...the hopes and fears of all the years...

We don't know what all Pastor Phillip Brooks was thinking when he penned these words in 1868, but hopes and fears are universal emotions. They are powerful emotions. They are controlling emotions. But many times hope and fear are at odds with each other. 

What hope longs to embrace, fear tries to push just out of reach. - Stanley Martin. 

For all of us, (unless you happen to be a 102 years old) we are experiencing something different in 2020 than any of one us have ever lived through previously. That is, experiencing and celebrating Christmas while enduring a pandemic. For many, our hopes and fears are colliding, much like eternity collided with time many years ago in the village of Bethlehem. 

Remember that the Christmas season often stirs up grief and other difficult emotions in people. Given the current circumstances, these reactions may be more pronounced, in ourselves and in others. Rather than avoid these emotions, how can we be intentional in addressing them, and provide hope for one another? Here are a few things to consider.
 
People Are Relational: We believe that all people are relational in nature, and need opportunities to interact with each other. We believe in connect and loving our neighbors. Doing so this Christmas is more important than ever!

People Need To Hear: We believe people need to hear the G.o.s.p.e.l. Truth. For those who will listen, John 3:16 says that God's gift still remains the greatest gift ever given! God's Only Son Provides Everlasting Life. Hearing this truth this Christmas may have greater impact than ever before! 

People Need To Know: We believe that Christmastime may open people up to connecting with the Gospel story in a way they wouldn't other times of year. We see that people are looking for something more at Christmas than the frantic shopping spree can provide. This year, many will be avoiding the busy shopping centers and evaluating what is truly most valuable to them. We believe people need to know the true Jesus. 

People Will Be Effected: We believe that God actually placed us in this time and in this pandemic for a reason. This is and will be a time of lament, grief and loss for people all around the world. While we have anxieties, worries, and concerns to be sure, we have a hope and confidence secure in Jesus Christ.  We believe that while the pandemic may effect millions of peoples lives here on earth, we serve a Savior who gave himself to change all humanity's lives for eternity.  

Praise be to God. The hope and fears of all the years have met their solution in you Lord!
-Pastor Milo

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 For the first time, our family is not in Vermont today for Thanksgiving. Our kids don't know any other way and my wife has been eating turkey "on the hill" since she was little. I moved around a lot as a kid and Vermont is one of the few places that I call home. It's going to be a very different "Thanks"giving for most of us.


The word "thanks" in the Hebrew Bible is funny. It means "to give thanks," but it also means "to shoot." We read in the Psalms: "I will give thanks to the Lord because of his righteousness; I will sing the praises of the name of the Lord Most High" (7:17) and then in Jeremiah: “Take up your positions around Babylon, all you who draw the bow. Shoot at her! Spare no arrows..." (50:15)

To shoot or to sing...

They both come out of the same root word for "hand." You can use your hands to draw a bow or you can use them to lift in gratitude. Built into the word is this tension we all feel. Sometimes it's easy to give thanks. Life is going well, circumstances are manageable, and we are able to stop and smell the roses. Other times (like right now) it's a lot more difficult. We are tempted instead to "shoot" arrows of anger, cynicism, sarcasm, bitterness, pain, judgement.

To shoot or to sing...

Tradition tells us that the psalm above was written by David after being wrongfully accused of conspiracy against King Saul, which would surely result in his death. He pleads to God: "...save and deliver me from all who pursue me, or they will tear me apart like a lion and rip me to pieces with no one to rescue me." (7:1) He had every right to spare no arrows. Yet, in that last verse he uses his hands to lift in song. In reflecting on this psalm, C.H. Spurgeon says: "What a blessing would it be if we could turn even the most disastrous event into a theme for song, and so turn the tables upon our great enemy."

That's just it, isn't it? Giving thanks is actual the more effective "weapon." It's easier to reach for an arrow than a song, but it always misses the mark. The bow never satisfies. But we turn the tables when we choose to give thanks to Jesus who took every arrow humanity could shoot on a cross and then rose from the dead to start the restoration of all things - from death to life; from sickness to health; from shooting to singing...

