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Newsletter January 4, 2016 New Beginnings at New Hope VOLUME 3, ISSUE 20
A Blinding Light

We know the story of Paul's conversion on the road to Damascus. He was felled by a blinding light and heard a voice which identified itself as Jesus asking "Saul, why do you persecute me?". After the encounter he was taken into Damascus where he received treatment and nourishment. Ananias, a priest and follower of Jesus, received a vision to go to Paul (or Saul as he was called at the time). He objected but was told that Saul "was a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel". (Acts 9:15). When Ananias went to Saul and laid his hands on him, the "scales" of dead tissue on the surface of his eyes fell off and his sight was restored. After additional instruction, Saul was baptized.

After the shooting in San Bernardino, the New York Daily News ran a headline, "God is Not Fixing This"". We may dismiss this as tabloid sensationalism, but it does raise the point about what God has done for us lately. Why does He allow these terrible things to happen?

If you hold to the belief that we were created by God, then it might make sense to ask what He had in mind for us. Is it to make life easy for me? To keep me safe? Happy and prosperous? In short, should God answer to me? Paul would say it is "to do good works and glorify God". Or maybe to do His will rather than have him do ours.

He is not a god of convenience or luxury. He is the God of all creation from Alpha to Omega. He intervenes in history when it suits his purpose, not ours. Saul's mission was to bring followers of the Way (they weren't called Christians just yet) back to Jerusalem where they would be tried by the Sanhedrin. The Jews were anxious to stamp out yet another dissident sect who claimed to follow a false Messiah. Never mind that they had witnessed the resurrection. Saul was doing his part as a chief enforcer for the Sandhedrin. Yet God sought this person, despite his resume, to spread the Gospel to the Gentiles, kings and children of Israel.

Non-believers question the actions (or inactions) of God. Since they don't believe He exists, it would seem somewhat redundant to question His will. They are simply challenging and chastising those who believe. We believers should not fall into the trap of questioning God alongside them. Rather we should seek God's purpose and how we fit into its fulfillment.

In Saul's time, the followers of the Way were a small group living in the shadows trying to survive - certainly not a religion. Although they had witnessed the Resurrection and had received the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, they didn't have much else going for them, certainly no way to fight off armed agressors. They held together through their belief and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, serving each other, worshipping and praying. It would have been preposterous for anyone to see this destitute group as the beginnings of a great new religion.

Read the story of Paul again this time focusing on God's purpose in this dramatic conversion. Think about the difference this event made for the very existence of Christianity. When the scales came off, Paul could see again. But he never looked back. Father, thy will be done

From the Pastor

Greetings and Godís Blessings to you for 2016! As we begin a new year, we have much for which to be thankful: life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, loved ones, health; happiness; both the necessities of life and many of the comforts and so much more. We have these blessings through the GRACE of God.

Grace is mentioned 170 times in the Bible. We understand grace to be Godís unmerited favor. Grace is God doing good for us that we do not deserve. David Reagan discusses "grace and mercy" as like two heads of the same coin. Mercy is God withholding judgment or evil that we deserve; grace is God giving us blessings or good that we do not deserve.Ē Just think of mercy as God not judging our sins and because of Godís grace, we receive eternal life and a promise of heaven, though we do not deserve them. We do not deserve Godís mercy nor His grace, as we are a sinful people. However, we have both mercy and grace through our Lord Jesus Christ.

Another meaning of grace is Godís sufficiency or Godí fullness in the life of a believer. God told Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:9: My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. The grace of God in Paul enabled him and empowered him in his weakness. Godís grace working in us supplies the sufficiency whereby we may do good work. God is enough no matter what situation we may face.

We read in Ephesians 2:8: For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God. We are not only saved by the grace of God, we also serve the Lord and live the Christian life by the grace of God. We need Godís grace for living our lives in a Godly manner; as we live our lives we are the reflection of the Light of the World, Jesus Christ. We may be the only Jesus others ever know or see.

May Godís Mercy and Grace be with you!

Pastor Sandra

Windows Update

The Windows Repair Fund now stands at $7,675. This is actual money collected as we did not conduct a pledge campaign. Thanks and blessings to all who have contributed thus far. This display of generosity is comforting and reassuring. If you have not contributed, please give it prayerful consideration.

Church Calendar

•  Thursday, January 7. Bible Study resumes, 6 p.m.
•  January Anniversary. Clarence & Esther Higginbotham (2nd)