If you are one of those who tries to get by without actually attending church much, I urge you to reconsider!
Often I’ve said, “It is a blessing to be able to be in God’s house on Sunday morning.” People probably think I am just advertising since I am the pastor. But my statement is based on my own experiences of spiritual renewal, emotional and physical healing and finding encouragement during worship. It is also based on the multiple testimonies of others. Recently as I was reading daily devotions, I found a matching objective foundation for my thesis. In this Bible promise, God specifically promises to bless God’s people in the house of worship.
Wherever I cause my name to be honored, I will come to you and bless you. Exodus 20:24 NIV
So God has specifically promised to give blessing in the sacred places set apart to honor his name. I say that’s a reason to be there!
God meets us when we are praying alone too
It is not that God does not give us power and strength when we come to him alone outside of God’s house, in our own homes or on a walk in nature, for example. He does. Jesus in John 4, taught us that worship can occur anywhere. And in fact, Jesus often spent time alone in prayer outside and he urged us to spend some time in private prayer too (Matt. 6:6). Rather, what the promise we are studying is saying is that God promises to give additional blessing in his house. Part of this added beneficence from congregating in sacred spaces is the synergy that happens when the people of God are together worshipping. But according to the promise, part of the power of being in God’s house is also God’s sovereign choice to bless his people in his house. God desires to be gracious to us there!
What is so special about church?
The Psalmist David experienced blessing in the temple in his day. He gave credit for his blessings in the sanctuary to the character of God. David testified:
I have seen you in the sanctuary and beheld your power and your glory.
Psalm 63:2 NIV
David is also specific about two of the benefits he had received as a result of his worship in God’s house.
You, God, are awesome in your sanctuary; the God of Israel gives power and strength to his people. Psalm 68:35 NIV
The power and strength that we feel in church comes to us in personalized ways through several means. First, the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our hearts renews us like fresh water revives a famished plant (Psalm 1:3; John 4:14). By being in God’s house for a service of worship we are deliberately spending time and focus to open our hearts and minds to the Holy Spirit’s influence. Second, in God’s house, there is added exposure to the Word of God. The Word of God molds us and guides us (Psalm 119:105). Third, as we individually and collectively make God’s house a house of prayer, we experience the presence of God. Fourth, the sacraments God has instituted through Jesus are celebrated and received in the house of God. Finally, when we are together in God’s house, we receive encouragement and a sense of connection with others in the body of Christ. All these together result in tremendous benefits to those who are often found in God’s house for worship.
Blessed are those who dwell in your house…
Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere.
Ps 84:4, 10 NIV
Well, I guess it isn’t just me who gets blessed in church. See you there!
The other night I was with friends who were sharing memories of earlier Christmases. Carolyn commented that she had recently found a box of homemade ornaments dating back to the early days of her marriage. They were walnuts painted silver, filled with clay with a ribbon in the middle for hanging. She got one out, fixed it up and put it on her tree this year for memories sake.
I explained that at the first Christmas of our marriage, JoAnne and I did not have money for ornaments so we made all of ours to put on our rather sparse field-cut tree. We made geometric cardboard ornaments and covered them with foil wrapping paper. One was a cube, one was a tall 3D triangle, and the prize one was a dodecahedron. Don't ask me how I made it. But anyway, one by one they became shabby with use and were discarded, all but one - the dodecahedron. Year after year I would hang it back on the tree in memory of our first Christmas. It is still there, tucked in the back were people can't see that its paper is faded and coming loose after all these years.
A project remembered
Another set of ornaments on our tree remind us of a fund-raising project we participated in. I don't even remember the details. JoAnne and I were overseas in the military at the time at a Navy base. We were helping raise some funds by selling Christmas ornaments to other military families. The catch was that the ornaments came as a flat unpainted wooden sheet. The ornaments had to be carefully punched out of the sheet, the rough edges sanded off, and then painted attractively. We purchased one of the sets that we painted and have treasured it ever since. When we see them on our tree they remind us of a rewarding and unique chapter in our lives and the people we knew in that time frame.
Let hobbies help with Christmas
Another way the we have home-made ornaments for our tree is because of JoAnne's needlepoint hobby. She has always loved needlework, though she does not get to do as much of it as she would like. These three ornaments were pieces she chose for needle point projects. They incorporated a welcome new challenge because of the little beads involved. But the end result was very practical; more exquisite tree ornaments.
