January Pastor’s Pen

December Pastor's Pen

“God is light, and there is absolutely no darkness in him… If we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.”

I John 1:5 & 7

I find the first week of January a sad time of year. Don’t get me wrong, Kathie and I had a nice Christmas even though we were alone. I felt the online Christmas Eve service was very well done and very effective. We spent two days in northern Pennsylvania visiting our grandchildren. And given the medical issue I had in February, I was thankful to the Lord that I was alive and able to celebrate another Christmas.

 

I do, however, become a little maudlin whenever the Christmas lights come down. I take pleasure in seeing homes brightly lighted and displayed. In fact, at least once during the month of December Kathie and I drive through our neighborhood and around Chambersburg just to look at the lights.

 

Some people find Christmas lights an unnecessary expenditure of money and resources. But for me, even when the lights and displays are secular, I’m still reminded of something John said in his first letter to the church:

God is light, and there is absolutely no darkness in him.

 

Christmas lights, even the secular ones, convey to me the promise and hope that God is in the house! He showed up in that little baby who grew up to take away the sins of the world.

 

Jesus said we are to let our light shine before people so that they can see what we’re about and give God the glory. He wasn’t talking about colored LED bulbs and inflatable snowmen that inevitably come down when the season is over. We have the Light of the World inside our hearts and no January darkness can overcome (John 1:5). Let there be light, brothers and sisters, and let it be a blessing this brand new year.

 

Pastor Joel

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December Pastor’s Pen

December Pastor's Pen

O come, Thou Day-Spring, come and cheer our spirits by Thine advent here.

Disperse the gloomy clouds of night and death’s dark shadows put to flight.

Rejoice! Rejoice!  Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel words by John Mason Neale

 “Christmas is probably not gonna be possible this year”

 

That was Sunday, November 15th’s top story after CNN’s Jake Tapper’s interview with Dr. Anthony Fauci.  Fauci was talking about the surge in COVID cases that is tampering with the hopes of millions seeking to restore a sense of normality with the upcoming holiday.  Fauci said that even with the advent of a vaccine the public “can’t abandon fundamental public health measures.” That prompted Tapper, the Chief Washington correspondent for CNN, to observe that Christmas is “probably not gonna be possible.”  Technically speaking, I know what Tapper was suggesting.  He was suggesting that many of our beloved American Christmas traditions that involve crowded rooms and places – parades, parties, caroling, services of worship, shopping, to name a few – would best be observed with restraint this calendar year.

 

But Christmas not possible?  I can assure you we can put a halt to all our traditions but that won’t stop Christmas or Jesus from coming.  Herod the Great already tried that once!

 

One of my favorite poems by Ann Barr Weems is called “Christmas Comes.”  It’s part of her 1980 collection, Kneeling in Bethlehem, by the Westminster Press.  It begins…..

 

Christmas comes every time we see God in other persons.

The human and the holy meet in Bethlehem or in Times Square,

for Christmas comes like a golden storm – determinedly, inevitably…

Even now it comes

in the face of hatred and warring,

no atrocity too terrible to stop it,

no Herod strong enough,

no hurt deep enough,

no curse shocking enough,

no disaster shattering enough.

Someone on earth will see the star,

someone will hear the angel voices,

someone will run to Bethlehem,

someone will know peace and good will:

the Christ will be born!

 

 

 

I don’t know if we’ll be forced to ungather.  I can’t say what Christmas Eve online would be like.  I’m not wild about the necessity of masks and social distancing, though I respect why we’re doing them.  I have no idea how many will sit at my holiday table. 

 

I just know that the One who is the resurrection and the life resurrected me this year and gave me new life.  In my hour of need, nothing prevented Him from coming.  So do not let one trace of doubt enter your mind: He will come to a weary people who need Him now more than ever.

 

Christmas Blessings!

Pastor Joel

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November Pastor’s Pen

June Pastor's Pen

Give thanks with a grateful heart!

 

I saw a wonderful meme on Facebook the other day – The three hardest things to say are: 

  1. I was wrong
  2. I need help
  3. Worcestershire Sauce

 

I thought you might like that too…

When I was a freshman at Penn State I had an Educational Psychology class that met twice a week. A one-hour per week “lab” was also a requirement.

