A United Methodist Pastor's Theological Reflections

"But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory (nikos) through our Lord Jesus Christ." - I Corinthians 15:57

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Christmas Eve Pastoral Prayer - Athens First UMC

[Our church continues to celebrate the good news of Christ’s birth during these twelve days of Christmas which will conclude on January 6 (Epiphany Sunday.) Below is the pastoral prayer that was shared at our Christmas Eve services. For the Christmas Eve sermon, click 

God of light, thank you for always lighting the way for us and especially for sending us Jesus Christ who is the light of the world. Thank you for all of the candles around the Advent Wreath that remind us that you are always shining the light of hope, peace, joy, and love not just at Christmas time, but every day of the year.

Whenever we face disappointment, grief, sadness, loneliness, confusion, or pain, help us to remember this night of lights. Remind us of this night when we lit the Christ Candle and how beautiful it is when your church shines your light together. 

Thank you that Christmas is real. Hope is real! Peace is real! Joy is real! Love is real! Christ is real!

Tonight, as we lift your light as we sing “Silent Night,” we lift up those who are in need of hope; those who are anxious about the future, those who are hungry, those who are without shelter, those who have experienced disappointment. 

We lift up those who are in need of peace; those who are in places of war and conflict, those who are serving in the armed forces and away from their families, those experiencing broken relationships.

We lift up those who are in need of joy; those who are in prison, those who are tired; those who are ill. 

We lift up those who are in need of love; those who are separated from their families, those who find it hard to forgive themselves, those whose hearts are hardened.

On this holy night, O God, we lift up the light of the Christ Candle on behalf of all these needs as well as others that are on our hearts and minds this night. Amen.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Sermon (Christmas Eve) by Rev. Robert McDowell “Light the Christ Candle!”


   According to an NBC news affiliate which aired a few years ago leading up to the Christmas season, well over half of us prefer an artificial Christian tree instead of a real one. According to this report, only 18% of us are old school when it comes to our Christmas trees.

     My brother happens to part of that 18% and he proudly reminds me of this every single Christmas. He knows that Penny and I sold out a long time ago when it comes to buying real Christmas trees. We think we have a very beautiful Christmas tree, but all he can see are the metal tubes and the fake pine needles.

     I must admit that I’m envious every time I see his 12 foot tall authentic Christmas tree that has been freshly cut down and always includes the delightful smell of pine throughout his house. That’s something you just don’t get with an artificial tree that gets stored in a box year round.

     In one of the churches I pastored, the young adult Sunday School class invited me to a Christmas decorating party that was held in their classroom where they met at the church. When I arrived, they had punch and cookies and after about ten minutes, somebody said, “Let’s start decorating.” 

     I watched as a couple of the class members walked to a nearby storage closet and carried out an artificial Christmas tree that still had the lights and the decorations on it from the previous year. They stood up the tree in the corner of their classroom, plugged in the lights, and someone yelled out, “That should take care of it! Help yourself to some more punch and cookies.” 

     I guess there is something to be said for real Christmas trees.

     Whether you have a real Christmas tree or an artificial one isn’t really the point. The real question is if our faith is real or not.  

     The Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke is all about keeping it real. The gospel writer reminds us that God risked everything by sending us Jesus. 

     The one who would be given the title the King of Kings was first born in the shadow of the mighty Roman Emperor Augustus who claimed this title for himself. 

     The one who would go on to heal the sick, calm the storm, and feed the multitude would first be placed in a feeding trough of all places upon his birth.  

     And the one who would face rejection and betrayal, would be turned away at his birth because there was no room in the inn.

     Yes, the Christmas story itself is a story that helps us to keep it real. It doesn’t get any more real than this. Real people. Real animals. Real fear. Real risk.

     Over the past several Sundays here in church, we have been lighting the Advent Candles. Traditionally, these candles stand for hope, peace, joy, and love. When we shine these lights, it helps us to keep Christmas real, not fake.

     During the first Sunday of Advent, we looked at how we can keep Christmas real by lighting the candle of hope. George Iles once said, “Hope is faith holding out its hand in the dark.” A little later in our service, we will be doing just that. We will be lifting our lights in the dark of the sanctuary and the hope of Christ will bring light to this place.

     To help make hope more real, some of us have been doing some fridge journaling where every time we open the refrigerator we jot down on a note pad, a time when God got us through what seemed at the time like a hopeless situation.

     And then we were given the challenge to share some of these experiences of hope with the people around us. Sharing hope with others is a way to keep Christmas real.

     On the second Sunday of Advent, we lit the candle of peace. When we put our focus on Christ, rather than only on the sentimental surface meaning of Christmas, we experience a deeper sense of God’s peace in our lives. 

     Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal.” One of the ways we can keep it real this Christmas is by seeking peace rather than division. We will discover that it’s when we are actively seeking peace, that we will experience a peace that passes all understanding.

     On the third Sunday of Advent, we lit the candle of joy. That’s why one of the candles around the Advent wreath is pink and not blue like all the others. Blue reminds us to patiently wait for the coming of Christmas, but the color pink reminds us that we can experience joy along the journey. 

     The pink candle represents the third Sunday of Advent leading up to Christmas. The church refers to this Sunday of Advent as Gaudete Sunday. Gaudete is a Latin word that means “Rejoice.”

     Helen Keller once said, “Joy is the holy fire that keeps our purpose warm and our intelligence aglow.” If you want to keep Christmas real, just look around at how God is at work in our world, and you this will lead you to a Gaudete moment of rejoicing.

     And yesterday which was the fourth Sunday of Advent, we lit the candle of love. It’s when we share the love of Jesus that we experience the deepest kind of love there is. This love is an unconditional love that accepts us for who we are and loves us just the way we are.

     Morrie Schwartz once said, “The most important thing in life is to learn how to give out love and let it come in.”

     I see so many examples of people sharing God’s love through our church and it’s all because God’s love is just too incredible to keep to ourselves. It’s the kind of love that fills us and we can’t help but to share it with the people around us.

     If you are looking to keep it real this Christmas, just remember to always light the candles of Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love. These Advent Candles remind us of how we can keep it real this Christmas and beyond.

     One year leading up to Christmas, the church I was serving at the time donated Christmas gifts to several needy families in the community much like we do here. It’s a wonderful thing when churches do this.