So this Thanksgiving day, here at home, our family will make a choice to turn the tables by giving thanks. We'll put down the bow and use our hands to eat well (steak this year), play board games, give hugs and lift in gratitude to Jesus. That's my prayer for you as well...
Pastor Bryan
Teaching Pastor


While the big box stores have been selling trees and colorful home decorations for months already, this coming week marks for most of us the true launch of the holiday season. With covid precautions tightening down on us in every county and state in our nation, many people are metaphorically kicking sand with frustration as they drag their feet behind them into the "most wonderful time of the year." Just 7 days out from this same nation's national holiday coined for fostering spirit of gratitude, perspective, and perseverance... how many of us are actually doing the difficult work of preparing our hearts to be genuinely filled by God during difficult times? To be filled with: Thanksgiving.

I believe we can learn a valuable lesson from Philippians 4. Paul founded the church in Philippi on his second missionary journey and later wrote the letter of Philippians to the church during his imprisonment in Rome. After persecuting the early church, the converted apostle faced trials of many kinds for the cause of Christ. The theme of joy threads throughout the writing. At no time however, does he excuse the Philippian reader for "extenuating circumstances" where they don't have to have their hearts in the right place. Look what Paul writes:

"Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things." [Philippians 4:6-8]  

Can I confess something to you? I'm not sure I'm solely focused on keeping my thoughts on the things that are lovely, noble, and pure. But you know what? I figure I have a week or at least 6 more days to get myself there. Maybe you would take up the challenge to do so as well? Prepare your heart to be filled by God with genuine gratitude while enduring difficult times. To be filled with: Thanksgiving. 

Next week, at 6:30 on Thanksgiving Eve, we are scheduling a time to come together online and share with one another stories of thanksgiving, praise, and adoration for the greatness and glory of God. Please plan to join us. Thanksgiving.RandallChurch.org  

 - Pastor Milo

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 2020 has been a year of “new normals” for everyone and everything. However, I’d like to challenge you to take a break from all of that. Maybe do something “old normal” that your family hasn’t done for quite a while? Wonder what that “old normal” thing is? No, its not pond hockey, cross-stitching, or even rooting for the Buffalo Bills in the month of December... It’s this: Make the time to send out Christmas cards this year. 


 Like being in an emotional fog, we have all felt disconnected from each other in in this year of the Covid, as these many days begin to simply blur together. Truth is, we are all facing increasing difficulties when it comes to gathering extended family together in the coming months. Don’t you agree that we could all use a friendly word from someone we haven’t seen in a while? Someone from your church family, a bible study group, or a prayer partner? 


 As December 25th rapidly approaches, we all need to be intentional about doing something personal to reconnect. Doing something tangible. Send out a Christmas card. Just do it! I came across a great article this week by Jillian McClenahan. It prompted me to be thinking along these lines, and I thought I’d share three highlights with you here: 


 -  Cards provide a tangible touch. A Christmas Card is a tangible way to show your friends and family that you care. A card takes time and effort; it shows you took a few moments to think of the recipient and share a few kind words. It’s a small gesture to say “I love you.” 

 

-  Cards are a piece of mail that is sure to bring a smile. Any adult knows that when there’s something other than bills in the mail it’s an exciting day. Let your card be that happy piece of mail. A handwritten address rather than a printed name on a bill-sized envelope will bring a smile to the recipient’s face before they’ve even torn it open. 

 

-  Cards are a chance to point others towards Christ. The best part about Christmas cards is that you get to decide exactly what they say. While the saying may be cheesy, Jesus truly is the reason for the season. You can use your cards to share a bit of the Nativity story or tell others how God has worked in your life in the past year. 


 I hope you’d consider reaching out to others this Christmas in this unique and specific way. We have many in our circles who will not have a lot of contact with others in the next 6 weeks, and your card could make all the difference. I can’t tell you that the Apostle Paul was talking about Christmas cards when he said: 

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up... 1 Thessalonians 5:11... 

I cant tell you he was proposing Christmas cards, but something tells me he would always be proponent of personalized letter writing. Don’t you think so too? Now get to work!