At the end of the hour, each student had to write a one-page paper that summarized the class reading assignment for that week. The papers were returned with a checkmark at the top whenever class reconvened.

My roommate took the lab with me. He was certain that no one was actually reading the papers. One day, in the middle of his page, he wrote, Does anyone ever read this? then he finished the assignment. He continued this prank for more than a month. Believe it or not, five weekly papers were returned with a checkmark before somebody made a comment on his hidden question!

 

Of all the things I get to do as your pastor, the only thing I do with some trepidation is write my Pastor’s Pen.  I have this secret fear – call it suspicion – that it really isn’t read. And if it IS read, my fear is that it won’t be meaningful for you. For as long as I can remember, I have always fought the temptation to include my roommate’s question in the middle of my article just to see if anyone catches me!

Assuming you ARE reading this, I just want to say that, in the U.S., November is the month for returning thanks – thanks to our family, thanks to our neighbors and friends, and most especially thanks to the Lord.

One of the things I’ve learned from reading and teaching the Book of Revelation is how important worship is in God’s Word. Worship is central to John’s vision. The angels, the elders, the four living creatures, the saints frequently fall before God and return thanks, giving Him all the praise and glory He deserves.

 

I need to be better at counting my blessings instead of my problems. And I need to make it a habit to give thanks with a grateful heart. Psalm 103 checkmarks the blessings that come from the Lord:

  • He forgives our sins
  • He heals our sicknesses
  • He redeems our lives
  • He crowns us with love and compassion
  • He satisfies us with good things
  • He executes justice

And that’s only the beginning! Are you intentional about thanking the Lord? May I suggest we write a page of blessings and praises in a journal or tablet this Thanksgiving? No one but God will read it. But I just think it might help me to write him a “love note” and get it out during December whenever I feel underappreciated and overwhelmed. I will be blessed and so will the Lord!

 

By the way, thank you for reading this; thank you for allowing me to be your shepherd; thank you for all the support you show to both Kathie and me: and thank you for four wonderful years!

Pastor Joel

 

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Regathering at 4th Street

I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the LORD.”

Psalm 122:2 ESV

Dear Brothers and Sisters:

With a unanimous vote on June 24th our Church Board has set Sunday, July 5th, as the day we can finally regather for in-person worship! The times of our services of worship will be 8:30 a.m. (in our sanctuary) and 10:45 a.m. (in our Brethren Life Center). For the time being there will be no Sunday School, church nursery, or in-house children and youth ministries. The church library will be closed and there will be no Coffee Corner.

In recent weeks we know that many of you have inquired about the date for our regathering at Fourth Street.  There has been considerable interest in getting back together. That said, we are sensitive to the fact that, for any number to reasons, some of you are not yet comfortable with being in a public setting. We want you to be comfortable with whatever decision you make and we realize for some of you, that decision will be to remain at home awhile longer. For those of you who do begin attending services, we want you to be assured we are taking every precaution we can to ensure your safety and well-being as well as the safety and well-being of others.

While our beloved church is regathering for the first time in several months, you can expect a few changes and a “new normal” for the foreseeable future.

Below are some guidelines to help all of us sort things out.

  1. Face masks will be worn at all times. If you do not have a face mask when you arrive, we will gladly give you one to wear. If you have not been feeling well or have cold/flu symptoms, please remain at home.
  1. When you come in the door, there will be a welcome table with face masks, hand sanitizer, and bottled water for your use.
  1. Families may sit together. As a general rule, however, we will follow the CDC guidelines and practice social distancing (a minimum of 6-feet apart) in and around the church.
  1. All singing will be done at the close of each service.
  1. When services are over, you are encouraged to exit the building without much interaction with one another. For Brethren who place a high value on fellowship, this will be the most difficult guideline to follow.
  1. You are encouraged to bring a bottle of water. Because our drinking fountains will be closed, a bottle of water will also be provided if you need one.
  1. The main door of each restroom will be propped open to keep door handles touch free. Only two people at a time will be our restroom policy for the first weeks/months.
  1. For those of us who rely on handrails, hand sanitizer will be available at the top of the stairs (as well as other places throughout the building).
  1. Instead of passing offering plates, we will receive your tithes and giving in one common area at the close of each service. For the time being, there will be no bulletins.
  1. Please respectfully refrain from shaking hands, hugging, fist bumps, and the Brethren kiss no matter how well-meant and well-intended.