     One of the people we helped for Christmas that year was a man in his 50s who shared this letter with the church. If anything can help us keep Christmas real this year, it would be this man’s letter. Here’s what he wrote and these are totally his words:

     “I receive disability and both kids live with me right now.  Me and my wife separated a year ago.

     My wife had a mental breakdown and had to stay in a hospital for a while and we both agreed that it would be best for the kids to live with me but while my wife was in and out of the hospitals, me and the kids were homeless and we stayed in a shelter for a couple of months and recently received help to get me and my kids into an apartment.

     From April to July, me and the kids have lived in a tent, took baths in creek water, cook food over an open fire. Community Action helped us get into an apartment.

     In September, I had a heart attack and found out I have a big blood clot in my heart.  They say I have not got much time so I hope that this Christmas will be a good one for me and the kids. The kids and I don’t have much but at least we have a home thanks to people who have helped us.”

     I called this dad to let him know that I received his letter and that our church was glad to help them for Christmas. I offered him words of support and shared in a prayer with him, reminding him that God was with him and that God loved him. He kept thanking our church over and over again during that phone call.

     After I hung up the phone, I remember thinking that Christmas never felt more real to me than it did in that moment. And I know it had something to do with our church lighting the candles of hope, peace, joy, and love in helping this family.

     I was on the phone with my insurance company a couple days before Christmas one year. As the person on the other end of the line was pulling up my policy, she noticed that I was a minister. So she said, “So Rob, are you ready for your Christmas Eve services? I mean, this is a really busy time of year for you.”

     Now, this happens occasionally when someone calls me Rob or Bob even though I go by Robert. I didn’t think too much of it.

     And so, I answered her and told her that I was close to being ready. And she said, “Well, that’s great, Rob.”

     Since her computer was slow in pulling up my information she asked me another question just to pass the time. “So, I imagine it would be really hard to preach on Christmas Eve? Don’t you ever run out of something new to say?”

     Now, up until that very moment, I had been feeling pretty good about my Christmas Eve sermon. All of the sudden, I wasn’t so sure anymore. This insurance person on the other end of the line was reminding me that it really is a challenge to think of something new to say about something we have already heard many, many times.

     So I said to her, “Yeah, it’s a challenge, but I think I’m ready again this year.” She said, “Well, that’s good to hear, Rob.”

     As I think back to that conversation, she’s totally right. Never mind that she didn’t call me by my real name during that long and drawn out conversation, but she was so right when she said to me, “So, it must be really hard to preach on Christmas Eve. Don’t you ever run out of something new to say?”

     And the truth is, we preachers are uneasy about Christmas Eve. What can we possibly say that is new and insightful and memorable? What can I possibly say to all of you even though you have probably already heard your share of Christmas Eve sermons?

     And then it dawned on me. I actually do have a fresh message to share with you even though you have heard the story of Christmas a zillion times, most likely. 

     Here’s my super insightful and genius thought to leave with you tonight. Are you ready for this? This is going to totally blow you away. Here’s my genius thought for you to remember, fresh from the Holy Spirit.

     This Christmas, just remember to keep it real.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Sunday Pastoral Prayer (Dec. 23/Advent) Athens First UMC

[Following our Sunday services, Emily Brown shared about her work with the Peace Corps in Uganda. She is home for the holidays. Our theme for this last Sunday of Advent was “Light the Candle of Love.” Click here for the sermon. Emily is a great example of how people in our church are shining God’s love in our community and world even as far away as Uganda. We are proud of you, Emily!]

O God, thank you for our Advent journey these past four weeks and the lighting of the candles of hope, peace, joy, and love. The candles around the Advent Wreath are getting smaller and smaller as they slowly burn down each Sunday during worship but each of those flames continues to shine brightly.

Help us to be like these Advent candles, loving God. We pray that your light of hope, peace, joy, and love would continue to shine for all to see. Help our church to be like a giant candle that provides light and warmth to the people of our community and beyond. We especially pray for all who will come to this place for our Christmas Eve services tomorrow evening that they would be drawn to you as we all hold up our lights as we sing “Silent Night.”

Thank you for our special Christmas missions offering this month that will go to purchase Personal Energy Transportation carts, help start new faith communities in our West Ohio Conference, and closer to home, provide food through the Athens County Food Pantry. O Lord, thank you for all these ways that we are seeking to shine your light in a world that is often filled with darkness.

During this season of Advent, you have reminded us that every single gift we offer in your name helps to make that flame a little brighter. The gifts of inviting someone to church, teaching a Sunday School class, running the sound board, going on a mission trip, folding bulletins, serving a meal, greeting at the door, listening with compassion, offering to pray, picking up litter, delivering flowers, sharing a testimony, making a pledge, sponsoring a radio broadcast, visiting the lonely – all of these gifts are making your flame that much brighter in and through our church.

And whenever we are in need of hope, peace, joy, and love, remind us to pray the words that Jesus taught us to pray together…

“Our Father, who art in heaven…”

Sunday, December 23, 2018

Sermon (Dec. 23/4th Sunday of Advent) by Rev. Robert McDowell “Light the Candle of Love!”


   One of my favorite ice cream shops uses the phrase “Got to Have It” when you want their largest ice cream cone size.  The name for a medium size cone is “Love It.” And the small size is, “Like It.”

     Christmas is definitely a “Gotta Have It” type of holiday. The Christmas story reminds us of a God who was willing to go to all of the trouble of sending his only Son into the world to be our Savior.

     And if we really want to appreciate the true meaning of the Christmas story, we also need to keep in mind the bigger story of what God did for us by sending his only Son. Through his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus offers us four eternal gifts that we have been exploring during this Season of Advent. Jesus offers us hope, peace, joy, and love. God went to great lengths to offer us these eternal gifts.

     During this holy season, it’s important for us to pause and consider the costly love that God poured out for us by sending us Jesus. In our Gospel reading for today, Joseph is visited by an angel who explains to him that he is to name Mary’s son, “Jesus” for he will save his people from their sins. This costly love led Jesus to go so far as to die on a cross so that we might have the hope, peace, joy, and love, that God intends for us to have.

     This is exactly why Mickey Huber, an EMT did what he did so heroically during the recent wildfires that destroyed Paradise, Californi. Those fires the deadliest in state history, and the worst in the U.S. in a century, with 86 persons lost; it spread so fast that the people couldn’t escape it.

