Pastor’s Corner – October 2017

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As I write this, Puerto Rico is being hit by Hurricane Maria, the second hurricane they have felt this month. Earthquakes have again hit Mexico. Concerns about nuclear weapons in North Korea and Iran cause us worries. And there are people predicting the end of the world on September 23 (if you get the chance to read this they were wrong). I could go on adding other crises from around the world, but I think this is sufficient for the point.

On this scale, you and I are overwhelmed by the desperate need to help those who suffer and fear and lost so much. We pray for them and that we never should experience such an event. We can give a gift to Week of Compassion and other agencies trying to help people in desperate situations, but we don’t believe that it will help everyone. Despair grows.

Our Tuesday evening Bible study is reading Mark. Last night we read the second feeding of the multitude which is followed by Jesus and the Disciples getting into a boat to cross the sea. During the journey, the disciples worry that they only have 1 loaf of bread, despite witnessing a second feeding of multitudes. The saw Jesus take a few loaves and some fish and abundantly feed over 9000 people, but when it comes to feeding themselves, they worried about scarcity of bread.

As Christians, we are to listen to the wisdom of Jesus and discover the blessings of God. God created a world of abundance. We are taught that there can never be enough for all. When disasters occur, we fall back on the lessons of the world and not on the lessons of our faith. We become susceptible to those who point to events as signs of the end times and our lack of resources to offer help.

Jesus was teaching his disciples to trust in the act of generosity to make a difference. Generosity is contagious, people witness the sacrifice made to help and respond by sharing their resources rather than hiding them away. We witnessed the generosity of people in the victims of Hurricane Harvey as people of all walks of life put themselves at risk to save lives and rescue people trapped in flood waters. They didn’t think it was strange or unusual, it is what they believed they were supposed to do for their brothers and sisters. They used their resources to rescue, feed, and protect others and didn’t worry about running out of something for themselves. They “fed” thousands. So can we!

“Fear not!” We are the hands, faces, actions, and compassion of our God visible in the world. If we want to see miracles, we have to be willing to participate in the making of miracles that are needed. None of us are exempt. Age is not a limitation, wealth or the lack of it is not a limitation, depth of faith is not a limitation. Fear is our only limitation in order to be part of the miracles needed in our world today. God Is With Us! We have to try.

If you never get to read this because the world did end, we are still God’s children. If it doesn’t end, we are still God’s children with the mission to love our neighbors as ourselves, to seek justice, do kindness, and walk humbly with our God.

Shalom, Darrell

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Pastor’s Corner – September 2017

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Marsha, Kathryn Peters, and I traveled to Springfield, TN to see the total eclipse in August. Springfield is north and west of Nashville and we were out in the country north of the city. Near where we were staying was a church and we sought permission to watch the eclipse from their parking lot. The pastor’s family welcomed us along with a mother and college aged son from New York City and a family from northern Mississippi. We shared in conversation, laughter, music, and watermelon. Then we reached totality. In awe we sat around looking at the ring of the sun’s corona visible around the moon. As we watched, the moon continued it journey through space and a small bit of the sun appeared and the ring of light was turned into a ring with a bright gem on the ring. These words pale in the effort to describe the event. All of us were overwhelmed by the experience. We were united with generations past who looked to the sky in fear due to the onset of night in the afternoon of the day. We witnessed an event displaying the amazing work of God.

In August, we were all able to watch the overwhelming experience of the dismaying work of human beings. We witnessed the destructive energy of hatred released in Charlottesville, VA. Groups with a history of hatred toward anyone who looks or believes differently than they do, gathered in VA and expressed their views that some of or brothers and sisters are less deserving than those marching. Nazism is destructive and antithet-ical to our faith. The KKK claims to be Christian, yet espouses the belief that anyone not “white” deserve to be second to themselves. Historically, the KKK is a homegrown terrorist group by the modern definitions used to-day.

How do we as Christians respond to these groups? Do we take to the streets to physically battle against them? Do we declare war on them? NO!

We should stand in opposition to these groups. But we should be standing in loving opposition. Not with hateful language of the Neo-Nazis, the KKK, the Alt-Right but with the language of faith. The faith that pray-ers for those who hate. The language that speaks love for everyone, especially if they do not look or sound like the rest of us. The language of Jesus who told us to turn the other cheek, to go the extra mile, to forgive too many times to count, the language that led to the Cross.