In addition, all staff and ushers/greeters will have their temperature checked 20-30 minutes prior to the services.  Our restrooms will be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected and our church will be cleaned and sanitized as much as possible between Sundays and other days of heavy use.

For the most part, our guidelines comply with the CDC regulations to which we’ve all become accustomed during our time of quarantine. Good old fashion courtesy and common sense will go a long way to make our time with the Lord and with one another a meaningful and pleasurable experience.

In approximately three weeks we are going to begin live-streaming our 10:45 service. That means for those of us who are at home, we will be able to get online and worship in “real time” with those who are at church. DVDs of the 8:30 service will be available as they have been in the past.  For the next three Sundays, you can log onto our website or Face Book page on TUESDAYS and watch the 10:45 Sunday service as well.

We are really excited about the opportunities God will give us as we venture forth in our regathering. They are a process and we respectfully ask for your patience and your love.

Pastor Joel

 

For an official list of guidelines and processes that will be followed throughout the week, click here.

June Pastor’s Pen

June Pastor's Pen

I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the LORD.”

Psalm 122:2 ESV

How are you? Over the last 8 weeks, I have been making random telephone calls to our church family as my time permits. I always begin my call with this question – “How are you?” And after that subject is addressed, I generally get a question: “Do you have any idea when our church will reopen for worship and connection?”

Like the rest of you, I’m quite ready for us to get back to a new normal. I appreciate our online services and feel our worship planners and leaders are doing an excellent ministry. But there is something about being together that cannot be replaced.

The simple truth is, due to the CDC recommendations/regulations that have been imposed upon us, we are very much limited as to what we can and cannot do at this time. But that hasn’t prevented your staff and church board from being proactive, asking the questions that need to be asked as we prepare to reopen our doors.

Quite recently our board had a special meeting devoted to the questions of when we shall reopen and what it will look like. The following statement from the church board received a unanimous endorsement: 

“The church leadership will monitor the CDC guidelines with regard to church openings;

however, the church will remain closed until procedures are in place to ensure the safety

and well-being of our church family and guests.”

What exactly does that mean? Last week, Lifeway Book Store published an article, 24 Questions Your Church Should Answer Before People Return. One of the things the article makes clear is that, given the unprecedented circumstances in which we find ourselves, we will not be able to return to church at the present time and resume doing all the things in all the ways we have been accustomed to doing them.

Whether our county is red, yellow or green, for everyone’s safety some thoughtful and intentional planning must happen first. To that end, a special committee has been appointed to begin envisioning how our reopening can happen most effectively. The committee consists of your staff, Kendal Trader, Linda Burkholder, Jerry Moore and Rick Shreiner.

A local church close to my home is encouraging its church family to pray, be patient, and stay positive. That sounds like good counsel for all of us. I’ve never had any doubt that the Lord is going to use this emergency to draw us closer to him and to one another. I’ve never had any doubt that we will not only survive together, we can and will thrive together. And I surely have never doubted that the day is coming in the not-so-distant future when – like the church of the Book of Acts –

[We will] devote ourselves once again to meeting together in God’s house and breaking bread with joyful and sincere hearts.   Acts 2:46 CSB

Until then, keep looking up!

Pastor Joel

 

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May Pastor’s Pen

May Pastor's Pen

Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. Psalm 119:105 ESV

In keeping with the current CDC regulations, it would appear that we will be continuing our Sunday worship online for the foreseeable future. Starting Sunday, April 26th, Pastor Joel will be bringing the message every Sunday. He is planning a series about the “one anothers” of the New Testament. You will find the dates and specific topics for this discussion below.