     A woman 8 months along in a high-risk pregnancy did survive, thanks to fleeing but compassionate neighors, a retired police chief and EMT Mickey Huber. He knew she’d never make it if her contractions continued, so he put together a caravan of emergency vehicles who somehow got her to a hospital where her labor could be stopped, and held her hand all the way. 

     She lived, the baby was born healthy a month later, and there’s a picture of him holding this new baby, who they named after him, Noele Mickey Skinner. He still has a thousand images of that nightmare fire in his head, all the survivors do, but that desperate mother and the people who risked so much to help her is what stays with him the most. 

     He got to hold that tiny bundle in his arms when it was all over, and little Noel Mickey will growing up knowing who he is and what he did for Paradise – and for her family. 

     God’s love is a costly love, a giving love for the sake of others. 

     God’s love is a “Got to Have It” kind of love. It’s a love that accepts us just as we are. It’s a love that assures us that death is not the end. It’s a love that reminds us that with God, new life can begin. It’s a love that reassures us, especially during the dark times of life.  It’s a love that reminds us that we are never alone for God is our Emmanuel, our God who is always with us.

     Christmas is about love. The word that the bible uses to describe God’s love is the Greek word, “agape.” Agape love is an unconditional love. It’s a love that is offered with no strings attached. It’s a love that is offered to us regardless of who we are or what we have done.

     When we receive the love of Christmas, we can’t help but to want to share this love with the people around us. This love is so wonderful that we just can’t keep it to ourselves.

     During this Advent season, we have been focusing on the meaning of each candle around the Advent Wreath. The first candle stands for hope. Hope is what helps us to remember that with God, all things are possible.

     The second candle stands for peace. We remember that Christ offers peace to the whole world. Through Christ, we can build bridges with each other and appreciate our many differences.

     The third candle, the pink candle is the candle of joy. Joy is what helps us to get through the tough days and the difficult challenges of life. Whenever we begin to wonder if God is really there, that’s when it’s even more important to be alert to those signs posts from God that help us to see God’s presence in the midst of our darkness.

     And then there is today’s candle of love. Love is why God sent Jesus to become both fully human as well as fully divine. God was willing to risk everything by sending his only Son because that’s how much he loves us. That’s how much he loves the world. He gave his only Son.

     And so all of these candles, the candles of hope, peace, joy, and love are candles that we are called to light and share with others. 

     Earlier this week, I had a bad dream. It was a strange dream. I was driving my car late at night through a narrow dirt road in a remote area. I was scared, because for some reason, I couldn’t get my headlights to turn on. 

     I was beginning to panic because I was afraid that I was going off the side of the road and would crash. All of the sudden, I woke up, noticed that my heart was racing, but so thankful that it was only a dream.

     That dream has stayed with me this whole week because I’ve been thinking about how important it is for us to have the light we need to see our way forward. 

     The candles around the Advent Wreath might not seem like they give off that much light during this daylight hour, but just think how dark this sanctuary can be at 2 or 3 in the morning. That’s when we would really notice how much light these candles of hope, peace, joy, and love can provide. That’s why candlelight services on Christmas Eve are always so special. When we lift our small lit candles up into this darkened sanctuary, this place looks so beautiful. Even one candle would easily show up, but when you add all of our candles, I don’t think there is anything more beautiful to see. 

     The candles around the Advent Wreath might not seem like they give off that much light during this daylight hour, but just think how dark this sanctuary can be at 2 or 3 in the morning. That’s when we would really notice how much light these candles of hope, peace, joy, and love can provide.

     That’s why candlelight services on Christmas Eve are always so special. When we lift our small lit candles up into this darkened sanctuary, this place looks so beautiful. Even one candle would easily show up, but when you add all of our candles, I don’t think there is anything more beautiful to see. 

     This is why our Advent theme has been “Light the Candle.” When we shine even a little bit of God’s hope, peace, joy, and love, it can make a huge difference in our homes, in our community, and even beyond. 

     In our Romans scripture this morning, the Apostle Paul explains that he has been called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel, the good news of God, concerning his Son, Jesus. Why would a small group of people located on a tiny sliver of land in the Middle East even think about risking their lives to share the good news of Jesus with the wider world?

     It was because this news was too good to keep to themselves. This news was so good that they just had to share it with everyone around them. God’s love becomes more special to us when we share it with others.

     In a world that would have us believe that the true meaning of this season is “What’s in it for me?” our scripture readings remind us that the true gift of Christmas is when we share the gift of God’s Son with others. That’s what brings us the most joy and happiness.  A “Gotta Have It” kind of Christmas love is a love that is always meant to be shared with others.

     Every year, pastors meet with the District Superintendent to go over our annual evaluation. In one of the districts I was serving, I was meeting with my District Superintendent and in the course of my evaluation she said to me, “I don’t think you know this, but my husband and I visited your church for worship not too long ago.”

     Now, when pastors hear that, we panic and we just hope and pray that it was one of our better Sundays.” And then she told me which Sunday it was.

      Of all the luck, she came during one of our lowest attendance Sundays because it was in the middle of the summer and then there were a lot of people who were on vacation including myself and only one person from our praise band was there. The air conditioner had broken down earlier that week so it was uncomfortably hot in the church that day. It was also a Sunday where a couple of people became ill during the services that Sunday which brought in the emergency squads during worship.

     And so I said to her with a bit of a shaky voice, “Oh, you came on that Sunday.” I braced myself for what she was going to say next.

     And here is what she said about her experience at our church that Sunday morning. She said, “We weren’t really that familiar with the church but when we got to the door, someone was there to greet us and welcome us with a smile. The person introduced himself to us and asked if we were new to the church. When we said that we were visiting, he invited us to pick up a gift at the information desk in the parlor and said that they would be able to answer any questions about our church.”

     “When the person fainted during the service, one of your members immediately jumped out of the pew to be of assistance and helped care for this situation in a loving way. And during this whole time, the person you had leading the service, was calm and invited the congregation to be in prayer for this person. It was all handled very well. I just want you to know that we were really impressed with your congregation.”

     Inside, I was saying, “Thank you, Jesus. Thank you, Jesus!” 

     Friends, thank you for being a church that welcomes people even though things might not go as planned on Sunday mornings. Thank you for being a church of hospitality. And thank you for being a congregation that doesn’t want to just keep the love of Christ to yourself, but you also want to share it with others. Thank you for being that kind of congregation even if the sermon is below average and the coffee maker is broken.