As Christians we should stand between those who hate and those whom the hate groups see as tar-gets. We will teach love to overcome the hatred they learned during their lives.

The excuse for all of this was centered around the removal or destruction of statues of Southern Civil War leaders. The Civil War represents the story of Cain and Abel played out on a national level. We fought be-cause some had repented of their sin of buying and selling human beings and others had not. I am aware of the “State’s Rights” argument. But it was the focus on the State Right to own human beings to provide the workforce to compete with the industrial states. This is not to say that these statues should be destroyed. It means they should be utilized as a national lesson of the price that was paid for the decision to see people of color property, not brothers and sisters. This lesson should reflect upon the history of this nation even before it became a nation and include who we failed to see our brothers and sisters who lived here before Europeans arrived. We must acknowledge the sin of the prideful belief that my way is superior to any other way that I don’t like or understand.

We, as Christians believe in love and forgiving grace. We must not limited this practice to our words, but put them to work in our lives.

Shalom, Darrell

Pastor’s Corner – August 2017

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Another General Assembly has come and gone. This year the energy of the event was even higher than in the last few with the focus on electing Teresa Hord Owen as the newest General Minister and President. This was accomplished during the Sunday night worship service. For the first time, the Assembly opened its business session in the middle of worship. We approved the order of business and held the election of the new GMP.

All the sermons were excellent, including during the Sunday night service when the sermon was divided between three people, Henry Brewer-Calvert (son of James and Betty Brewer-Calvert of Decatur, GA and candidate for ministry), Rev. Jae Young Rhee, the pastor of the Ghent, OH congregation, and Rev. Mary Lou Kegler, Regional Minister of Canada (talk about a large region).

The general theme of all the messages was the Assembly theme of ONE. It was recognized that this theme was not about total agreement in all matters but rather calling all of us back to the unifying reason we exist as a church. We were reminded of one of the original themes of Disciples, found at #521 in the Chalice Hymnal, “In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” This is attributed to Rupertus Meldenius. Rupertus was a 16th Century Lutheran pastor in Germany, yet his words became a powerful call for Disciples.

This statement acknowledges that we will never really achieve total agreement. Yet, it calls us to be unified in our core, that we are students or more accurately, Disciples of Jesus. We are to follow his teachings and actions as the core of our religious practice. The interpretations and theologies that developed of the course of centuries fall into the liberty area and along with the rest of life today is in the charity area.

Love God with all we are. Love each other, not only in words but in actions and attitudes. Seek justice, do kindness, and walk humbly with God – God is the judge, not humanity. This should be our core of unity. We can differ in how that is played out on a day by day basis. As individuals, we are at liberty to decide how best we live into this core accepting that we may not always choose the same methods, and understanding that differences are not divisions, but only the rich diversity that inspires others to follow the essential core.

During the Assembly, we recalled and repented from the actions of the past that assumed European superiority over the “savages” of the New World and denied them recognition as another civilized culture. We repented from the denial of welcoming to other branches of humanity merely because of degrees of melatonin in their skin. We repented our converting our role in God’s Creation from stewards into owners. We repented from reversing the order of Meldenius’ statement and making absolute agreement as the only essential.

For our congregation in Warner Robins, we need to look at this and discover how we live and act in our essentials and make use of the variety of ways we can turn them into actions that will bring in the diversity of our community into a core who love God with all that they are, and seek to show love to all of humanity.

Shalom, Darrell

Pastor’s Corner – June 2017

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Last year during the month of June and July, instead of following the Lectionary as the basis for Sunday’s messages, I focused upon our Disciple understanding of being church. This summer I want to share similar understanding from a book by Diana Butler Bass, Christianity for the Rest of Us.

This book, published in 2006, is about the author’s journey around churches to see how they are moving from a “come to us” mentality to a “we are called to serve” as a way of defining the church’s mission for today. She begins the book talking about the change in the neighborhood church. Once upon a time, most members of the church lived near the actual church, in the neighborhood. Now the reality is that few people live within the neighborhood of the church building. It is also true that the neighborhood around the church is often very different from what was there when the church began.

