When I first became pastor of our church in October of 2004, I remember the excitement and energy in preaching, teaching and getting to know the people, all blessings I still richly enjoy to this day. In my first few months, there was much about ministry to understand, several processes and procedures to ascertain, and lots of unique opportunities in learning how to serve God's people in Christ's love. The church's loyalty and friendship were quickly apparent as we began our ministry together, and I valued that support from you when I organized our Community Thanksgiving Service (1st one taking place at Bethania Moravian Church) just over a month after I began my calling at UBC. That first Thanksgiving service brought four churches in the community together (a fellowship we still celebrate today!)--united us as one, diverse body of Christ, sharing in the joy of thanking God for all that our Savior, Jesus Christ, does for us all.
It was not long after our Thanksgiving service that Pastor Wayne Byerly (pastor at that time) invited me to preach at Bethania Moravian's Watch Night Service on New Year's Eve, a service that was held just before midnight, reminding all those in attendance that Jesus would return to earth unexpectedly. This service is highlighted by the preacher and the sermon intentionally getting interrupted (after starting the proclamation around 11:45pm) about midnight or so by the church band. At this point in the service, the pastor will then stop at his/her place in the sermon, gather any notes and the Bible, and walk out of the pulpit and back to the pew. Therefore, looking for any opportunity to preach, I accepted Wayne's invitation and began preaching the Watch Night service at 11:45pm. When the band played at midnight, I gathered my notes and Bible and walked out of the pulpit. I remember many of you were in attendance, disappointed that I could not finish my sermon and invited me to redo the same sermon the following Sunday. I obliged! Looking back, the Watchnight Service was unique and meaningful, and even surprising! But that night of surprise was also made special by the sharing of what is known as Watch Words (scriptures), bible verses printed on paper and offered to the entire congregation at random. After picking a verse from a basket or hat, people were encouraged to read that scripture to themselves and allow the Spirit of that particular scripture to become their spiritual theme for the new year. And guess what? I still remember my Watch Word for 2005: "Be imitators of God, therefore as dearly loved children" (Eph. 5:1). What a superb truth to observe in the new year!
And now, dear friends and family of United Baptist, we are on the threshold of a new year. We prepare to welcome 2022 and look forward to all that God has in store for us as beloved children, loving and serving one another and the community God has given us. How is God calling each of us to study and memorize scripture together in the new year (so that we might obey God in caring fellowship with one another)? How will we reach our neighbors and schools in effective ways by doing more of what we already do well (Clothes Closet, Missions Groups mission activities, giving generously to quarterly missions Ingatherings, etc.)? How will we be the hands and feet of Jesus by using our spiritual gifts to build up Christ's body and spread the Good News of a welcoming Kingdom which heals, restores, saves and reconciles? Oh, what joy God has in store for every one of us--after all, joy only exists within the boundaries of loving community! So...what will our focus be for the new year? What can we use as United Baptist Church's Watch Word for 2022, a Bible verse that will keep our hearts focused during the entire year, helping us to live out our faith in real, relevant ways?
A Watch Word, by definition, is a "word or phrase expressing a person's or group's core aim or belief." While we focus on Christ's Word through scripture throughout each year, I'd like us to think about how God is calling each one of us to meditate and reflect upon the Word; we must chew it, digest it, and be transformed by it, just as Jeremiah experienced when he ate God's Word (the scroll) and responded: "When your words came I ate them; they were my joy and my heart's delight, for I bear your name, LORD God Almighty" (Jer. 16:15, NIV). God is looking to grow us spiritually, forming us into the likeness and image of his Son; in order to do this, the Lord uses holy scripture to chisel away faithlessness, doubt and despair. God has blessed us with a wonderful congregation, filled with talents and gifts that are honed and shaped by God's Word. In 2022, more than ever, let us truly submit to the Christ of scripture and maximize our discipleship, obedience and faithfulness to our great God of grace, the same God who has never let us down and never will. Through the last two years of accumulated grief due to pandemic, cultural polarization and loss of loved ones, God empathized with our sadness and continues to help us locate hope in the pages of our Bibles. Nowhere else will we find the comfort, optimism, joy and healing that God's promises in Christ offer the world. A treasure of blessing is located in the Jesus of scripture, and my hope for every member of our blessed church, in 2022 and beyond, is to re-engage our Bibles in ways that help us live lives of holiness, obedience, and service to our God and Lord. When we do this as God's church, Christ's body here at United grows in grace and in humility with the Savior and one another! This is God's promise in Jesus!
