged using simple tools. For example, the children shared their stories and imagined new narratives using crayons. Adults explored their ethnographies on a room-sized timeline to better understand their long-term memories. An entire community was transformed and you can read about their story in my new book, Crayons for the City, Reneighboring Communities of Faith to Rebuild Neighborhoods of Hope.)

Memories shape our life-narrative, and are affected by our biases. All of us have biases that change the way we evaluate information and form ideas, whether ideas about out past or when considering the future. When we are aware of our biases, we can honestly reflect on them, be more thoughtful, and our behaviors become more intentional. But when we are less aware of our biases, attitudes, moods, and predispositions, our understanding is clouded. Distorted memories can prevent us from being open to new ideas and cause us to feel stuck in the past, unable to move forward.

Deeply felt memories can be seductive. Like a familiar pair of comfy slippers, memories can lock us into debilitating sentimentality, or fear, anxiety, and pettiness. People gathering as congregations or teams can devolve into a Memory Organization (stuck in the past story) instead of growing into being an Imaginative Organization (co-creating a new future story).

Memories alone and without a shared context can provide marginal benefit and few positive outcomes. But memories can inform new, creative, learning that results in fresh ways of authentic, intentional, and active engagement and outcomes.

Many of our memories can imaginatively enrich the lives of those around us as we embrace a better, hopeful future.

Get Ready To Focus Your Vision! After worship in Price Hall on Sunday, June 24, you’re invited to enjoy a special luncheon that will be followed by an exciting and interactive learning experience for the entire congregation. We will build on our memories as we focus on our future vision. Pastor Kevin and Melissa will lead this special event. Will we discover how to grow from being only a Church with memories? to becoming a Spirit-led community of mission imagination! Plan to attend. All are welcomed!

Memorial Day is a great time to recall stories of those who sacrificed their lives in service to their country. Let’s honor them by using our memories to unlock our imaginations in God’s emerging future.

“Memories are not keys to the past, but to the future.” Corrie ten Boom

Ministry of Loneliness

By | Intersections

Lonely? Find hope here!

“I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me” (Matthew 25: 35).

While most countries around the world seem hyper-focused on security, the economy, education, jobs, housing, and justice (to name just a few important topics), there is a newly created governmental office in the United Kingdom that few saw coming. It’s the Ministry of Loneliness. Yes, loneliness. Not its promotion, of course, but an entire government office dedicated to reducing loneliness across the country. I think you will agree that Cold Spring Presbyterian Church is committed to addressing loneliness across our community, too.

The Ministry of Loneliness was launched after a twelve-month investigation reported that nine million Britons suffer from loneliness: fourteen per cent of the population. The elderly and the young were both cited in the studies as particularly affected. And this loneliness diagnosis is not Britain’s alone. Japan has identified elder loneliness, too. What’s going on?

Technology: All of our technology and communication improvements makes it easier and cheaper than ever to say connected, we are actually feeling less connected than ever! What we are learning is that as media/device use goes up, social interaction goes down.

And making maters worse, our time spent on device is less about producing content or helping us pay better attention, and more about consuming entertainment. We have tools of communicating, which is great. But we are not very good using tools to help us connect to the people and places in our life that matter the most.

Patterns of Behavior: We can be stranger-averse. That is, we can resist interacting and even noticing strangers in our community. From an early age we were admonished, “Don’t talk to strangers.” Stranger danger! Good advice. Well, for kids its absolutely great advice. Why? Because the developmental resources of a youngster is not sufficient for them to detect and defend themselves from danger. Their experience is limited. It’s necessary that children develop a sense of caution, especially around older kids and adults that could pose a risk.

But we’re not kids anymore. In stores. At church. On walks. At the beach. From cookouts to sports, and even the more solitary activities like gardening and fishing, can find us creating zones of isolation. For example, my grandparents’ house had a front porch from which they freely connected to those that passed by. By contrast, nowadays we have moved our “front porch” to the back and call it a “deck.” We tend to listen to narrow bands of information that can unintentionally reinforce our own tightly held opinions that can’t benefit from an exchange of ideas and promote understanding and learning. How many strangers do we stop and talk to?

Engage or Not Engage? Some of us just like to strike up conversations with others. Maybe our personality is more expressive. Perhaps we have had more trusting experiences with others that give us a sense of confidence and hopefulness that the next time we meet a stranger it will be positive. We may regard talking to strangers as polite behavior. But it can even be enjoyable to meet someone new and sometimes informative.

One the other hand, it’s perfectly acceptable to be more reserved. Change can be challenging for anyone. Meeting a stranger is being face to face with change. Some of us don’t like to initiate conversations with those we haven’t met before. We keep to ourselves. Maybe it’s a learned behavior that helps us feel safe. We have our reasons for avoiding unknown situations, or we just seem to keep hearing our parents’ advice echoing in our ears, “Don’t talk to strangers.”

