Homeless Hearts

Image result for homelessSome of my friends happen to be homeless. Perhaps you’ve seen them, or folks in similar situations, around town. I just met some folks who are finally emerging from a life of addiction. They are thankful for the local shelter and the Turning Point, but finding a long-term home seems nearly impossible, which undermines their stability and ability to find a better life. But they keep striving.

Although troubling, to say the least, physical homelessness is relatively rare and often temporary. Spiritual homelessness, however, seems to be rampant and long-lasting, and no less troubling. Most of us, in my experience, have little or no healthy connection to a spiritual home. Our bodies may be clothed, fed, and sheltered, but our souls are not. We may experience temporary human love in our homes, but our experience of God’s eternal love is minimal. I am sure we all know the longing to connect with others, to know and be known, to be safe and supported, for the place where we can be our true selves: the longing for home.

Very few of us would choose to be physically homeless, but I did meet a fellow recently who described himself as a homeless veteran who travels from town to town. While his external appearance was a bit rough, he seemed happy and healthy. After sharing a cup of coffee together, I found him to be one of the most fascinating and enjoyable people I’ve ever met, and one of the most spiritually healthy and grounded. He may not have had some of the security, safety, and comforts that I think I have, but I could tell he had true faith, hope, and love, which are gifts from God himself. What he lacked in a physical home he made up for spiritually.

Most of us are just the opposite, myself included. If my immediate physical needs are taken care of, I tend to think I’m all set, and too often ignore my deeper, eternal needs. Multiplied out for a lifetime, I’m lulled and lured into spiritual homelessness. A nice pot of chili fills me up on a cold rainy day, but ultimately only masks my spiritual hunger. Meanwhile, Jesus says: “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35). A refreshing beverage may take the edge off after mowing the lawn, but ultimately only masks my spiritual thirst. But Jesus says: “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink” (John 7:37). A warm bed and a toasty wood stove provides the physical rest I need after a long, cold day, but really only masks my need for spiritual rest. Again, Jesus says: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). A place to call home here in town may satisfy a lot of my earthly needs, but it can’t fulfill my true need: to find my forever home in God himself.

Jesus said in John 14: “In my Father’s house are many rooms…I go and prepare a place for you.” A paraphrase of 1 Peter 2:11 says it like this: “Friends, this world is not your home, so don’t make yourselves cozy in it.” And a very loose paraphrase of St. Augustine might go like this: “My heart is homeless until it finds its home in God.” Though on our own we are spiritually homeless, God has provided our eternal home with him, and the way into that home is Jesus himself who said, “I am the door.” And right after Jesus promised to go prepare a place for his followers, he told us how to get there: “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)

We come home to God only through Jesus, but we don’t come alone. None of us can make it far alone, so we have each other: fellow pilgrims for the journey in our local church families. So whether your local church home is Methodist, Pentecostal, Assembly of God, Alliance, Baptist, Presbyterian or whatever, if you hear God calling you, let’s head toward home arm in arm. Together we follow Jesus: celebrating, enjoying, and serving God with our whole hearts. Together we love our neighbors and serve our community with the power of God’s Spirit. Together we enjoy the support, security, and encouragement our spiritual home on earth as we look forward to our eternal home together with God.

Perhaps you’ve never been physically homeless, but there’s a good chance you’ve found yourself feeling spiritually homeless. Hear the gentle invitation of the old hymn chorus: “Come home, come home; You who are weary come home; Earnestly, tenderly, Jesus is calling; Calling, O sinner, come home.”

Bob Wiegers is the pastor of First Baptist Church of Bennington, who invites you and yours to join us on the journey home.

Surviving the Holidays seminar

When you are grieving a loved one’s death, the holiday season can be especially painful. Our Surviving the Holidays seminar helps participants prepare for the holidays and even discover hope for the future. Open to anyone grieving a recent or distant loss of a loved one or friend.

Sunday, November 18
601 Main Street, Bennington VT 05201

To sign up please call 802-442-2105 or email PastorBobWiegers@gmail.com
$5.00 cost for materials
(scholarships available: ask Pastor Bob)

More information: www.griefshare.org/holidays

Help and hope as you navigate the Christmas season
Wondering how you will survive the weeks surrounding Thanksgiving and Christmas? Are you dreading these holidays, knowing that everything has changed and that happy memories from past years can’t be recreated?

Our Surviving the Holidays seminar is especially for people who are grieving a loved one’s death. You’ll learn:

  • How to deal with the many emotions you’ll face during the holidays
  • What to do about traditions and other coming changes
  • Helpful tips for surviving social events
  • How to discover hope for your future

Please join us for this encouraging seminar, and bring along others who may benefit.

Welcome Home!

homecomingsundayIf it has been a little while (or maybe a long while) since you’ve been to your spiritual home, we’d love to welcome you back any time, and especially Sunday October 21. You are loved. Come as you are. Welcome home!