Beautiful crafts from friends
Another category of homemade ornaments on our tree are the beautiful hand-crafted ornaments we have received as gifts from friends. These have multiple advantages over department store theme packages that have to be re-purchased every year. For one, they bring back memories of the friend who made them. A friend named Elaine in our first church made this beautiful beaded bell. When we see it on the tree we can remember to pray for her as she is now going through a difficult time. A new friend of our family named Deb that we have just had the joy of meeting in the past couple years here at Copper Hill Church gave us the amazing 3-D crocheted angel figure. It is so perfect, I could not believe it was hand-made. In this way, our tree becomes a tapestry of friendship and memories. To me, this is so much more meaningful than the stock theme tree décor one can purchase in a plastic case at a big box store. Celebrating friendships and memories enriches the Christmas season so much. Its another reason I love homemade ornaments on the tree.
A gift from the conductor
One very special homemade ornament on our tree was given to JoAnne by the conductor of the hand-bell choir at Community Wesleyan in Kirkville, NY. As pastor, I encouraged ministry leaders to thank members of their ministry team for their hard work. It is an excellent leadership practice. Well, Richard Filmer, director of the handbell choir of which JoAnne was member for several years went above and beyond and used his skill as a woodworker to saw out this exquisite triple bell for each choir member as their thank you gift. It was difficult to make as it involved sawing in one direction; then holding the pieces together while turning the piece 90 degrees and sawing the pattern again. Somehow the woodworking excellence that it took to make it speaks to me of the musical excellence that Richard always tried to bring out of the bell choir. So this piece is special.
It’s an annual tradition for me to gather cut flowers the day before the first frost and make a couple last flower arrangements for the season. I enjoy this ritual immensely. It is really the only time I cut marigolds as they are laborious to arrange and they look so great in my flower beds that I don’t want to sacrifice any blooms until frost is imminent. Because of the urgency of this pre-frost task, I have been known often to pick the flowers by flashlight because I have been too busy to pick them earlier. First frost never seems to come at a convenient time. Now, I could just let things go. After all, I’ve enjoyed the flowers all summer. But I simply can’t stand doing that when I can have at least one more beautiful bouquet.
Delayed frost this year
This year here in Connecticut has been an unusual one. Twice the weatherpersons predicted frosts and I went out and gathered flowers and arranged them. But the anticipated frosts did not come. The second time we had a little frost on the cars but still none on my flowers. So I had beds and pots of gorgeous flowers all through October. Not until this past week, on the third warning, after my third set of pre-frost flower arrangements did it finally frost. Thursday, November 9 marks the latest first frost I remember. Attached are pictures of all three sets of night-before-frost flower arrangements. By the third one, the zinnias were no longer available but I decided to try a miniature arrangement of verbena, lobelia and Dara carrot. It goes so well with my wife’s fall décor. My grandmother, Jessie Isaman, used to make miniature arrangements. I thought of her.
A reminder of the urgency of doing good
Picking flowers before frost speaks to me of the urgency of getting some special things done before….. For people of my generation, several life events from the autumn of life could go in that blank. “Frost” could be semi-retirement or full retirement. It might be ill health which brings disability preventing us from doing what we had planned. It could be the illness of a loved one. It could be financial loss or an unplanned or a necessary move. And “frost” ultimately might stand for our passing on to face our accountability before God (Rom. 14:12; Heb. 9:27).
When I was still in full time ministry, there were some things I wanted to accomplish before I retired but I don’t think I felt sufficient urgency. Hopefully I’ve learned from that and in my current part-time ministry, when I think of some key goals I almost nourish a sense that time is too short before “frost” arrives. “Frost” in this case could be just the end of my current assignment or it might mean full retirement, but whatever it is, time always seems shorter than one thinks. “Frost” will arrive before we are ready.
Make the most of time before “frost”
So before “frost” comes, whatever it may be, I want to pick some more blooms and arrange them well in my life. What I mean is I want to live productively. I want to take good advantage of the time God gives. The Bible exhorts us to “make the most of every opportunity” (Eph. 5:16); and I believe that God has a purpose for every day (Eph. 2:10). So I’ll use my urgent gathering of flowers before yearly first frost to help me to have a healthy sense of urgency about doing the good deeds I need to do. I could procrastinate but … it may frost! I’d rather see the beauty of a few more bouquets.
