Thanks-giving

Last evening I watched a show on the Smithsonian Channel called “Behind the Holiday: Thanksgiving.” The description for the show states “Behind the familiar myths and tales of patriotism, the true story of Thanksgiving’s origins bears little resemblance to how we celebrate today.”

I really enjoyed learning more about the actual history of Thanksgiving and how it has developed into a unique American holiday of family feasting. I’m not a big fan of Thanksgiving food; turkey doesn’t thrill me.

So what do we mean when we talk about thanksgiving to God? I did a biblical word study on “thanks-giving.”

We first read it in Leviticus 7:12 where God gave instructions to his people about bringing peace offerings:

“If they offer [the
peace offering] as an expression of thanksgiving they are to present an offering with thick loaves of unleavened bread.”

It is an action of praise and an offering for giving thanks.

At the dedication of the temple, both Solomon’s and the 2nd one built by Ezra, and the wall built by Nehemiah, they were to celebrate God with sacrifices of thanksgiving and with choirs singing and instruments playing.

Nehemiah 12:43 “And on that day they offered great sacrifices, rejoicing because God had given them great joy. The women and children also rejoiced. The sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away.”

Jeremiah 33:11 “…bring thank offerings to the house of the Lord, saying, “Give thanks to the Lord Almighty, for the Lord is good; his love endures forever.”

In Psalm 50, God declares that he really has no need for his people’s sacrifices of bulls, and goats; he is not hungry, and even if he was, he wouldn’t tell them about it because everything in the world belongs to him anyway!

“Sacrifice thank offerings to God, fulfill your vows to the Most High, and call on me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me.”

Psalm 69:30-31 “I will praise God’s name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving. This will please the Lord more than an ox, more than a bull with its horns and hooves. More than roast turkeys [my addition].

This goes on through the Old Testament: when scripture mentions giving thanks, it is connected to an action of praise! This is carried into the NT; the act of giving thanks, a sacrifice of praise to God.

Hebrews 13:15 “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name.”

What were sacrifices supposed to do? Restore the broken relationship between God and humans, and between humans. The Old Testament sacrificial system to restore relationship with God, is a prelude to the significance of Christ’s supreme sacrifice and offering of Himself for all mankind. His sacrifice put an end to the sacrificial system “once for all,” and he reconciles humans to God when they believe in him as Lord and Savior.

Colossians 2:6-7 “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.”

So, when you are gathered around tables filled with good food, gathered with family and friends, don’t forget to offer your sacrifice of thanksgiving to God. Let your sound of rejoicing be heard far away!

I’m praying for you,

Pastor Deb



Wrestling

When our oldest son began seventh grade he asked us if he could wrestle. I did not know anything about the sport of wrestling but I quickly learned as we sat through his first match. YIKES!! I clung to the arm rests of the bleacher seat as I watched my son and his opponent being contorted and twisted into pretzel-like shapes. Those six minutes seemed to stretch into a nerve-wracking eternity for this mother!

He wrestled for his seventh and eighth grade years but did not want to continue in high school. However, our second son declared that he wanted to wrestle when he entered seventh grade. I did my best to talk him out of it (what a terrible mother I was) but he insisted. I once again endured the maternal trauma of watching the limbs of one of my beloved children being distorted. This son decided he would continue wrestling through high school and I learned to relax and breathe during his matches, and enjoyed watching him pit his strength against another lad (and one lass), but I never did get used to the intensity (blood, sweat, and tears) of that sport!

Wrestling is interesting in that it is both an individual and a team sport. Based on body weight, two opponents are pitted against each other using their strength and skill. The score of their match is then added to the total team score. While that one teammate is on the mat, the coaches are barking encouragement and orders (our son’s coaches were excellent role models of faith), the entire team is cheering their teammate on, and the fans are yelling their support! Depending on the skills of the wrestlers, a match can last the full six minutes (or more), or be over in seconds. The winning success of the team is based on the performance of the individual.

The apostle Paul used sporting images in several of his letters to the early churches (1 Cor 9:24-27; Phil 3:12-14; 1 Tim 6:12; and 2 Tim 4:7-8). Perhaps as he watched the runners and the fighters at the games in Corinth, the Holy Spirit stirred his imagination to see the discipline and commitment an athlete makes to their sport as similar to that which the disciple of Jesus Christ needs during his or her own faith “race.”