Our learned resistance to welcoming strangers can unfortunately reinforce a culture of loneliness. We can go through our day feeling alone, even if we are surrounded by crowds of people. We can even feel like a stranger among a sea of strangers, unintentionally act distant, express distrust, and feel truly isolated. Extreme feelings of isolation are often associated with anxiety, fear, and depression. Because we focus our vision inward, we eventually feel stuck within our limited self-referenced experience. Organizations and even churches can promote a sense of loneliness, too. What can we do about loneliness? There is hope!

What Does the Bible Say? From the earliest of times, the Bible urged that kindness be extended to strangers, and not just as they pass by, but to make strangers your friends. The Bible consistently challenges the status quo with paying attention to those who have been excluded. Consider:“You shall love the stranger, for you were once strangers in the land of Egypt”(Deuteronomy 10:19). “The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God”(Leviticus 19:34).

Of course, Jesus came to us as a stranger and became our friend, our Savior. He said we were to treat everyone as we would treat him. In the crowds of people, where people can feel lonely, Jesus reached out to make everyone feel welcomed. No one was excluded. Think about the lost coin, lost sheep, and the lost coin, for example. In Acts, the earliest followers of Jesus seemed to be pretty attached to staying in Jerusalem, a place of relative familiarity and safety, rather than head off to places and peoples unknown. They were shocked that “even Gentiles” believed in Jesus, that you can eat all foods, and you didn’t have to become “Jewish” to become a “Christian.”

Take a Step. We can do something today to make a difference in our community, especially for those who may be experiencing severe loneliness. According to Talk-To-Me-London, a non-profit organization established several years ago to promote community building, we need to challenge existing norms around talking. Try these suggestions.

  1. Just begin to talk to strangers.It’s risky, but if you try, you might experience very positive outcomes! This advice is often overlooked because it’s just too simple of a solution, but doing so can help a person who feels isolated to make a new connection.
  2. Think about yourself.Think about what you would like more of – maybe time with friends or family, if so invite others with you. Often if you are lonely you think people do not want to visit. This is understandable but often people will respond to an invitation and will come and spend quality time with you. Pick up the phone, reach out!
  3. Take care of yourself.If you can do something to improve your health, take small steps to eat well, take gentle exercise and keep active, all of these things can help you to relax more fully in your own company.
  4. Get connected.Take a walk. Go to worship. Volunteer. Cold Spring Church has many activities that can be perfect places to meet new people. Volunteer to help others get ministry goals accomplished. Check our calendar for activities that are already scheduled. Cape May offers abundant activities, centers, and groups. Walking groups and tours. Singing groups. Book clubs and even bridge.
  5. If you feel very lonely, speak now to a health worker.Long term loneliness could contribute to later depression and other health problems. Your GP, primary care physician, should be able to direct you to local services that can help.

Every friendship you value now initially started as conversation with a stranger. Imagine the possibilities. Talking to strangers can help create a better world. Jesus’ mission was to show us what a real friend is like (John 15:13). Remember that God loves you (John 3:17-18) and Jesus “moved into the neighborhood” (John 1:14), and into your home, among your family and friends, to bless your life (John 10:10). “Behold!” Jesus said, “I am right there at your door.” Ready to bless your life. Just open the door and you will find that amazing, abundant, hopeful life that lasts forever! (Rev. 3:20ff).

“Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? …The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even the least of them, you did it to Me’” (Matthew 25:35-40 NASB)

It is hard to change people’s attitudes about talking to strangers but we can all do our part in bringing about more conversations between strangers. So let’s continue to be welcoming and innovative as we organize activities that create spaces where people feel freer to talk, and by working with others across our community, we can raise awareness of the importance of talking to strangers.

As our tagline says, Cold Spring Presbyterian Church, Energizing Spirits. Transforming Lives.

All Are Welcome!

Sincerely,

Pastor Kevin

Breath Prayers

By | Intersections

From the Clerk’s Corner-   “Breath Prayers”

“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!”  my father would mutter under his breath whenever he was emotionally distressed.  As the eldest of then three young boys, I wondered if my father was upset with something we had done to displease him. Being raised in another traditional faith in the 1950’s, I thought my father was being profane –wasn’t that sinful?  In a culture of “children were seen and not heard”, not one of us dared to even raise the question to my father!  Dad’s word was like God’s authority to us.  But that was then and this is now:  I have come to see that perhaps my father was really praying for help, that he was– in his way– reaching out to Jesus, Mary, and Joseph to calm and center himself.  Instead of utilizing the oft-suggested secular “counting to ten”, he was actually relying upon his faith praying for heavenly assistance!  This was his “default prayer”, an invocation he reverted to use automatically when feeling distressed!  Upon reflection, I admitted that I did not have such a prayer in my “spiritual portfolio”; perhaps I needed to invest in one, a default prayer that would pay spiritual dividends down the road — an automatic muttering that would give glory to God rather than besmirch His name!