     Christmas is a “Gotta Have It” kind of love. It’s a love that led God to send us his only Son to free us from our sins and offer us the wonderful light of hope, peace, joy, and love.

     And when we can’t help but to share these gifts with others, that’s when we truly know that we have received them as well. 

Light the Candle of Love!
Sermon Discussion Questions
Romans 1:1-7 & Matthew 1:18-25
December 23, 2018

The 4th and final candle of the Advent season reminds us to receive the gift of love this Christmas. The Greek word for love is agape which means an unconditional and no strings attached kind of love. It’s a love that motivated the Apostle Paul to become an apostle and share this love to as many places and people possible. 
Share a time when you felt led to share God’s agape love with someone. When has someone shared God’s agape love with you?
During these four weeks of Advent, we have been encouraged to do some “fridge journaling” where we keep a notepad next to the refrigerator and each day write down how God has helped us get through a difficult and challenging time in our lives.
Share one of those times when God helped you through a challenging situation in your life.
During our Advent series, we have looked at the importance of receiving hope, peace, joy, and love. 
Which of these gifts stands out to you the most especially with Christmas just a day or two away? How will you receive this gift anew and how might you share it with others?

Monday, December 17, 2018

Sunday Pastoral Prayer (Dec. 16/Advent) Athens First UMC

[Our Advent sermon series has focused on the traditional meaning of each candle around the Advent Wreath. The four candles that surround the middle Christ Candle represent Hope, Peace, Joy, & Love. We have a beautiful Advent Wreath as shown in the photo above. The pink candle which was our focus yesterday symbolizes the joy we can have even though we are still waiting for the birth of Christ. Joy is what gets us through the tough times in life. The pastoral prayer reflects the tension between the joy in knowing that Christmas is near while also recognizing the “blues” that we may be experiencing in life. Click here for the sermon.]

O God, on this pink candle Sunday of Advent, we name our many joys to you: encouraging Christmas cards in the mail, a renewed relationship with family members, a surprise tree ornament gift made out of bird seed by one of our pre-schoolers, small group members who help to build up our faith, a hug from a child who heard that you have a heavy heart, a Thin Place moment just when you needed it the most, a bright pink sunset on your way home from a funeral, a picture from a long time ago that brings a smile to your face.

O God, thank you for these joys and so many more that are in our hearts this day.

But O God, you also know the sadness that we carry this day. And so, we name our blues and offer them to your loving care: A friend who we feel let us down, a relationship once strong now broken, a loved one who is no longer with us, dreams that have gone unfulfilled, people who have treated us unjustly, painful memories around this time of year, worry about the future, not feeling able to forgive ourselves, challenges and adversities beyond our control, being misunderstood.

O God, we lift these blues to you and so many more that may be in our hearts this day.

Thank you for the pink candle of joy that reminds us that even though it is surround by blue candles, all of them point us to the middle Christ candle. But for now, we gather together, both blues and joys to anticipate receiving a new light in our lives on Christmas Eve. A light that isn’t just a candle, but is Christ himself who is Emmanuel, God with us.

It is in his name that we join together in saying the prayer he has taught us…

“Our Father, who art in heaven…”

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Sermon (Dec. 16/3rd Sunday of Advent) by Rev. Robert McDowell “Light the Candle of Joy”

      Today is “pink candle” Sunday. That’s actually my personal title for this Sunday. The technical name for this Sunday is Gaudete which is a Latin word that means, “rejoice.” 

     Notice that the pink candle stands out from the other candles in the Advent wreath. Many people ask why we use a pink candle on this Sunday of the Advent season. And no, it’s not because we always forget to order enough blue candles.

     The blue advent candles around the Advent Wreath remind us to patiently wait for Christmas by repenting of our sins and reflecting on what it means to be God’s people. The pink candle for this third Sunday of Advent is a bright color and it reminds us to rejoice even though we are still waiting for Christmas to come.  

     When the Prophet Isaiah offered a word of joy to the people of Judah hundreds of years before the birth of Christ, he was offering them a Gaudete moment. He knew that they were at a very low point along their journey as God’s people. They had been forced from their homes and were living in a foreign land. There was no joy to be found. 

     Have you noticed that the nightly news on the major networks seem to always end their broadcast with a “feel good” story for the remaining five minutes? The first twenty-five minutes of the program tell us about everything that is wrong in the world that day, but it’s those last couple of minutes that remind us that there was actually some good happening somewhere in the world. Even the Nightly News knows the importance of having a Gaudete moment during their broadcast.

     In our Old Testament reading for this Pink Candle Sunday, the Prophet Isaiah reminds us that not all is lost as we travel this long path of Advent. There is joy-filled news along the journey! And the good news is that God hasn’t forgotten us. 

     God will restore Judah. The desert wilderness that produces only enough grass to support a few sheep will burst into bloom. People who are discouraged because they are in exile will be delivered. Those who are in despair will have their hope restored. And all of these wonderful things will cause people to rejoice and praise God. The final verse of our scripture passage uses words like “everlasting joy,” “”joy,” and “gladness.”

     Even though Isaiah was referring to the future, his words are also meant to help the people experience joy in their present moment. Like the people of Judah, we too are called to be filled with joy in knowing that God’s promises will soon be fulfilled. Sometimes we only focus on the bad news even though God is offering words of great joy to us in the present moment. 

    Today is a day to remember that we can have that joy, too. We can have joy to help us through our toughest days. I’m sure that there are many of us here today who need this pink candle Sunday!

     When John the Baptist was in prison, he sent word to the disciples to ask Jesus if he truly was the promised Messiah or if they should be looking for someone else. You can appreciate why John the Baptist was having these doubts. He didn’t expect to be in prison but there he was. It was a very tough time for him. He must have been very discouraged, kind of like the people of Judah when they were in exile hundreds of years before him.

     When we’re experiencing those tough days, I think we ask that same question as well. “Are you really the one, Jesus? I’ve tried to follow you and I’ve tried to do what you’ve wanted me to do, but things aren’t looking very promising right now, and I just need to know. Are you really the one?”

     If you’ve experienced any kind of discouragement in life, this question is understandable. We’re taught that God will provide for our needs and answer our prayers but what if things don’t go the way we were hoping? What if there doesn’t appear to be any clear purpose in what is happening in our lives? It’s a fair question to ask if Jesus is really the one, or if we should be looking for someone else.

