January 16

We hear the word “faith” spoken a great deal around church. But, do you really know what it means? The dictionary offers two understandings. First, "faith is complete trust or confidence in someone or something." And second, "faith is a strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof."
 
This Sunday we will explore the idea of faith using the most requested passage from The List, Hebrews 11:1-40, sometimes nicknamed the Faith Chapter. In it, we find a list of people and events that were commended for their strong faith. Interestingly, each of them were faced with circumstances that seemed overwhelming. I wonder if each of these people might look at definition #2, above, and hold on to the words from Hebrews 11:1 – confidence in what we hope for and assurance of what we do not see, rather than the words “spiritual apprehension.”
 
Let’s talk about this on Sunday. I look forward to seeing you then.

  -Pastor Jane  

January 9

We began our walk through The List this past Sunday, learning from the words of David found in Psalm 23. This week we continue with another favorite, containing perhaps the most well-known verse in scripture. Our passage for the week, selected by you, is John 3:1-21. What can you say about a passage that is so familiar? The first fifteen verses tell the story of Nicodemus’ clandestine visit to Jesus at night, where Jesus answers his questions - sometimes gently and sometimes sternly. We know this story well.

And then we arrive at John 3:16. We can quote this verse from memory. Athletes, fans behind home plate, or in the end zone, hold this biblical reference up on colorful signs or paint it on their faces before a game. In a way, it has moved out from the church and into our collective culture. As I’ve been pondering on it this week, I saw something I had never noticed before. Reading our scripture passage from a Bible with red letters (signifying words that Jesus spoke), I was startled to notice that John 3:16 is black, not red. And then I did what so many of us do – I googled my question. Who said John 3:16? You won’t be surprised to hear that there are scholars who think these words came from Jesus, and those who hold to the belief that John was the one who said it.

I hope you can join us on Sunday and we explore this question and others from this great chapter of God’s Word.

-Pastor Jane

January 1

It’s a new year! And, if you are like me, the years seem to roll around faster and faster! I am so glad to share this new year with you!

 As we have done the past several years, we will begin 2019 with a renewed focus on God’s Word. This year we will be guided by The List, a systematic way to read the Bible for 100 days. You have been hearing about this for several weeks, and many have selected their favorite passages. Now, it is time to begin. We will engage with God’s word in two different ways:

 First, you are invited to read one passage each day for 100 days. I would like to suggest that you begin on January 12. One hundred days will have you finishing the 100 days on Easter Sunday. A brochure will be provided for each person with the 100-Day Reading Plan, as well as a full explanation of the genesis of this idea. I hope you will use these verses as you listen for what God has for you each day.

 In addition, I will be preaching from the eight most requested passages beginning January 6-March 3, with one Sunday off as I travel with the youth for their annual youth retreat at Epworth. The passages you have selected are: Psalm 23:1-6; Matthew 5:1-16; John 3:1-21; Acts 2:1-47; Romans 8:1-39; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13; Hebrews 11:1-40; 1 John 4:7-21. This sermon series will end just before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. 

What a wonderful way to begin the new year – intentionally focusing on God’s Word. May it be a good year!

December 19

As we approach these next few days, filled with Christmas Sunday and Christmas Eve, may we all remember and give thanks for the Light of the World, the Star of Morning – God’s son, Jesus. I pray these words from Ted Loder from his collection of prayers, Guerrillas of Grace, will bless you during this season.  May we always strive to  “nourish the light” in our own lives.
 
Let the Star of Morning Rise
 
Lord God,
in the deepest night
there rises the star of morning,
          of birth,
                    the herald of a new day you are making,
a day of great joy dawning
          in yet faint shafts
                    of light and love.
 
I hear whispers of peace in the stillness,
          fresh breezes of promise
                    stirring,
winter sparrows
          chirping of life,
a baby’s cry
          of need
                    and hope –
                              Christmas!
 
In the darkness I see the light
          and find in it comfort,
                    confidence,
                              cause for celebration,
for the darkness cannot overcome it;
and I rejoice to nourish it
          in myself,
                    in other people,
                              in the world
for the sake of him
          in whom it was born
                    and shines forever,
                              even Jesus the Christ.


 -Pastor Jane  

December 12

In August of this year a new children’s book hit the market by beloved author and pastor Barbara Brown Taylor entitled Home By Another Way. The book is an interesting retelling of the story of the Wise Men found in Matthew 2. In her story, the focus shifts from the Wise Men themselves and from the specific gifts they bring, to something totally different. She imagines them coming from different places, unknown to each other - all led by a special star. As she describes that star, she says, “A bright star lodged in the right eye of each one of them. The star was so bright that none of them could tell whether it was burning in the sky or in their own imaginations. Something beyond them was calling them, and it was a tug they had been waiting for all their lives.”
 
Is there a calling, a word from God, that you have been waiting for all your life? I hope you will join us this Sunday as we explore the calling of the Light, the calling of that special star. May it get lodged in your right eye during this Advent season.
 
The Light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it. 
John 1:5

 -Pastor Jane  

December 5

What a wonderful beginning to Advent! We were blessed on Sunday with the Oconee Suzuki Strings, who added so much to our time of worship. The theme of HOPE carried throughout the morning, as we gave thanks for the promised HOPE and lit the first Advent candle – the candle of HOPE.
 
This Sunday, we will be led by our choir, as they share their Christmas offering of music with us, joined by musicians from Putnam County High School. We will light the candle of PEACE and be guided during the sermon by the children’s book, Songs of the Season: A Christmas Story. 
 
As we walk together through these first days of Advent, I encourage you to read and reflect on these words from author Jan Richardson. Where will you encounter Christ this week? Blessings on the journey.
 
It may be tempting to think that we should prepare ourselves more strenuously to encounter and welcome Christ than to meet anyone else. This season, however, beckons us to remember that the incarnation takes place anew each day, and that Christ comes in the form of those whom we meet on our path. How are we preparing ourselves to encounter Christ in them? How do we ready ourselves for this sacrament, this mystery, this miracle? Amid the graced and necessary complexities involved in being who God has created and called us to be, how do we make a space for the One who desires to approach and meet us in this and every season?

 -Pastor Jane  

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