Do you have a default prayer to help you cope with an unexpected distressful situation?  From my life’s observation most people do not and probably have never given this a thought. Many people under distress simply blurt out “OMG”, “GDI” or “JC” without thinking.  As Christians we ought to do better than that; we can move from the profane to the sacred—even in our mutterings!

“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!” is the quintessential default prayer to use at any time. It quickly sets my mind and heart upon the One I can truly rely upon to help me through difficult times. It uplifts my plaintive cry for mercy –“help me Lord in my distress!”  It is one of the oldest prayers in the Christian community of faith, dating back to the third century from the Eastern Orthodox tradition; it is considered to be one of the greatest treasures of Christianity!  I learned about “the Jesus Prayer” last year while on a three-day monastic retreat. With a little practice, this prayer can become your default prayer too!  Now say (under your breath): “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner” –and repeat. This is a “breath prayer” because it is said in rhythm with one’s natural breathing.  Inhale the first part “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God” then exhale “has mercy on me, a sinner” –and repeat. When we connect the power of the Holy Spirit with “the breath of life”, we can fathom the deeper spirituality of “breath prayers” —breathing new life into our souls!  This practice of literally breathing our prayer lends itself to inhale the holiness and power of Jesus Christ and to exhale our petition. It is a “centering prayer”, a prayer of consent to God’s presence and action to me. I let other thoughts go –to create room to return to the presence of God. I focus on Christ Jesus acknowledging Him as both Lord and Savior of my life, the Son of the Living God –and my dependence upon His mercy, compassion, and divine forgiveness.

“The Jesus Prayer” is the ultimate source of intercessory prayer; the more I live with it, the more it will live with me!  Instead of “cursing the darkness” or “counting sheep” on a sleepless night, practice repeating this prayer — embed it into your consciousness as a profound gift from God, to be in continual communion with Him, as the Apostle Paul would say “pray without ceasing!”  Breathe in and out s-l-o-w-l-y:“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner” —and repeat again and again until it becomes your default breath prayer!  One last thought to seriously ponder is the payoff of this sound investment:  when taking your final breaths of life, what better words — indelibly inscribed on your mind, in your heart, and within your soul — can be uttered from your lips than “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner”!

.                                                                    –Rob Riehl, clerk of session, ruling elder

Our Mission After Easter. Now What?

By | Intersections

Hallelujah! Christ is risen!” We respond with another exclamation: “Christ is risen, indeed”!

This proclamation will ring in our ears on April 1, Easter Sunday. It reminds us that just as Jesus was born to us and “moved into the neighborhood” (John 1:14), he became our sacrifice on the cross (1 John 2:2). But the fact that the tomb was empty confirms that God’s Spirit now moves in our hearts and lives (Romans 5:4). We can be assured of a future resurrection life, God’s eternal love, and the joy of living in the power of the Spirit. Now, that’s good news worth sharing! Read the exciting way Paul described our new life:

“But if God himself has taken up residence in your life, you can hardly be thinking more of yourself than of him. Anyone, of course, who has not welcomed this invisible but clearly present God, the Spirit of Christ, won’t know what we’re talking about. But for you who welcome him, in whom he dwells—even though you still experience all the limitations of sin—you yourself experience life on God’s terms. It stands to reason, doesn’t it, that if the alive-and-present God who raised Jesus from the dead moves into your life, he’ll do the same thing in you that he did in Jesus, bringing you alive to himself? When God lives and breathes in you (and he does, as surely as he did in Jesus), you are delivered from that dead life. With his Spirit living in you, your body will be as alive as Christ’s!” (Romans 8:9-11 The Message).

What’s next, after Easter?

The disciples asked that question. So did the throngs of people who must have felt like they were on a roller coaster ride of emotions during Holy Week. Consider Jesus’ Palm Sunday march for life, to Good Friday’s crucifixion and burial. Wow. What a change in mood. Huddled together for comfort, the followers of Jesus stressed and grieved in clouded faith. Now what?

We know the story. Though Jesus’ death and resurrection was predicted, that Jesus Christ would somehow rise from the dead was still unexpected. After Easter, life would be different for sure, but not in the way they might at first have imagined.

Since I was a kid, church was a part of my Sunday morning routine. That’s how it was for many people in the 1960’s. Actually, from the 1940’s until the 1970’s, everyone seemed to belong to a place to express their belief whatever the religious preference, Jewish, Roman Catholic, Presbyterian or other Protestant tribe.