     But notice how Jesus responds to John’s question. We would expect Jesus to answer with yes or no, but Jesus gives a much more convincing answer than a simple yes or no. Jesus says, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.”

     The disciples and John had seen Jesus do all of these wonderful things or at least they had heard about Jesus doing these things. All of these signs of God’s kingdom breaking into our space and time were confirmation that Jesus really is the true Messiah. Bible scholar, Tom Wright refers to these unexplainable moments as signposts that point us to God. We’ve been calling them, “thin place moments.”

     This Sunday of Joy before Christmas Day Joy is a day for us to be open to those signposts and know that there is a God who is working for good in the world. Sometimes, God calls us to be like Isaiah or like the disciples in helping people to see those signposts along life’s journey.

     About six years ago, I attended a leadership conference in Kansas City. A woman who appeared to be in her late 20s sat in the seat next to me. She told me that she worked for H&R Block in Connecticut and flew to Kansas City for a tax seminar. Out of curiosity, she asked me why I had been in Kansas City.

     So I told her about the leadership conference I attended. I told her some of the ways that the host church has been making a difference in the city. As I shared a few of the outreach ministries with her, she would respond to me by saying, “Really? Really? This church is doing all of those good things? I didn’t know churches did things like that.”

     One of the ministries I shared with her was how this church in Kansas City partners with one of the elementary schools in the inner city and provides mattresses for families who can’t afford beds for their children. This young woman looked at me in disbelief and said, “You’re telling me that the people of this church are buying beds for these families?” 

     And I said, “Yeah, that’s right.”  And I told her how this school’s test scores have significantly increased because this church has been reaching out to the families of these children through these ministries.

     She said to me, “Do churches really do things like this?” And so I told her about church I was serving. I said, “I’m a pastor of a church in a county seat town in Ohio that does a lot of similar things in the community.”

     I told her about a lot of the things that my church was doing at the time like making blankets for hospice patients, serving community lunches, collecting Christmas gifts for needy families, collecting bears to give to children at the local hospital…All of these outreach ministries to our local community were easy to share because there was so much good that was being done. 

     And then I told her about the church’s firewood ministry. We had a bunch of people who loved to chop and split wood and they would stack them at a property owned by the church where people who needed to heat their homes during winter would have access to this free fire wood. That was actually one of my favorite ministries of that church because it was something unique that wasn’t being offered by other churches or organizations in our community.

     This woman sitting next to me on the plane said, “Your church does all of those things?”  And then I shared how we believe that Jesus wants to work through us to bring transformation to our community and world and how this is our mission statement. I then asked her if she attended any church back home in Connecticut.

     She said that she gave up on church a long time ago because she didn’t get anything out of it and she didn’t think churches were really doing anything like I was telling her. She said her most recent church experience was about a year before our conversation when her little niece had become ill and died and she attended the funeral.

  She said that the death of her niece was the most difficult thing she had ever faced and how it left her with a heavy heart. But then something very mysterious happened soon after the funeral. A day or two after that funeral, as she was thinking about her niece and if there was a heaven or not, a great big bright and vivid rainbow appeared in the sky. It was in that moment that she felt that maybe there is a God.

     Well, good thing she sat next to a preacher because I took it from there.  I said, ‘That is what we would call a God moment and I believe that there’s a God who sent Jesus to comfort us especially when we have heavy hearts. And God also wants us to make a difference in the world.”  

     I gave her a book about the life of Jesus that I received at the leadership conference and encouraged her to find an active church that would help her to continue to grow in her faith.

     Sometimes, all we need is a signpost or two that point us to God’s love and how God is transforming our community and world through ordinary people like you and me. 

    Sometimes, all we need is a bright, vivid rainbow to appear at just the right moment.

    Sometimes, all we need is to unknowingly sit next to a preacher on a plane who will simply listen to you share about how much you miss your niece who died so young. 

    Sometimes, during our long journey all we need to do is catch our breath and remind ourselves of the joy that God is offering to us in that very moment. It’s joy that gets us through the tough times in life. It’s a joy that will lead the shepherds to stumble upon the good news of Christ’s birth and change their lives forever.

     Happy pink candle Sunday and even on this 3rd Sunday of Advent, receive the gift of joy!

Light the Candle of Joy!
Sermon Discussion Questions
Isaiah 35:1-10 & Matthew 11:2-11
December 16, 2018

The pink candle around the Advent wreath is to remind us to rejoice even though we are still in a season of waiting for Christmas to come. This Sunday of Advent is known as “Gaudete Sunday.” “Gaudete” is a Latin word that means, “rejoice.” The prophet Isaiah calls for the people of Israel to rejoice even though they were living in a foreign land and were at one of their lowest points. 

Share a time when you were feeling low. What helped you to hold on to joy even though things were looking bleak? Who was your Isaiah during that difficult time?

In our Gospel reading for this Sunday, John the Baptist was also facing a low point because he was in prison. He sent word to Jesus asking him if he truly was the One who would bring salvation to the world. Jesus gets word back to John to not forget the many signs that are happening through his ministry.

Share a recent “thin place” moment where you felt God’s presence in a very real way. We call these “thin place” moments because heaven and earth often overlap in beautiful ways even when we might be going through a low time in our lives.

Our Isaiah scripture reading announcing joy ends on a high note when the prophet says, “And the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

In what ways can we be like Isaiah and Jesus who offered a word of joy to people who were feeling down? What are some helpful ways that we can offer the joy of our faith with others?

Monday, December 10, 2018

Sunday Pastoral Prayer (Dec. 9/Advent) Athens First UMC

[For our Advent sermon series on “Light the Candle,” this 2nd Sunday focused on lighting the candle of peace. The Chancel Choir sang this beautiful arrangement of the song, “One Voice” and invited our congregation to join them. Peace happens when we sing in harmony together.]

O God, in this Season of Advent, I have a question. Is there really enough peace to end wars? Is there really enough peace to overcome centuries-old conflict in the Middle East? Is there really enough peace to end mass shootings? Is there really enough peace for refugees fleeing danger? Is there really enough peace for Democrats and Republicans to find common ground? Is there really enough peace to heal broken relationships and long lasting feuds? Is there really enough peace to calm our own troubled spirits and day to day anxieties? Is there really enough peace to get us through Finals Week?

O God, is there really enough peace to go around? It doesn’t seem like the flame of our second candle is bright enough to truly bring peace to the world, let alone our own hearts that are in need of peace.