This is very much true for our congregation. As part of our re-visioning, we are looking to learn about our neighbors and how we can best reach out as people of faith to serve as Christ served.

In the second part of her book, Diana Butler Bass highlights 10 signposts of renewal. I want to take this summer to look at these signposts and how we can grow in these areas. The areas upon which she focuses are Hospitality, Discernment, Healing, Contemplation, Testimony, Diversity, Justice, Worship, Reflection, and Beauty. We will look at these through the summer, despite the school calendar, August is still part of the Summer.

In June, we will look at Hospitality, Contemplation, and Testimony. Hospitality is more than just how we treat our guests, but a Biblical principle that expects hosts to treat guests like beloved family. Contemplation is not a focus upon seeking the correct answers to life challenges but a way to deepen our faith by spending time listening for the voice of God in Scripture and prayer. Testimony is not limited to the court room, but rather how we witness to the world the impact of the Grace of God in each of our lives.

Shalom, Darrell

Pastor’s Corner – May 2017

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During this month we will celebrate a holiday that challenges us to remember those who gave their lives in defense of this nation. As a Boy Scout and later a member of a marching band, I attended many Memorial Day Parades and ceremonies at a cemetery in town or in front of the monument to the soldiers who fought in war. There was always a large group of people who would gather and listen to speeches and prayers, but I do not recall ever hearing names of any individual who gave their life for this nation. Families might visit graves to add flags or flowers, but unless your family had someone in the category, we marked the day for a vast unnamed multitude of individuals. Maybe we need to take time to put names to those whose sacrifice made a difference. Maybe we should expand our personal list to include those who gave their lives for making our nation greater outside the wars that have been fought.

During this year’s Clergy Summit at the Museum of Aviation, we watched a clip from the movie “We Were Soldiers.” The clip didn’t show any of the battles or the soldiers heading to war. Instead, the clip dealt with a cabbie pulling to the home of Mel Gibson’s character. His wife is alone since the soldiers were deployed and had just learned that the military was using cab drivers to deliver Western Union telegrams announcing the death of a soldier. When his wife saw the cabbie she yelled at him because she thought the cabbie was delivering news that her husband was dead. Instead, he wanted direction to another family because he knew she was the Major’s wife and would know where his soldiers lived on base. Instead of telling him, she took the telegram and said she would deliver it because no one should just be given this news by a lone cab driver.

This was the moment when the change in how death notifications were made in the military. The courage of a woman demanded that this type of news never be delivered without someone investing time and presence to a family receiving this type of news.

As we prepare for picnics and parades and gatherings at cemeteries, let us take time to invest ourselves to stand with people who lose loved ones, not only in the military, police, or fire services. We need to be willing to set aside our discomfort to spend time with people in grief, to sit, to babysit if needed, to prepare food and deliver it, and any other tasks that need to be done.

In our community, as a military community, we need to not wait for deaths. We need to pitch in and help families left behind during deployments. Young families trying to get children to and from school, work, clean the house, take care of the yard and upkeep of the home, and have a space of time to take care of themselves, need people to step up and sacrifice their time and provide assistance. What a much better way to honor Memorial Day. What a great way to remember and honor those who sacrificed their lives by not leaving it to a single day and in some cases maybe an hour or so of Memorial Day.

“When you did this for these……you did it for me.” Jesus’s words still demand we act.

Shalom, Darrell

Pastor’s Corner – April 2017

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It’s hard to believe that I am writing an article for the April newsletter. We are in the midst of Spring and of course, we all know what happens toward the middle of the month. Yes, it will be Easter. Oh, you thought I was going to mention something about April 15th. No, Easter is more important. Easter is the day we commemorate the amazing distance God went to assure us of His Grace and Love through the willingness of Jesus to give his life and return to demonstrate a life beyond what we can measure.

Now we are challenged to live into the level of Love and Grace by striving to be like Christ. What does that look like? It looks like the stories from the Gospels that you have heard before. There are the stories of Jesus talking to people that defied what was considered appropriate, such as speaking to women of dubious reputation or people considered as sellouts or morally corrupt. There are also the stories of Jesus granting forgiveness to people who many believed undeserving of forgiveness, such as adulterers and handicapped people who had presumably sinned at some time, or the stories of Jesus feeding the hungry, even if they could have fed themselves and the stories of Jesus praising the least important people in society, people like widows and children.