BTW… Don’t forget that if you do not own a smart phone or a computer and are unable to watch and interact with our worship online, each service/message is recorded on a DVD format.  If you want the services mailed to you, please call Carol in our church office and she will send them to your home. 717-264-6957

April 26 –    Love One Another

Luke 10:25-28; John 13:34-35

May 3 –     Submit to One Another

Ephesians 5:15 & 21; 22-28

May 10 —   Forgive One Another

Colossians 3:12-17

May 17 — Encourage One Another

I Thessalonians 5:11

May 24 –  Accept One Another

Romans 15:1-7

May 31 –  Carry One Another’s Burdens

Galatians 6:1-5 

 

The following was part of Pastor Joel’s 4/16 meditation that was posted on Facebook as an encouragement to the church and to the online community.

I waited patiently for the LORD;

He turned to me and heard my cry.

He lifted me out of the slimy pit,

out of the mud and mire;

He set my feet on a rock

and gave me a firm place to stand.

He put a new song in my mouth,

a hymn of praise to our God.

Many will see and fear

and put their trust in the LORD.

                                        Psalm 40:1-3

Psalm 40 begins with someone in trouble. They’ve somehow lost their footing and fallen into a sticky situation – what the psalmist describes as a place of “mud and mire.” Have you ever had the tires of your vehicle stuck in the mud? You put the transmission in DRIVE and tried going forward then you put it in REVERSE and tried backing up, but all you did was throw mud and “spin your wheels.”

That is the psalmist’s predicament. He is stuck. He’s “in it with both feet.” And it doesn’t take too much imagination or misuse of the Scripture to conclude that, if something doesn’t happen soon, he’s going down for the count.

Have you ever been “between a rock and a hard place?”  Have you ever been stuck?  Do you feel stuck right now? The psalm assures us that we have someone watching over us – a Rescuer. He sees the difficulties and perils we face.  He hears us when we cry out for help. And he will trudge through the mud and the mire, to save us and reestablish our footing on very solid ground.

So if you’re wondering today if you’re ever going to get out of the house; if you’re worried about what you’ll do if a virus sets your feet in cement; if you’ve made some bad choices that put you in some sticky situations, here is what can you do?

  1. Cry out to the LORD – Find a prayer closet and honestly pour your heart out to him. James the brother of Jesus said, “Humble yourself before the Lord and he will lift you up.” James 4:10
  1. Swallow your pride – Confess you’re in over your head and reach out your hand for his inevitable mercy. Paul, the great leader of the early church said,

“God demonstrates His own love for us in

this: that while we were still mired in sin,

Jesus Christ came to our rescue. Romans 5:8

  1. Praise him for what he has done, what he is doing, and what he has yet to do so that in these uncertain times other people will hear your song and put their trust in the LORD too.

Keep the faith, brothers and sisters.  And keep reaching out. It makes all the difference!

Pastor Joel

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April Pastor’s Pen

April Pastor's Pen

I am Grateful

Six weeks ago I had a sudden and quite unexpected brain bleed that necessitated me to be flown via helicopter to Hershey Medical Center where I had emergency brain surgery. After six weeks of recovery I am back to work without – praise God – any side effects or lingering complications. I know my miraculous progress can be attributed to a loving and merciful God and the prayers offered by many of you on my behalf. I am grateful.

 

During my six weeks of recovery at home I received well over one hundred cards (I didn’t count) – many with personal notes and prayers inside. While the majority of those cards came from the family and friends here at 4th Street, I also received cards and notes from persons in all of the congregations Kathie and I have served. I am grateful.

 

Some of you were able to visit us in our home; some of you sent over food and flowers and

a few get-well gifts. Your caring and your generosity in a myriad of expressions truly hum-

bled me and I am grateful.

 

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my 4th Street colleagues and team who made the visits and telephone calls, planned both worship services and supplied the pulpit with Christ-centered preaching during my convalescence. I certainly want to give a shout to Carol Wingert, Kendal Trader, and Pastors Liz Thorpe, Tim Monn, Leon Yoder, Jamie Rhodes and Ali Toms for “coming out of the bullpen” to bring us the Word of God. I am grateful.

 

And then, when the church board had to make the painful yet necessary decision to suspend

our meeting together, Cody and Ali Toms and our Praise Band found a way through technology

for our church and our services to be an online presence each Sunday morning at 9 a.m. via

Facebook. In so doing, we have not missed a Sunday of meeting together to praise the Lord

and I am grateful.