Of course, this is not our experience any longer. As we pay attention to our communities and the social trends, we have come to learn that you do not need to belong to express one’s belief. You don’t have to join to formally be a part of a group or church to feel like you belong. What’s more, you don’t have to attend regularly to somehow prove or confirm your connection. Expectations are different now. There are more options and opportunities. 50 years ago high attendance was the norm. But here’s an interesting fact: During the same period, say from 1940 through 1970, the time of peak church attendance in the United States, all other non-profit volunteer associations were on the rise, as well. Think about that. When many churches began experiencing steep declines in attendance, so were the Rotarians, Lions, Optimists, Boy Scouts, and Woman’s Leagues. (Here at Cold Spring Presbyterian Church, our manse and Price Hall was built at that peak time.) Most new church construction and expansion projects occurred then, too.

To understand the church decline, we should try to understand the decline of other volunteer groups, and here’s what we have learned: The fewer community connections the volunteer groups and churches had, the fewer members resulted. And the inverse is also true: Volunteer groups and churches that grow are more deeply connected to their communities.

(Now, back to the disciples feeling lost and abandoned after Jesus’ death.) The natural instinct when stressed and challenged, when ridiculed and attacked, is to huddle together facing inward, hiding out for safety. But when Jesus rose from the dead, and the disciples finally understood that Jesus’ victory over death now made the abundant life in Christ possible. Relieved, they saw Jesus and listened to the news:

“Later on that day, the disciples had gathered together, but, fearful of the Jews, had locked all the doors in the house. Jesus entered, stood among them, and said, “Peace to you.” Then he showed them his hands and side. The disciples, seeing the Master with their own eyes, were exuberant. Jesus repeated his greeting: “Peace to you. Just as the Father sent me, I send you.” Then he took a deep breath and breathed into them. “Receive the Holy Spirit,” he said” (John 20:19-23).

Instead of retreating, Jesus sent them out. Though they likely wanted to stay safely secluded to recall the recent Palm Sunday festivities, Jesus has a different plan.

The disciples were invited to be vulnerable and place their trust in Jesus. So are we. What we can learn from the attendance boom in the 1960’s and its steady slope of decline since is that it is not the time to sit back, hid out in seclusion propping up our beleaguered faith with stories of old. No. We learn from history that when we sincerely make deep community connections in our neighborhoods and listen to our communities, we will work hard and smart to position our ministries and programs to meet real needs. We will help families, old and young, from long-time residents to seasonal guests, to connect to the spiritual resources we offer in Jesus’ name. Believe, Yes! God invites everyone to believe, to be vulnerable and place their trust in Christ. To make that happen, we need to hear Jesus’ words when he said: “Just as the Father sent me, I send you.”

We are on a transformation journey. We can start with the Easter Good News ringing gin our ears by choosing to be a good neighbor, putting love into action, with a spirit of generous reciprocity. We can be sure that as we practice good discipleship, our commitment as a follower of Jesus Christ means we also practice good citizenship.

We demonstrate transformational behaviors by listening to the cries of the poor, becoming more of a neighbor-church. Then God’s story and God’s message will ring out, and our faith in God will become known everywhere (1 Thessalonians 1:7-8). We listen. We serve. We grow. We learn. Let’s do more of that! Churches that transform to establish new community connections become thriving communities of faith!

Thank you for all you do that expressed in so many unique and sacrificial ways to show God’s love in worship, giving, mission events, activities, service, and hospitality. “For God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved.”

After Easter, let’s get up and go. Go where? Across the street. Next door. Pick up the phone. Send an email or a card. Invite others to join an event with you. Make a new friend. Reestablish a connection to Bible study, a mission activity, and share the Good News. Receive God’s peace and the power of the Holy Spirit: Make new connections because:

Hallelujah! Christ is risen!”

“Christ is risen, indeed”!

Gratefully,

Pastor Kevin

In Our Brokenness

By | Intersections

From the Clerk’s Corner

Things break. Recently a mishandled “treasured” glass item in our household fell and shattered into innumerable pieces. There was the initial anger of blame quickly followed by the pain of loss. Looking upon the scattered debris, a fleeting thought of Humpty-Dumpty came to mind: this glass object can never be put back together again!  Then, of course, the solution would be to replace the object –if one could find a replica. Perhaps that would sooth the momentary pain.  Hearts break. The unanticipated loss of someone we love –whether through death, divorce, or estrangement– causes emotional pain and suffering that could last for many years.  How does one fix or replace a lost intimate relationship?  Lives break. The loss of a job, a home, or health brings suffering and pain. Life is fragile, things fall apart, things decay. How does one cope with suffering such painful losses?  Where does one seek healing and restoration?  Here a critical life-changing decision is made:  to choose relief from “the culture of death” or to choose solace from “the culture of life”?  Many choose the former, a wider road as it appears to be the “easier way” –to numb the pain of brokenness through alcohol, drugs, gambling, sex and a host of other addictions — all of which incrementally spiral into self-destruction.  Fewer choose the latter, a narrow road that is challenging yet hopeful — choosing to surrender to self and submit to the will of our Creator God Who desires only good things for us, for God is infinite goodness! The reality –the truth– is that we are all broken in some way, be it physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual.

