December 1

Advent: a word that means “the coming or arrival of something or someone that is important or worthy of note.” Here we are, on the cusp of the Advent season once again, waiting for the arrival of our Savior. On Sunday mornings during worship, I will be using Stories of the Season to guide us as we anticipate the coming of the Christ Child, with many of the stories coming from children’s books. Author Jan Richardson asks the question, “how will we move through these days in a way that allows us to receive the gift that comes looking for us, that asks only that we open our hands, our eyes, our heart to the Love that knows our name?” May we all have the hands, the eyes, and the hearts of children this Advent.

Sermon Series: Stories of the Season

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December 2 - Hope
Special Guests: Oconee Suzuki Strings
Sermon: Hope
Scripture: Luke 1:25-38; Philippians 2:13
God Always Keeps His Promises: Unshakable Hope for Kids by Max Lucado
Almost Everything: Notes on Hope by Anne Lamott

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December 9 - Peace
Special Focus: Choir Christmas Music
Sermon: It’s Time!
Scripture: John 8:12
Song of the Stars: A Christmas Story by Sally-Lloyd Jones

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December 16 - Joy
Sermon: Gifts Of The Baby
Scripture: Matthew 2:1-2
Home by Another Way by Barbara Brown Taylor

December 23 - Love
Sermon: In Defense of the Innkeeper by William E. Hull
Scripture: Luke 2:6-7

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December 24 - Christmas Eve
Sermon: A Special Evening
Scripture: Luke 2:1-20
‘Twas the Evening of Christmas by Glenys Nellist

November 28

Advent is here.

This Sunday begins a season of quiet waiting – waiting for the Christ child; waiting for the message God has for us during this season. However, the quiet call of Advent goes against so many things that surround us during this time of year. We are bombarded with commercials, parties, school programs, Christmas cards, shopping – and the list could go on and on. Yet, Advent calls us to slow down, to ponder, to wait, to spend time with God. I encourage you to be intentional about these upcoming weeks and each day set aside time to listen for God’s voice. There are many ways to do this.

You and your family could assemble a small Advent wreath to use at home throughout the season. We have provided a family resource for you to use this year from Illustrated Children’s Ministry. Make sure and pick one up at church. It contains delightful family activities, as well as devotions to do together.

There is a wonderful FREE online daily devotion that is produced by Passport, called Following the Star. You may remember that our youth and children attended Passport camps a few years ago. This takes just a few minutes each day, but is an ideal way to slow down, and focus on what God might have for you each day of Advent. You can find information about it here: www.365.org. For those of you who use Facebook, there is also a group called 365.org that you can join.

Another possibility is an online Advent retreat led by Jan Richardson. I often use her poetry and words during worship. The cost for this online retreat is $90. You can find information about it here: https://janrichardson.com/adventretreat.

Whatever you chose to do, I pray that God will richly bless you during these four weeks. This Sunday, we light the candle of Hope. From Romans 15:13 – “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

-Pastor Jane

November 21

In “church world,” this coming Sunday is considered an “extra Sunday.” What does that mean? Most often, the Sunday after Thanksgiving is also the first Sunday of Advent. But that is not the case this year. Since Thanksgiving is earlier than usual, we have an “extra Sunday” before Advent begins on December 2. What should we do with that extra day?

During worship this Sunday, we will be learning from our final Song of Thanks – Now Thank We All Our God. We will once again open our hearts to God with voices of Thanksgiving as we gain new insights from both the hymn and 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18.

Then, later that afternoon, our children and youth will have a special Christmas event beginning at 4:00. They will meet in the Fellowship Hall for a visit from Santa and a viewing of the movie The Star. They are encouraged to bring a pillow, blanket, sleeping bag, and to wear their pajamas, as they have their own Christmas pajama party, complete with popcorn, lemonade, and friends.

At the same time, our adults will gather in the sanctuary to transform it for the Advent season. This is a big job, and I hope many of you can join us as we hang wreaths, decorate the Chrismon tree, place nativity scenes, and set up the Advent wreath. We will also begin at 4:00.

This “extra Sunday” – provides us a chance to worship, fellowship, and serve together. I look forward to seeing you then.

-Pastor Jane

November 14

This is an exciting time of year, isn’t it? This week we begin the holiday season at Union with several special opportunities.