If there is one truth that God is calling all churches to live out, it is the calling to be disciple and to make disciples. We are trees in the orchard of God's grace (John 15:7)! We are planted by God, watered by Christ, and grow by his Holy Spirit! Therefore, what will following Jesus look like for you in 2022?
• Are you involved in a Sunday School? If not, Doris Sweat can help you find the class that fits you best.
• Are you involved in mid-week Bible study? Join us for Mathetes on Wednesday nights (in-person & online), where we dig into the scriptures, get our spiritual hands dirty as we unearth truths about God's Word which challenge and strengthen us and transform us into the followers Jesus longs for us to become.
• What goals for scripture reading do you have in the new year? Would you like to read through the Gospels in 90 days or the Old Testament, or Proverbs for 31 days or a personal Biblical reading plan that draws you nearer to the heart of God?
• What scriptures is God calling you to memorize? I'd like us to focus on how we can keep more of God's word in our minds and hearts so that we can remind ourselves of God's truth, fight the Enemy when we are tempted (Eph. 6), and assist one another when we are suffering (Gal. 6:10). Let us not forget the powerful promise of Ps. 119:11: "I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you."
• How will you connect with those who are drinking spiritual milk and need your mentorship to help them feast on the solid food of God's Word? How are you being mentored, and how are you growing in accountability to God and his people?
• Can you articulate what your spiritual gifts are, and how are you planning on using your spiritual gifts among the body at UBC in the new year?
• How is God's Word calling you to greater generosity in the new year? How is God blessing you to be a blessing? How are you feeling led by your scripture reading to give of your time, talents and treasures to the glory of Jesus and to the upbuilding of Christ's Kingdom here at UBC and wherever God takes you?
Curiously, what is your favorite fruit? Can you imagine if that fruit didn't exist? How would your life (and diet) be different? In the same way, God is calling us to bear much fruit by studying and trusting in the Word; we are called to bear not just a little fruit, but MUCH fruit, so that people will know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we are Jesus' disciples, his students, his followers--they will be certain that we bear Christ's name. Following Jesus, once he's saved us and become our personal King, is not an option; rather, it's a mandate! This new year can be the start of the life that is truly life, Jesus Christ, living out his dream in you, in me, and in our entire congregation. Everything else in our church, our budgets, our property, and our ministries will all fall in place if we are faithful to fulfill God's individual and collective calling on our lives to bear fruit by remaining in the Vine, Jesus Christ, the Word of God.
Be on the lookout in the month of January as I spend a Sunday preaching about the vital importance of scripture and the blessings of keeping it near to our minds and close to our hearts. Watch Words will be on our lips and in our hearts, not only on that Sunday but throughout our faith-filled service to God and community in 2022--and I can't wait to share in the power of Christ's Word with you in this new year!
Whattya say, dear family, are you ready to bear much fruit in 2022 by leaning on and embodying the truths of scripture, showing our community, state and world that we are God's beloved children? Are you with me, friends? Let's plant ourselves in the fertile soil of God's love in Christ, trust in his nurturing of our roots, and believing that he will grow us in the new year and beyond, producing much fruit that benefits all those who partake of the orchard known as the body of Christ at United Baptist Church! And all God's people said? Amen!
Looking forward to how we "Watch Words" in 2022 and
experience God's everlasting love together,
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