Before the first frost warning
My zinnias were at their peak. The dara carrot looks great. My late shasta daisys work well too. The black and green vase was Grandma's. She had great taste for that kind of thing.
Before the second frost warning
Second chance. Lots of marigolds still as the late rains helped them.
A miniature bouquet before the third frost warning
I saved some little flowers for this one that I had not used before- lobelia, dara carrot and verbena. One of the joys of all flower arranging is learning to use what nature provides. My grandmother, Jessie Isaman, used to make miniature arrangements. I thought of her.
I just love marigolds
One last marigold bouquet. I used some sweet potato vine for filler along with the licorice plant which grow abundantly in my tower pots. I used the shrub out front and the seed stalks of the Japanese Iris for straight pieces.
A pre-frost bouquet from 2016
The ultimate goal of bouquets is to fit well and beautify the place where you place them. Here I am enjoying a cup of tea in my big chair along side my reading table with its cheery bouquet even though the flowers outside have frosted.
One from 2015
This one includes some mums in one of the vases I inherited from my Grandmother Isaman. The family flower arranging tradition stems (pardon the pun) from her.
Since I am an alumnus of four different colleges, I receive more than my share of college magazines. Usually they are marginally useful, just a vehicle for touching base with good memories, educational traditions, and news from former peers. But this winter edition of Houghton Magazine easily stood out as one of the best of the genre. On the issue of relevance alone it stood above the crowd. Titled “Reconciliation,” it addressed the issue of racial division in our country, not so much from a philosophical point of view as by examples of servants of God who are working to bridge the racial chasms in our country in various ways. It featured articles by three different alumni from different generations who are all working directly and in different ways to heal the divisions of our land. Outstanding pieces by our President, Shirley Mullen, and the new college chaplain, Michael Jordan, added to the issue’s power.
In addition. I was very happy to see in this issue other evidences that Houghton itself continues to be a healing force. In the same issue the college announced the initiation of the new Associate of Arts program in Utica, aimed primarily at helping refugees in that city. That initiative is modeled after the highly successful and acclaimed effort in Buffalo. In addition, the college noted that this year’s freshman class has the largest percentage of American-born minority students in the history of the school.
Contrary to popular opinion, the end of the year holidays are a very difficult time for many people. Depression is often worse then. Winter is coming on; other people seem almost obnoxiously happy and there are many social gatherings. If one is not in the best mood or has experienced personal reverses or some serious losses and is grieving, the holidays can make the situation worse. Here are some suggestions to help.
Practice giving thanks for little things. When we are depressed we focus on the negative. In wholesome contrast, the habit of thanksgiving helps us get a wider perspective on life and encourages us to appreciate what is good even amid our difficulties.
Get in touch with the losses, hurts and angry feelings in your heart. Frequently depression has components related to grief and anger from circumstances in our lives, sometimes cumulative circumstances. When we are depressed, we may not be dealing in a healthy way with these feelings. It helps so much to be conscious of the roots of our sadness and then to talk it out with trusted and wise friends, counselors or pastors. Hiding these feelings inside feeds our depression in unconscious ways. Praying about these feelings also helps; think of prayer as talking out our feelings and circumstances with God.
Keep interacting with your friends and family. When we are depressed, we have a natural tendency to isolate ourselves, but this is not the healthiest thing for us to do. Maintaining or even increasing our usual connections with family and friends will help us greatly in getting through our time of depression. The warmth of friendship and love is healing for us even when it is hard to reciprocate. True friends understand.
Remember the character of God. He is a God of Hope and Encouragement (Romans 15:5, 13). So drawing near to God helps immensely. If it is hard to pray yourself, ask a Christian friend to pray with you. Keep attending services, if at all possible. Remember that God knows the hurts of your heart (Psalm 10:14). When words don’t come, He hears your heart.
Find some key Bible verses that speak to you. Write them on cards and place them where you will see them often or put them on your computer desktop. They will help reshape your thinking. Reading in the Psalms will help you find them. Here are some suggestions to begin. 1 Peter 5:7; Matthew 11:28; Psalm 23; Psalm 28:7; Psalm 46:1, 2; Psalm 55:22; Psalm 56:3; Hebrews 13:5, 6; 2 Corinthians 9:8; 2 Corinthians 12:9; Isaiah 40:29-31; Isaiah 46:4, Isaiah 57:15; Philippians 4:4-8; and Psalm 103.
