Dear Friends and Family,
Thank you for your ongoing interest in and support of New Hope Church. I do apologize for taking so long to write since my last update! Here are a few things that have been happening these past few months here in Bangor:
Sermon Series’: I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to do several sermon series’ recently. Over Lent, we took six weeks to focus on the Parable of the Prodigal Son (or more accurately, the Story of the Loving Father). I found it convicting and helpful, especially in reading through Tim Keller’s Prodigal God (one of the best books I’ve ever read) to help inform the series. We talked about “leaving home”, “missing home”, coming home to the Father and His lavish welcome, and how religious people also need to come home. This summer, we did a topical series based off of Cloud & Townsend’s book 12 “Christian” Beliefs that Can Drive You Crazy: Relief from False Assumptions, focusing on different Scriptures for each “Christian” belief. This book shows the damage of shortcuts in the Christian life, and shows what the journey of Christian growth looks like in light of God’s grace. Now, we are going through the story of Abraham in Genesis, and although the Old Testament can be challenging to understand, I especially appreciate how it deals with real life—God’s grace at work even in messy situations and real people.
Summer Move: After a year of commuting between NH and ME (with Minet finishing up her teaching contract at a boarding school), we both are finally living in the same state! We moved from NH in June and combined households, now settled in a condo that has become a home for us and our dog, Clementine. We appreciate the opportunity to host, and Minet has made it a beautiful space to live in and invite others to. Minet has also been glad to be able to be more involved at New Hope, and along with teaching Latin part-time at a local Christian school, she is beginning to explore ideas for a women’s ministry at New Hope. She is also exploring other areas of interest and potential vocation, such as event planning, cooking, etc. She also continues to read my (Jonathan’s) sermons weekly prior to Sunday to offer feedback—something that has been very helpful and a significant encouragement to me!
A Hospital, Not a Fortress: Since New Hope was planted, one of the themes that Pastor Carl and the leadership team returned to was that New Hope was meant to be “a hospital, not a fortress”. It’s for people who need to experience healing by God’s grace in Jesus—not a place that is only for a select few who look like they have it together. And once in a while, we catch glimpses of how God has allowed New Hope to be a place of healing. A couple months ago, one member shared a testimonial of how God had been working in her life. She shared about her strategic plan to grow in her faith—with an ambitious list of spiritual and other disciplines. She then shared how, over time, she had fallen short in those disciplines, and thought she’d failed. But then she shared how, in the midst of that “failure”, God had revealed His grace to her on a whole new level—both His love freely given to her even then, and how much it cost Jesus. She’d had her agenda for getting close to God, but when that failed she’d found that He’d showered her with grace because He had a bigger plan for her. It was powerful to hear her share a testimonial that truly focused on the transforming power of God’s grace for us in the midst of our failures. A reminder that God is at work bringing healing in our relationships with Him, even when His work doesn’t always match with our agenda.
Reflection: Chasing a Rabbit, and Repentance
The other day, I was out in the woods with our dog Clementine, when she saw something running through the woods—and immediately bolted after it. I called after her, knowing she could get in trouble if she didn’t return or if she met another dog. She didn’t come at first (in spite of the immediate recalls we had worked on), but finally returned, panting but unharmed.
It would be tempting to scold her for her slow return as soon as she came back, or withhold treats from her. But then she would think that I was punishing her for returning, and she would run away more and more. So instead I praised her, patted her, gave her treats, and gave her water since she was hot and panting from her run.
Almost invariably, whenever I am annoyed by something Clemmie does, God reminds me of how her disobedience towards me is just a tiny glimpse of mine towards Him. And yet He keeps on loving me far better than Minet and I could ever love Clemmie.
So God gently reminded me through this time that repentance is a return to God—coming back to Him after chasing idols. God knows that we harm ourselves by trying to run our own lives and ignoring His voice, and His call to “come home” is far more informed and urgent and loving than mine ever is to Clemmie. He calls us from what will hurt and kill us, to Himself.
And how does He welcome us back as we return? With lavish love and celebration, not with condemnation. Think of the father running to embrace the prodigal son while he was still a long way off: He didn’t scold him; he embraced him. And far more than I gave Clemmie water because she was thirsty, God refreshes us with His grace even though one of the very reasons we need refreshment is because we’ve been running so hard from Him.
As always, if you ever find yourself in the Bangor area, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us!
In our Lord,