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From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church. When they arrived, he said to them: “You know how I lived the whole time I was with you, from the first day I came into the province of Asia. You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house. I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus. And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. My only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.
Acts 20: 17-22, 24.

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Peace to the church, and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus with an undying love.”
– Ephesians 6: 23-24.

“Keep on loving each other as brothers and sisters.” – Hebrews 13:1

“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers a multitude of sins.”
–1 Peter 4: 8

“I am not writing you a new commandment but one we have had since the beginning. I ask that we love one another. And this is love: that you keep his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, His command is that you walk in love.”
--2 John 1: 5-6

In February, many of us celebrate a holiday called St. Valentine’s Day. It has a long history and unclear origins, but February 14 has been a celebration of love since before Christ in the Roman world and of a martyr named St. Valentine since 357 AD at least. There was a historical St. Valentine that was martyred by Emperor Claudius in 269 AD for preaching love against warfare and military service and being a source of civil unrest. You see in those days you could only be compelled to serve in the Roman Army if you were single. Valentine, in fact most of the Christian world until the late 400’s AD, preached that it was against Christian living and a sin to be a soldier. Valentine often asked men and women in his parish (yes he was a pastor) to consider their love, live without sexual immorality, and also to escape military service by becoming married. Legends often say that either he left notes to the couples about healthy love or that couples wrote to him asking him to solemnize their marriage, becoming the first Valentine cards, but that is not historically verified.

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I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
#267 in the Celebration Hymnal

You all know this Christmas Carol—it has been sung in many versions. Have you listened to the words? They are perfect for this time of year—bringing joy and rejoicing in the angel’s song while also reflecting the truth that some are not in peace and some places are not safe in our lives. As we enter the Christmas session and then the cold days of January, we long for a true light that shines past the Holiday. As is often true of the Gospel, Jesus speaks Life right here in the darkness and messiness of living, not in an unreal pretend state of nice and sterile. This carol is a version of the Gospel for us today as our nation seems divided and war and economic uncertainty abound and peace on earth seems now a distant thought.

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One of those listening [to Paul and Silas] was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in fine purple cloth from the city of Thyatira who was a worshipper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s preaching. After she and her whole household were baptized, she invited us to her home.”
-Acts 16:14-15

This Advent/Christmas Season we are invited to open our homes and our hearts to God. It is often the practice at the Holidays to be with family, to eat together and exchange gifts and have fun. There is something so inviting about being in a warm home, with fun and laughter and good food. This opening of your home, of offering food and welcome, of giving warmth in terms of temperature and temperament—this concept in the Bible is called Hospitality. The Advent Season has been one of not only welcoming Christ
into our homes but of opening homes to practice this mark of God’s people just as the lights and gifts are.

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As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.
My command is this: love one another as I have loved you.
- John 15: 9, 11-12

I went to a workshop in early October presented by the Lakeshore Center (Camp) and the Presbytery. It was entitled Congregational Vitality 101. We talked about what research said was present in congregations that are healthy. It is true that no one congregation has 100% of these markers, but the more you have the better. As you read this list consider which are strengths and which need some growth here at First Presbyterian Church in Lake Park:

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Is This the Best We Can Do?
August 6, 2018 from www.nextchurch.net used by permission by Rev. Paul Hooker, Associate Dean for Ministerial Formation at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

When I was young in ministry, the session of First Presbyterian of Kingsport, TN where I was associate pastor would debate some important matter until it appeared everything had been said that needed saying. Then, just before the moderator called for the vote, from the back of the room, Ernie Blackard would raise his hand, and when recognized, ask, “Mr. Moderator, I’d just like to be sure: Is this the best we can do for Christ and his Church?” There was, as I recall, never any answer to that question but silence. But there was always a silence, during which we all asked ourselves whether the vote we were about to cast served any purpose other than the advancement of our own interest or agenda. Ernie is long dead now, but his question echoes in my head every time I prepare to cast a vote.

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“Our citizenship is in heaven and we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.”
- Philippians 3: 20-21

We are running headlong into Fall. School has start-ed. Labor Day is here. Fall Festival Plans are brewing. Days are noticeably shorter and hopefully the 90 degree days are behind us. Take some time to consider who we are as Christians today, here in Lake Park. We can get focused on the last quarter of the year, on new things in school, and all that needs to be done from taxes to har-vest to other busy things. It is easy to forget what we are really—we are Christ’s own and citizens together of heav-en. We are to be a people that instead of fear shows hope; instead of division shows unity; and instead of self-centered concerns shows love. We wait for Christ and His return, putting first things first. How do we do that? Here are some practical things you can do to remain a citizen of heaven and enjoy what God has in store for us.

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