Sunday, November 30, 2008

Traditions – Matthew 15:2-3; Colossians 2:6-9
Monday, December 1

What is your favorite Christmas tradition? Is it trimming the tree? Do you make the same cookies, the same casserole from year to year? Does your family gather to attend the Christmas Eve service together? Choosing a favorite tradition may be difficult; several may come to mind. We all have them. We all love them. What would the celebration of Christmas be without the keeping of traditions?

The Pharisees loved their traditions—so much so that they were blinded by them. They cared more about what was on the outside, the keeping of certain laws and traditions than they did what was in a person’s heart. They couldn’t see Jesus because their traditions stood in the way. I wonder if I am not something like the Pharisees.

Questions to consider: Is the celebration of Christmas our “tradition” or do we see Jesus? Is our Christian life based on tradition or centered in the Person of Christ?

Thank you for following the blog and for reading the Advent devotionals. It is a special time of year. I preached for our friend in Humboldt this morning and was glad to be a part of the first Sunday of Advent service. The first devotional on "preparation" got woven into the sermon.
We have had a really good Thanksgiving weekend-busy with family, food and lots of it, and football. Our favorite team not only lost, but got walloped and the coach resigned. Those two things were the down parts of the weekend. Monday morning at 7:30 I have to be at the imaging center for routine scans. I pray they are just that--routine. I'll keep you posted, but until then. . .

Pastor Margaret

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Advent Devotionals
Several months ago the parish associate at our church asked if I had any interest in writing Advent or Lenten devotionals. I said I had never done a whole series, but might give it try. The devotionals that follow are the results of that try and have been printed into a booklet for members and friends of our church.

The season of Advent is celebrated annually in the Christian church. It is a season of hope, anticipation and expectancy. It is a time of preparation. The following devotionals, based on words commonly associated with Christmas, are being offered as a way to help each of us prepare our hearts for the celebration of the birth of Christ and are intended for either individual or family use.

There are three parts for each “word of the day.” Short Scripture readings are given and there are comments on the “word.” The “questions to consider” or “food for thought” writings are intended to encourage the reader to meditate on the both the Scripture and the comments throughout the day.

May you be blessed as you read God’s Word so that others might be blessed by you, especially this Advent Season.

Preparation – Isaiah 40:3; Psalm 51
Sunday, November 30

Even though stores have been preparing for this season for several months, the beginning of what is known in the Christian Church as “Advent,” is the official kick-off. Fall decorations are packed away for another year, turkey leftovers are made into hash or sandwiches and the Christmas china is unpacked. Every room in the house is cleaned and made ready. Preparation is very much on our minds as we enter the season. Lists help us remember what needs to be done and just when to do it. We want to be prepared.

May I suggest that at the top of the list we heed Isaiah’s words in Isaiah 40:3? He tells the Israelites to “prepare the way for the Lord,” an instruction they understood to mean clearing all the obstacles off the road for the coming of a visiting monarch. Get ready for the king, the ruler who is coming. And so it is important for Christians today to prepare our hearts for the celebration of the first coming of the King, the Christ Child. There is no better place to begin than with Psalm 51.

Repent. The King is coming!

Question to consider: Is your heart prepared?

Pastor Margaret

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving is here again. It marks our second anniversary of moving from California to our current home. How long ago that seems and still, it seems like yesterday! I will always miss the life and ministry we left behind, but cherish what we have now.

Saturday night Tommy and two of Liz's friends threw her a surprise birthday party and it was great fun! There were friends from church, friends from Liz's school and lots of children, starting, of course with their five. Everyone seemed to enjoy all the visiting and the food. One of the highlights of the evening was a video one of the party hosts made of pictures she got from Liz's mom and Tommy that showed her life from birth through now. Tom and I alternated laughter and tears as we were reminded once more of just how special Liz is!