Sometimes, it seems like there is more darkness than light, O God. But as we draw closer to the birth of your Son, the light of the world, that’s when we realize that this flame is all we really need. That baby in the manger is all that we really need. That little bit of grape juice and tiny piece of bread is all that we really need. Those few drops of water sprinkled on our head is all that we really need.

Thank you for this second candle around our Advent Wreath that is here to remind us that you are all we need, that small flame is all we really need to receive your peace and share your peace with others.

In the name of the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, we now join together as your people of peace in praying the prayer you taught us to say together…

“Our Father, who art in heaven…”

[It’s always a special Sunday when we have the opportunity to celebrate a baptism. Welcome to your church family, Gabrielle Rose Ward!]

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Sermon (December 9/2nd Sunday of Advent) by Rev. Robert McDowell “Light the Candle of Peace!”


    The Voices of Advent are calling: “The best deals of the year.....no interest until 2020....60% off......buy one get one free.”

     There is one more voice calling during Advent: “Are you on the right path? Think about your life.  Is it what it should be? God's anointed one is coming and he will set our hearts on fire.”

     Last words are not from the mall but  from John the Baptist. He directs our attention to Jesus and his coming kingdom,  a kingdom of peace.

     Peace (shalom) is mentioned many times in the Old Testament. Peace is described as a condition of the community where there is wholeness, security, harmony, well being.  

     In the book of Leviticus , peace is present when there is enough to eat, the fields are full for the harvest, and when you lie down to rest, no one shall make you afraid. 

     For the Jewish people, the dream of peace was not always possible because there were wars and enemies and animosities  with their neighbors.  Peace was always seen as a possible reality  through the power of God.

     There were around 500 POW camps here in the US in the 1940's during  the Second WW.   One camp was in the  farmland of Iowa outside of a town called Algona, Iowa.  There are no buildings still standing from the camp but what remains is a priceless gift from the prisoners themselves.  Six prisoners led by  Edward Kaib  made over 60 figures portraying the birth of Jesus.

     They worked on it for about 6 months and supplied the materials themselves. When they returned to Germany, the figures were left with the town.

     This nativity scene was displayed for the first time Christmas 1945 and has been viewed every Christmas since. The local UMC has provided a home for the figures and annually shares the story of this action of peace. Over 2000 visitors come each year to see the figures and to hear the story.

     The German prisoners constructed it as a way to remember their families and traditions so far away.  For the people of the town, it became a symbol of the common faith that they shared with the prisoners.  Enemies on the battlefield- also brothers and sisters in Christ. 

     Paul wrote in his letter to the Ephesians that Christ is our peace. Christ has broken down the dividing wall, the hostility between us.  Christ reconciles all to God. He announces  peace to those far off and those who are near. We are no  longer strangers, but members of one family.

     Through Christ, barriers and walls are coming down. Possibilities of peace are appearing.

     In our relationships, we have the tendency to divide up people into”us” and “them.” “Them” are seen as being very different from us, and can even be seen as inhuman.

   In Rwanda in the 1990's  the hatred and fighting continued between the two ethnic groups of  Hutus and the Tutsis. The Hutus in their conversations and in public communications referred to the Tutsis as “cockroaches”;  they were no longer  seen as people. When the genocide of the Tutsis happened, it was viewed as a  necessary extermination.

     We call our enemies names in order to separate ourselves.  Jesus restores our true names.

    Maya Angelou wrote a poem entitled:  “Amazing Peace: A Christmas Poem “ where she writes about our names for one another.

     This is the ending of the poem:

“It is Christmas time, a halting of hate time.
On this platform of peace, we can create a language
To translate ourselves to ourselves and to each other.
At this Holy Instant, we celebrate the Birth of Jesus Christ
Into the great religions of the world.
We jubilate the precious advent of trust.
We shout with glorious tongues at the coming of hope.
All the earth's tribes loosen their voices to celebrate the promise of Peace.
We, Angels and Mortals, Believers and Non-Believers,
Look heavenward and speak the word aloud.
Peace. We look at our world and speak the word aloud.
Peace. We look at each other, then into ourselves
And we say without shyness or apology or hesitation.
Peace, My Brother, Peace, My Sister, Peace, My Soul.”

     Jesus said that those who are peacemakers are blessed, that they are God's children.

     Instructions for being a peacemaker are found in Matthew's Gospel:  “Love your enemy and pray for those who persecute you. God makes his sun to rise on the evil and good, and sends rain on the righteousness and unrighteous. If you love only those who love you, what more are you doing then others?”  

     In the midst of conflict and disagreements, are there ways to bring together those who have been estranged from one another?

     Peace making has been happening in Mississippi.

     In Jackson Mississippi two United Methodist  churches sit yards apart separated only by a grove of pine trees, Forest Hill UMC  and Middle Brook UMC.  Through the years the issue of race has also separated them, one being known as the “ black” church and one as the “white” church even though they both were United Methodist  congregations.

     They have now become partner churches and throughout the year they get together for worship and for outreach to their community. And every Advent, they meet in the pine grove to sing Christmas carols, and decorate a Christmas tree that they planted together.

     They have watched the tree grow and they have watched their friendship and understanding grow-  that tree has become a tree of peace. It started out as a seedling and has grown to be 6' high.

     It really started out as hope that the peace of Christ which passes understanding would be known in their community and that prayer has been realized.            
     When we think about what we want for Christmas,  I hope that you think about your own desires for peace.

     Think of a  situation in your life or somewhere in the world.

     What can be done where there is discord between individuals, in neighborhoods, between countries?  Pray that you will be guided to do something that will work toward peace.

     While visiting family over Thanksgiving, a friend of mine saw a picture that had been posted online of some of her extended family. She said that the picture brought happiness to her because there were people seated together at the table who have had problems being in the same room with one another let alone sharing a meal. 

     She said that she doesn’t think that they have ever sat at the same table!   She believes that when they were passing the potatoes perhaps they were also passing around a tiny hope of peace.  It is a beginning, a start towards healing in the family.

     As we work for peace, these are some of the tools that we can use:

  Do I need to ask someone for forgiveness?  Can I take a step toward forgiving someone else? Are my words harmful/ hateful when speaking about others? Do I earnestly pray that peace will actually happen?

