New Year’s 2021 Devotional

If you have the opportunity to do this outdoors, please feel free to engage this devotion outside.

As you begin, take a couple of deep breaths, and ask the Holy Spirit to help you to be aware of God’s presence with you and to be centered in Christ.

Listen (and sing along if you wish) to Waymaker by Sinach:

Read 1 Samuel 7:7-13

7 When the Philistines heard that Israel had assembled at Mizpah, the rulers of the Philistines came up to attack them. When the Israelites heard of it, they were afraid because of the Philistines. 8 They said to Samuel, “Do not stop crying out to the Lord our God for us, that he may rescue us from the hand of the Philistines.” 9 Then Samuel took a suckling lamb and sacrificed it as a whole burnt offering to the Lord. He cried out to the Lord on Israel’s behalf, and the Lord answered him.

10 While Samuel was sacrificing the burnt offering, the Philistines drew near to engage Israel in battle. But that day the Lord thundered with loud thunder against the Philistines and threw them into such a panic that they were routed before the Israelites. 11 The men of Israel rushed out of Mizpah and pursued the Philistines, slaughtering them along the way to a point below Beth Kar.

12 Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, “Thus far the Lord has helped us.”

13 So the Philistines were subdued and they stopped invading Israel’s territory. Throughout Samuel’s lifetime, the hand of the Lord was against the Philistines.

The Israelites come to the prophet Samuel in fear because the Philistines have risen up to attack them. Samuel prays on Israel’s behalf and the Israelites are victorious.

In verse 12, Samuel then sets up a stone and calls it “Eben-Ezer” which means, “stone of help” saying “Thus far the Lord has helped us.”

Throughout the Old Testament we see at different moments where the people use a stone to mark a time to remember something (see Joshua 4). If you’re outside, or you have one in the house, find a rock to mark as your stone of remembrance for this year (if not a rock, perhaps another object to mark as an “object of remembrance”).

This past year has been a year of struggle but, hopefully, also a year of growth. As you look back on the year, consider the following questions:

  • Where were the times you grew in your awareness of God’s presence?
  • When were the times that you struggled the most? When were your greatest moments of growth?
  • When are the times that you look back and can say, “Thus far the Lord has helped us”?

As we look ahead to the New Year, consider setting up the stone (or object) of remembrance somewhere where you can be reminded of how God was with you in 2020. Spend some time in prayer and meditation, asking God to give you a Word of Hope and Remembrance for 2021. If you are with others, share in your household and pray together.

Close with this prayer, written by Jill Duffield:

God of our past, present and future, as the calendar turns and we greet another year, we ask not so much for answers to those questions that perplex us, but for confidence in your never-failing care for us.

As we reflect on the year we leave behind, we begin with gratitude for the moments and the milestones in which we experienced your presence. As we look to the year ahead, we start with hope for a kinder, more just, lavishly loving world. Through all the years, we depend on the abundance of your grace, the generosity of your mercy and the unwavering promise of your compassion.

Aid us, Almighty God, when we fail to be the people you create and call us to be. Comfort us, Abba, when we face times of sadness, loss and grief. Admonition us, Lord of all, when we neglect the teachings of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Guide us, Triune God, all the days of this new year, and indeed, every day of our lives until that time when we see you face to face. Amen.

Prayers of the People • Third Week of Advent

Here is the beautiful prayer our brother Sejun lifted up during our worship gathering on 13 December 2020. We invite you to read and to make it your ongoing prayer during this Advent season as well.

Heavenly Father,
The year 2020 has been a very challenging year
and many of us will never forget.
Help us remember
that the good news of Jesus’ birth
has the power to bring us
great joy this Christmas season.

We thank you for sending us Your Son,
So that He can become our Saviour,
So that He can bring peace
in the hearts of those that believe,
and joy to those that find their hope in Him.

We rejoice knowing that You love us,
And that You will always be with us.
Help us share the joy that we receive
from You to those around us.
We pray for the people
of this nation and this world,
That You will open up their hearts,
and that many will find joy
through You in these hard times.

As we look forward to a brighter 2021,
we pray for the completion
of many safe COVID-19 vaccines,
And Your continued protection
upon our healthcare workers and frontline workers
until the vaccine is widely available.
In Christ’s name we pray.

Prayers of the People • Second Week of Advent

Here is the beautiful prayer our sister Yang lifted up during our worship gathering on 6 December 2020. We invite you to read and to make it your ongoing prayer during this Advent season as well.

