I know it is probably something I say every year (and maybe you do as well), but it is hard to believe that the New Year is upon us. Even though this is the case, I find myself more ready and willing to take on the New Year and all that lies ahead than it seems in past years. Part of the reason why this is the case is due in part to the time I spent in quarantine in mid-December.
There were days when I would wake up on the couch where I was quarantining eager to take on the day but could only manage the strength to get a cup of coffee and then go back to the couch and not do much of anything (mainly sleep or at least try to sleep). There were days when I would wake, get that important cup of coffee and then was indeed able to spend a few productive hours before resuming a posture of rest on the couch.
However, it was during those hours and days on the couch when I lay there with no energy that I was able to do something…something I believe that is important and significant and that was spend time in prayer and reflection with God. To be clear, there was plenty of time when the only energy I could muster was that to close my eyes and sleep. But during those moments of being awake and having only the energy to lie still on the couch that I kept thinking about Paul’s words from 1 Thessalonians Chapter 5 Verses 16-18: Rejoice always, 17 pray without ceasing, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. (NRSV)
Ending the year with a time of reflection on the previous year and a look towards the coming year is something I do each year, but this years’ time was markedly different. As I prayed throughout those days of “couch dwelling,” I felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude. It is hard to explain but I felt a gratitude like I don’t recalling feeling in the past and I have to say that I like to think I am extremely grateful for God’s blessings in my life…but maybe not as grateful as I would like to believe.
As I have shared in worship with you a couple of times, my New Year has begun with a new daily practice of writing in a gratitude journal (thanks for the suggestion and example Karen). The book I am using is Sara Ban Breathnach’s book entitled: “The Simple Abundance Journal of Gratitude.” It is from this book’s opening pages where she talks about the power of gratitude that I want to share some of what she says. These are words I read during my time of quarantining as I brought the book home to read its opening pages in preparation for starting the New Year with my journaling about that for which I am grateful.
Gratitude is the most passionate transformative power in the cosmos. When we offer thanks to God or to another human being, gratitude gifts us with renewal, reflection and reconnection. Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life…Gratitude holds us together even as we’re falling apart. Ironically, gratitude’s most powerful mysteries are often revealed when we are struggling in the midst of personal turmoil.
It is easy I believe to be grateful for the positive things going on in our lives; it is easy to give thanks to God and others for that which we see as blessings in our lives but to “give thanks in all circumstances,” as Paul requests of us is an entirely different thing…
That was one of the things that struck me the most during my time of prayer and reflection in mid-December. As I prayed and reflected on the blessings in my life (those good things I mentioned above), the Spirit of God helped me to see more fully how the times in my life that were more painful (the loss of a loved one, relationship difficulties, financial woes, job struggles, etc.) were times that that I can give thanks to God.
I say this because not only was God with me during those painful and challenging times but because of God’s Holy presence my life, I was sustained, I learned from the past, I grew spiritually, memories became more cherished, pathways became clearer and my relationship with God grew stronger. It is a reminder of Paul’s words in Romans 8:28: We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.
The year past was a difficult, painful and challenging year for MANY and for some this New Year we have begun is not much different. My hope and prayer for all us is that in the midst of whatever this year brings, in both the good and bad, we might be able to give thanks in all circumstances and always be reminded that our loving God is with us.
For what are you thankful???
Blessings for a wonderful New Year!!!
We invite you to join our Christmas Eve Worship service which will be held on Thursday, December 24 at 6:00pm, in the Performing Arts Center on the China Spring Middle School Campus.
It will be a wonderful evening of candles, carols and Communion as we celebrate the gift of Christ’s birth into the world and our lives.
The Season of Advent is upon us and as I begin this month’s newsletter, I must say how much I appreciate those many behind-the-scenes persons that take care of everything in the Sanctuary. From changing of banners and colors throughout the seasons, to the moving, rearranging and setting up of lights and EVERYTHING ELSE, there is a lot they do. Sometimes the changes are minor, and you may not notice but they do help tell “The Story.”
There is no time when then their efforts are more evident than the beginning of the Season of Advent. Although I had seen their work earlier in the week, when I walked into the Sanctuary this past Sunday morning, I had to stop for a moment to take it all in…The beautiful wreaths with poinsettias, the garland draping the Communion rail, the banners of Hope, Peace, Joy and Love, the Chrismon Tree and yes, our beautiful Nativity scene…they all help tell “The Story” of the birth of Christ.