This has been a week of preparation--after we once got settled from last week's party preparation. I have baked a lot: red velvet and German chocolate cakes for Liz's do; a pecan, a pumpkin and a sweet potato pecan pie for today and I gave our helper a lesson in baking a sour cream pound cake. A house never smells better than when something is baking. Last night my sleep was disturbed as I contemplated how how to serve the sweet potato pecan pie. It's a new Paul Prudomne recipe I tried and it went together beautifully, but was a bit time consuming. Instructions were to roll the crust and pat into an 8 inch cake pan, then layer the other parts. After baking and cooling for a bit, I realized I couldn't get it out of the pan and make it look the way the picture did. We may spoonfuls of pie rather than slices. Our dinner will be late this afternoon and we'll have the nine of us and another family of four from the church around the table. I still have a little more cooking to do, need to extend the table to its full length
and get it set--and figure out how to serve that pie. Other than that, it will be a day of parades and football. Mom loved the Macy's Thanksgiving parade and every year, without fail, she would call to remind us it was on TV, then remind us that they'd be over when the parade ended. I'll watch some of it in her honor. Throughout the day Tom and I will recall all the Thanksgivings we have had together and tonight, when all have gone home and it's quiet once again, we will talk about today and add it to the long list of all for which we have to give thanks.

Cancer has invaded the lives of good friends here. Richard, the friend who asks me to substitute in his Sunday School class, has been diagnosed with a malignancy in his throat. Last week a nodule of some sort was removed and on Monday of this week he was told that it was malignant. When he and his wife met with the specialists, they were told he needed to begin treatment within thirty days, suggesting he see someone at M.D. Anderson in Houston. For any of you who have had cancer touch your life in any way, you know how difficult waiting is. While they wait, life goes on as usual: family arrived for Thanksgiving and Richard will be in his usual place Sunday sharing God's word in Sunday School. Please pray for Richard and his wife, Liz.

Advent begins Sunday, November 30 and so begins the posting of a daily devotional on this blog. I will post at night for the next day so the material will be ready first thing in the morning. Look for the preface and the first installment Sunday morning.

Have a great Thanksgiving and carry the spirit of thankfulness into every day of your lives!

Pastor Margaret

Saturday, November 22, 2008

We celebrated my birthday this past week and I mean just that. Monday was the actual day, but something special happened everyday right through yesterday when four special friends from Mississippi came and brought a deliecious feast for lunch, along with caramel cake decorated with fresh camellias. It's at least a four hour drive up here, they stayed four hours, then drove home again. Only real friends will give a day like that--but that only scratches the surface of the depth of our friendship! I cannot count the ways that their friendship has been woven into our lives over the years. I can only praise God for them and cherish the memories.

During the week I received phone calls, e-cards, cards with notes and packages and I loved hearing from each person! Many heard from this week are newer friends--those we grew to love in California and some we have only known since coming here. I am amazed when I stop to think how God blesses us with the people He puts into our lives--and I mean that seriously. Friends are gifts, God's gifts who enrich life with love and that indescribable, yet rich, thing we call friendship!

Of course, we celebrated with family. Marty and I had a good visit on the phone and it was almost as if she was curled up on the sofa having a cup of coffee with me. Tommy cooked dinner using a little of this and that he found in his freezer. All I told him I wanted was cheese grits, so he started with that. Being with family was the best thing of all!

It has been really cold here this week. When the TV weatherman spoke of temperatures in the teens last night and cautioned people going to high school football play-off games to wrap up, I was feeling especially smug that I had no children or grandchildren involved. I remember those days of short majorette skirts during my own high school days and faithfully following the band to games all the years Tommy and Marty were in band, both in high school, and for Tommy when he was in the Mississippi State marching band. It wasn't quite as cold in Mississippi as it is here or where I grew up, but we did have some cold nights, some wet ones and the opposite extreme in September when the State band marched in heavy wool uniforms. Tommy would be absolutely drenched after a game--fortunately the band paid to clean uniforms because it was required weekly. It's funny the way the mind works. A few cautionary words from the weatherman brought a flood of memories.

I wish I could report that Tom has improved, but he hasn't. He has spent a lot of time on the bed, sometimes sleeping, sometimes just resting. He was glad to see friends yesterday, but didn't feel like being with us all the time they were here. Seeing the grandchildren does more for him than anything. The sparkle in his eyes come out of hiding when the children are around. Our sweet helper came an extra day this week so I could get to the grocery and do some cooking that needed to be done. She is such a help!

Never underestimate the power of your words and actions on other people. What you might think of as "nothing," a greeting you might send, a quick call across town or across many mile, may be just what another needs at that moment. All those who reached out to me as I celebrated another year of life, have given me strength and renewed determination in this journey.

