Faithful Friday – February 17th

Dear Disciple of Christ,

So by way of quick review, my wife and I had accepted the call to be pastor of a church in Brooklyn, New York. It was a fairly small church (with about 45 worshipers) and the entire salary package for me the pastor) was $5,600 per year (fully half their annual budget).  That salary was for all parts of our lives (auto expenses, food, medical bills, and other necessities, like a place to live or gas to get about doing ministry there).  They had a parsonage in years past but had given it to the widow of the first pastor who spent most of his ministry caring for them and who ultimately died in the ministry there.  We accepted the call because we believed it was a call from God and that “all things would work together for good as we loved God and were called according to His purpose.” That was not some “pie in the sky” dream but a faithful response. It was a belief (that I hold to this day) that knowing God’s will (His purpose for you) and doing it, will bring about the power to accomplish it.

So, there we were, walking across 18th Avenue to a door of a two story private house that was the closest to the door of our church. That door had the number that was on the paper we held from the realtor, saying it was available for rent. By the way, Brooklyn is 70 square miles and had rooms holding just under 2 ½ million people.  Could this be God’s gift to us, the revealing of His support for His plan for our lives and ministry?  Gas costs had risen astoundingly and not every station had gas every day of the week (which was OK since we didn’t have much money to buy gas.  Hmmm? Odd? Out of all the possible places to live, one was the closest to our church, let’s just saying walking distance (about 100’).   

We wondered if it was part of His provision (or not) because when we knocked on the door and rang the bell, no one answered. Duh! That was, of course, because it was vacant (waiting for us?). We went to the second door of the house on the other side in the front yard and knocked and rang the doorbell. We met the family who invited us upstairs (the owner lived on the second floor of this two-story house). We talked for a while and then they showed us the first floor of the house, 7 ½ rooms including a porch, living room, huge dining room, kitchen, three bedrooms and room in their garage for our car. To complete the picture for you, the whole house was 3,440 square feet (our floor being 3 times the size of our mobile home at seminary) and, though I don’t know the value of the house in 1975, it lists on Zillow at $1.4 million today. Let’s just say, it was a very sufficient house.

The family was very gracious, sharing stories and some of their history and some ouzo (a really strong licorice and kerosene flavored Greek drink). Indicating to them we were going to be serving at the church across the street and that our resources were limited, we had to be bold and just ask, “How much?” I honestly didn’t have any idea how we would afford anything but, again, God’s plan, you know, so I needed to ask? The couple looked at each other and then Bill said (asked?), “How about $300 a month?” Now I don’t know what your reaction would have been but I’m half German and my mathematical mind immediately calculated the annual cost ($300 a month, 12 months, $3,600 out of our $5,600 salary). The numbers were small enough I could calculate them in my head. It would leave us to live on for the year ($2,000) which would not be much each week (about $40) to live on.

So, my response was appreciative, and we really did appreciate their generosity but I did feel I needed to be honest and share that would really be a stretch for us and I told him so. His response (rather than, “Are you kidding? Get our of our house!”) was, “OK, how about if they pay the utilities?” We accepted their gracious offer. More importantly, we had experienced the impossible (is that like a miracle?). That was one of many we have been able to reflect on during the past 47 years of ministry. God is really serious about his plans and He will do all that is needed to bring it to bear in the lives of His servants.

But it does take that willingness on our part to serve Him with faith if we’re going to experience His support. The prayer that concludes some of our worship services touches my heart (and I never tire of praying it). Lord God, You have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that Your hand is leading us and Your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord.”   There really is something amazing about believing that and living “as if” God is holding our hands and that His love is sure since He gave His Son for us. 

What would happen to us if we lived in that faith and by that faith each and every day? What would we do (or not do)? What would we experience of God’s support in our lives and what joy and thanksgiving would be in our hearts? I do know the other possibility, what can and will happen without that faith and trust in Him. Remember Jesus visiting His hometown, Nazareth, and His inability to do many miracles there? Remember what caused that problem? From Matthew 13:55-58 we hear the questions and doubts; “Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas?  And are not all his sisters with us? Where then did this man get all this?”  And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own country and in his own house.”  And he did not do many mighty works there, because of their unbelief.”

And how many times did we hear Jesus say to the newly healed, “Your faith has made you well”? I close today’s reflection with the words from the hymn used at my mother’s funeral (where with power only from God, and as a called pastor, I was able to preach). That hymn was chosen as a statement of faith for her passing fully into the hands of the Lord.

“When peace like a river, attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll; whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul. 

And Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight, the clouds be rolled back as a scroll; The trumpet shall sound, and the Lord shall descend; even so it is well with my soul.”

It was as if God Himself said that day, “Welcome to Brooklyn. Welcome to ministry. Here, take my hand!” And take His hand we did.

Peace in His service,

Pastor Johnson

Scripture Readings For Friday, February 17th, 2023

Psalm 2; Exodus 19:9b-25; Hebrews 11:23-28