But our brokenness can become a blessing when we realize our affliction brings us closer to God, dependent upon Him (and not ourselves or others) to heal us. Father God is the Great Physician, Jesus Christ the Miraculous Healer, the Holy Spirit the Comforter –when all else fails, our awesome God is always present and mindful of our needs. Broken bodies, broken promises, broken relationships, broken spirits — God can handle all such things; absolutely nothing is impossible to Him.  In our brokenness, our hope for healing is to be found in the name of the Lord!  Living under the curse of our fallen condition we sometimes forget this truth and attempt to restore healing on our own.  God wants us to lean on Him, so let go of the need to “be in control” and let God be God!  He will not abandon anyone who places his trust and hope in His hands. Sometimes God’s will is for us to endure our affliction of brokenness in a seemingly paradoxical way to bear witness to His existence and sovereignty. The Apostle Paul begged God to relieve him of his brokenness (an unidentified chronic affliction), but God responded that His grace was sufficient. On the night of His impending arrest, even Jesus prayed if another way be made possible –yet fully accepted the will of His Father to endure.  The world sees suffering as a curse to be avoided; believers in God can accept suffering as a blessing!

The two greatest cataclysms that dramatically changed the course of human history: the Fall of Man and the Resurrection of Christ. The first Adam fell from grace with God through his disobedience and with that act the wages of sin, suffering and death entered the world; moreover, nature itself fell from its state of perfection to one of hostility and instability. These two events are inextricably linked; for with the fall of the first Adam, God promised a Redeemer to provide the means of restoring salvation to mankind through a second “Adam”: Jesus Christ.  Jesus willingly allowed His perfect human body to be broken for us, to fully identify with us by experiencing the excruciating fullness of human pain, suffering, torture, and death — solely out of His divine infinite love so that we might live again!  By His stripes, we are healed. Through this required sacrifice of His only Son being satisfied, God offered reconciliation, sonship, and salvation to all those who believe in Him and follow Him. The full restoration of God’s creation will take place when the Risen Christ reconciles all things unto Himself at the Second Coming. Revelation tells us that there will then be no more tears and suffering for those who are His faithful children. On the night before His destiny with crucifixion, Jesus gathered His Apostles together, offering Himself as “the Bread of Life” — the bread that nourishes, heals, and sanctifies. “Take and eat, for this is My Body — broken for you!”

–Rob Riehl, ruling elder, clerk of session

Embrace the Ides of March and Caring Spiritual Practice

By | Intersections


“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law” (Rom. 13:8, NIV).

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:8-10, NIV).

You have no doubt heard the expression Beware the Ides of March popularized by William Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar(1599). Whether or not Caesar was actually warned by a soothsayer to stay home on the 15th of March (as depicted in the play) we do not know, but that day was indeed Caesar’s last. He was betrayed and murdered by his closest friends on the way to the theater. Most would agree that his fate was justified.

Historically, the Ides of March was simply the days in middle of March, but in the calendar of Rome during the time of dictator Caesar (about 40 years before Jesus was born); March was the first, not the third, month of the year. And according to religious and social practice at the time, it was a day of reckoning observed by paying your debts to start your new year with a clean slate, a fresh start, a new beginning. Not a bad idea, really.

Paul, the Roman citizen apostle, knew the dangers of unfulfilled promises, elapsed opportunities, ignored invitations to do good, and all the weights and encumbrances that held up progress and growth. Writing to the communities of faith in Rome who met in houses and shops, he said, “Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law” (Rom. 13:7-8, NIV). To Paul, and to Jesus, love motivates caring spiritual practice. (You may want to listen online to recent Lenten messages about Jesus by visiting: http://www.coldspringchurch.com/sermons.)

The motives of nonprofit and charitable organizations (like communities of faith) are fundamentally different from their for-profit counterparts. Charities, foundations, and churches are motivated to deliver their mission to individuals and families in their communities. All nonprofits are established to serve a socially valuable purpose for the public good. Churches should fulfill that “public good” purpose. Though the interests of the public change over time based on shifting contexts and community needs, the motives of a congregation should be clear even during tumultuous and disruptive change, and especially during our transformation process.

Our Mission Study Team(including Marty and Lenore Bowne, Taylor Burkhardt, Kevin Beare, and Melissa Arnott) is learning more about those “shifting contexts and community needs” to help Cold Spring Presbyterian Church fulfill its charter to love others. For example, we are discovering that many of our neighbors are increasingly facing serious financial stressors as they care for their families. In addition, our research shows that many nearby residents are reluctant to get involved with a church fearing judgement, or thinking the activities are either too boring or irrelevant to their own life experience. We also have learned how debilitating health factors are made worse by the abuse of pain medications. Gaining these and other insights about our neighbors can motivate us to do something in response. How can Cold Spring Presbyterian Church be known as a welcoming and judge-free place for people of all ages? The Deacons, Session, and our other teams and groups positively contribute to how we are viewed in the community. March can be a “new year” for us to make new, informed, connections through our services and ministries of caring.