I gained a similar image as I watched my sons wrestle. As individual believers we are to train and discipline ourselves because we never know when we will encounter the Opponent who will try to control, pin, and destroy us.

“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places. Eph 6:12 KJV

We must be prepared to offer our absolute all-out effort! But we are not alone—the Coach (Holy Spirit) surrounds us with his presence and power, “barking” encouragement and reminding us of the Word of God. The entire team, brothers and sisters in Christ, and the “great cloud of witnesses” (Heb 12:1) are there to cheer each other on, to pray, encourage, exhort, soothe wounds, and celebrate victories! The winning success of the team (Body of Christ) is based on the Cornerstone individual performance of Jesus Christ (1 Pet 2:4-5) who calls, redeems, and equips all individuals who believe in him as Lord and Savior!

So keep on keeping on! Exercise your spiritual muscles as you kneel before your Head Coach, Jesus Christ! Be encouragers of your brothers and sisters!

“Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.” 2 Timothy 4:8

I’m praying for you,

Pastor Deb



The heavens declare

The heavens declare the glory of God

In April of 1990, the space shuttle Discovery deployed the Hubble Space Telescope. Designed to last 15 years, it has been serviced by astronauts five times, and is still sending stunning images of the universe 30 years later.

At 7:20 am EST on Christmas morning 2021, The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) launched from French Guiana, South America. The next day, NASA tweeted “Merry Christmas! We got you a new telescope!”

The James Webb Space Telescope is a $10 billion international collaboration between NASA and its partners, ESA (European Space Agency) and the Canadian Space Agency. Thousands of engineers and hundreds of scientists worked for 30 years to make Webb a reality, along with over 300 universities, organizations, and companies from 29 U.S. states and 14 countries. The telescope is a marvel of intelligence and engineering.

Thirty days after its launch, the telescope arrived at its orbiting site, Lagrange 2, 1.5 million kilometers from the Earth. It took five months of commissioning to unfold the telescope, align the optics and calibrate the scientific instruments, before any images of space were sent to Earth, which happened on July 12, 2022. You can read more about JWST and view the stunning images, what one writer named “the glittering depths of the universe”, here.

I believe that science continues to reveal the intricate glories of God’s creation. The psalms tell of the wonder of the ancient people who looked into the night sky and with only what they could see with their eyes spoke of the splendor of God’s creation; from the magnificence of the highest heavens, sun, moon, and stars, to the beauty of the earth around them, and the mysteries of the depths of the oceans.

Watch this beautiful video about the Intelligent Design of the Earth, titled “How Great is Our God – Excerpt from ‘The Ragamuffin Gospel’ by Brennan Manning.” https://youtu.be/9KI29JZRJBI

Psalm 148:5-6 “Let them praise the name of the Lord, for he commanded and they were created. He established them forever and ever; he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.”

Ps 8:3-4 “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?”

Isaiah 40:26, 28 “Lift up your eyes on high, and see who has created these things, who brings out their host by number; he calls them all by name, by the greatness of His might and the strength of His power; not one is missing…Have you not known? Have you not heard? The everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, neither faints nor is weary. His understanding is unsearchable.”

I’m praying for you,

Pastor Deb



Wonder and Worship

The flight from Richmond to Chicago took off before sunrise and rose smoothly through the clouds to cruise at 23,000 feet. We were traveling in a northwesterly direction, so the sunrise was behind and on the opposite side of my window seat. But what a beautiful display of colors I witnessed; the deepest black of the sky looking towards space, changing into all the spectrums of blue as the light of the sun rose to decorate the tops of the clouds in purples, pinks, oranges, and yellows. Long shadows made the clouds look like waves on the ocean. As I stared out the window, Psalm 8 came to my mind;

"Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

You have set your glory in the heavens. Through the praise of children and infants you have established a stronghold against your enemies, to silence the foe and the avenger. When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?

You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor. You made them rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under their feet: all flocks and herds, and the animals of the wild, the birds in the sky, and the fish in the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas.

Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!"

Imagine David sitting outside watching his sheep, awed by a stunning sunset or sunrise. The wonders of what he saw above him with his human eyes caused him to feel minute in comparison. And he praised God for all creation.