Finally, it you don’t find yourself making progress, seek help. It is a strong thing to do to recognize when we could use a little help and seek it. Counselors, pastors and doctors are trained to help in sensitive ways. Most everyone has times in their lives when they could benefit greatly from counsel.
Last night was the first frost here in West Granby. So for me it was time for my annual tradition, going out and cutting armfuls of flowers for season-end bouquets. I especially associate this tradition with picking marigolds as they are not the easiest to arrange and they look better in the garden, that is, until you know they won’t be there anymore tomorrow. So I usually don’t pick them til frost threatens. So late yesterday afternoon I gathered bunches of the marigolds that my sister-in-law, Chris, had given me to grow and sat down at the table to arrange them in multiple vases. For me it’s a lot of fun as I put into practice the family knack for flower arranging that came down to me from my mother, Dorothy Jones, and my grandmother, Jessie Isaman. Here are this year’s results. All the bouquets this year are all-sided bouquets. The first bouquet, the largest, decorates the dining room table. It happily matches my wife’s fall colors. The second sits at her computer desk to cheer her spot. The third is on my chair side table along side my Bible, devotional book and notepad. There are full size marigolds and two colors of smaller ones along with a very hardy daisy type plant that blooms very late. Greenery is form a licorice plant and some shrubbery that grows out front that I have to trim anyway.
The early part of our church’s history was during the Victorian era. So to enhance the sense of the age of our church, our Anniversary committee invited people to dress Victorian if they desired for the 200th Anniversary Sunday. JoAnne and I thought that would be a lot of fun. She has been a subscriber to Victoria magazine for a long time anyway. So we thought about how to make it happen. Actually, it was a serendipity for me. I saw in the Yankee Flyer that Simsbury Theater was having a costume sale so I showed up at their warehouse for it, explaining what I was looking for. They quickly told me that they had nothing that would help me on sale but that they did have such things for rent. That suited me fine —ahm — pardon the pun. So I had the able assistance of costumer Darlene of Simsbury Theater and her helper in getting fitted for Victorian clothes. Plus, Darlene found the perfect hat for JoAnne, who already had a black dress she felt would work for the occasion, one she had crafted herself years ago, and could still wear.
I had decided months ago to grow a beard for the occasion. I had never grown a beard before. I thought that if I ever did grow one it would be like Lincoln’s. So now you see it.
Everyone loved our outfits. I even got to wear suspenders underneath. They are very comfortable, I must say. They even rented me a string tie. They could not find a 19th century round collared shirt big enough so I had to make do by folding the collar of one of my shirts under. But with that some compromise, I was good to go. Also, since it was an inside event, I did not need the top hat.
When I was a boy there was a white rose arbor in our side lawn. Pictures were often taken there. It marked the entrance to one of the flower gardens on our rural farm property. When my wife was a girl, she often spent summers at her Grandparents’ house. The entrance to the sidewalk was a white rose arbor with a gate. She has always wanted a rose arbor.
The opportunity did not present itself in either of our previous pastorates. Neither property had a spot that was conducive. But when we moved to West Granby, there was a fenced in area with a broken-down gate which needed to be replaced. Being a gardener, I immediately thought, “What a great place for a small garden and a rose arbor!” I no longer want a big garden anyway. I just want to grow a few strawberries and some cucumbers so we can make pickles. And I needed to replace that gate with something that looked better. A rose arbor would be perfect here. A friend said it looks very “New-England.”
First I needed to knock down the poison ivy which you can see growing on the fence in picture two. Fortunately, I am only very mildly allergic, which helps as the ivy keeps coming back and I am not bothered as I fight it. They I began planting roses where I thought the rose arbor would be as I knew it would take a couple years for them to really become established. One was a a transplant from Keely and Mark’s as it was in a place they did not want it. Others I ordered. If you look closely, you can see that I timed it well because by this fall, I had one rose cane growing over the top of the arbor. There are several colors and one white.
I wanted to make the structure durable so it is all made of treated lumber. Some of it is donated re-purposed decking. Eventually I hope to stain it all white and add a gate. The design underwent a few changes as it was being built as JoAnne and I looked at it and decided what looked best. I have worked on it little by little for a couple years, collecting and buying materials and cutting pieces. Then this summer, I knew it needed to come together.
Already it has become a photo spot as you can see from the photo I included. This is us posing in the Victorian costumes we wore to celebrate Copper Hill Church’s 200th Anniversary.