An open letter to any and all who we haven’t seen in a while:

We miss you! Your church family and friends here at First Baptist Church truly miss having you and yours among us, so we’d love to have you join us for our “Homecoming Sunday” which will be October 21 at 9:30am. You are loved. Come as you are. Welcome home!

I know there’s lots of possible reasons to move on from a church, but I also know there’s many ways God can lead you back. So if there has been anything that I, or we as a church family, have done or said (or not done or not said) that have made you feel unwelcome, I would love for the opportunity to make amends. Like any family, we can often have things that come between us, but God enables us to reconcile and once again join in the mutual love and support we all need. We all need each other to grow in our faith and serve and worship Jesus together.

I will soon mark my third year as Pastor of First Baptist Church. Many aspects of our church life have stayed the same, and many have changed. We still worship God every Sunday at 9:30am and enjoy coffee and snacks afterward. We have child care and Sunday School for the little ones each week. We still host our tag sales and bazaars. We still host many nonprofits that benefit our community. We still happily welcome anyone who comes through our doors.

And yet you may notice some differences. We have quite a few newer folks with us these days, both old and young. The music on Sunday mornings is now a blend between older and newer styles. We still sing the old favorites with the organ, and we also sing newer songs with guitars and the piano. Our new organist/pianist is Charlie Marshall, and he is a wonderful musician. I do my best to bring a compelling and relevant teaching from the Bible each Sunday, emphasizing the amazing grace that Jesus gives us for our everyday lives. Jesus died and rose again for us, so we can follow him with joy, and by the power of the Holy Spirit we can truly make a difference in our lives and our community. We are digging into our Bibles and growing deeper in prayer, and God is doing good things in and through us. We are seeing the lost become found, and God is changing lives!

We are also growing in our faith together in our weekly Bible Study as well as our vibrant Youth Group, and we continue to reach out to our community, sharing the love of Jesus with our friends and neighbors, as well as the addiction and recovery community through our Mercy Street gatherings. I know God has great things in store for us and our community, one way or another. What I would love to find out is how you can be a part of God’s good plan for us!

I would love nothing more than to see you grow in your faith in Jesus and your relationship with God. It is truly life-changing and soul-enriching. Yet one thing that the Bible, and my own experience, makes clear is that we need each other to faithfully follow Jesus and experience spiritual growth. Are you sensing God calling you back to your spiritual home? If there’s something in the way, I’d love to talk and pray about that together. This is not about worldly power, money, or significance. This is about finding and staying on the path of following Jesus. Only in him will we find true faith, hope, and love. Will you join us? We hope to see you October 21, or any time.

You are loved. Come as you are. Welcome home!

Humbly yours,

Pastor Bob

The Knight and the Princess

What do you think of when you hear the word “gospel”? Perhaps you think of a type of music, like the once-famous song “Turn Your Radio On” (I’ll give you a minute to YouTube that one. Check out Roy Acuff’s version). Or maybe you think of a zealous street preacher, televangelist, or someone like Billy Graham. Or maybe you happen to know that the first books of the New Testament are known as the “gospels.” But really it is much simpler than all that. The word “gospel” simply means “good news.”

What is the gospel? Christians believe that the gospel is this: the knight has come to slay the dragon and rescue the princess. You’ll have to forgive me for borrowing the language of the old fairy tales, but then again many of the great stories through the ages involve the hero rescuing the helpless from great harm. So please hear me out as I channel the imagination of my kids, who loved knights and dragons. Yet this is not child’s play. I am convinced that this is the very meaning of life.

So when I say Christians believe that the knight has come to slay the dragon and rescue the princess, here is what I mean. The dragon is all the evil in this world. Evil that we see on the evening news. Evil down the street. Evil in our homes. Evil on our lips and in our hearts. Evil now pervades the world, which God made good. We call this evil “sin” which results in spiritual, and physical death.

The princess is the helpless, hopeless, yet beloved people that are surrounded on every side, within and without, by the forces of evil. We can’t rescue ourselves. We are caught in, and take part in, evil. We are in fact as good as dead. We need a rescuer.

The knight of course is God himself. The one true God who made the universe and everything in it, came down to earth as Jesus, to conquer evil, to defeat sin and death, and rescue his people and give them true life. How did Jesus defeat evil? By the most unexpected way possible. He took on all the evil in the world, and died a sacrificial death on a cross. For 3 long days it appeared that the dragon had won. But then he was raised to life, and has defeated the power of death for his beloved people. He has slayed the dragon to rescue his people, and offers us true life and true joy.