And in doing so, we remember the longing of Jews for a Messiah and our own longing for and need of forgiveness, salvation and a new beginning. Even as we individually and collectively look back and celebrate the birth of Jesus in a humble stable in Bethlehem, we also look forward anticipating the second coming of Christ as the fulfillment of all that was promised by his first coming.
The Season of Advent will be with us until December 24th and although we are accustomed to celebrating Christmas on a single day, in both the Christian tradition and on the church calendar, the Christmas season itself lasts from sundown on Dec. 24 (Christmas Eve) through Epiphany of the Lord (Jan. 6). This is sometimes referred to as “the 12 days of Christmas.”
My hope and prayer for all of us this Season of Advent and the Christmas Season that follows is that we would all spend some time reflecting on our own personal walk with God and those four items in bold above. God knows every hair on your head, your every word, your every thought and so on…My point to that is do not be afraid to be honest with yourself. God knows you and loves you. No matter where you are on your walk with God, there is potentially more…a deeper and more meaningful daily walk with God is what God desires and this birth that we long for yet again is that which makes it possible.
As the New Year of 2021 approaches, what are your longings and yearnings in the coming year? We might simply think “I just want 2020 to be over with!” But lets not forget that God IS present with you now and WILL BE present in the days to come and God wants more for all of us!!! What can God help you with? Spend some meaningful time in prayer and reflection during these seasons of Advent and Christmas…With God’s help, open up your heart and mind to the transforming power of God’s love in Christ. Remember the true gift of Christmas is the Gift of Christ; a gift that brings change to our lives and to our world!!!
Finally, please do not forget our special Christmas Eve services which will take place at 5:00 pm and 7:00 pm on Thursday December 24th. This year’s services will be slightly different in some ways due to the pandemic, but these things will NOT take away from our ability to remember the blessings of this special night by singing carols, hearing Scripture read and praising God for the ultimate gift of Jesus Christ; the world’s Savior!
After the message, we will Celebrate Holy Communion and the service will conclude with the lighting of the Christ Candle and our own personal candles as we sing that familiar and o’ so beautiful song, “Silent Night.”
In the mighty name of JESUS, the one Whose birth into our hearts, mind and the world we long for yet again. Come Lord Jesus, Come!!!!
May all your Advent and Christmas seasons be blessed!!!
Grace and Peace to you all,
As I begin, I want to do so with a question. So…How would you define a sacred or holy place? Before you answer, I do not mean places that Christians go to on a pilgrimage such as the Red Sea where God parted the waters for the Israelites, the city of Bethlehem where Jesus was born, the city of Nazareth where Jesus was raised, the Sea of Galilee where Jesus spent time with his disciples or the holy city of Jerusalem which has within it places such as the Garden of Gethsemane, the Western Wall, the Upper Room where the Jesus held the Passover meal, Calvary Hill (Golgotha) where Jesus was crucified, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Via Dolorosa…sorry, I got carried away listing places I’ve visited that I believe are indeed holy and sacred places. If you ever get a chance to visit these places, please do so…
When I ask you define a sacred or holy place, I’m talking about a place or places where you feel God’s presence when you are there. You’ve probably heard from me many times that I feel God’s presence quite often when I am in the outdoors; especially when I’m in my hunting stand early in the morning with nothing but time and darkness to commune with God. Of course, every Sunday when I’m gathered with other brothers and sisters in Christ worshipping God, I feel as though I’m in a holy/sacred place. Gathering with my family and/or friends can be a sacred and holy place as I give God thanks for the many blessings I have in my life.
With those thoughts in mind, take a few moments to really think about your definition of what a sacred/holy place is for you and more importantly, what place or places would you call sacred and/or holy; places in which you have felt God’s holy presence? Once you have those place(s) in mind, linger there for a few moments. How does being in that holy place (at least in your mind) make you feel? Is God’s presence washing all over you??? I hope so!!!