This Friday, November 16, we will throw open the front doors of our building and welcome families who are coming to pick up their Thanksgiving food boxes. This year we have partnered with our local Woodmen of the World chapter to provide food for 70 families. Because of all those who have put together a food box, it should be a wonderful day, and we need your help. If you are available anytime between 10:45 and 1:15, please come and help us welcome the families by carrying their boxes and turkeys to their cars.

This Sunday night, November 18, we will have our annual Church Family Thanksgiving Dinner beginning at 5:30. The church will provide turkey and dressing and you are asked to bring a covered dish to help fill out the meal. This is always a special night – bounteous food, laughter and fellowship, and a time of speaking our words of thanks for this past year. Invite your friends and family and come and join us.

Our partnership with Interfaith Hospitality Network of Athens has offered us another wonderful opportunity to serve those in need in our community. Some of you may have heard that they are moving their offices out of the Day Center, just across the street to an area located in First Baptist Church, Athens. They hope to have this move completed by December 1. The physical labor of the move will begin on Monday, November 19. If you are able to help with that move, please let one of our coordinators – Patti Clark or Kelly Hansford know. Lunch will be provided on that day.

As we approach Advent, there will be many more opportunities for fellowship, worship, and service. Keep you ears and your eyes open for ways you can participate.

-Pastor Jane

November 7

We are entering into a very special season at Union – filled with opportunities for worship, learning, celebration, service, and community. I encourage you to look carefully at all of the offerings and participate in the ones that will guide you toward the coming of the Christ child.

This Sunday we will continue in our 30 Days Of Thanks emphasis as we explore the background behind the hymn For the Beauty of the Earth. I hope that you will continue to take the time each day to name one thing you are thankful for. Many of you are participating in this by posting on social media. Because these posts are on a public forum, they are a witness to many people. This Sunday we will also honor our veterans and dedicate Operation Christmas Child and Thanksgiving food boxes during worship.

My prayer is that during this season of giving thanks, everything we do will be pointed toward the Christ child. I look forward to seeing you on Sunday as we give thanks for the blessings that surround us.

-Pastor Jane

November 1

This past week, we have been inundated with scenes of violence around our country.

In Louisville, KY, a man attempted to enter the predominantly African American First Baptist Church in Jeffersontown, KY, but was unable to enter because the doors were locked. He moved from there to the nearby Kroger where he shot and killed two people in the parking lot. Why? Because of their race.

Throughout the week, individuals and corporations received homemade bombs at their homes or places of business. Why? Because of their politics.

On Saturday, October 27, eleven people were gunned down in their synagogue in Pittsburgh, as they gathered for worship. Why? Because of their faith.

We live in a fractured world – separated by race, politics, faith, and so much more. What are we to do as followers of Christ? Within our church family, we have people on both sides of the aisle as it relates to politics. We have people that understand and practice their faith in different ways. Should we vilify each other because of this?

When I have questions like this that involve such strong emotions, I always look to Jesus. How did he treat people – the disenfranchised, the unwelcomed, those that disagreed with him. Here are his words from Matthew 22:37-39; Mark 12:30-31; Luke 10:27.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind. And, Love your neighbor as yourself.

And, who is our neighbor? Those that agree with us? Those that look like us? Those that vote like us? No – according to Jesus, in Luke 10:37, a neighbor is someone who shows mercy for everyone. Love God. Love People. That’s All.

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As we move into this month where we focus on thanks and as we participate in 30 Days Of Thanks, my prayer is that our thanksgiving will move us to love – all God’s children.


October 31

Tomorrow is November 1, the first day of our church-wide focus on thankfulness. This year, we will be participating in something called 30 Days Of Thanks. The premise is this: for each of the 30 days of November, take a minute and simply name one thing you are thankful for. There are several ways you can do this.

You can write them down on the sheet that was available this past Sunday. This list is also available on our website, in the November newsletter, and will be available again this Sunday.

You can name one thing you are thankful for each of the next thirty days on social media – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. If you do this, please use the hashtags #unionchristianchurch and #30daysofthanks

You can add the 30 Days Of Thanks frame to your Facebook profile picture. Find it here: http://www.unionchristianchurch.net/30daysofthanks

At the end of the month, if you are comfortable sharing, we will post the sheets of thankfulness in the Gathering Space.

Finally, available this Sunday, you can pick up a coloring sheet on the topic of Thankfulness. In your Quiet Time over the next few weeks, use these to help you quiet your minds as you focus on thankfulness. You can bring them to church and they will also be posted in the Gathering Space.