 

Since I’ve come back in the office, some of you have asked me how I am feeling. In the words

of our dear brother Jerry Moore, I’m feeling a whole lot better than I deserve. I am so blessed.

I know people who had the same condition I had – it’s called an AVM – and who STILL are

not able to return to work, even after as many as three years in recovery. I am grateful.

 

 

 

The Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, “How can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead?” (I Corinthians 15:12) In my hospital bed it was Good Friday BUT Sunday was still a-comin’! And I am living, walking proof of a resurrection. Even more, whether we’re back in church or sitting in our homes in front of a computer or cell phone, we will praise God and celebrate the miraculous resurrection of our Lord and Savior, Jesus. He is the resurrection

and the life; whoever lives and believes in Him will also not perish but live for all eternity.

And for that, we can ALL be grateful!

 

Easter blessings to all…

Joel

 

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March Pastor’s Pen

March Pastor's Pen

“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” ~ Jesus

Mark 8:34

Lent is the forty days of reflection and repentance between Ash Wednesday, February 26th, and Palm Sunday, April 5.  Different traditions observe this season different ways.  Most people reflect upon Jesus’ teaching, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself/herself and follow me.”  In an effort to deny themselves, they give up something for the 40 days such as sweets, television, or some habit they’ve been wanting to break.

Giving up something can be a good discipline.  There are a few things the Bible tells us we should never give up. Prayer. Jesus told his disciples they should always pray and never give up. They should be persistent, expectant and stubbornly hopeful.

Meeting together. The author of Hebrews tells the church never to give up the practice of meeting together to encourage one another in the faith. Doing good for other people. Paul told his congregation not to become weary in doing good for at the proper time, they will reap a harvest if they don’t give up.

I hope you will plan to join your brothers and sisters every Sunday as we meet together for worship during the season of Lent.

 

Pastor Joel

 

*Don’t forget we are offering a time of prayer and reflection every Thursday throughout Lent. Click here for more information.

 

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Open House

The Smart Cookies Open House has been cancelled in order to reduce the spread of COVID-19. We apologize for any inconvenience. Please do your best to stay healthy!

December Pastor’s Pen

December Pastor's Pen

Light is a significant part of celebrating the birth of Jesus who called himself the Light of the World. We light trees, Advent wreaths, candles and any number of things to symbolize our faith in the coming light that “pierces the darkness.”

November 11 was an unseasonably mild day in Chambersburg.  Kathie and I took advantage of the warmer temperatures and put strings of lights on the shrubbery in front of our house, put up the annual lawn nativity, and focused the spotlights that will illuminate the Christ Child and the wreath on our front door. 

 

We gave them a trial lighting that night to make sure all the bulbs from last year still work. However, we don’t intend to display them (unlike our early bird neighbors) until Thanksgiving because that’s “tradition.”  NO CHRISTMAS LIGHTS UNTIL THANKSGIVING. Were you raised that way too?  

On Saturday, November 16th, Kathie was visiting our grandchildren and drove through the little town of Ulster, PA in Bradford County. She noticed that nearly every home along the main thoroughfare was lit up and decorated for the holidays. Some of them displayed signs saying, “Praying for you, Ariah.” “Ariah, we fight with you.” Naturally, Kathie wondered about the Hallmark appearance of Ulster and who Ariah was.

 

It turns out that Ariah is a seven-year old girl from Ulster who has been diagnosed with a rare childhood disease. Her prognosis, unfortunately, is not very good. Ariah loves Christmas lights. And the whole community has come together around this little girl’s passion, defying tradition and gaily lighting up the homes and streets of Ulster in support of her.

 

The disciple, John, said that in Jesus is life and the light of that life shines in the darkness. It will not be timid; it will not be hidden; it will not take “no” for an answer. (John 1:4-5) The facts are, when the Light of the World came, he upended the traditional thinking of the day, being born in a stable, announcing his presence to a ragtag group of shepherds and living to love and serve the broken, sick and humble people that are important to God

– in other words, the Ariahs among us.

 

So maybe you might put up your decorations a little earlier than tradition warrants this year and let your light shine, as Jesus told his followers to do. And if anyone asks you why the rush, just tell them you’re doing it for the Lord and for Ariah this year.

 

Advent blessings!

 

Pastor Joel

 

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