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December 7, 2020

Giving Opportunities: Ways To Be The Church This Christmas

Devotional for Monday, December 7
Hello Brothers and Sisters!
Pastor Andrew here with some encouragement and thoughts.  I’ve been thinking a lot about grace lately. More specifically how to posture grace in a world full of injustice, inequality, frustration, and pain. And even more specifically as we press into this new sermon series on the Art of Neighboring, we are sure to come face to face with different belief systems and different understandings of how the world works. Whether its with COVID, politics, religion, or any other thing that tends to tear us apart.
Here’s the thing about grace: it’s not ours to give. The Bible tells us that Grace is a gift given to us. God is the author of grace, and that means that grace isn’t just a nice gesture we offer to others, it’s something core to our identity and in our relationships with others. If we have been given grace even while dead in sin, it’s only right that we should be be conduits of God’s grace to others no matter how we feel about them or about any given situation.
Grace is most difficult when dealing with conflict, when wrestling with convictions, and when coming face to face to face with injustice. I struggle with grace every day. Whether it’s as simple as our dog wanting to play more often than I’m willing, or responding to hard situations. Here’s the second thing I want you to know about grace: it’s not driven by emotion.
Grace is not a product of emotion or compassion or anything else; it’s a refusal to allow yourself to see others as anything less than they are: children of God.  As you engage with your neighbors, I promise you’ll come face to face with the temptation to see others as less. Resist that urge. There are two practices I’d like to ask you to try out. They are things I’m absolutely awful at, but they are so vital to our faith journey.
1.       Assume the best intentions in others.
2.       Assume others are a gift to you.
It’s easy to assume intentions and hearts, but if you assume the best intentions in others, you will find yourself smiling more and you’ll find that you were probably wrong in your assumptions. It’s also easy to see others as a ‘project’ rather than as a gift. If it’s true that we are all image bearers, then simply engaging in relationship with others is an incredible blessing! That starts by seeing others as a blessing and by assuming they have the best of intentions in their actions…
I don’t do grace well, but I believe we have all been given grace, and it’s only right to practice grace with others. I must admit that I receive grace from others MUCH more often than I offer it. Let’s be a people to change that.

With peace,
Pastor Andrew

Devotional for Tuesday, December 8

Hello!  Sue here with your devotional for Tuesday, December 8, the second week of Advent.

I have found myself reflecting on the changes in the past 10 months as I sit in my living room enjoying my Christmas decorations.  Christmas has always given me great joy, mostly in the family gatherings, decorations and giving of gifts.  But this year I have had to hold on to hope in a different way.  “I will sing of your steadfast love, Lord, forever; with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations.” Psalm 89:1

Few things have stretched my understanding of God’s faithfulness to all generations than the past year. A wonderful Advent celebration in 2019 followed by a Lenten season that found us wondering if the world would ever be the same again. Our solemn gatherings grew silent as we gathered online and, for the first time in my lifetime, Easter was celebrated without every seat in the sanctuary filled and “Christ The Lord Is Risen Today” being sung as loud as the congregation could manage.

We have entered a new day. We find ourselves in the middle of Advent again and a new normal has taken hold. We have had to adapt to a new way of living together and protecting one another, a new awareness of how to share our love, and in the midst of this beginning to the Christian year we are once again reminded that God’s faithfulness is to all generations. Even in the darkest hours light shines through and God is faithful to us as we gather and as we worship and we hope and find Joy in new beginnings, in the God made flesh, in the Christ Child. Christmas is coming and the miracle of birth brings Joy and wonder to us all, let us remember that even the darkness of the past year will not overcome the light that has been brought into the world and that we can proclaim God’s faithfulness to all generations.

All this has brought me to a story with an ending that has been my vision statement for my life for a very long time.  You may have heard this story before, but the ending is so appropriate for the times that we are in.

I arrived at the address and honked the horn. After waiting a few minutes, I honked again. Since this was going to be my last ride of my shift, I thought about just driving away, but instead I put the car in park and walked up to the door and knocked... 'Just a minute', answered a frail, elderly voice. I could hear something being dragged across the floor. 
After a long pause, the door opened. A small woman in her 90's stood before me. She was wearing a print dress and a pillbox hat with a veil pinned on it, like somebody out of a 1940's movie. By her side was a small nylon suitcase. The apartment looked as if no one had lived in it for years. All the furniture was covered with sheets. 
There were no clocks on the walls, no knickknacks or utensils on the counters. In the corner was a cardboard box filled with photos and glassware. 
'Would you carry my bag out to the car?' she said. I took the suitcase to the cab, then returned to assist the woman. She took my arm and we walked slowly toward the curb. 
She kept thanking me for my kindness. 'It's nothing', I told her... 'I just try to treat my passengers the way I would want my mother to be treated.' 
'Oh, you're such a good boy, she said. When we got in the cab, she gave me an address and then asked, 'Could you drive through downtown?' 'It's not the shortest way,' I answered quickly. 'Oh, I don't mind,' she said. 'I'm in no hurry. I'm on my way to a hospice. 
I looked in the rear-view mirror. Her eyes were glistening. 'I don't have any family left,' she continued in a soft voice.  'The doctor says I don't have very long.' I quietly reached over and shut off the meter. 'What route would you like me to take?' I asked. 
For the next two hours, we drove through the city. She showed me the building where she had once worked as an elevator operator. 
We drove through the neighborhood where she and her husband had lived when they were newlyweds. She had me pull up in front of a furniture warehouse that had once been a ballroom where she had gone dancing as a girl. 
Sometimes she'd ask me to slow in front of a particular building or corner and would sit staring into the darkness, saying nothing. 
As the first hint of sun was creasing the horizon, she suddenly said, 'I'm tired. Let’s go now'.   We drove in silence to the address she had given me. It was a low building, like a small convalescent home, with a driveway that passed under a portico. 
Two orderlies came out to the cab as soon as we pulled up. They were solicitous and intent, watching her every move. They must have been expecting her. I opened the trunk and took the small suitcase to the door. The woman was already seated in a wheelchair. 
'How much do I owe you?' She asked, reaching into her purse.   'Nothing,' I said.  'You have to make a living,' she answered.  'There are other passengers,' I responded. 
Almost without thinking, I bent and gave her a hug. She held onto me tightly. 
'You gave an old woman a little moment of joy,' she said. 'Thank you.' 
I squeezed her hand, and then walked into the dim morning light. Behind me, a door shut. It was the sound of the closing of a life. 
I didn't pick up any more passengers that shift. I drove aimlessly lost in thought. For the rest of that day, I could hardly talk, what if that woman had gotten an angry driver, or one who was impatient to end his shift? What if I had refused to take the run, or had honked once, then driven away? 
On a quick review, I don't think that I have done anything more important in my life. We're conditioned to think that our lives revolve around great moments. But great moments often catch us unaware-beautifully wrapped in what others may consider a small one. 
Shine your light and show God’s love during this season of Advent!

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