Now I want to divert our thinking just a little bit. In church this coming Sunday November 1st, I’m going to spend some time talking about Jacob’s story. You remember Jacob, don’t you? He’s the younger brother of Esau; a trickster whose actions garnered his brother’s birthright and his father’s blessing which should have gone to the elder Esau. He is also the one whose name was changed to Israel after an encounter with God.
It is in Genesis 28:16 that we read the following: When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” This revelation comes to Jacob after the vivid dream in which Jacob sees a ladder going up into the heavens in which messengers of God are using the ladder to go back and forth from heaven to earth to carry out God’s plan. Indeed, this was a vivid and awesome dream, but Jacob’s response has been on my mind all week long.
As Christians, you and I believe God has promised to be with us always and He will never leave or forsake us. We believe we have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit to dwell within us; to encourage comfort and direct us…Or to say it another way, God is ALWAYS PRESENT with us. Whether we are at one of the places I mentioned above, the place(s) you envisioned in your mind OR at the grocery store, at home with the family, at work, at a football game, at a hospital awaiting surgery, taking out the trash, walking the dog, in your garage changing the oil in your car, in the craft room making your favorite craft or the endless other places we might be, GOD IS PRESENT with us. Correct?
If you indeed believe this to be true (I do), then there are a lot more holy places than we may have thought. The truth is that anytime and ANYWHERE can be a holy place; a place where we encounter the Divine. Maybe the need for us is to develop a greater sense of God’s presence in the ordinary. Sure we “expect” and believe God is present with us during the extraordinary moments of our life but in truth God is always there!!! Every place can be a holy place.
As November begins and with it, the busyness of the holiday season approaches, my prayer for each of us is that we might be able slow down enough through each and every day to acknowledge and celebrate God’s presence with us. And in doing so, may we each be encouraged, comforted, directed, affirmed or whatever else we might need from our loving Father in Heaven!!!
No matter what, GOD IS WITH YOU!!!! Praise the Lord!!!
Grace and Peace to you all,
As I write this article on this the first day of October, it is a pleasant 55 degrees outside. Even though it will get up to the mid 80’s today, the fall weather has finally reached us and it appears as though it is here to stay for a while.
With fall comes not only cooler weather but fall sports in our schools including our undefeated Cougar football team. If you are a professional sports fan, fall brings this year’s baseball, hockey and basketball playoffs. Stores are already decorated for the fall and already prepared for the coming of Halloween later this month. Soon leaves will be turning colors and falling, sprinklers systems will be able to be turned off and the weekly task of mowing will be put aside until the spring of 2021.
Spring of 2021??? Wow, we are three fourths of the way through 2020; a year like no other I’ve seen in my lifetime and you might very well feel the same. But getting back to thoughts of fall, one of the other things that comes to mind for me each year as fall rolls around is that fall is a perfect time to pause and reflect all that has transpired in our lives over the past year and to begin looking ahead and prayerfully consider what the coming year might look like.
As many of you know, I will be leaving town later today to spend a few days away. The reason
I give for taking time off is that it’s the opening weekend of deer season. In truth, yes, I love deer hunting and all that this entails but there is much more to these few days than sitting in a deer blind waiting for the magnificent large buck to come into view.
For me, the opening weekend of deer season has also become a very spiritual endeavor as well. Aside from enjoying the magnificent beauty of God’s creation (the sights, sounds and smells) while walking to or sitting in my deer stand, these days also serve as the beginning of my annual year end personal reflections; prayers to God to allow me to see clearly the blessings of the previous year, to seek Godly wisdom for both my personal and professional life (what have I learned in the past year and where is the Spirit leading in the coming year).
I find this time to be one that Restores, Replenishes and Renews my mind, body and spirit and helps better prepare me for that which lies ahead in the future; for that which God calls me to be and calls me to do. My hope and prayer is that each of you reading this might also find some time to engage in reflecting on God’s presence in your life this year and what God desires of you in the coming year.
To be clear this time can “look” much different than what my time looks like. For me, I find the outdoors as an especially good place to commune with God; to talk and listen and to feel God’s presence surrounding me. What places and/or spaces do you feel God’s presence the most? Can you carve out some time where you and God can talk? Are you personally in need of some Restoration, Replenishing and Renewing of your mind, body and spirit? If so, what are you going to do about it? I hope you will sit with those questions for a little bit and pray that God would speak to your heart and mind…
This Sunday October 4th is Communion Sunday, World Communion Sunday. In my absence, Dr. Leah S. Hidde-Gregory, our Central District Superintendent, will be delivering the sermon and presiding over Holy Communion.