     In Coventry England there has been a cathedral there, St. Micheal’s, since the 14th. century. On a night in November 1940 in a bombing raid , the city of Coventry , with the church, was devastated.  All that was left of the church were the outside walls and tower.

    The decision to rebuild the cathedral was made the next day and was encouraged by their pastor Richard Howard. He wanted their actions to be “signs of faith, trust and hope for the future.” He scratched a message on the remaining wall: “Father forgive.” He was asked why he didn't write “Father forgive them”  and he replied that  they all needed forgiveness and God's mercy.

     It was  noticed that two of the  medieval roof timbers had fallen in the shape of a cross. The beams were later placed on the altar and  the  words ‘Father Forgive’ were inscribed on the sanctuary wall.  This has been the church's guiding prayer.

     The Cathedral was rebuilt in the 1960's  with the old sanctuary now an out door plaza.  You walk from the ruins into the new chapel, a visual reminder that Christ can indeed bring peace. They have dedicated their building to all the civilians who have died/ been injured in any war.       

     The church has an outreach of reconciliation  providing spiritual and practical support  to people all over the world in places of conflict.   From their  days of despair grew a great desire to work for peace.          
     One of my favorite services is the Christmas Eve candlelight service. It is the epitome of peace.  Quietness, beauty, the warmth, the light which seems to hold such promise. On  that night the light encompasses  all of us. I want to hold on tightly to that feeling of calm and serenity. 

     However the work of peace begins in the daylight.  We are encouraged to  be ambassadors of reconciliation.

     Wherever we are, we are to work for peace as much as it is up to us, and as much as we are able.

       Jesus is breaking down the walls of hostility that have kept us separated from one another and offers his peace in all our relationships. 

     What we thought could never be mended, never be restored can  be made whole through the peace of Christ.

     We should pray for those who disappoint us and disgust us, those who seem so different from us, those who have wounded us., those who are unforgivable.

     We should pray for the people of Bethlehem of the West Bank, and the folks who live in Bethlehem Pennsylvania.

     We pray that seeds of peace will grow in Washington D.C. and in Afghanistan, in Israel and Lebanon, in the Congo and in Somalia, in North Korea and South Korea, in gated communities and in traveling caravans, over there and right here, in them and in us.

     The angels sang about peace on earth on the day that the Prince of peace was born.

     Teach us the melody of peace, O God, enable us to be your peacemakers. We pray for peace between neighbors, peace within families, peace within every heart. O God, may we light the candle of peace, not just today but everyday. 

[For our Advent sermon series on “Light the Candle,” this 2nd Sunday focused on lighting the candle of peace. The Chancel Choir sang this beautiful arrangement of the song, “One Voice” and invited our congregation to join them. Peace happens when we sing in harmony together.]

Light the Candle of Peace!
Small Group Questions
Isaiah 40:1-5 & Mathew 3:1-12
December 9, 2018

During the weeks leading up to Christmas, we hear lots of holiday noises that want our attention to buy things. There is a lot of busy and frantic activity during this time of year. On this 2nd week of Advent, we hear a very different voice, this one coming from John the Baptist. He is calling us to turn from our old ways and embrace the future that God has in mind for us, a future that is filled with peace!

What helps you to hear God’s voice especially during this very busy time of year?

In the sermon, this definition of peace was offered: Peace (shalom) is mentioned many times in the Old Testament. Peace is described as a condition of the community where there is wholeness, security, harmony, well being.  

Is this definition of the biblical understanding of peace similar or different from the world’s understanding? 

In Jackson, Mississippi, two United Methodist Churches one that was known as “the black church” and the other one known as “the white church” were separated by a small grove of pine trees. They decided to begin to work together in outreach ministries to the community and have now become partner churches. Every December, they gather by a pine tree that they planted together in the pine grove and decorate it. They call it a tree of peace.

Share a time when you experienced God’s peace bringing people together.

We were invited last week to do some “fridge journaling” during Advent where we keep a notepad next to the refrigerator to remind us whenever we open the fridge door to jot down a time when God helped you through a challenging situation.

Be open to opportunities to share one or more of these times with someone who could use a little hope in their lives right now.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Sunday Pastoral Prayer (Dec. 2nd/Advent) Athens First UMC

[The theme for the 1st Sunday of Advent was “Light the Candle of Hope.” Click here for the sermon. One of the ways that our church lights the candle of hope is by serving others in our community. The video above is from this past weekend’s caroling at three area assisted-living/nursing facilities. We discovered that the more we sang about Christmas hope, the more we received it from the smiles of those who listened! It was also fun to have members of our Holy Hands Puppeteer ministry join us in singing. Let’s continue to light the candle of hope to the people we encounter this week.

O God, the first nine holes this past year have been really, really incredible. There have been new opportunities to grow in our faith, times of healing, goals achieved, milestones celebrated, and relationships restored. 

But not every shot during the front nine worked out the way we wanted. We had our share of disappointments, sicknesses, deaths, broken relationships, troubles at work, lingering illnesses, missed opportunities, and short-lived New Year’s resolutions. 

And now, on this 1st Sunday of the Advent Season we find ourselves ready to begin a new church year. Today marks a new beginning and a fresh start. We come today to light the Advent candle of hope.

We light this candle for a neighbor who’s husband recently passed away and who now feels alone. We light this candle for the people of Anchorage, Alaska who just experienced an earthquake. We light this candle for a woman’s father who is in need of a very risky surgery. We light this candle for the person who just came out, and now feels ostracized from his family and friends. We light this candle for the 1st grader whose mother recently died from a drug overdose. We light this candle for those in prison and for their children who are separated from their parents. We light this candle for all of those who are experiencing depression especially around the holidays. 

We light this candle of hope for anyone who is in need of a fresh start, a new beginning, and a reassurance that you not only love us, but promise to be with us through the good and the bad.

We light this candle of hope in the name of the hope of the world, Jesus Christ, who taught us to pray together saying…

“Our Father, who art in heaven…”

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Sermon (December 2/1st Sunday of Advent) by Rev. Robert McDowell “Light the Candle of Hope”


    Preachers are sometimes asked to perform weddings in the most unusual of places. One year, I was asked to perform an outdoor wedding on a golf course. The ceremony was held just off the right side of the tee box of the tenth hole.

     Knowing that a wicked slice was a real possibility, I warned the bridal party that they were in the line of fire.  I told them that if they heard someone yell, “fore,” during the ceremony, they should immediately take cover. We even practiced this during the rehearsal. Thankfully, there were no shanks off the tee box during the service.