In a time when we are surrounded by anger and hate, it is necessary to take the time to name what we are thankful for and to intentionally give thanks. I am excited we can do this together. Today, I am thankful for YOU, the Union Family.

-Pastor Jane

October 24

A few random thoughts this week:

This Sunday afternoon we will welcome our community to Fall Family Fun Night at Union. This is always such an exciting event. While you are there, let me encourage you to take the time to find someone you don’t know and get to know them. Share with them about our church and invite them to join us if they don’t already have a church home.

The month of November is fast approaching, and with its arrival we will have a special theme for the month – 30 Days Of Thanks. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 encourages us with the words “Give thanks in all circumstances.” There are several ways you can participate:

  • If you are on social media, there will be a special 30 Days Of Thanks frame you can add to your profile picture for the month.

  • Also, if you are on social media, for 30 days, let me invite you to share a daily thanks as your status.

  • If you are not on social media, there will be a page available at church for you to write down your daily thanks.

  • My sermon series during November will focus on hymns of thanks.

All of this can be accessed through our website, so if you have friends who would like to participate with us, guide them to www.unionchristianchurch.net.

My sermon series on the Psalms will conclude this Sunday with a look at Psalm 34. We will ask the question, “Is God really good?” Our church has been rocked with some especially tough times recently that could cause us to ask that question. My prayer is that this sermon will speak to each of you as we explore this issue together.

-Pastor Jane

October 17

I am so grateful for the words of thanks you offered on Sunday for Pastor Appreciation Day. The flowers, the gift cards, the notes from the children, and your kind words made my day! It is an honor to serve alongside-side you each week, and I look forward to more years of ministry together. It is a joy to be your pastor!

Many of you have commented on the sermon from this past Sunday. Thank you for your thoughtful words and for those of you who have continued to dialogue by email, text, and one-on-one. I am so glad that God spoke to you through it. I’d like to share one more reflection on the subject from a website that I engage with often, RevGalBlogPals. This past week, pastor and regular contributor, Rachel Hackenberg, wrote a prayer on the topic of Lament. I pray it will speak to you as it did me.

Sunday Prayer: Lament

Answer us, we dare pray,
O God of our groaning.
Reclaim what has been cast away,
O God of our weariness.
Seek out the pieces of our hearts,
lest they be scattered by the wind.

In your goodness, let there be a light
to keep us company as we cry.
In your mercy, let there be a hope
to draw water for our dry spirits.
In your love, let there be a word
to whisper us back into life.

Until the days of our delight
outweigh the days of our distress;
Until the season of evil
fades in the eternity of justice;
Until our tongues are loosed
from the dust of death.

Let there be a light,
let there be a hope,
let there be a word.

Amen.

-Pastor Jane

October 10

Have you ever looked up to the heavens and yelled at God? You may have had a tragic event happen in your family, or you may have lost your job, or the events of these past few weeks have caused you to question where God might be in the churning turmoil. Maybe there was a time when you had just had enough and all you could think to do was yell at God, question God over why certain events had happened, asked God over and over – where are you? Have you disappeared? I am so mad at you!!!

You may hear these words, these questions and think that we should never question God, never ask why, never get mad. But we find in scripture that even Jesus asked why? “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” In other words, God where are you when I need you? These words of Jesus as he was dying on the cross, asked the question that we all ask at one time or another. Those words originally came from the mouth of David in Psalm 22, our Psalm for this week. We don’t know for sure the situation – it could have been as Saul was chasing David to kill him, or it could have been as he was making an important decision as king. Whatever the situation, David felt abandoned by God and so he cries out – where are you God? Why have you left me alone?

This Sunday, we will be exploring this question as we continue in our study of the Psalms. I hope to see you then.

-Pastor Jane

October 3

A month ago, I began sharing with you some insights from a book the Elders are reading together entitled Sailboat Church: Helping Your Church Rethink Its Mission and Practice, by Joan S. Gray. You may remember that the author is exploring the concept that churches fall in one of two categories – Rowboat and Sailboat. Last month I gave an overview description of these two types of churches. This month, I would like to explore more fully a Sailboat Church.

What is a good description of a Sailboat Church? The author offers several attitudes and practices that she feels are markers for this type of church.

She says, Sailboat Churches....

