"Gratitude is not a limited resource, nor is it costly. It is as abundant as air.” (Marshall Goldsmith)
It’s notable how, once we reach adulthood, so many of our parents’ friends become our own friends. Social media, for all its faults, has given many of us the gift of staying connected with long-time family friends across the miles. One of those friends for me is a man named Robert who with his wife and children, was our next-door neighbor when I was growing up. Robert has “friended” many of us neighborhood kids and former church youth on his Facebook account in his retirement, and in this way, he keeps up with the happenings in our lives.
As Facebook users will know, there are different reaction buttons you can choose from to respond to a friend’s post. Most people simply click the “Like” button for a post on a friend’s page, unless the post is something that really touches their heart. An interesting thing about Robert, though, is that Robert clicks “Love” on just about everything; every bit of family news, every remembrance of a loved one now passed, every accomplishment, and every attempt at words of wisdom. On any of these things, Robert clicks the “Love” button. He also frequently adds the comment, “I thank my God every time I remember you.” Philippians 1:3 “Love you.”
What Robert is quoting are words of the apostle, Paul, to members of a congregation he loved. "I thank my God every time I remember you," Paul says, "constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now." As Paul is imprisoned and awaiting trial because of his persistent testimony of Jesus Christ, he recalls with fondness those who have shared in his risky confession of faith. "I am confident of this," Paul says, "that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ." (Philippians 1:3-6)
As I am concluding my time as pastor, my overriding thoughts are ones of gratitude. I am grateful to have spent these past four years with the people of Hebron Church, I am grateful for the shared work God has accomplished among us and through us during this time, and I am grateful for the expressions of kindness and support I have received. Our God is the Great Multiplier, and it is my prayer that God will take our efforts and multiply them for the good of God’s Kingdom on this earth for many years to come.
My parting hope for Hebron Church is that as part of the Body of Christ, you will always choose “Love;” and that you will remember that gratitude to God for his salvation and blessings is the air you breathe that will give you life. As I follow God’s lead to new ministry, I will thank my God every time I remember you.
With prayers for your journey,
I hope you are enjoying the first hints of Spring we’ve been experiencing. My sister jokingly refers to this time of year as, “The Spring of Deception.” Cold weather isn’t usually done with us at the beginning of March, but we can certainly feel Spring coming. As the days grow longer and the air grows warmer, I can feel my spirit lifting.
Another thing this time of year brings us as Christians, is the beginning of the Lenten season. We get ahead of ourselves sometimes by starting our Easter celebration too soon, without taking time to look inward and reflect on the suffering and sacrifice of Jesus. Lent is meant to be for us a time of self-reflection and personal sacrifice, as we remember the final days of Jesus’ journey toward the Cross.
I’ve chosen for my Lenten messages this year to draw from a book on forgiveness, by Marjorie Thompson. She leads us through a process of self-examination, honesty, repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Thompson sees the act of forgiveness as a means of freedom in the Christian life, and I would tend to agree with her. There are few things more freeing than unloading a burden of resentment that we’ve carried for many years. But forgiving is hard, because it calls on us to do some work on ourselves, first, in order to forgive others.
Years ago, New Testament scholar F.F. Bruce wrote a book called, Hard Sayings of Jesus. I don’t remember all the “hard sayings” Bruce discusses; but one that’s on my own list is some words of Jesus found in the 6th chapter of Matthew. They come in the context of Jesus’ teaching about prayer. Matthew says Jesus taught us to pray:
"… forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors." Matthew 6:12, NRSV
And then, Matthew tells us that Jesus said: "For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." If ever there was a “hard saying” of Jesus, this is certainly one of them. How many of us live with resentment toward someone we feel has wronged us, or who has wronged a person we love? Sometimes, the grudge we bear may even be against God, over things we feel God could have done, but didn’t.
So, what are we to do with these grudges and resentments that are like weights that we carry? I believe that it’s truly only God’s empowerment through the Holy Spirit that enables us to forgive. The more we are able to understand ourselves as beloved by God, the more we are able to see others in the same way, even those who have hurt us.
During this season of Lent, when we are called to self-reflection, I hope you will join us in worship as we consider God’s process for forgiveness and reconciliation. Along with the coming of Spring, letting go of old hurts and resentments will lift your spirit, as you await once again, the promise of the Resurrection.