In our world today, these ideas may defy modern measures of how we should live. Instead of sitting in judgement of others, we are called to love. Instead of amassing a wealth of things, amass a wealth of giving away to those most in need. We are encouraged to convert our tools of destruction into tools that provide food for the hungry.

I realize that we live in a world where this sounds like a pipe dream, yet nowhere in the teachings of Jesus does he say we are only expected to behave this way when everything is perfect. HE dared us to live this way in the real world. We are to love all of our neighbors, not just the ones who are like us. We are dared to forgive as God has forgiven us, because God forgave us when we hadn’t asked for it.

Let us live Christ-like in joyful response to the wonder of Easter morning. It is the only way to honor the one whose name we claim.

Shalom, Darrell

Pastor’s Corner – March 2017

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Remember a few months ago when we were at the end of November and we began to celebrate Advent, that time to prepare for the arrival of the Christ child? We took four Sundays to arrive at the manger on Christmas Day. Well, this month we are preparing again, for 40 days.

Lent is a season of preparation for the announcement of an empty tomb and the resurrection of Jesus. Because this is a greater event that has a much larger impact upon our lives, the journey will be longer and more demanding. During this journey we will not be distracted by shopping and decorating and gatherings at work and with friends and families. Yes, I am aware that some people put up decorations for Easter, but not to the degree they do for Christmas.

Some faiths, including our own, have challenged people to go on pilgrimages, on strenuous journeys to a sight of significance in that person’s faith. This isn’t the type of journey we will be asked to make. This journey is harder. We could find a 50 mile walk more enjoyable. Climbing incredible amounts of stairs on our knees could be less painful. This journey demands that we look at ourselves with complete honesty and serious assessment of our relationship/relationships with God and God’s children (all of them).

During Lent, we give ourselves a complete spiritual physical (like the Doctor examines our physical condition, we perform a self-examination of our spirit). Do we spend time in conversation with God? How often and how much do we speak to God vs. listening to God? Do we act lovingly toward God, or is it more like we are doing our minimum daily requirement? Do we respect and care for the Creation of which God has made us stewards, not owners? Do we love our brothers and sisters? Do we seek to do kindness for them? Do we seek justice for all God’s creation, even if it means we have to give up some things? These are not simple yes and no questions. They are challenging and may cause pain. Remember going to the doctor and the doctor did something to help you that was painful? This is how we do a spiritual physical.

We are to invest ourselves fully in the coming gift of Easter by getting ready to invest all that we are in the presence and promise of God. Being a Disciple of Jesus isn’t about a name on a membership card, or getting a pin to wear. It is about being Christ-like. Loving and living the way Jesus taught us to live in harmony and love with all God’s children. It means overcoming fear with compassion, converting anger into the energy to seek justice, and transforming selfishness into caring support for our brothers and sisters.

I invite you to take time every day, maybe 30-60 minutes at a specific time for your spiritual physical. Use all the tools available, tools like prayer, reading the Bible, worship, writing out thoughts and fears in a journal for God, and any other tool you might use. We will start on March 1st at 7:00 p.m. with a service of worship for Ash Wednesday. During that service we will dust off our tools and get them ready for use.

Shalom, Darrell

Pastor’s Corner – February 2017

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February, the short month, is upon us. During this month we honor love, two important presidents and complete the season of Epiphany. Yet within this short month, much will happen. Youth will go to the Youth Retreat at Epworth By The Sea, we will have a special night out for adults, we will prepare and respond to the needs of people suffering from disasters during the Week of Compassion, and we will learn about living as students of Jesus on Sunday mornings all during this short month.

Even in a short month, we are able to respond to the call of God to serve and love as God has served and loved each of us. Our call, our mission, is not limited to longer months or months with more things of importance. Rather, we are called to serve daily. Every morning becomes an invitation from God to love your neighbor, to care for those who suffer, to overcome our fears and step forth into the world God created. During February we will celebrate Valentine’s Day which has become focused on romantic love, even though the name recalls Saint Valentine. There is not much that is reliable known about the first Saint Valentine (there were three by that name), but the oldest lived during the Third Century and was martyred for refusing to deny his faith. His devotion to following the love of God was well known. Therefore, the holiday we celebrate this month isn’t about romance so much as devotion loving as God loves. Please do not think that I am telling people not to get cards or flowers or to do something special with your spouse or partner. Rather, love everyone.