  • experience church as a divine-human partnership

  • make nurturing relationship with Jesus Christ a top priority

  • are Holy Spirit powered

  • live by prayer

  • are shaped and guided by interaction with scripture

  • require spiritual leaders

  • take spiritual realities and resources seriously

  • live to sail

  • are places of transformation

  • teach and practice discernment

In looking over these practices, do you see any areas where we are strong as a church? Are there weaknesses that we need to address? Let’s talk, as we work together toward being God’s church in Oconee County.

-Pastor Jane

October 1

Last month, my article contained some initial information about the possibility of a church-wide Mission Trip this summer. This month I’d like to follow up with some additional information to help answer some questions that you might have.

What are the dates?
June 1-7, 2019 Saturday-Saturday

Where would we be going?
Puerto Rico

What is the mission sending group?
Praying Pelican Missions. You can read about them and their work around the world at www.prayingpelicanmissions.org. Hear these words about their mission philosophy – “We believe in the local Church. This is our mission base. Each of our teams are partnered alongside local ministries to encourage and assist them in serving their communities during their mission trip.”

What would we be doing?
We have options of Construction, Children’s Ministry, Sports Ministry, Prayer Ministry, etc. We are able to customize the trip based on our gifts and experience.

What are the ages?
This would be a church-wide, intergenerational trip. In other words, people of all ages can be a participant. This is an especially good trip for families.

Where would we stay?
We would be housed in a bunk house and each person would have their own bed.

I hope this has given you some idea of what a trip like this would entail. Soon, we will be
having an interest meeting to answer more of your questions. Let’s all begin praying
together as we approach this wonderful opportunity, praying especially for the people we
will be serving.

September 26

I missed you last Sunday but thank you for the opportunity to go back to our former church for the weekend. It was a great celebration and fun for me to sit in the pew once again. I am so grateful to Stacy Pardue for preaching in my absence.
 
This Sunday, we will begin a new sermon series from the Psalms. As we think about the Psalms there are several interesting observations that come to the surface. It is the longest book in the Bible and also the most frequently quoted book in the New Testament. Why is that? This book was the hymnal of the Jewish people, with the poems being sung both in their worship and in their daily life. They knew the Psalms and they knew the God of the Psalms.
 
This week we will be learning from Psalm 19, a psalm of promise. In his book, Reflections on the Psalms, author C. S. Lewis said of Psalm 19: "I take this to be the greatest poem in the Psalter and one of the greatest lyrics in the world.” I encourage you to spend some time reading this psalm several times before Sunday, looking specifically for words that can be used to describe God and God’s word. This will be our focus on Sunday as we learn from the words of David. I look forward to seeing you then.

 -Pastor Jane

September 19

This Sunday, I will be away celebrating an important milestone. First Baptist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee is the church David and I served from November 1993-October 2002 and is where our children grew up. We moved there in 1993 as the church was nearing the conclusion of celebrating their 150th year. And now, 25 years later, they are spending this year commemorating 175 years of faithful ministry on West Main Street. As a part of this year-long celebration, they have invited former pastors to return and preach during a Sunday morning worship service and this coming Sunday is the day David will be preaching. We are both thrilled to be going back, having the opportunity to see old friends, and remembering a season of ministry in our lives.

In my absence, Stacy Pardue will be preaching this Sunday. She is the Assistant Director of Interfaith Hospitality Network, and I think it is only appropriate that she preaches on the Sunday we begin our third week of hosting Interfaith families in our building. I know you will make Stacy welcome and hear her joyfully.

-Pastor Jane

September 12

This church year, the Elders are reading a book together entitled Sailboat Church: Helping Your Church Rethink Its Mission and Practice, by Joan S. Gray. If you would be interested in reading along with us, you can order it through Amazon.

The unique presentation in this book metaphorically divides churches into two types, Rowboat churches and Sailboat churches. The author offers this description of a Rowboat church: “Rowboat churches do what they can with the resources – money, wisdom, energy, people, facilities – they have. In a time when church was a respected fixture of our culture and a major center of community life, this approach often took the church a long way.” A Sailboat church is described this way: “The image of the church as a sailboat pictures its sails spread wide, allowing the wind of the Spirit to move the church where God wants it to go. It is God-powered.”

After reading these two descriptions, how would you describe our church? Are we one or the other, or do we have characteristics of both? Over the next few months, I will be exploring these questions periodically in my Midweek articles. I would love to dialogue with you about this, as we dream together about Union’s mission and practice in the years ahead.