So how do you become a part of his people? How do you become a Christian? According to Jesus, it requires just two steps: First, turn from the evil that pervades not only this world, but your own heart and life. Jesus says “repent.” Second, turn to Jesus, listen to him speak through the Bible, trust that He is indeed the one true God of the universe, that he did indeed rescue you from sin, and he is indeed worth praising and worshiping, and he is indeed worth giving your very life. Jesus says “believe.” Repent and believe.

Jesus Christ, our good knight, came to slay the dragon of sin, death and evil, to rescue all who will repent and believe in him. That’s the gospel.

A well-known Bible verse says: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) Repent and believe in Jesus today, and receive eternal life now and forever. This is the good news of the gospel. This is the story of the Bible. This is the story of Christianity. This can be your story too.

Do you hear God calling you? Do you believe the gospel of Jesus but aren’t sure what to do next? As one who was once in the firm and deadly grip of the dragon, it would be my joy to introduce (or reintroduce) you to Jesus, the only one who can truly rescue.

Bob Wiegers is the pastor of First Baptist Church of Bennington. As one of your community pastors, I would be very happy to listen and pray with you any time.

The Blind Leading the Blind

I don’t know how many Bible stories you’ve heard, but do you think you could name someone in the Bible who had great faith, abundant courage, and truly followed God? Perhaps you’d think of Abraham, Moses, or David. Maybe the Apostles, Mary, or Jesus himself? All of these would be true, but I like the obscure stories and characters, since I’m an obscure person from an obscure corner of the world too.

Did you know there’s a Bart in the Bible? His story is briefly told in Mark 10:46-52. Of course the most famous Bart these days is probably the Springfield kid with oddly yellow skin, spiked hair, and a donut-loving dad. The Bart from the Bible is really named is Bartimaeus, but that’s awfully hard to spell and write, so I hope he doesn’t mind I’m going with Bart.

Bart was a blind beggar. He was literally sidelined and marginalized, begging by the side of the road in a time and place that had little or no help for those on hard times. But the funny thing about Blind Bart is that he could see better than most, because he had spiritual sight when almost everyone around him was spiritually blind. He was truly the blind leading the blind.

One day Jesus was coming through Bart’s town, and it was a big ruckus. I don’t know if the visually impaired in ancient times hung out together, but Bart must have heard about Jesus somehow. After all, Jesus had a habit of healing blind folks. It is clear that when Bart found out who Jesus was and what he could do, he believed. When he figured out Jesus was coming by, he didn’t hesitate, throwing decorum to the wind, screaming at the top of his lungs: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Imagine the scene if your favorite politician was solemnly parading through Bennington with a great crowd, and as they approached the Four Corners, a panhandler started screaming at the top of his lungs: “Have mercy on me!” If you were in the crowd, you’d probably do what they did to this crazy blind guy–you’d probably tell him to shut up. Repeatedly. Someone might even rough him up a bit, or call the police over. We simply don’t have time for obnoxious low-lifes.

But Jesus stopped in his tracks: he has all the time in the world for so-called low-lifes. When everyone around Bart was shouting him down, getting in his way instead of helping him out, his courageous and persistent faith in Jesus prevailed. Of course the crowd flips quicker than you can say “spiritually blind,” suddenly encouraging Bart: “Take heart. Get up. He’s calling you.”

When they come face-to-face, Jesus asks Bart a profound yet simple question: “What do you want me to do for you?” It may seem painfully obvious what Bart wants, but Jesus asks anyway, showing him the respect perhaps no one else has. Besides, Jesus just recently asked this exact same question to James and John, two of his closest followers, and they botched it, requesting power and control for themselves, like the spiritually blind men they were (at the time). Instead of asking for his own glory, Bart simply asks for his sight back. He just wants to be who God made him to be. And of course Jesus does what God does: he gives sight to the blind. This man now has 20/20 vision both spiritually and physically: he can see Jesus with both the eyes of his heart and his body.

Jesus sends him on his way, but Bart has one more thing to show us about faith: he chooses to follow Jesus, all the way to the cross. Not only does he see Jesus for who he truly is (now both spiritually and physically), and not only does he have great faith in Jesus, but he does what we are all called to do: he follows Jesus. I can’t say for sure, but I’m fairly confident Bart literally followed Jesus all the way up to Jerusalem, and with his new eyes truly saw the depth and breadth of God’s love. He must have seen Jesus die on the cross, and even better, he must have seen Jesus resurrected in glory and power.

You and I can’t see Jesus right now because we are blinded by our own spiritual darkness. But Jesus is willing and able to open our spiritual eyes. That’s why he has come to town. All we have to do is follow Bart’s lead and cry out: “Jesus, have mercy on me!” Jesus always responds to our cries, stops in his tracks, calls us by name, and asks: “What do you want me to do for you?” Again, let’s follow Bart’s lead, and tell Jesus: “I just want to see you.”

Bob Wiegers is the pastor of First Baptist Church of Bennington, where you are welcome to come sing with us: “I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind, but now I see.”