As of last Sunday, we have resumed our 8:30 and 11:00 AM in-person worship services and we will celebrate Holy Communion at both of these services. We hope you can attend and participate in this Holy Sacrament. I realize many of you do not yet feel comfortable returning to in-person worship services and we certainly understand your decision not to do so.
With this in mind, if you are unable to attend one of our worship services this coming Sunday and thus unable to participate in Holy Communion and would like me to come to your home to share Holy Communion with you, please let me know. Simply reply to this email and we will have a conversation as to when it would be best for me to stop by.
John Wesley referred to the Sacrament of Holy Communion as the “Grand Channel” of God’s grace and we want to afford every opportunity for you to participate in this Holy meal.
Grace and Peace to you all,
We are SO VERY EXCITED TO BE BACK this Sunday September 27, 2020. We will be resuming in-person worship services at both 8:30 and 11:00 am. We will also continue live-streaming on our Facebook page as well as our YouTube channel.
Please remember the protocols our Administrative Council and Trustees have put in place which include:
- temperature checks at entrance
- hand sanitizing stations
- mask wearing throughout service
- physical distancing in the Sanctuary
We are also asking all persons to sign a waiver, indicating they understand the inherent risks associated with gathering with others in the midst of a pandemic.
After further consultation with our insurance carrier, we have a new and more simple waiver that we will using moving forward (no need to fill out this new one if you’ve already filled out the other waiver). Simply click the text below which contains a link to the waiver. Fill it out and please bring it with you to church on Sunday and give to one of the ushers.
We greatly appreciate your understanding of the protocols we have put in place and we look forward to worshipping with you in-person VERY SOON!
This past Sunday, there were seventy-three of us who gathered in person for worship in the north end of our property (what a witness to those in our community who passed by on either China Spring or Yankie Road).
It was HOT and it was HUMID but…WHAT A JOY it was to gather again with so many whose face I’d not seen in months or if I had seen, it was probably on a computer screen. I know there were many who for very good reasons were not present but watched online. I hope and pray that each of you felt as blessed as I did on Sunday
I am deeply appreciative, as are others who I’ve talked with, for all the work it took to put on the outdoor worship service. Thanks to everyone for their efforts to make this happen.
I’ve already been asked when we might do this again because it was enjoyed so much. While I don’t have an answer, we WILL do it again. As most of you know, our Administrative Council and Trustees will be meeting Tuesday September 8th to discuss how are community is doing as it relates to Covid-19 and when we might resume our in-person worship services. Please keep this meeting in your thoughts and prayers as we seek to make wise decisions based not only on the most current information available to us but based on the leading of the Holy Spirit.
As it relates to another outdoor worship service, regardless of whether we resume in-person worship services, we will look at doing more in the future…maybe even another time besides Sunday morning so those that have to work on Sunday mornings each week would be able to join us as well.
Hopefully you’ve already heard, but if not, let me share some ways in which you can join with myself and others in growing in our faith.These ways include our existing Tuesday morning Ladies Bible study which meet each week on Tuesdays at 9:00 am via Zoom, Tuesday Night Faith Conversations meeting on Zoom each Tuesday at 8:00 pm and a weeklong discussion online via our website. Each of these discussions will center on, at least in part, the primary passage of Scripture which will be used in worship on the following Sunday.
This will give opportunities to each of us in our church family to focus our conversations each week, and in the process, learn from one another and by the power of the Holy Spirit and grace of God to grow in our faith. If you want more information regarding these opportunities, let me know. I’d love to have a conversation from you.
I hope you will prayerfully consider joining in one or more of these opportunities…
Grace and Peace to you all,
Since nearly the beginning of this year, our lives have been dramatically changed and our daily routines altered. I could list all the changes that have occurred, but you don’t need me to do that because you are living it each and every day. With these changes to our lives we often feel uncertain, anxious and yes even fearful. With the new school year beginning soon and the ever changing “plan” for how to do this safely comes new anxieties and new fears.