Here we are in the 21st century with microscopes and telescopes that reveal more than our eyes alone can see. The advancement of physical science has allowed physicians to place our bodies inside a metal tube that creates 3D visual slices of our inner bodies and microscopes that can decode our DNA. Aeronautics allow us to sit inside metal tubes that hurl us around the globe, or out into space and back, and science continues to develop telescopes that are revealing the universe with sights our eyes have never before seen. I read that when astronomers saw some of the first pictures sent back to earth from the James Webb Space Telescope, they wept in amazement.

Even with all this marvelous technological advancement, the wonder and worship of David’s simple ancient psalm still leaves us asking, “Who are we mere humans in comparison to all of this?” For those of us who believe in a loving Heavenly Father who created the micro and macroscopic, we know this truth:

“How great is the love the father has lavished on us that we should be called the children of God. And that is what we are!” 1 John 3:1a

May we never lose the wonder and worship for which we are created!

I’m praying for you.

Pastor Deb



Art-Parables

The parables Jesus told have always fascinated me. Over the years, I have enjoyed learning more about parables and how Jesus used them to engage the imaginations of the listeners to stretch their understanding of God and His Kingdom in new ways. Robert L Short in his book The Parables of Peanuts, wrote “As a working definition, we can say that art-parable is that creation of man with no practical use except to communicate meaning indirectly through forms that capture one’s attention….art-parable always has something to say” (Short, 1968, pgs 8-9).

In his sermon this past Sunday, Dakota skillfully used stories to capture our attention in ways that helped us understand 2 Timothy 2:20-26 in deeper ways. One story he told was of the church in Houston that did not open their doors after Hurricane Harvey for those who were displaced by the flooding and were looking for refuge in a church building. Dakota used that story to demonstrate the truth of verse 21, that God’s people are to cleanse themselves from dishonorable purposes so that they “will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.” By providing that story, which held profound implications of honor and dishonor, Dakota stretched our imaginations and provided immediate application in our daily lives.

Scripture tells us that the crowds that followed Jesus were “amazed at his teaching” Mark 11:18. They apparently had never heard a religious teacher speak in the ways he did! There are many reasons why that was so, but I think his use of art-parable had something to do with their fascination. Parables were not new; the rabbis used parables, too. But Jesus had a way with words that compelled the listeners to take notice, pay attention, and to understand God’s Good News in new ways.

This is my prayer for us as we continue the sermon series on the parables of Jesus. May His Holy Spirit stir our imaginations in new ways so that we are transformed in spirit and in life; cleansed and used as vessels for God’s holy purposes in this world.

I’m praying for you,

Pastor Deb



Pork Chops and Prayer

What happened this last Sunday morning is a wonderful example of God’s people surrounding each other in prayer and using their spiritual gifts to encourage and build up the body of Christ.

Saturday evening, I made a new recipe for pork chops that called for a rather large amount of oil and butter. I should have known better; I have lived without a gallbladder for over 30 years and am quite aware of what greasy food can do to me. But, against my better judgment and years of experience, I ate it, and it was delicious.

Sunday morning, I began to feel the effects of that decision. At 10:30 am, I began to wonder if I would be able to preach. By 10:45, I really questioned that, and asked Dawn and Austin whether we could move the sermon to the beginning of the worship service, rather than the end. They both quickly went into gear—alerting all those who were participating, and gathered the deacons who prayed over me. I was able to preach, and then left for home. I spent the rest of the day in my recliner sipping broth.

I could have just said, “Hey, I’m not feeling well and I need to go home.” But, I knew God gave me a message to share, and I knew I needed to preach it; therefore, I prayed, spoke, and went home. Listening to the service online, I heard the lyrics to the song Nelson and John sang, “Please keep me humble,” and “I needеd you so bad, you saved my soul and I’m so glad. Please use me Lord, that’s my plea; let the light shine in me, so the whole world may see. Thank you Lord, for saving me.”

Yes, I chuckled—that’s exactly right!

Every person involved in the decision to rearrange the service, and every person involved in the service, used their spiritual gifts that morning, and the Word of God went out—in song, in prayer, and in spoken word. This was all for the glory of God, as we all continue to “reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” Ephesians 4:13

“Jesus, Jesus, Jesus; there’s just something about that Name!”

I’m praying for you,

Pastor Deb

P.S. I threw away that recipe! 😊



Friendship with God

The October Bible reading theme is Friendship.

