My parents were quite upset with me when shortly after graduating high school I moved across the country from New Jersey to California, where I knew only one person—a girl I had met only briefly. In retrospect, they were hurt by seeing the move as a personal rejection. But, my grandmother saw the move correctly as my need for a positive change in my life, my friends, my choices. She set out to emotionally support me and bring me comfort through mutual and regular letter-writing. Her letters often included articles, scripture, and spiritual devotions. I always knew that one special gift from my grandmother had a powerful--yet subtle--statement for me; but I hadn’t gained its full significance in my life until Carley’s story prompted me to investigate that clanging sound further.
from her friend, Ethel Sorg (all the jewelry predated 1899, since that was when Ethel married and changed her last name). My grandmother confessed that she mainly purchased the engraved items so she could gift me with her pieces, as Ethel’s maiden initials “ES” were the same as mine (for Emily Snyder). Just before I moved to California, my grandmother gave me the locket (see picture) on a thick chain with a card which included an explanation for the “Mizpah” engraved on its reverse: "The LORD watch between me and thee, when we are absent one from another" (Genesis 31:49). I’ve always treasured this locket and that verse.
In this Genesis story, Jacob and Laban set up a pile of stones as a watchtower—or Mizpah--for their promise to each other with God as their witness. I also knew that Grandmom’s sharing of this verse with me was a significant symbol for the bond between us: even though we would be across the country from each other, the Lord would be watching over us. That symbolism fully “clicked” upon hearing Carley’s story
As we begin Advent, I celebrate the coming of the Christ Child into my life. He is my Mizpah, my watchtower, my bridge until I come face-to-face with God. He is always there, has always been there—even when I didn’t fully know Him—watching over me.
I’ve been blessed with an ever-faithful grandmother who very subtly guided my early spiritual growth. And, I’ve been blessed by an ever-faithful God who has loved me and knew me before I was even born. 16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. (1 John 4:16)
Let’s all rejoice together as we prepare and celebrate the coming of Christ into the world!
Your friend in Christ,
to find the ferry. They are convinced the If Only River separates them from the good life.
If only I were thinner, I’d have the good life.
If only I were richer, I’d have the good life.
If only the kids would come. If only the kids were gone. If only I could leave home, move home, get married, get divorced.
If only my skin were clear of pimples, my calendar free of people, my profession immune to layoffs, then I would have the good life.
The If Only River.
This Thanksgiving, are you standing on its shore? Does it seem that the good life is always one if only away? One purchase away? One promotion away? One election, transition, or romance away?
If so, then we’ve traced your anxiety back to one of its sources. You’re in a hurry to cross the river and worried that you never will. Consequently, you work long hours, borrow more money, take on new projects, and pile on more responsibilities. Stress. Debt. Short nights. Long days. All part of the ticket cost to the land of the good life, right?
Not exactly, opined the Apostle Paul. The good life begins, not when circumstances change, but when our attitude toward them does. Look again at his antidote for anxiety. “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6).
Paul embedded two essential words into the verse that deserve special attention: with thanksgiving. Sprinkled among the phrases of Help me… Please give me… Won’t you show me… are two wonderful words— Thank you.
Gratitude is a mindful awareness of the benefits of life. It is the greatest of virtues. Studies have linked the emotion with a variety of positive effects. Grateful people tend to be more empathetic and forgiving of others. People who keep a gratitude journal are more likely to have a positive outlook on life. Grateful individuals demonstrate less envy, materialism and self-comparison. Thankfulness improves self-esteem, enhances relationships, quality of sleep, and longevity.
If it came in pill form, gratitude would be deemed the miracle cure. It’s no wonder, then, that, God’s anxiety therapy includes a large, delightful dollop of gratitude.
Gratitude leads us off the river bank of “if only” and escorts us into the fertile valley of “already.” The anxious heart says, “Lord, if only I had this, that, or the other, I’d be ok.” The grateful heart says, “Oh, look! You’ve already given me this, that, and the other. Thank you, God.”
On Thanksgiving, as you gather around a table with friends and family, instead of looking at what you don’t have, look at your blessings.
Do you see any friends? Family? Do you see any grace from God? Love of God? Do you see any gifts? Abilities or talents? Skills?
As you look at your blessings, take note of what happens. Anxiety grabs his bags and slips out the back door. Worry refuses to share the heart with gratitude. One heartfelt “thank you” will suck the oxygen out of worry’s world. So say it often. Focus more on what you do have and less on what you don’t.
Years ago I lived on a houseboat that was docked on the Miami River in Miami, Florida. The level of the river would rise and fall with the tide. It rocked back and forth with the river traffic. But though the level changed and the boat rocked, it never drifted. Why? Because the boat was securely anchored.
What about you?
Anchor your heart to the character of God. Your boat will rock. Moods will come and go. Situations will fluctuate and change. But will you be left adrift on the Atlantic of despair? No, for you have found a contentment that endures the storm.
No more if only. It is the petri dish in which anxiety thrives. Replace your if only with already. Look what you already have. Treat each anxious thought with a grateful one and prepare yourself for a new day of joy.
© Max Lucado
Visit the Max Lucado website for this and other wonderful messages.