Pastor Margaret

Sunday, November 16, 2008

The ususal minister, the senior pastor, of the church in Memphis where I tune in on Sundays is absent from the pulpit this morning. I have been enjoying his preaching through II Corinthians, but this morning an unfamiliar person began reading from John and here he is preaching. My first impulse was to change the channel, find another service. I wanted to hear the senior pastor. Has something similar ever happened to you? You know the preacher is away, so you have freedom to play. We can do something rather than go to church or we can attend somewhere else. As a church member, I've said that. As an associate pastor, I've heard those words. Where are we taught that our worship experience depends entirely on the sermon or the person who delivers it? What we are taught about worship is that it is what we bring to God; it is all about God. It begins with God; the music is our offering to God; our prayers are a part of our adoration and acknowledging dependence on God; the Scripture reading is God's word; the sermon should contribute to our spiritual growth and understanding of who God is.

The unfamilar person delivering the sermon is finished and his words touched my heart as he spoke on Jesus using the little boy's lunch to feed the multitude. What the boy had was not important. In fact, Jesus, present with God at creation and who could do all things, did not need the lunch to feed the people, but Jesus invited the little boy to take part in His ministry that day. The important thing is that the boy gave all to Jesus and Jesus took it, blessed it and provided for the needs of those who were there. Whether I have much or little, if I give it all, God will use it to bless others. Sounds like stewardship to me!

It's been a little lonely this weekend. Tommy, Liz and children went with friends to Tuscaloosa for the Mississippi State -Alabama ballgame. If you're at the bottom of the SEC, playing #1 in the country, you might wonder at the wisdom of making such a trip. But, football in the SEC is not all about the game, it's the total experience! Tommy, his friend Steve, and two of the children arrived late afternoon Friday to stake out a place to put up their tent for the ultimate tailgate party. Neither heavy rain, nor strong wind that blew the tent away Friday night dampened their efforts. They retrieved and secured it by ten Saturday morning and the fun began. I talked with Tommy before the game time (6:45 p.m. CST) and he said wasn't sure he was going to the game: it was cold and he had no warm clothes with him and no hat for his bald head. People in the next tent over had large, flat screen TVs and were cooking hot dogs, etc. Tommy and Steve were cooking jambalaya and smoked salmon and were thinking they might trade food for a seat in front of the TV. Elisa was decked out in her MSU cheerleading outfit, right in the midst of all those Bama fans, but Meredith saved the day by chanting on demand, "Go Aba-bama." A good time was had by all! Even though we got beat 3o something to 7. Wait til next year.

I am weary. Tom is weak, his stomach is tied in knots and his nerves are driving us both crazy. He wonders if we should try to see a doctor; I wonder what good it would do. I was brought up to believe that things could always be worse and that if you feel bad, you should suck it up and try anyway. I was also taught to be loving, giving and patient with those having a hard time. Tom, who has had few sick days in his life before now, can't wrap his head around my philosophy. I, who have always had trouble with being patient, get really frustrated with him. It would probably help if I made a schedule for the two of us and insisted that we do things, but chemo has taken its toll on my energy. We both need to get out; we need to see people.

Most of all we need to heed the "unfamiliar person's" sermon, offer God all that we are and have and see what God will do. My prayer request today is easy to remember--two "p's"--peace and patience. May you have the same.

Pastor Margaret

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Usually when I write I have something on my mind, but I'm a big blank today. There are no burning issues, no significant updates, no new stories. We're really rather boring. Even the weather is dreary.

Last Friday was our regular visit to the oncologist in Corinth and the report was better than anticipated--both red and white counts were up some. That's always good news. If we could get a handle on the fatigue, that would really be good! Tom still is having his shaky moments, usually associated with his getting chilled. He gets cold, starts shaking internally and goes downhill from there. The temperature in our house reminds me of going into houses of other older folks and wondering how they could stand it being so hot. Now we are those "other older folks."

Our front bedroom is beginning to look a bit like the North Pole. Liz has begun to "hide" things over here among the things I'd already bought. Much of my shopping is being done on-line and being delivered right to the front door. How convenient! My earliest memories of Christmas shopping are of wet, cold December days hurrying around in the Memphis traffic downtown. That was when major department stores anchored the corners on Main Street and you could have lunch in one of the store tearooms, entertained by models wearing the latest fashions. Those days are gone, as are the stores from Main Street and the personal touches they provided. One of my favorite memories is of Mr. Peanut handing out samples in front of the Planter's Peanut store downtown. He's gone too, but I still remember the roasted peanut smell. Ah, the good old days! I miss them, but there is something to be said for convenience.

It's a good day for being inside. Maybe I'll start the Christmas cookies or catch up on wrapping what's left in the fron room. It's a good day period. It's the day the Lord has made. No matter what, we will rejoice and be glad in it.