“’Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness’; and he was called the friend of God.” James 2:23; Genesis 15:6

Why is righteousness the foundation of friendship with God? Righteousness can be simply defined as being in “right (holy) relationship” with God. Abraham’s friendship with God was based on his belief in God’s promises and his willingness to obey God’s instruction. “By faith Abraham obeyed…” Hebrews 11:8. Thus, James in his letter emphasized that a righteous person must, like Abraham, have faith and action which work together, James 2:14-26.

The Hebrew word for friendship is also translated as love, as in Psalm 146:8; “The Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous.”

Loving friendship with Almighty God is an astounding promise and invitation, and it was astoundingly accomplished through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ; “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command.” John 15:13-14.

And even more astonishing is that God’s Holy Spirit lives in each of us, John 14:16-17! God desires to be our Friend, invites us into friendship with Him, and then gives us the power to be his friend! What a friend we have in Jesus! When Jesus told the parables of grace about how much more our Heavenly Father loves us, and when he summed up the law and the prophets by saying “Love God with everything you’ve got, and love everyone including yourself,” he was rooted in the foundation of righteous and loving relationship with the Trinity. When I know God loves me that much, I want to live my life from his love.

One of my favorite images of friendship with God comes from Isaiah 41:

“But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, the offspring of Abraham, my friend; you whom I took from the ends of the earth, and called from its farthest corners, saying to you, ‘You are my servant, I have chosen you and not cast you off;’fear not, for I am with you, be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand….For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, “Fear not, I will help you.” Isaiah 41:8-10, 13

Catch that image there? God holds your right hand with his victorious right hand—that’s face-to-face handholding, right there!

Take and hold God’s righteous and loving hand of friendship; your life will never be the same.

I’m praying for you.

Pastor Deb



Plumbline

Every other week I meet with a local pastors’ group for prayer and Bible study. We’ve been studying the prophet Amos together. Yesterday we discussed chapter 6 in which God lets the Israelites in the Northern Kingdom have it for their complacent self-indulgence and pride, and chapter 7 in which God tells them, that because of their failure to repent and return to God, judgment for their sin would be coming.

7:7-8 “This is what he showed me: the Lord was standing beside a wall built with a plumb line, with a plumb line in his hand. And the Lord said to me, ‘Amos, what do you see?’ And I said, ‘A plumb line.’ Then the Lord said, ‘See, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of my people Israel; I will never again pass them by…’”

A plumb line is a weight suspended from a string used as a vertical reference line to ensure a structure is centered. As the weight hangs free, it always find the vertical axis pointing to the center of gravity, which ensures everything is right, justified and centered. Plumb lines are used in carpentry, masonry, architecture, and I’ve even used one when hanging wallpaper to ensure the first strip is hung straight!

When God gave Amos the vision of setting a plumb line in the midst of his people Israel, He was stating that His people were “out of plumb” from God’s standard that he set forth when he rescued them from Egypt, and declared that they would by His “treasured possession…a priestly kingdom and a holy nations.” Exodus 19:5-6. God was sick and tired of unrepentant pride, self-indulgence, arrogance, and that they “oppressed the poor and crushed the needy” 4:1; therefore exile was coming.

Isaiah 28:16-17a “So this is what the Sovereign LORD says: ‘See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who relies on it will never be stricken with panic. I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the plumb line…’”

1 Peter 2:1-10 tells us that Jesus Christ is the precious cornerstone for God’s kingdom and His people: “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.”

When we followers of Jesus get “out of plumb” from God’s holy standard, Christ’s blood fills the gap and the Holy Spirit draws us back for repentance and forgiveness, once again lining us up to holy faithfulness. God’s grace is a free gift; we do not deserve it and we cannot earn it. What we do is turn back to God, confess and repent of our sin, and ask forgiveness.

Place your heart, mind, and soul in the hands of your Loving Father. The Spirit of Jesus sets you straight in right and holy relationship with God. Fresh start, justified and centered on Truth and Love, putting on the “new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.” Eph 4:24.

I’m praying for you.
Pastor Deb



Keep on!

In my work in Christian camp ministry, I quickly learned that summer camps are often places of frontline spiritual warfare. The reason being is that summer camps are where young people are making commitments to follow Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. God’s enemy does not want that to happen; therefore, spiritual attacks are mounted to try to inhibit camp ministry. I’ve witnessed and experienced these attacks as: staff who were often bothered with illness, strained relationships, weariness, fear, emotional and physical emergencies, frustration with campers and guests, equipment failures, money worries, break-ins and vandalism (that’s the short list!). I’ve had experiences that can only be explained as supernatural—the darkness of evil trying to interfere with the Light of Christ.