The “Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood” (Jn. 1:14). Since we are in the neighborhood too, we can make a difference as our lives are transformed as we become representatives of Christ (1 Thes. 1). As we show God’s love, we welcome the entire community to experience the Good News of Jesus Christ in faith who “gave his life a ransom for many” (Jn. 3:16-17, Heb. 9:15). What an exciting mission to fulfill. We need to puts words into action!

This March is a great time for a health check. During your next doctor’s visit, you may want to ask for recommendations to increase your physical activity. Exercise is critically important to our improved health. But in addition to a medical doctor check-in, we should pay attention to our financial, emotional, and spiritual health, too. We may need a financial check-up with a financial advisor. There are volunteers available, one in our congregation, who can assist you with getting a financial check-up, or assist with the free preparation of your income taxes. (Want to know more? Just ask me and I’ll get you in touch with those who can help!)

Do you need an emotional check-up? Are you feeling overwhelmed? If so, you should know that most everyone from time to time feels that way. Don’t be discouraged feeling alone. To do something about it may mean for you to have a heart to heart talk with a family member, trusted friend, or spiritual leader. You can gain perspective and seek out resources to improve coping skills and discover better ways to enjoy each day. One way is to attend worship services. And when you’re away, stay connected online. You may want to listen to messages from God’s word, children’s messages, and even the music group selections by visiting, http://coldspringchurch.com/sermons.

Exercise the mind, body, and spirit in March!

Or, perhaps you are feeling under-utilized. Not quite sure how to help or get more involved. You may be looking for new opportunities to “serve the public good” as a disciple of Jesus Christ. Have you considered volunteering on one of our teams? Or you might enjoy being a mentor at Cape Christian Academy. The school is nearby and is looking for caring people to work with a child who would benefit from a caring adult mentor. Maybe its you! Cape Christian Academy’s Administrator, Mr. John Spriggs, recently shared about the school and its vision in a Minute for Mission during a recent worship service. Several individuals in our congregation have already found meaningful ways to contribute to Cape Christian’s mission to build students from the inside out. Use your gifts. Get involved, whether for an hour a week, or a few hours a month. Serving others not only benefit those you serve, but will energize your own spirit!

Thank you for all you do! As the transformation pastor, I have seen remarkable demonstrations of growth, engagement, and generosity in our congregation. New people are volunteering, serving, and giving. While the Ides of March may have been a tragic, if still much-deserved day of reckoning for a selfish dictator named Julius, March can be totally different for us.

“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph. 2:8-10, NIV). God created you to do good works.

Join me in making March the amazing month of caring spiritual practiceas we continue on our Lenten journey toward the hope of Easter.

Pastor Kevin

Cold Spring Church’s Pastor is Author of New Book on Transformation

By | Intersections

It’s probably not too surprising that if our Transformation Pastor, Dr. Kevin Yoho, were to write a book, it would probably be about the topic transformation. And, you’d be right!

In November 2017, Cascade Books, an imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers, published Pastor Kevin’s new book, Crayons for the City: Reneighboring Communities of Faith to Rebuild Neighborhoods of Hope. Transformation is a process, not a destination. When a group, congregation, or community intentionally enters a process that is centered on learning and a readiness to change, transformation can be experienced as growth and a new capacity to accomplish a group’s or congregation’s mission and purpose. And Pastor Kevin reminds us that it’s not just change for change’s sake, but a belief that God wants to transform our lives in the community of faith and the community at large.

 

“And the streets of the city will be filled with boys and girls at play” Zechariah 8:5 (NLT).

Pastor Kevin says, “Zechariah 8:5 was the vision for writing my new book, Crayons for the City. That vision continues to be my motivation for inviting community leaders to read Crayons and apply its practical framework in their own context.” Crayons is about asking leaders to take a look at their community impact, not just their effort.

The title Crayons for the City takes its name from Pastor Kevin’s work with children in Philadelphia that began with a box of Crayola crayons. The idea was to give voice to the child’s whole world experience in a very stigmatized and under-resourced neighborhoods of Kensington. The kids were given drawing topics each week: Me and My Neighborhood; Me and My Friends; Me and My Family; Me and My School; Me and My World; Me and My Church, and Me and My Future. The drawing journey led to significant conversations and opportunities to engage children and their families in community transforming activities. The book tells the story that began with a box of crayons which progressed into a whole community project of hope and a new future.