When you do anything this month, remember that we are challenged to love all we meet. Show compassion to all around you, whether they are someone you know, someone with whom you disagree, or a complete stranger. Remember that Jesus reached out to everyone who would listen and even those who didn’t want to be loved.

Once February ends, don’t set aside the focus on loving as we have been loved. Make it a life practice. Greet people with open warmth, smile at everyone, when you talk to someone focus on their words and not how you plan to answer their words, touch people with your hands, your heart, and your soul.

These are the things we are called to do. The community, the state, the nation, and the world could benefit from our sharing love with everyone in the name of the God who first loved us.

Shalom, Darrell

Pastor’s Corner – December 2016

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Here we are at the end of 2016. It has been a full year at First Christian Church. There were ups and downs just like any other living organization. While I am not someone who usually makes resolutions at the end of the year in preparation for the coming New Year, I may deviate from my norm a bit this year. In looking back at all that has taken place, maybe forward with resolution might be the way to go forward.

At the beginning of this year, a leadership team from First Christian was trained in the process for the Hope Partnership for Missional Transformation. If you thought it was long reading it, try saying it aloud fast. This program is from the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and helps churches make hard decisions about the future of their congregations. In May and June we held house groups to go over the material provided, look at information about our community, and make recommendations to the congregation. Ultimately, we decided to begin the process of re-visioning, redefining the Mission of First Christian Church.

Re-visioning is not about saying we will spread the Gospel message. It requires we create a dynamic statement that is action oriented. Ultimately, it reflects the Great Commission of going out and making disciples, but is directed toward the unique time and place in which we live.

As part of the process, we suspended our constitution and by-laws in order to be flexible during this process. We also created a Transition Team to guide the effort and communicate with the congregation. Since that time, we have taken some new steps and done different things that we have not attempted as a congregation in a long time.

On October 1st, we hosted a Fall Festival for the Pre-K through 3rd grade children and their families at Miller Elementary School. There were inflatable events and games, hotdogs and chips, and prizes. Children were given a card with numbers for each of the stations. As they went to the Bouncy House, or the Face Painting room, or one of the games, their card was stamped. They even got a stamp when they went to eat. The last stop was in the prize room where there were colorful pencils, stickers, pencil bags, coloring books and reading books. Many parents were surprised that this was all free, especially the food and books. We had a good turnout of volunteers and children, and it was a fun afternoon.

We have also joined with All Saints Episcopal Church and Faith Lutheran Church to provide an after school tutoring program created by the Episcopal Church in GA called Path To Shine. This program targets early elementary children who are on the edge between success and failure. According to studies, if these children don’t improve, the chances that they will leave school before graduation are very high. This program began on Nov. 8th. The response of the children the day after the program started was tremendous. People from all of the congregations volunteer to tutor, lead recreation, bring special programs like art, or music, and provide food for the children.

We also partnered with Faith Lutheran Church to hold an Ecumenical Election Eve Prayer Service. On the Monday before the election, we gathered in the sanctuary to pray and to remember that we are called to pray for those selected to serve the government at all levels. We also recalled our baptisms in order to remember that no matter who won or lost, we as Christians must stand together and not give in to divisiveness.

The newest opportunity to gather for fellowship and conversation is the Wine and Wisdom gatherings on Wednesday evening every 2 weeks. This program provides our church family as well as anyone else who would like to come to the Fellowship Hall and share in focused conversations on various topics, of which not all of the topics will be serious. We will also share in wine and other refreshments as people choose. As I am writing this column on the day before the first Wine and Wisdom party, I cannot tell you how it went. I am hopeful that it will go well.

Our focus as a congregation is moving from counting numbers on Sunday morning and moving toward counting the impact First Christian has in our neighborhood and community. Counting the amount in the offering plate and the number of people in worship has been the norm for generations. We need to look back to what counted in the Gospel, who was touched, who was fed, who was healed. We made an impact with children and their families with the Fall Festival; we are touching the future through Path to Shine; we are reaching in new ways to our community and seeking greater depth of disciple within the congregation.