     My wedding sermon that day was based on a golf theme, as you might expect. It wasn’t the best sermon I’ve preached but I would say it was at least par for the course.

    The tenth hole where the wedding took place is known as the beginning of the back nine. It’s the half way point in a round of golf. 

     If you have a lousy score on the first nine holes, the back nine is where you can experience redemption. The tenth hole represents a fresh start. It represents hope and a new beginning. And this was my wedding message to the bride and groom that day.

     I told them that with God, there is always a new beginning. There is always hope for better times. Life can get really challenging. Situations can be challenging. Family and marriage can be challenging. But with God, there is always a back nine that can make all the difference in the world.

     I know of a bunch of people who couldn’t wait to get to the tenth tee. They were the people of Israel who lived eight centuries before the time of Christ.  The spirit of the people was extremely low. Assyrian armies were bent on conquest, and many people were doubting if God would be able to save them. It was a very frustrating and anxious time for the people of God.

     To whom can we go during times like this? That’s a question for us to consider as well, especially on this first Sunday of the Advent Season. Like the people of Israel, we too have our moments of uncertainty and doubt.  We might not come right out and say it, but deep down, this is often our experience as well.

     I was taking the dogs for a walk one afternoon and met a guy who looked to be in his early 30’s. He was alone, checking his phone, and leaning on a wall when he noticed us walking by him. He was curious about the dogs so we stopped so he could pet them and then he asked about their names.

     After a minute or two, he stood back up and I was about to leave when he checked his phone again. He had a big smile on his face this time and he said, “I just received some really good news. The landlord of my apartment who has been giving me a tough time is finally letting me get out of my lease.”

     He went on to tell me how his apartment had mold in it and that it was making him sick which is why he wanted out of the lease. He had another apartment lined up but didn’t know how he was going to pay for two apartments. Now, he was free to go and not be out any extra money.

     I congratulated him and said that God is good. He nodded his head and as we finished our conversation, I said, “God bless you.”

     Just when you think the whole world is against you, God reminds us that there is always hope. 

     The Israelites in our Old Testament reading just needed to be reminded that God still cared and that with God, new beginnings are always possible. With God, things can be different.

     The Prophet Isaiah appears on the scene and offers the people an incredible word of hope from God. He reminds the people that God has not forgotten them and he points them to a future that is filled with hope.

     He even paints a picture of this new future. It’s a future in which the people will feel at home again. It’s a future that will include safety and security. It’s a future where God’s Word will be a source of comfort and instruction for all people. It’s a future where war will be no more and we will be able to walk in the light of the Lord together. 

     That’s a future that sounds too good to be true, doesn’t it? But it’s true. The hope of our faith is that one day this world will be made new again and part of that hope is that God will make us new again as well. That’s why we spend these four weeks leading up to Christmas.  They are meant to prepare us for God’s promise of hope. 

     God kept his promise and it came in the form of a little baby born to Mary and Joseph in Bethlehem. Through this baby, God’s promises would be fulfilled. When we hold a baby, we are reminded of the gift of life and of the potential of tomorrow. Someone has said, “The birth of every baby is God’s vote for the future of humanity.” When Jesus was born, a new future was born as well. 

     How do we prepare for an event as wonderful as Christ’s birth? Advent is a time for us to turn from our selfish and self-centered ways and serve the needs of others. It’s a time for us to not just go to church but to be the church. What if this Christmas, instead of getting caught up in all of the holiday trappings, we shared God’s hope with others? Now, that would be a Christmas to remember! That would be a Christmas that is keeping it real.

     In keeping with this theme of hope for this first week of Advent, we are invited to do some “fridge journaling” this week. Here’s how this works. Place a notepad somewhere on your refrigerator and when you go to the refrigerator this week, jot down a time when God helped you through something that seemed hopeless at the time. It may be a recent experience or something that happened a long time ago. Just write something down each time you open the door of your refrigerator.

     And as you go through the week, think of ways that you can share God’s hope with others. You may want to send a card to somebody who is in the nursing home or write a note of encouragement to a youth who may be struggling or call someone just to reconnect. 

     You might want to consider coming to our Athens First Saturday outreach gatherings where we share the hope of Christmas with people in our community. Yesterday for our Athens First Saturday outreach, we led an assisted living worship service, went caroling to assisted living and nursing home residents, made blankets for our community and arranged flowers to give to people at the hospital. The more people who attend, the more hope we can share with the people of our community.

     One of the strengths of our church is in the many ways that our church is involved in hands on service projects throughout the year that help people to have more hope in their lives.

     When the Prophet Isaiah spoke a word of hope to a weary people so long ago, he invited them to “Come, and walk in the light of the Lord!” We too, are called to walk in the light of the Lord this Advent Season.

     And as we receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion, this morning, allow this time to be a new beginning in your life. Give to God your brokenness, your disappointments, your sorrows, and your regrets. 

     Today is known as the first Sunday of Advent. On the church calendar, this marks the first day of a new year of faith.  It’s a day of new beginnings. It’s kind of like the tenth hole where we get to play the back nine no matter how difficult the front nine may have been.

     It’s the beginning of Advent, time to receive and share the hope of Christmas. 

Light the Candle of Hope
Discussion Questions
Isaiah 2:1-5 & Matthew 24:36-44
December 2, 2018

During this Advent season, we will be looking at the symbolism for each of the four Advent candles. The candles represent hope, peace, joy, and love. For this first candle, we focus on the importance of receiving hope. When the prophet, Isaiah offered a word of hope to the people of Israel, they were facing a very bleak and challenging time. Into this time of fear, Isaiah tells them that a time is coming when they will feel safe and where war will be no more.

Share a fear or a concern that you have personally about a situation you are facing or about the world in general.

Isaiah’s comforting words point to the future biblical hope of a time when people will live in safety and this world will be made new again. God is faithful and will make all things new!

How does this reminder of God’s faithfulness and that God will make this world new again give you hope in the challenging and fearful situations that you face?

To help us receive the gift of hope, Pastor Robert has invited us to do some “fridge journaling” during these weeks leading up to Christmas. Fridge journaling is when you keep a little note pad next to your refrigerator and every time you need something from the fridge, jot down a way that God helped you through a challenging situation in your life. 

Pray for how God will lead you to share some of your fridge journaling others with those who are in need of hope.