Pastor Kevin writes about has been how he has been leading the congregation since arriving in September 2016. From more open and energizing worship to asking the congregation to intentionally welcome and include the community at large in every church activity, referring to them as “Farming Events.” Pastor Kevin describes Farming Events as activities that plant seeds, nurture relationships, and foster cascading connections between the events moving forward.

“Everyone can be part of God’s transformation work,” Pastor Kevin says. Here’s an excerpt from Crayons for the City:

“While walking is good exercise, walking around the block to better understand the neighborhood is even better. …not to advertise programs or solicit support but to actively engage with residents and pay attention to what God is doing.” Pastor Kevin believes that God is active and working all over the greater Cape May community. What Cold Spring Church can do is to notice what God is doing and get involved. Everyone gets involved in their own unique ways.

“There are wonderful possibilities ahead for any church,” Pastor Kevin says, “Transformation begins with an authentic connection to God through Jesus Christ. God loves our community. It’s up to us to demonstrate that love in relevant and accessible ways in everything we do.”

This new book can help any community leader, church leader, or missions student discover effective ways to achieve a positive impact. Our community deserves no less!

At the following link you will find the book description along with endorsements and other information: LINK

If you are interested in a review copy of this new book, please fill out the form to request review copies HERE. Please indicate the journal you are associated with on the form.

If you would like to consider the book for textbook adoption please fill out the form HERE.

Feel free to direct other inquiries to our marketing assistant, Shanalea Forrest at shanalea@wipfandstock.com.

Book Details:

Yoho, Kevin R.
Crayons for the City: Reneighboring Communities of Faith to Rebuild Neighborhoods of Hope
Cascade Books
ISBN 13: 978-1-4982-3087-2
Softcover $33
Pub. Date: 11/9/2017

 

Thoughts and Prayers Are Often Are Not Enough

By | Intersections
LETTER-WRITING CAMPAIGN IN SUPPORT OF THE PARKLAND SHOOTING VICTIMS
AND TROPICAL FLORIDA PRESBYTERY
A great idea from James Potts, Director of Family Ministries at First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood (Florida). He has networked with churches across the nation to begin a Letter Writing Campaign to the students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

If you would like to send in a lettter, email or drop it off at the office. We will gather the letters in our office and send them to the Tropical Florida Presbytery Center, without envelopes (we’ll use one envelope for all). They will hand deliver them to a guidance counselor at Stoneman Douglas. There will not be a time frame for this project in frequency or duration. However, if possible, an immediate response will be most beneficial for the students as they are currently in shock and in grief.

Sometimes, thoughts and prayers are just not enough. A personal note of encouragement is definitely a tangible, personal, expression of God’s presence through Christ. Thank you for participating!

If you have any questions, please call the office, 609-884-4065, or email.

The Pastor’s Forward Looking Report- On the Road Again With the Spirit

By | Intersections

This week was my second Annual Congregational meeting. And I am delighted to say, like I said last year, I am grateful and energized as the Transformation Pastor (interim pastor) at Cold Spring Presbyterian Church. God is obviously up to something in greater Cape May and I believe that Cold Spring Church, as it approaches its 304th year, is at the center of that spiritual activity!

A Signpost Up Ahead : Transformation Journey
We are a community of faith on a transformation journey as disciples of Jesus Christ. We are moving forward to vitally connect spiritual and other resources with the community at large. God has blessed us with an amazing congregation and a beautiful campus including our cemetery, Price Hall, other buildings and our historic red brick church worship center. The transformation journey of learning, improving, and trying new things, and everyone is on this journey together!

“But there are those who study the perfect law, the law of freedom, and continue to do it. They don’t listen and then forget, but they put it into practice in their lives. They will be blessed in whatever they do” (James 1:25 CEB).

Mile Marker Report
Putting the Good News into practice is our mission. The term Mission is used a lot, and its not surprising that its meaning can be broadly understood. “A congregation, like the human body, can be represented by its resources, values, and priorities. But the change a congregation can experience is developmental and is governed by the capacity of its members to learn and grow.”1 So Mission refers to how we put our resources, values, and priorities to work. Distinct from Mission is Vision. When we refer to Vision, we are describing a future time when we hope to have realized our goal. A sample/draft Mission might be: Our vision is that our community at large experiences improved spiritual health and wellness accessing Cold Spring Church resources including worship, events, cemetery services, meeting space, and other connections in person and online. Our Mission Study Team is now working and will be responsible, in consultation with the session, to research and explore new connections with our community and propose new ministry ideas to expand our mission and contribute to our growth.

To help us measure our progress, we paused during a sermon last Spring to reflect on how we are feeling now about our spiritual connections compared to the year before. The survey said most of us moved from low engagement to high engagement. Wonderful! 82% said they would recommend Cold Spring Church to a friend or neighbor. Amazing! Good has blessed us with 7 friends who decided to become members of our community of faith in 2017, the most added in many years. Worship attendance was up 20% with increased giving, more visitors, and an increasing number of innovative events. We are now blessed with a Singing Team that enriches our worship.