Heavenly Father, hallowed be Your name!
As we await Your Son’s return,
we pray to receive Your Holy Spirit.
May the Spirit guide our thoughts,
guide our hearts, guide our words,
and guide our ways,
Every moment of the day.

We also seek Your Shalom during the troubled times,
like the sheep seeking for the green pastures,
like the fish seeking for the crystal streams.
We want to be the peacemakers you desire,
and be proudly called Children of God. 

As Your peacemakers
We pray for the people who are sick, hungry, or cold,
who are sad, angry, or lonely.
We pray they will accept Your Son, the Prince of Peace.
Your Spirit will be upon them,
so they will seek Shalom, not the worldly comforts.
May You lead us all onto the righteous pass. 

As this troubled year seems never ends,
and we don’t know what the days ahead hold.
We have faith in the One who does!
We will proclaim Your name,
we will hold steadfast,
Until the day Your Kingdom comes
and Your Will is done on earth.
In Christ’s name we pray.

Advent Conspiracy 2020

The Season of Advent 

Advent begins the fourth Sunday before Christmas Day. The word “advent” means “arrival.” During the season of Advent, we celebrate Christ’s coming into the world and watch with expectant hope for his coming again. We celebrate the incarnation of Jesus, “God With Us” and, at the same time, eagerly await the day he arrives again — to redeem, restore, and renew all things.

This is what the Book of Common Worship says about Advent:

In Advent we expectantly wait for the One who has already come. We anticipate the promised justice of God’s new world, yet we praise God who raised the “righteous branch” to rule with justice and righteousness. We hope for the restoration of the afflicted, the tormented, and the grieving, yet we delight that healing has come in Christ. We long for the beating of swords into plowshares, yet we rejoice that the Prince of Peace has appeared. We yearn for the barren deserts of our inner cities to flourish, yet we laud the desert Rose that has bloomed. We dream of the land where lions and lambs live in harmony, yet we acclaim the child born to lead us into the promised land.

The PC(USA) Directory for worship says, “As God created and appointed days, God created a rhythm of time and appointed seasons for worship.” Advent is a gift — a time for us to slow down, breathe, worship, and hope again.

Advent at Home

As we continue to shelter in place, this season of Advent takes on even deeper meaning as we wait in hopeful expectation for Jesus to renew all things. The following resources are included in your Advent care packages, but we’re including them here as well in case you’d like an electronic copy.

Advent Conspiracy 

Anchor City is proud to continue to be a part of the Advent Conspiracy movement. Here’s what Advent Conspiracy is all about (from their website):

Advent Conspiracy was founded on the radical idea that we can celebrate Christmas humbly, beautifully, and generously. Advent is the story of a wondrous moment when God entered our world to make things right. It is the greatest story ever told and it changes everything—including the way we celebrate Christmas.

You can watch the video below to catch a glimpse of what it means to be a part of a different story this Christmas, one that celebrates our King and brings hope to the watching world.

Advent Conspiracy Offering 

On the fourth Sunday of Advent, December 22nd, we will have our Advent Conspiracy offering. This year, through our offering, we are thankful to support:

Justice Ventures International 

Freely In Hope 

World Vision

Transformed Lives: From Resentment to Gratitude

This week, we are exploring the movement Henri Nouwen describes from resentment to gratitude. Below are some exercises and spiritual disciplines to practice to help you join the Holy Spirit in this transforming movement.

A Diagnostic Checklist for Resentment

Do I feel like I should mask or hide “negative” emotions such as sadness, anger, frustration, or anxiety?

  • How can we break through the chains of resentment and free ourselves? Resentment has very deep roots in our human condition as is not easily cleared away. But once we confess our resentments within a safe and supportive faith community, we create space for forgiveness and freedom. When this happens, God’s liberating grace is able to make all things new. — Henri Nouwen, Spiritual Formation p.64
  • Ask God to help you be honest in discovering the what and the why behind the actual state of your inner life. If you need help identifying what emotions you’re experiencing or where they’re coming from, bring that before God in genuine conversation and prayer.

Do I find myself feeling unhappy or jealous of other people’s successes?

  • Spiritual formation is the way by which resentment can slowly be transformed into gratitude. Through the spiritual practice of letting go of jealousy and bitterness, and forgiving and affirming others, we can make rivals into friends and competitors into companions on the way to true greatness. Servanthood might sound like a pious idea, but it really asks for the humble recognition that our life is not our own to be defended but a gift to be shared. All we have has been given to us. Our part is to be grateful and to give thanks. — Henri Nouwen, Spiritual Formation p.65
  • As you pray, focus on God as the Generous Giver, whose love & grace is inexhaustible. Instead of imagining that someone else’s success takes something away from you, ask God for a mindset of Kingdom abundance — where there is not only enough for everyone, but where joy is multiplied when it is shared.

