Christmas Eve 2017
As the holidays approach, I always start reflecting on all the things that have changed in the past year. 2017 has brought turbulent times for our country, communities, and culture. That subject is way too big to deal with in a short newsletter article. Let’s just say that we’re all figuring out how to deal with everything, which is another way of saying we’re figuring out how to deal with each other.
I can’t tell you how the world is doing this, but I can share the things we’ve done at Shepherd of the Valley in the midst of a changing world…ways in which we’ve grown together as a community.
We’ve discovered the joy of eating together! In addition to the usual potlucks and youth dinners, we now have a Chili King (Paul Steward) and Queen of Fudge (Jan Philp), both of whom earned their trophies in congregation-wide contests. This summer we’ll have a barbecue festival for the whole neighborhood as well. Maybe you’ll become our next BBQ Master!
Our doors have been open for several neighbors in need. We’ve distributed funds, groceries, gas, rent and utilities help to dozens. Our Christmas Tree of Giving produced almost 100 presents for local families.
We’ve been blessed by people of different backgrounds, orientations, and ages. Our younger generation has shared laughter, music, and a few of them have even led the sermon on Sundays! The same is true of our seniors. We’ve woven all ends of the spectrum together through our Wednesday Family Nights, facilitated by scores of people leading studies and bringing food. (Food is a big deal to us, apparently! But what better way to get to know each other?)
We have learned to be flexible, to take time with the people around us. We care less about attaining some mythical, unreachable standard of perfection. Instead we value who we’re doing things with…and who we’re doing things for.
In all of this, we’ve re-discovered what it means to be a family…not the traditional, impermeable, “We’re inside and you’re out” church family, but a community where none of us stands at the center, where walls matter less than grace, in which we regard everyone as God’s child.
We hope you experience the warmth and Spirit of this blessed night as we gather around the babe in the manger and hear the story of God’s great compassion for us. We want you to know that always, everywhere, love lives among us. It shapes the church and flows out to the community around. There’s no better or greater purpose, especially in the midst of chaotic times.
How will we respond? We will love. We will care. We will walk together. And we are blessed to share this night, and this calling, with you.
God’s blessings, now and always.
Every Wednesday at 6:00 pm we gather for “Family Night”, an inter-generational education and social time. The model is fairly simple. We eat together at 6:00, with food prepared by some of the folks among us. Around 6:30 we hear about the night’s scripture story. Then we split into small groups with age-appropriate discussion of the lesson. Younger folks do crafts or music, older sit in discussion circles, while youth do their own thing.
The idea for Family Night was pretty simple. Up until last year we ran a traditional Sunday School. We heard that teachers and students were feeling isolated, maybe even abandoned in a sense. Kids would come and get dropped off in a little room, where they’d sit and “learn” for an hour. We didn’t have enough activity, connection, or interwoven relationships.
We heard this and thought, “Instead of dismissing that feedback or trying to convince more people to be a part of the system we already have, why not change the system based on what people are telling us they need? What if we started with the idea that God is learned best through relationships with each other and let everything else flow from that?” Family Night was born.
Now instead of a couple classes of children, we welcome 60-80 people of all ages. Our facilitators and participants see from moment one that they’re not alone in this…that we all find God’s family important. Parents and children can come together, talking about the experience on the way there and back. We’re not separating people anymore. We’re daring to believe God works through all of us.
We haven’t forgotten Sunday mornings either. Our youth are beginning to lead younger participants in activities that fill the space left by Sunday School: music and Veggie Tales movies and all kinds of stuff. (Right now we’re rehearsing for our Christmas Pageant!) Once again we’re trying to make connections, trusting that God’s grace will come through many hands, and working together.
Come experience Family Night for yourself if you haven’t already! It’s an easy way to get to know people and a safe environment to start learning and talking about God.
--Pastor Dave 208-362-1112 / firstname.lastname@example.org
Over the years as a pastor, I’ve found that most theological difficulties and misunderstandings boil down to a couple of things:
1. We assume we know how God operates instead of examining and learning.
2. Our assumptions tend to fall into a rut, carved out by our own need and the culture that surrounds us.
When it comes to our relationship with God, most of us are cars driving in blind darkness on a country lane. We don’t have a really good idea which way to steer. When our wheels find the ditch at the side of the road, it gives us a sense of security and location. So we drive with our car in the dip and assure the other passengers, “I got this! I got this!”
Every once in a while, as opinions and culture shift around us, we find out that the ditch we’re driving in doesn’t work. Sensible people would turn on the headlights and try to figure out where the road is going. Instead we pull out of the rut, correcting the other direction until our wheels find the ditch on the other side of the road. Then we drive along happily in that one until our culture changes again.
Seldom do we remember to ask the important question: Is this road even going in the right direction?
You can see this phenomenon at work when people discuss how God views us as human beings. The old-school response was legalistic and cranky. “God is judging you. You’d better be good for Jesus or else you’ll be condemned!” This gave rise to insular, judgmental churches full of holier-than-thou people. At some point we figured out this was wrong…mostly when the children of those people left the church in droves. Then we pulled out of that ditch and drifted towards the other side until we landed at, “I’m OK, you’re OK, and God accepts everybody just as they are.”