Let Me Be The First To Say MERRY CHRISTMAS! 

 - Pastor Milo

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One evangelism survey tool I've employed while church planting is simply to knock on doors and interact with people in public spaces and ask them just one simple probing question: "What matters most to you?" Far and above, whether in the newly constructed neighborhoods in the South, or in the established communities of the Northeast; the top answer was always: "family," or "a good job." No one ever started with "my car," or "my big screen tv"  as number one, but still it was surprising how very few respondents would ever place "God," "my faith," or "my church family" at the top of list. That is, until something shifted and overwhelmingly changed the way people responded to our surveys following November of 2012... and no, its not what you think.   

Superstorm Sandy hit New York City on October 29th, 2012. It was a storm of tremendous size, although by the time it hit NYC and it's outlying boroughs, it was "only" a Category 2 Hurricane, its damage was catastrophic. According to NOAA, The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, in a typical large hurricane, tropical storm-force winds would only reach out 300 miles from a storm's centre. Prior to making landfall, hurricane-force winds (sustained speed of 74mph and above) and tropical storm-force winds of Hurricane Sandy (sustained speed of 39-73mph) extended 175 miles and 485 miles from the center of the storm respectively.

Disaster Relief teams representing churches from our local Frontier Baptist Association in partnership with Baptist Convention of New York were called out immediately, and within just a couple days I found myself on a Jet Blue commuter flight headed into the city, nervous and uncertain of what I might be getting myself into when I landed in LaGuardia. We didn't have a vehicle, we didn't have any heavy equipment, we didn't really know what we were doing, but we had instructions from our friends Mike and Bev piloting the Incident Command Center as to where to go... so we went. The image above was of a neighborhood park turned into a giant garbage pile. I took this picture, then dropped my pack on a family's back porch. There I donned on an N85 mask, and went underground for the next 5 days. 

The work was backbreaking, and the days were long. We cleared basements full of people's life storage and passed them off the homeowners at the top of the stairwell. They sorted out small handfuls of keepsakes, then handed off to team members who dragged the remaining contents to the street before the sewage and growing mold could contaminate the rest of the house. Travel to and from the worksite(s) proved to be particularly frustrating covered in a layer of mud on the fragmented remaining network of subway trains that weren't submerged underwater, after an exhausting 10-12 hour shift. But it was all worth it, because we were being the very hands and feet of Jesus Christ. We were being a tangible representation of the Gospel in ways many of our new friends had never experienced. 

With chaplains coming through every worksite every day, they tallied the number of family members accounted for, the number of meals distributed, and the number of hours worked. But most importantly they accounted for the hundreds of people who gave their life to Christ during the relief efforts. You see, all of sudden, rushing in like the storm surge they had just experienced, they came face to face with what truly matters most! It wasn't their possessions, their livelihood, or their status in the community. No, It was where they would spent eternity before God, and whether their friends and family would be with them in Glory!   

I've never forgotten that mission trip. God pushed me out of my comfort zone and taught me to trust Him more. You know what else? While I voted absentee before I left Buffalo and WNY, it was in NYC with a few thousand of my closest friends that I found out the results of the 2012 Presidential Election. I visited Time Square super late on election night, (it truly is the city that never sleeps) and watched some of the tv coverage only a few feet from the live broadcast. It was just so weird to be there, to see the electoral count climbing a jumbo screen up the side of a 30 story building, while standing in workboots still covered in the sludge of people's broken memories I had been moving out of the cellar all day. It all seemed so surreal. 

In the end, someone won the election that night, and someone lost. But you know what? It didn't matter that much. Do you know why? Because I suddenly knew what mattered most. Or let me say it this way; I was reminded of what I supposedly already knew anyway. Gods only Son provides everlasting life. That's it. That's what matters. It's all about the Gospel! And every once in a while, when I start watching the headlines, and when I start watching the political maneuvering; I need to reminded to not lose sight of what matters most. Don't you?

I am the bread that gives life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. John 6:35

- Pastor Milo
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