Now, as we approach our next step in Re-visioning, we will begin to write our Future Story, a narrative vision of our next 5 years of serving God in Warner Robins. We look at 5 years, because the world changes rapidly and we need to develop a habit of reassessing what is needed and what we can do more frequently than we have in our history. We are called to serve in a living community where needs and challenges can change and we as First Christian Church, need to be able to respond more quickly than ever before. Please pray and participate in the process and the ministries come from this effort.

This December, Christmas Day is the last Sunday of the month. Because of this, we will do some different things in worship. There will still be singing and have scripture and responsive readings, but the focus for the sermons will be odd.

On Dec. 4th, the sermon will be on The Littlest Angel; Dec. 11th will be on The Little Drummer Boy, Dec. 18th will be The Best Christmas Pageant Ever, and on Christmas Day we will sing as many carols as we want.

On Christmas Day we will have a light breakfast available at 10:00. There will be no Sunday School, so come enjoy fellowship and then come to worship. Also, if you received a new clothing item for Christmas, wear it. Well, maybe not PJs. We will sing carols and read the Christmas story and celebrate at the Lord’s Table.

Shalom, Darrell

Pastor’s Corner – November 2016

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On Nov. 7th, at 7:00 p.m. First Christian will be hosting an Election Eve Prayer Service in partnership with Faith Lutheran Church. This service will remind us to continually pray for all those who will be elected on Tuesday, whether our candidates win or lose. The unity of our faith is greater than the lines drawn by political parties and elections. I hope you will come out on Monday night to prepare for the election by seeking the presence of God.

By the time most of you will read this, I will have completed my fifth decade of life. In the grand scheme, turning 60 isn’t that long to walk through life, until it is your turn to do so. As a child with my birthday the day after Halloween, most of the party atmosphere was spent on the day before, and the approach of Thanksgiving and Christmas could overshadow my birthday. As a child I spent a good number of birthdays being sick, too much candy and/or dramatic changes in temperature in Northeast Ohio could have been the cause.

Now I try to slip my birthday amidst my oldest daughter and youngest daughter’s birthdays (Elisabeth shares Nov. 1 and Micah’s is Nov. 3). It was far easier when they were younger. But the necessity to provide an article for this newsletter has led me to think more deeply about my 59 years of life and the purpose of Thanksgiving.

When we give thanks, we often skim the upper layer of the things for which we should give thanks. We are grateful for family and friends, we are grateful for our success in life and work; we are grateful for overcoming illness and challenges. While this is acceptable and good, what happens when we look more deeply on the times we should have given thanks to God in our lives.

I am grateful for the family into which God placed me. It wasn’t perfect, but then again perfection isn’t the goal. I was loved and given the space to become who I was supposed to become. I lived in a time when I could get on a bicycle and ride all over my hometown with friends and in the summer be home for lunch and supper and dark as my boundaries. I was able to go through school and find my place not in one niche or circle, but rather as a person that connected to most of the members of my class regardless of cliques. I attended a great college and built strong ties to classmates, the same can be said about my seminary experience.

It is with profound gratitude that I give thanks for my wife and children. They have kept me sane and level (excluding those times my children attempted to drive Marsha and I over the edge). Now that they have partners and children, I am grateful that they can be driven into sanity after being driven to the other side as well.

I am also grateful for the opportunity to serve the church in all the different capacities to which I have been led. I am grateful for the good as well as for the not so good, because they have all provided lessons I needed to learn. I am especially grateful for the challenges that lay before me as First Christian seeks to re-vision our mission in Warner Robins. We will move through this time together and with God’s help be the best church for this place and time.

I am grateful for all the saints who have crossed my path and demonstrated how to live Christ-like. These saints performed no miracles as we would define them, but rather miraculously loved, listened, and taught with grace and confidence by the way they lived and treated other people.

We all have several weeks before Thanksgiving arrives. Take this time to look back over your life and remember the names and faces of the saints in your life, the people and events that helped to shape you, the gifts that were given. Also remember the struggles that made you stronger, wiser, more compassionate, more the you that you have become. Then, when you have recalled all the people and events, express that gratitude in all that you say and do to everyone you meet. After all, you might be the very saint that God needs to put in someone else’s path.

Shalom, Darrell