Interestingly, during perhaps the most stressful part of our year, my husband Scott and I were closer than we had ever been during our (almost) 11 years of marriage and 13-year relationship. Why, I wondered? I was working from home, Scott was laid off, his unemployment benefits were never approved leaving us in a financial crisis, we were teaching Sawyer and Emmett from home, and we had just lost our Maddy dog after 10 years of companionship. May was a rough month! Despite every opportunity for us to argue and fight, our relationship was stronger and more vibrant than ever. So what was this “secret sauce” (as Craig would say) that was making our relationship so strong?
I have concluded that it was time. I don’t believe we even put in more effort, we simply had LOADS of time together. Time spent relaxing without the hustle and bustle of our busy schedules, time spent binge-watching Netflix, and time spent play board games--LOTS of board games. We spent time hiking and taking walks, evenings were spent cooking at home instead of eating on the run between activities or obligations. Even as I sit here now, I think, man! I wish we could go back to that place and time. AM I CRAZY OR WHAT?!
All of this reflection got me thinking: what if we allowed ourselves ample time to strengthen our relationship with Christ? Would time allow us to be closer than ever to our Lord and Savior? I think it would. The Bible says, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:5). Of course, we want to bear fruit, and here it says without Christ we are basically useless fruit-bearers. But there is also a challenge in this passage: Remain in me. How can we do that? Bill Delvaux offers an excellent summary of just what it means to remain in Christ:
“The key action is to ‘remain.’ It is translated in different ways: to stay, to abide, to live, to live in union. I like to state it this way: ‘If you stay at home in me and I stay at home in you, you will bear much fruit.’ Jesus is to be so much a part of our daily existence that He feels like home. Talking to Him becomes like talking to your best friend. Being with Him is like being at home on your favorite couch.
“We become like Jesus and do His great deeds not by trying harder or pumping up some kind of spiritual energy. We do all of this by simply staying at home with Him. Bearing fruit then just happens—because it’s ultimately His fruit, not ours.
“To make this point even stronger, Jesus concludes this verse by stating the same truth in the negative: There is nothing you can do in terms of bearing fruit by yourself. Nothing. Zero. Zip. Let that sink in. It will change you.”
WOW! Bill says, “Stay at home in me and I will stay at home in you.” In a time when we are likely staying home quite a lot, it is encouraging to know that our time does not need to be spent in isolation. We have the opportunity to spend ample time in prayer and in the word. Time to build our relationship with Jesus, the person we are guaranteed to have a relationship with forever if we choose to accept the free gift he offers us. I can’t think of a better use of our time.
I encourage you to read the remaining study on this passage here: What Jesus Means by ‘I Am the Vine, You Are the Branches’
In His Name,
every possible outlet to worship the Lord.
As we push forward in our works for God, Satan will do all he can to ruin our plans. 1 Peter 5:8 says, Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour. Once we got the choir reestablished, he quickly reacted with allowing Covid to thin our ranks in the spiritual battle we are facing. During these times, what we as Christians need to do is utilize God’s wisdom that he has sent forth to us. James 1:5 says, If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. Ask God to grant us wisdom so we can fulfill His destiny for us.
2 Timothy 1:7 For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. During this pandemic, I know that for all of us fear of the unknown can bring forth an anxious mind. Wanting to keep ourselves and family safe is everyone’s top priority. The Lord does not want us to live in fear. He encourages us to be wise and seek His wisdom, but not to let fear overcome us. Ephesians 6:10-18 The Whole Armor of God- Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.
As we move forward together as a congregation, we are upgrading our current sanctuary technology in a way that will meet head-on the challenges we are currently facing. For 2021, we are adding in a new set of microphones that are specific to each of our current instruments. There will be new types of choir microphones for when we are able to get our choir and bell choir back together. This will add greatly to our live sound reinforcement and enhanced recordings for both our at-home viewers and in-person attendees. Also, we will be adding a new 4k Ultra High Definition camera with the industry's largest 24mm wide-angle lens to fully capture the entire stage, and which also has the best close-up clarity with its focus assist and image stabilization. I am glad to be able to be a part of such a lovely church community and enjoy finding any new ways to bring us all together in worship. This week, let us all pray for peace and healing amongst the nation.
John 16:33 These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.
In His Name,
serve the event by selling hot dogs, chips and sodas, and donating those funds to this worthy cause. We were able to go ahead with Blessings of the Bikes in late June. Pastor Jennie gave the blessing to those who attended, rode their bikes from City Park to Riverstone Park, and then they were rewarded additionally with ice cream bars.
As Covid cases increased in July and now again in October, the team wisely decided to not host the planned Bike Rodeo (July) and Tent or Treat (October). We know the health and safety of our congregants and the community as a whole are of the highest priority.
In light of these circumstances, we can still find ways to reach out to our community members. Think about a neighbor or friend who may need a phone call to lift their spirits, or possibly some small errand to be completed for them such as a grocery pick-up. Perhaps, a companion to accompany them when they wish not to be alone outside the safe surroundings of their home would be greatly appreciated. Changing times require creative approaches to outreach. I hope in this challenging season of our lives, we can find different and fruitful ways to help in our community showing Love 1st as Jesus would have us do.
Recently a dear friend sent me this uplifting quote. I will close by sharing it with you.
“Do not look forward in fear to the changes in life: rather look to them with full hope, that as they arise, God, whose very own you are, will lead you safely through all things; and when you cannot stand it, God will carry you in His arms.” Saint Francis DeSales.
Community Outreach Chair