Pastor Margaret

Thursday, November 06, 2008

The mail carrier has delivered two surprises within the last few days. Such welcome surprises! Saturday we received a copy of the new FOPC cookbook, reminding me of the people who contriubted the recipes and tastes of things served at Presbytiree Potlucks and Mariner meetings. Such great memories! Early in the week we received the autobiography of a precious lady in the FOPC congregation. I've only had time to scan it, but it's obvious from the beginning what a testimony it is to our faithful God. It, too, reminds me of the special years we spent as "on site" members of the FOPC family.

Congestion, cough, low grade fever and a stabbing pain in my abdomen sent me to the doctor Monday. The first three were symptoms of the pneumonia that hospitalized me two years ago, so I wasn't about to ignore them--as is my habit. I always think that if you wait long enough symptoms will go away. If I hadn't had both the flu and pneumonia shots a month ago I would have thought the flu had me in its grip. Medicine has helped. The pain is a different matter--cause still unknown, but we are in the process of eliminating causes. Tom, as usual, gets worse when I feel bad and this week has been no exception. Observing what is happening to him makes me know that there are worse things than cancer. Tomorrow is treatment day and hopefully a good report.

We celebrated Elisa's first birthday on Sunday. It's hard to believe she's already a year old. Her siblings were more interested in her presents than she was, but she did love the bright pink cupcake!

I have finished the Advent devotional booklet I was writing for the church. This is the first time I've tackled such a project and found it to be really rewarding. The church secretary is busy with the format, assembly and printing. Beginning November 30, the first day of Advent, I will post a devotional for each day of the season, ending with Christmas Day--if you're interested.

Many of you prayed before the elections. Please continue.

Pastor Margaret

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Costumes Galore!

Most children love Halloween. Forget about ghosts and goblins and think costumes and candy! Our church had its annual "trunk or treat" event at Wednesday night church this week and the grandchildren filled their pumpkins with all kinds of treats. Last night they dressed in their costumes and went to a "church member filled" neighborhood where the minister and his family live to go from door to door. Unfortunately, by the time they piled in the car and came back to our house, they were all tired and the little ones were tired of costumes. You'll have to admit this butterfly and pink poodle are precious. Marty, Kevin and Christopher were invited to a costume party and following the tradition of the women who have come before her, Marty made costumes for them to wear. Christopher is the cutest pirate I've ever seen.

A word of caution! Cellular phones are not waterproof or baby proof. Tommy came out one day this week to see Elisa either really getting into his messages or giving his cell phone the taste test. After that he could not be heard when he spoke into his phone. Apparently Elisa's sweet slobber shorted out something--which, of course, could not be fixed and he had to get a new phone. I've noticed how conveniently parts and/or batteries for your current phone never seem to be available when you need them.

Tom had a visit with his neurologist Wednesday and his words indicated that the recent imbalance and weakness in Tom's legs was a result of medications not mixing with the antibiotic. When this first started three weeks ago, a pharmacist suggested this could be the problem and it seems she was right. He's been off the antibiotic almost a week and his balance has improved. I wish his cognitive function was as easy to fix. We are now trying something new for his confusion and memory loss. It's too soon to tell if it's helping or if there are any adverse side effects.

Don't forget to vote Tuesday! Regardless of your choice, please vote and please vote that God will be in the midst of the elections. At the time of every presidential election people are heard to say, "This is a crucial time in the history of our nation." True enough. The person elected faces many critical issues that affect both the young and the old and those issues are not unlike many our leaders have previously confronted. Every area of the country has issues that are peculiar to them. It's not too late--nor will it ever be--to pray for God's wisdom and God's guidance. Whether the person or persons for whom we vote wins, God is still in control. I direct your attention to Psalm 33:12-22:
Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,
the people he chose for his inheritance.
From heaven the Lord looks down and sees all mankind;
from his dwelling place he watches all who live on earth--
he who forms the hearts of all,
who considers everything they do.
No king is saved by the size of his army;
no warrior escapes by his great strength.
A horse is a vain hope for deliverance;
despite all its great strength it cannot save.
But the eyes of the Lord are on those
who fear him,
on those whose hope is in his unfailing love,
to deliver them from death
and keep them alive in famine.
We wait in hope for the Lord;
he is our help and our shield.
In him our hearts rejoice,
for we trust in his holy name.
May your unfailing love rest upon us,
O Lord,
even as we put our hope in you.
Pastor Margaret