Let’s recall a few of the 2017 events (attendance in parentheses). Palm Sunday (75), Maundy (Holy) Thursday (23), The Hunt Is On! Easter Egg Hunt (85 kids), Sunrise at Sunset Easter sunrise service at Sunset Beach (32), and our Easter Celebration (107). Our Gift & Craft Fair, Presbyterian Women Christmas Bazaar and Luncheon, and the Open Air and Craft Markets (one of which had a music group of local performers) were well attended and provided opportunities to build relationships with the community. Christmas Eve was unusual in that it fell on Sunday in 2017. We enjoyed two worship services that drew a total attendance of 150 with 70 attending the morning Christmas Eve worship and 80 the candlelight service. I am grateful to God for inspiring us to gather as we are sent out to bless the community! I am also grateful for everyone who is growing, learning, and trying new things. This Annual Report includes stories of these activities that are enthusiastically supported by the Cold Spring Church community of faith!

Taking New Paths
We made significant new connections with the community at large, too. We are now on the tour schedule of the Mid-Atlantic Center for the Arts & Humanities (MAC), and we receive referrals from Cold Spring Village. (P.S. The Village lovingly refers to us as “their church” connection!) We also renewed partnerships with the Cape May Historical Society, Congress Hall, and the Naval Air Station Wildwood Aviation Museum, among many community groups. I have enjoyed participating with the Lower Township Clergy, as well as our improved participation in West Jersey Presbytery. In 2017 several of our leaders attended the presbytery’s Congregational Life Sunday and I presented a workshop entitled, How Your Church Can Become A Community Destination. (I hope even more attend this year’s event!)

I continue to be grateful and amazed by our staff: Judy, Jayne, Scott, Chris, and Bob, and those on our part time crews as they meet unexpected challenges and joyfully serve others with commitment, passion, and love. I am proud of our Leadership Team (Session), Caring Team (Deacons), Presbyterian Women and the Circles, Busy Bees, Singing Team, and our Wednesday morning Bible groups, among others, who have joyfully provided opportunities for people to get involved. The congregation’s generosity allows us to offer reduced fees for some non-profit community services groups like A.A., and free space for ministries like the Christ Child Society and the Coast Guard Auxiliary. Ministry is a partnership and I welcome your comments on what is working well and what improvements might be made.

What Does the Pastor Do the Rest of the Week?
Some have asked how I spend the rest of my time when I am not fulfilling the 30 hours/week, part-time, ministry as your pastor! On of the activities I enjoy is teaching in my third year on the faculty of City Vision University (www.cityvision.edu). This accredited, faith-based, university provides low-cost undergraduate and masters degree programs for students from all over the world. I have the pleasure of teaching Youth Ministry, Social Entrepreneurship, Small Business Entrepreneurship, Theology of Work, Leadership and Management, and Organizational Systems. I enjoy the impact I can have on students, especially those in other countries.

I am glad to share with you that my first book, Crayons for the City: Reneighboring Communities of Faith to Build Communities of Hope was published in November. It tells an amazing transformation story set in Kensington, Philadelphia. A congregation learned how to create new connections with children and families, and it all started with a box of crayons! Written mostly for community and church leaders and students who want to make a positive difference in their communities. If you enjoy Philadelphia history and learning how seemingly ordinary people can achieve extraordinary impact, you might also enjoy this book. I presented a signed copy of Crayons to the session. It is available in the church office if you’d like to review it. You may visit the publisher’s page here: https://wipfandstock.com/crayons-for-the-city.html

Expecting More Movement Ahead in 2018!
Now in our 304th year, we can deliver spiritual and other resources through our community of faith to our community at large that transforms our neighbor’s lives in the name of Jesus Christ. What do you expect this year?
In 2018, our leadership and caring teams, groups, teams, staff, and individuals just like you all have an opportunity to expect more of Christ, and of each other. Imagine how our greater Cold Spring area neighbors could experience God is new ways, more relevant and effective ways? How could seniors be energized by hope? How can younger people grow and connect to serve and learn so that more and more people experience the abundant life?
I hope you are growing and learning! Let’s get involved a bit more. Give a bit more. Engage a bit more. Serve a bit more. Love a lot more.

“My beloved friends, let us continue to love each other since love comes from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and experiences a relationship with God” (1 John 4:7, NRSV).

Cold Spring Church. Energizing Spirits. Transforming Lives. Expecting More in 2018.

Are you on the road with the Spirit?

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1 Yoho, Kevin R., et al. Crayons for the City: Reneighboring Communities of Faith to Rebuild Neighborhoods of Hope. Cascade Books, 2017. Page 64.