To be clear, the human creation was given the full range of emotions we have, and these emotions are not to be discounted or looked upon as a sign of weakness. In fact, the emotions we were created with and experience on a daily basis are ones that often tend to guide and direct and raise our sense of awareness as to what’s going on and what we should do.
With that said, an important part of dealing with the full range of human emotions we experience and discerning what “to do” with these emotions is experienced through prayer. It is through prayer that God speaks to our hearts and minds and helps us know what to do…or not do.
Remember with me the words Paul wrote to the church in Philippi found in Philippians 4:6-7 as it comes from Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase in The Message: Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life.
Whether it is experiences and/or decisions we are faced with today in the midst of a pandemic or other experiences and/or decisions we will face throughout life’s journey, there will always be things that can cause the full range of human emotion from sorrow to joy, from peace to fear and so on. In the midst of all those things, one thing remains a constant and that is the love God has for you and the desire that you and I always feel His presence.
With all the above said, let me ask a question. How is your prayer life? Is it one that involves daily (maybe even throughout the day) conversations with God that help you center your life and feel the peace that surpasses all understanding? Or is your prayer life rather dry and you only engage in conversations with God in times of deep need or stress? Or is it somewhere in the middle of those two?
Whatever your answer to the above questions might be, please know that I am praying for each of you and your families. Praying not just for your own health and well-being (physical, emotional and spiritual) but praying one of the blessings of this pandemic will be a more rich and robust prayer life…drawing you closer to your Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer…
Grace and Peace to you all,
Remember with me the poignant words of King Solomon found in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8:
There’s a season for everything and a time for every matter under the heavens: 2 a time for giving birth and a time for dying, a time for planting and a time for uprooting what was planted, 3 a time for killing and a time for healing, a time for tearing down and a time for building up, 4 a time for crying and a time for laughing, a time for mourning and a time for dancing, 5 a time for throwing stones and a time for gathering stones, a time for embracing and a time for avoiding embraces, 6 a time for searching and a time for losing, a time for keeping and a time for throwing away, 7 a time for tearing and a time for repairing, a time for keeping silent and a time for speaking, 8 a time for loving and a time for hating, a time for war and a time for peace.
For those who have already seen the video that was posted on Facebook yesterday or who have heard through the grapevine that beginning this Sunday July 5th, we are once again temporarily suspending our gathering for in-person worship services, we might want to add: “a time to draw close and a time to distance, a time to worship in person and a time to worship apart…”
Even before this decision was made, there were many of us who did not yet feel comfortable returning for in person worship. This is certainly understandable as each of us is faced each and every day with important decisions on what to do or not to do in order to protect the safety and well-being of ourselves and our family.
As I’ve conversed with people over the last couple months, there has certainly been a great longing for people to be able connect with another in person and substitutes for this have been made through technology and other creative methods. However, what has grieved my heart is that in some of my discussions there has been a feeling of losing one’s connection with God because of the inability to gather in our Sanctuary with friends and family to worship Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
While I too long for the days of our entire church family being able to join together in worship; to pass the Peace of Christ with one another, to join our voices in songs of praise and prayer, to collectively attune our ears, hearts and minds to special music, the reading of Scripture and hearing the Word of God proclaimed, let us not forget that we love and serve a God who is omnipresent. To say it another way, we love and serve a God who is present everywhere and with everyone all at the same time.
For those who might be struggling to feel God’s presence in your life during this unprecedented time, let me share with you a few verses that I pray bring you comfort, hope and assurance. From Deuteronomy 31:8: “It is the Lord who goes before you. He will be with you; he will not fail you or forsake you. Do not fear or be dismayed.” From Isaiah 41:10: “Do not fear, for I am with you, do not be afraid, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand.” And of course, there are Jesus’s words in the second half of verse 20 of Chapter 28 (a part of the Great Commission): “I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age.”
I hope these powerful words from Scripture not only bring you comfort, hope and assurance but that they do such in such a way that you can’t keep this Good News to yourself but in fact you are compelled to share this with others!!!
My thoughts and prayers are with you ALL. If you have need please don’t hesitate to reach out to me either by email: firstname.lastname@example.org or on my cell phone at 214-803-3609.
Grace and Peace to you all,