-Pastor Jane

September 5

We love sharing our building!! I’ve written about this before, but wanted to revisit the great gift our facilities are to the community. This Thursday, a new group will begin using our building on a regular basis. Oconee Suzuki Strings is a group of children and teenagers who are learning violin using the Suzuki method. These children and their instructor will be meeting twice a month on Thursday afternoons in the basement youth space, beginning this Thursday. If you are around while they are here, please give them a warm welcome. I have already invited them to play in a worship service later this fall, so you will have the opportunity to hear them and offer your support.
 
Also this month we will host the Big Spring Quilters, Woodmen of the World, and Interfaith Hospitality Network, in addition to our own church meetings. It’s a busy place around Union, and that’s how it should be – sharing the love of God with each other and with our community.

-Pastor Jane

September 1

Have you ever had a desire to go on a mission trip? Would you like to serve side-by-side with those who might be younger or older than you, in a culture that might be different from our own? If your answer is yes, or even maybe, then keep reading. You may remember that one of the provisions of our Permanent Fund was the use of a portion of the yearly earnings to go solely for missions. Last year we were able to give monetary grants to three of our partners – ACTS, The Sparrows Nest, and Interfaith Hospitality Network. This year, there has been a suggestion that we look at the possibility of a church-wide, intergenerational mission trip. I am personally very excited about this because some of my fondest memories and times when I have experienced God’s presence have been on mission trips.

In August, this idea was presented to Council, and as a group we are continuing to talk about it. The initial thought would involve going to Puerto Rico in early June, 2019.  This type of trip would not require a passport. We are exploring partnering with an organization called Praying Pelican Missions. You can check out their website at prayingpelicanmissions.org. There are many different details to work out and a lot of discussion ahead, but for right now, would you begin praying about it. We are at the point of exploring the interest in such a trip, so if you would like to talk further about it, please let me know. We are blessed as a church that part of our funding can come from the Permanent Fund.

I look forward to many conversations in the coming days.

-Pastor Jane

August 29

When we gather together on Sunday, it will be September. The calendar has ever so quietly rolled over into fall, and the last holiday weekend of the summer is upon us. With this movement toward a change in seasons, our summer sermon series based on the book of Ephesians will come to its conclusion. In this final sermon, we will be exploring expectations for those who are living in or filled with, the Spirit. Without peeking at our text for the week, what four things would you name? If we are truly filled with the Spirit, how should we be living?
 
On second thought, do peek at the text – Ephesians 5:18b-21 and see if you can identify the four markers of someone who is filled with the Spirit and come prepared to learn more as we meet for worship this Sunday.
 
Happy fall (almost)!

-Pastor Jane

August 22

Some important things to share with you this week:

  • This week 33 women began a new fall Bible study. Think about that for a minute. What an unbelievable number for our church! And here is the most interesting thing about the number – 20% of the women do not attend Union, but are friends that our members have invited. This is a beautiful picture of the church – sharing the Good News with everyone.  
  • Men, would you like a Bible study, also? If so, please let me know.
  • Thank you to Hal and Sharon Tatum for a wonderful afternoon at their lake home. We had almost 50 make the trek to Lake Oconee for a fun day of fellowship.  
  • Youth and Cool Kids begin this Sunday. Please be in prayer for our children as they begin a new time of study and learning.

 The new year has begun. Come and join us!

-Pastor Jane

August 15

I am spending part of this week in North Carolina, staying with grandson Liam as he recovers from having his tonsils and adenoids removed. Today it has been a week since his surgery and I must admit, I thought he would be doing great by now. After all, it has been a full week. But, he’s not. We have spent the days very quietly – coloring, watching movies, reading Harry Potter together, and having a very short visit with my mother. As we’ve awakened this morning, he has yet to eat and has gone back to sleep on the sofa in the family room.
 
Moving slowly – some small steps forward, larger steps backward. I know he is recovering, but the process seems so slow. This has made me think of our Christian faith. Oftentimes, we can find ourselves ready to be fully formed in our faith, but, like Liam, it is a slow process. Being fully formed takes time, slow growth, and some backward movement. But, in all this. if we keep slowly and deliberately honoring the things that strengthen our faith – prayer, Bible study, support of fellow Christians, worship – we will, like Liam, continue to move into a stronger and fuller faith. It takes time and it takes consistent work, but God is faithful.
 
So, as Liam rests, takes his medicine, and drinks a lot of liquids, I know that he will return to his former, rambunctious self. Let us all do the same as we move toward maturity in our faith, following the prescription of our Great Physician each and every day.  

-Pastor Jane