Do I believe I deserve more than someone else because I’ve demonstrated more faith, virtue, obedience, or hard work than they have?

  • Authentic Christian community occurs where there is fertile ground for gratitude to grow, for gifts to be received, and for blessings to be shared. Such a place embodies the true nature and function of what we call church no matter where it gathers or what name it bears. Authentic Christian community nurtures the spirit of gratitude and service in the spiritual life. It does so by inviting us to give constant attention to the condition of our hearts, where we listen to the voice of God and respond with thanksgiving. It calls for an ongoing willingness to remove our defensive armor and create inner space where the Spirit of God can live. It requires courage to scrutinize our compulsive selves and to open our hearts to new ways of being. — Henri Nouwen, Spiritual Formation p.65
  • Ask God to help you see that getting to be a part of Jesus’ mission in the world, spending time with God, and working alongside sisters & brothers in Christ are priceless rewards, in and of themselves.

When things don’t go according to my plan, do I become overly annoyed or frustrated?

  • Resentment is exactly the complaint that life does not unfold the way we planned; that our many goals and projects are constantly interrupted by the events of the hour, the day, and the year… The movement to gratitude involves the discover y that God is the God of history and that things are quietly and slowly unfolding as they should. My spiritual task is to learn to listen to all that is going on and trust that God’s hand is guiding me. — Henri Nouwen, Spiritual Formation p.66
  • Ask God for the flexibility and adaptability that comes from trust in God’s plan (and not just personality type). Lift up those people or circumstances that cause interruptions in your life and ask God how they might be an invitation into God’s plan.

In all of these self-reflections, friends, please be kind to yourselves! It can be really hard to look inside. All too often, when we see something we don’t like, we end up feeling bad and kicking ourselves — but nothing changes (except, perhaps, feeling worse). If and when you hear the voice of criticism who is waiting to pounce on your mistakes, move past it and listen for the true voice of Love, who is patient, kind, and protective.

[The following two exercises are from Nouwen’s book, Spiritual Formation]

Given how destructive the passion of resentment can be in human life, the movement from resentment to gratitude is necessary. Once we enter into this movement of the Spirit, we can let go of our resentments and stretch out our arms to the God who sets us free for joyful service — service not as a religious obligation, but as a manifestation of our inner gratitude. Nouwen’s challenge is for us to look at everything that has brought us to where we are now in the light of a loving and guiding God. 

Reflect and Journal 

  • Can you name one difficult stepping-stone that has brought you to where you are now, and reflect on it in the light of a loving God who guides your steps? 
  • For Nouwen, to be grateful means to live life as a gift — that wherever I live, whatever I do, or whatever happens to me, I see somewhere in the experience a gift for which to be thankful. What past experiences in your life that were hard at the time can you now be truly grateful for?
  • The Apostle Paul encourages us to “give thanks always and for everything” (Eph. 5:20). Further, Paul reminds believers that “in all things God works for the good” (Rom. 8:2). In your journal, write down ten things that you can thankful for today. Share these with someone else. 
  • Read the parable of the lost sons in Luke 15:11-32. Write a page in your journal on the question, In what ways am I the older son in the parable? 

Visio Divina: The Graceful Dancer 

Russian troops entered Paris in 1815 with force and violence. In the aftermath of destruction and loss, an important acquisition was made for the Hermitage. Alexander I arranged for the purchase by private treaty of a collection of artworks belonging to Empress Josephine, former wife of Napoleon, housed in her Malmaison Palace. Among the priceless additions were four sculptures by Antonio Canova: Hebe, Paris, Woman Dancing, and Cupid and Psyche.

As you ponder the Dancer image, reflect on the following insight of Nouwen’s: 
“I once saw a stonecutter remove great pieces from a huge rock on which he was working. In my imagination I thought, That rock must be hurting terribly. Why does this man wound the rock so much? But as I looked longer, I saw the figure of a graceful dancer emerge gradually from the stone.” 

  • In what ways do you feel the pain of the rock being made into a statue of a dancer? 
  • What chipping away at the protective wall of your soul do you feel God may be engaged in right now? 
  • In what ways are your resisting or resenting the process? 
  • In what ways are you open and graceful? 
  • As you look at Woman Dancing by Antonio Canova, can you feel the cold marble of the statue? 
  • Can you sense the movements of the dancer in motion? 
  • Can you see yourself alone or with another on the dance floor? 
  • What would it take to make you dance with joy?