The right-hand ditch wasn’t true even for a moment. We are not saved by our own goodness. If we could have been good enough to earn salvation, we would not have needed Jesus in the first place. Judgment is folly. It only leads to us condemning ourselves.
The left-hand ditch is not true either. God does love us. Saying that he “accepts us just as we are” discounts both our imperfection and any transformation that comes through our relationship with God. If I’m already OK “just as I am”, then (again) why did Jesus come to save me?
Here you see the essential problem. We don’t need Jesus in the right-hand ditch, nor do we need Jesus in the left-hand ditch! They’re just different versions of the same mistake. That’s a pretty good sign that this road is leading the wrong way. No matter how many times we bounce back and forth between its ditches, or even if we end up in between, we’re still not going to end up in the right place.
We have to stop finding comfort in the ditches and start upping the headlights a little so we can figure out where the road’s going. Studying scripture, listening to others, being challenged by the world, and praying all help us remember that we’re not the center of the universe…that we need more than our own assumptions to get us through. These disciplines are vital in the life of faith. They don’t save us, but they help us understand how someone else is.
None of us will ever fully comprehend God, or our path, completely. That’s no excuse for driving in the dark and pretending, finding security in being predictably wrong instead of opening to the possibility that God is transforming us and the road ahead of us each day. Churches, and the people who comprise them, need to stop digging deeper ditches and start shining light on the matter, that we might all find ways forward that are inspirational and true rather than destructive and self-confirming.
--Pastor Dave 208-362-1112 / email@example.com
Advent 3 Children's Message
John 1:6-8, 19-28
Theme: John the Baptist’s Announcement
Materials: candy cane
What have you seen this week that tells you our celebration of Jesus’ birth is near? (Nativity set, stars, angels, trees, lights) In today’s Bible lesson John the Baptist tells all the people around him that someone very special is coming. Who do you think John was talking about? (Jesus)
Many years ago a candy maker loved Jesus so much that he decided to do something that would tell others about Jesus too. This is what he made. What is it called? (candy cane) But how can a candy cane tell about Jesus?
When a candy cane stands up, it looks like … a shepherd’s crook. The shepherd uses it to bring the sheep back to the flock, so they will be safe. It reminds us that Jesus is like a shepherd for us, watching over us and protecting us.
Now, if I turn the candy cane upside down, what does it look like? What letter? A “j”. How can a “j” remind us of Jesus? (That’s the first letter in Jesus’ name.)
When you see a candy cane this week, may you be reminded that our celebration of Jesus’ birth is coming soon.
Prayer: Dear Jesus, we want to honor you as we prepare for Christmas. We thank you for being our shepherd, for gathering us into your fold, for protecting us, for loving us. Amen.
Advent II Children's Message
Mark 1:1-8, Luke 3:1-3
Theme: Naughty and Nice (Sinner and Saint)
Materials: candy cane
Today’s Bible lesson tells us how John the Baptist went throughout the countryside telling people about God. What he told the people reminds me of some words of a song you might know. “He’s making a list, checking it twice, gonna find out who’s naughty and nice.” Who’s making the list? (Santa) Who’s naughty? What do we do that is naughty? What do we do that is nice?
John the Baptist told the people, “turn away from being naughty.” A special person is coming who will erase your “naughty”. Who do you think that is? (Jesus)
When I hold this candy cane upside down, what letter does it make? (J) Yes, and it is the first letter in whose name? (Jesus) The candy cane has 2 colors. What are they? (red, white)
The red reminds us of Jesus’ blood and how he died on the cross to take away our “naughty”. The white is the color that reminds us of being clean and pure, like being “nice”.
So, because of Jesus, who is on the “nice” list? (all of us) Isn’t that cool? Here is a candy cane for each of you to help you remember that you are on the “nice” list.
Prayer: Dear Jesus, we are sorry for our naughty behaviors. We are so thankful that you forgive us and make us clean. May we celebrate that because of Jesus we are on the “nice” list. Praise God! Amen.
Advent I Children's Message
Mark 13:24-37, Matthew 24:36-44
Theme: Be Ready
Have you run in a race? Or watched a runner? What have you seen them do to get ready to run? Runners have a special way to start so that they are ready for the race.
When the official starts, they say:
Get ready—get your feet and hands in position
Get set—get the rest of your body in position
Today’s Gospel lesson is about being ready. This is the time of the year we want to be ready to celebrate a birthday. Whose birthday? (Jesus) What do you do so you are ready for Jesus’ birthday? (Make or buy presents, put up decorations, light Advent candles)
This year as you do all those things, try whispering, “Happy Birthday, Jesus.”
Let’s do that now. Whisper: Happy Birthday, Jesus.
Prayer: Dear Jesus, we want to be ready for celebrating your birthday. Prepare our hearts and our minds so all that we do to prepare for Christmas glorifies you. Amen.
Created by Georgia Girvan