It is hard to believe that Thanksgiving is just around the corner. Time moves so quickly. Or perhaps we do, but either way, it is almost that time when we enjoy family gatherings, big dinners, football, and perhaps a perfunctory recitation of our blessings. Authentic thanksgiving is more, of course. Real gratitude springs from hearts that recognize who God is and what God does. Two of our very best words are thanks, and giving. The words of a chorus come to mind: “Count your blessings, name them one by one; count your blessings, see what God has done…” I am tempted to do that, for we have been richly blessed in 2019.
During 2019, we have been engaged in a Thanksgiving Food Drive, Samaritan’s Purse, a Christmas Craft Fair, Trunk or Treat, Hanging of the Greens, Rise Against Hunger, Angel Tree Toy Drive, Caroling at Holy Cross Hospital, Glad Tidings, Weller Road Food Ministry, Overland Gardens Ministry, Story Place Children’s Ministry, Black History Month, Ladies’ Retreat, Habitat for Humanity Women Build, Pickleball, Work Days, Vacation Bible School, Men’s Ministry, Back to Church Sunday, and Family Hayride most recently. Add to that, baptisms, Bible studies, dedications, and worship experiences and what we have is a very healthy, outwardly focused Body of Christ. My cup runs over with gratitude when I consider how so many contribute time and gifts to our ministry!
Gazing ahead, I call your attention to our Stewardship emphasis in November. Our theme this year is “Growing Deeper.” At the heart of this theme, is an invitation for each of us and all of us to consider God’s leading as we pray and decide about our level of giving for 2020. I invite you to follow the way of Jesus who would take time away from the business of life to pray and listen to God. I invite you to reflect on giving and generosity during our worship services throughout November, and to prayerfully consider the part you will play. An Estimate of Giving card will be included in this newsletter, and will also be available each of the three Sundays in our emphasis, and you are welcome to respond during any of these three worship experiences.
So, with hearts grateful for what God is doing, and for what God will yet do, let us continue to serve faithfully. The future is bright. A new pastor will be coming. There are always tremendous and exciting opportunities for ministry and growth before us. By the grace and power of God, 2020 will be a great one for Montgomery Hills!
I want to share with you a Thanksgiving prayer I came across: “Great Lord, you are the giver of every good and perfect gift. From the morning sun to the evening stars, our days are measured by your indescribable generosity. We confess that we find it hard, at times, to be thankful. So easily we allow ourselves to be distracted: by greed, by pride, by desire. Teach us that contentment is not the result of what we have, but is, rather, the result of what we believe: that we are your people, and the sheep of your pasture. In the name of Christ, we pray. Amen.”
In Christ’s love, Pastor Joel
I am remembering the story in Mark 12, when Jesus was asked a very honest question by a lawyer with an inquiring mind. What did Jesus think was the most important command in the Law? So often, when people asked Jesus questions, it was in order to trap him. But this scribe seems to be quite genuine in seeking Jesus’ counsel. Jesus answered and when he was through, the scribe could find nothing wrong with his answer. Jesus had reduced 613 commands to just two.
Jesus said we are to love God with all that we are, with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. As Richard Vinson puts it, “The God who made all things commands our absolute and utter devotion and loyalty. Nothing we do will matter as much as whether we can take our ambitions, emotions, commitments, and thoughts and dedicate them to God.” Well said; love in this context is not about warm fuzzy feelings, but about a constant and consistent turning in God’s direction. But it is not easy to do is it? We have a lot to learn about loving God in this way.
Jesus also said that day that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. I suspect Jesus was speaking in this context, about love as something we do for someone who needs it. That is what Jesus was always going about doing. Loving our neighbor, doing love, sounds simple, but we know it is not.
I have always liked the story about a college professor of Christian ethics who handed out an exam that had 20 difficult questions. The instructions said to read the entire exam before beginning to write. Most students, seeing the number of questions, despaired of answering them all in the time allotted. They ignored the instructions and started right in on the first question. A few students wrote nothing at all. They just looked at the paper for a while and stared into space, as though they were trying to remember something. But one student completed the exam in a matter of minutes, submitted the paper, and walked out of the room, smiling.
That student was the only one who passed. That student was the only one who followed the instructions fully, reading through all 20 questions before reaching the final one. The final question went like this: "Congratulations! You have followed the instructions perfectly. There is no need to answer any of the other 19 questions. Just answer this one. This question is very simple, and it is the only one that counts. Write the name of the janitor who cleans this classroom." That question tried to measure how hard the students tried to love their neighbor, the custodian, whom most habitually ignored, as themselves.
Our worship theme in October is, “The Word That Knows No Equal.” That word is love. I pray that you will join us each Sunday morning for Bible Study and worship.
In Christ’s love, Pastor Joel
My mother-in-law likes to watch the Hallmark channel on television and is really glued to the screen when Hallmark provides “Christmas in July.” Well, if we can have Christmas in July, why not Thanksgiving in August? I am feeling especially blessed right now.
Mark Twain once told the story about a man who wrote to him when he learned how much Twain had earned for his magazine articles. That was a long time ago; still, Twain made about $5 dollars a word! “Dear Mr. Twain,” the man’s letter began, “Please send me a good word.” Then he folded a $5 bill in with the letter and dropped it in the mail. Soon after, the man received a response. On a single sheet of paper, Twain offered a single word: “Thanks.” Thanks is one of our best words, and it is the word that comes to mind as I think about all that God is doing among us and through us.
Thank you Cheryl and Jonathan and our summer choir for the gift of music, for words and notes that speak to our hearts that comfort and inspire us. Thanks to Suresh Persaud for filling in for me so ably in the pulpit. Thanks to our Board of Deacons for tending to their parish lists and leading us in worship. Thanks to our newly formed search team under the leadership of Willie King. Pray for them as they begin the search for a new pastor. Thanks to our Vacation Bible School team, led by Dee Wells and Lynda Rooney; as I write this, VBS has begun, and it appears to be another wonderful week of learning and fun.
My thanks to all those who have been so hard at work renovating our church kitchen. It is close to completion, and I know that it is going to look just great. It is a real labor of love on their part and we are so grateful for their efforts. Our Board of Trustees has been hard at work providing a new security system for our building, and a new air conditioner for the pastor’s office, for which I am profoundly grateful!
Thanks to Bernard Warren for a new ministry initiative. Bernard, through the Baltimore Faith Based Commission for Behavioral Health, has been busy in Baltimore city for some time, informing and educating clergy and their congregants about behavioral health care needs through “Lunch and Learn” seminars. He is trying to branch out to our area, and the first “Lunch and Learn” seminar will be held on July 26th at MHBC! Already, almost 30 people have signed on. Bernard and I are hopeful that this effort will continue in 2020; the current vision is for six additional seminars.
Thanks to all of our ushers for their service during the summer, and to all of our other teams and boards for their faithfulness in service. Thanks to all for their time, gifts, and treasure during the summer and all year long. My cup runs over when I think of what God has done and is doing through YOU. I believe the best is yet to be. Thank you God, the One from whom all these blessings flow.
Gratefully, Pastor Joel
Rev. Dr. Doris Barron-Shell