With prayers for your journey,
Before I was Presbyterian, and after I was a Baptist, I was a Methodist for a while. For eight years while I lived in Winston-Salem, NC, I was an active member of Ardmore United Methodist Church, where my husband and I were married. My husband was raised in a Methodist congregation, so he was familiar with all things Methodist. But for me, there were many things that were new. For one thing, I’d never been exposed to the idea of the “Liturgical Year” with its different seasons of church life and worship. I’d never heard of “Lent” or “Advent” before, though many Baptist congregations have since begun to observe these seasons of preparation for Easter and Christmas Day. I wasn’t accustomed to written liturgy in worship, though I quickly came to appreciate it. The Lord’s Supper took on heightened meaning for me as I celebrated it for the first time on my knees, shoulder-to-shoulder with other worshippers as we knelt on benches at the front of the sanctuary.
One thing that particularly stands out in my memory, even all these years later, is an affirmation that was used at the baptism of a child. John Wesley, in whose work the Methodist churches have their origin, was known for his love of order and “method” in discipleship, as well as for his passion for sharing the gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ. It is no surprise that in a Methodist congregation one would hear the word “order” in an affirmation of faith. Each time a child was baptized, the congregation was invited to make the following affirmation:
“With God’s help, we will so order our lives after the example of Christ, that this child, surrounded by steadfast love, may be established in the faith, and confirmed and strengthened in the way that leads to life eternal.”
Have you ever had a moment in a worship service, when a certain phrase just grabs you and then never lets you go? That happened to me in the hearing of that affirmation. "With God’s help, we will so order our lives" has rested in my memory for all these years since. To “order” one’s life after the example of Christ speaks of intentionality in the living out of one’s faith. The words of this affirmation are especially directed to the experience of children in the congregational setting and in the community where they live. To “order” our lives as Christian adults means to use our time and our resources in ways that surround children and teens with examples of the steadfast love of God, that help to establish them in the Christian faith, and that strengthen them toward eternal life with God.
This “ordering” of our lives in faithfulness to Christ extends beyond the walls of the Church, but it is rooted in our practice of regular worship, study of the Bible, and prayer. It is, after all, “with God’s help” that you and I will be able to prioritize our time and the use of our resources in ways that shepherd our children and that build up the Body of Christ. There is nothing that is so important as this, despite all the other things that tug at our time, our energy, and our money.
With prayers for your journey,
“For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” (Ephesians 2:10, NRSV)
Someone sent me a terrific television commercial a few days ago. It’s from a German pharmacy company and apparently came out late last year. It’s been shared widely via the Internet, but I had not seen it until recently. It starts out with an older man going to his storage shed and uncovering an old kettlebell. He tries to lift it but can barely get it off the ground. He’s obviously disappointed with himself, that he can’t do any better. But every morning, he wakes up and goes to practice lifting that kettlebell. His neighbors are watching and wondering what he’s up too - especially when he drops the kettlebell and loudly cries out in frustration over his lack of strength. But he keeps at it. Every morning, before he lifts the kettlebell, he places a framed photo where he can see it, though we the viewers can’t see what’s in the frame.
The season changes and there is snow on the ground, and finally, this determined man can lift his heavy kettlebell. In the next scene we see, he has donned a suit and tie, and arrives at his daughter’s house for Christmas. With a special present in hand, he spies his young granddaughter coming down the stairs. He helps her to open the box, and inside is a large golden star for the top of the Christmas tree. Then this man who was weak but who has worked to make himself strong, lifts his granddaughter just as he lifted his kettlebell all those months, and holds her up while she places the star on her family’s tree. The last frame we see is the photo he’s been looking at all these months, a picture of his granddaughter.
It’s amazing what any of us can accomplish when we have the right motivation. I remember hearing my mother say that if you don’t use the gifts that God has given, you’ll lose them. My recollection is that this was a ploy to get me to practice my piano or sing in church, something she thought I should be doing. But the saying is often true; “You use it, or you lose it.” There’s a quote I keep in a note on my phone that says, “What idea has left you because you failed to act on it?” What idea may have left you because you failed to act on it?
As I’m writing this, we are three weeks away from the Christmas holiday, and not too much further away from the day that many of us will make New Year’s resolutions. Even if you don’t make formal resolutions, it’s likely that you’ll give some thought to how you want to live in this coming year. Is there a gift or ability that is gathering dust in the “outbuilding” of your life? Maybe it’s something you have done or used in the past, but now you are out of shape or out of practice. Maybe it’s a talent or ability you have never used; one of those good ideas that may eventually leave you if you don’t act on it. It can be tough to resurrect an old ability or to put a gift or talent to use for the first time. But even tougher is the regret you will feel if you never act on a prompting of the Spirit to make use of the potential that God has given to you.
The writer of Ephesians was speaking to the Christian community when he wrote that “we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works…” But these words are just as true of you and me as individuals as they are of the community. What gift or ability or potential from the Lord are you being called to make use of, right now?
With prayers for your journey,