In all of those times, I was never afraid. More often than not, I was irritated; we had work to do in God’s Kingdom! These diversion tactics took time and energy away from the primary mission of proclaiming the hope of Jesus Christ. I remember one time when a major problem developed between the male and female camp staff, because of one thing that was said and misunderstood. I had to stop all my work to intervene and help with reconciliation. Not much progress was made (meaning the females were increasingly angry at the males) until I identified what was happening as spiritual warfare—the enemy was delighted because their anger was distracting them from the mission of Jesus! Once we named that and stood in agreement in prayer, the Holy Spirit swept in and chased out the darkness, and hearts were softened for reconciliation and forgiveness. And with the renewed Light shining, many campers gave their lives to Jesus that week!

“Satan is a defeated foe, with a crushed head. There is no power in him, nor are there any means available to him to reach and unseat the Victor of Calvary now seated at the right hand of the Father. It is not for us to fight for victory…Our fight is from victory; and from this vantage point, empowered with Christ’s might, and completely enclosed in the whole armor of God, the powers of evil are compelled to back off as we resist them.”1

A 121 year old congregation has a lot of spiritual victory to celebrate! The Grove has existed for 44,165 days, and I’ve been your interim pastor for only 83 of those days! But I can testify that you have a strong history of and commitment to PRAYER. And prayer is the most powerful weapon we have against the forces of darkness.

In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he urges believers to “…put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then,” and “pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” Eph 6:13-14a, 18.

We must keep on praying! Rather than grow fearful about the future (in what is called post-Christian America and what is certainly a strategy of the devil) we must seek the wisdom and guidance of God’s Spirit. We must gather together to worship Jesus, disciple and encourage each other, engage in the Great Commission, and celebrate the joy of being children of the Light! In this way, The Grove will continue to celebrate the faithfulness of Jesus in another 44,165 days!

I’m praying for you,

Pastor Deb

1R. Arthur Mathews, Born for Battle: 31 Studies on Spiritual Warfare (Robesonia, PA:OMF Books, 1978), pp. 26-28.



Holding God’s Hand

Holding God’s Hand 9/15/22

This past Sunday 9/11, Ben Frenchak brought us a message of “Joy!” based on Philippians 4:4-7. He said that the apostle Paul was reminding the believers at Philippi that they were to rejoice no matter their circumstances; joy is a choice. Paul knew how hard it was to make such a choice, which may be why he repeated his instruction, “I’ll say it again: Rejoice!”

The Bible reading for Sunday was Psalm 23. This is a beloved passage for just about everyone. In my work as a Hospice Chaplain, this psalm was the most requested for me to read. These timeless words offer hope that even in the midst of the grief and sometimes pain of a person’s final days on this earth, the presence and promise of God will carry them through, and give them peace.

“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” Ps 23:5

That sentence has always been quite intriguing to me. It brings a mental image of David, surrounded by his enemies, sitting at a fully loaded banquet table, resting and enjoying God’s protection and provision! Quite a picture, eh?!

Ben said that it is possible for followers of Jesus to have joy in the midst of tragedy or darkness, joy in deep moments of grief or hardship. We are still inhabitants of this old earth and are not exempt from experiencing life in its extremes. Yet we have the promise of God that we are not making this trek alone;

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand….For I am the Lord your God who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.” Isaiah 41:10, 13.

Take a moment and picture what that promise of God describes. God’s right hand is holding your right hand; that provides a face-to-face arrangement. Your weak hand in God Almighty’s powerful right hand provides a relationship of friendship and trust. And, you can still kneel in front of him in worship while holding His hand.

Ben said that rejoicing takes place in a deep meaningful relationship with Jesus. Rejoicing produces gentleness, prayer, thanksgiving, and peace. All through scripture God kept reminding his people to not be afraid, Joshua 1:9m and not worry Matthew 6:33-34 (those are just two verses that state this—there are many more!). Paul just joined in to remind people: “I said it once and I’ll say it again: Rejoice!”

Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death?…No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:35-39

We can rejoice because God’s presence gives us peace, rest, and sets a big old banquet table of goodness and mercy before us even in the midst of whatever circumstances life may throw at us. Hold God’s hand and keep rejoicing.

I’m praying for you.

Pastor Deb