Gratitude for so Great a Cloud of Witnesses

FamilyBy Matt Sapp

Have you ever noticed how the right people end up in the right place at the right time in your life?  Every so often I stop to count my blessings, and one of God’s greatest blessings is each person God has put in my life.

According to the writer of Hebrews, we are surrounded by a heavenly cloud of witnesses who cheer us on in our race through life. I’m grateful to them and to God for their presence and influence in my life.

I’m grateful for the mentors among us.  I attended Founder’s Day at Mercer University’s McAfee School of Theology last week. While I was there I spoke with professors, pastors, and former bosses.   I talked to fellow church ministers, some who started their ministerial journeys with me and some who are further down the road.

All of them smiled, shook my hand, gave me a hug, and said something encouraging. These are people who in one way or another have invested themselves in me or are sharing in my experience.  Connecting with them encourages me.  Their kind words mean something to me. They fill me up, and I am grateful.

I’m grateful for the young people in our midst.  I went to Six Flags with students from Heritage recently.  Teenage enthusiasm is infectious. They are open and honest, and they haven’t quite learned to be cautious and closed off yet.

Young people trust the world and believe the best about people.  They still know that things will work out okay in the end.

We sometimes laugh when children are afraid of Santa Claus or monsters under the bed.   But adults build all kinds of imagined fears that box them in, too.  Teenagers, on the other hand, live in that magical, mystical middle, unencumbered by fear.

It’s refreshing. You can learn a lot by hanging out with teenagers.

I’m grateful for family.  That includes family I see in person or talk to on the phone or by text message.

My family includes close friends too.   One friend sent me a funny email when I needed a laugh.  Another sent a text message about a new rock band in Atlanta.  Each touch reminds me that there are people out there willing to share their lives with me, that I am not alone.

Even when we don’t feel particularly lonely or isolated, friendship is encouraging.  We are, all of us, gifts from God to one another.

I’m grateful to be among church family. One woman who’s been like a grandmother to me for 34 years came to church to see me last Sunday.  She lives in Acworth and had to make arrangements to be away from her Sunday School class.   Now in her 80s, she still teaches preschoolers every week.

I’ve known my current church family for less than a year now, but I know how lucky I am.  They choose each day to reflect the love and graciousness of Christ in their encouragement and affirmation of me, so I work each day to live up to and into the shared vision that we’re building together.

The people in our lives make a difference. Ultimately, it’s our relationships with others that determine the quality of our lives.

I’m incredibly lucky to have relationships that bring health and balance to my life.  I bet you have similar relationships in your life, too. Take some time to think about it.

I bet you’ll discover that you’ve got more people on your side than you ever imagined.  That’s what I’ve discovered. Here’s my advice: Treasure those people.  Be there to encourage and support them, too.  And thank God every day for them.

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Thanksgiving in the Spirit of Unity

ThanksgivingThe Bible tells us to “give thanks to the Lord, for God is good” (Ps. 107:1)  As we come up to that special holiday set aside for giving thanks, what are you thankful for?

I am thankful for the Body of Christ this season.  I have always had a fondness for the collaborative spirit, and that spirit was especially present several weeks ago during a dinner and auction benefiting Family Promise of Newrock.

The dinner was a time to celebrate two years of Family Promise, raise funds for its continued growth, and to fellowship with people who believe in the cause.  So many of the churches and organizations that make up Family Promise were present, and joy was a special part of the evening.

At one point in the dinner, the master of ceremonies, Darrell Huckaby, had people from each participating church stand and be recognized.  With each church represented–and even those absent–there were cheers and thanksgiving.

If there is anything in Rockdale County that brings people, civic organizations, non-profits and churches together, it is definitely Family Promise of Newrock.  Here is an organization–a local affiliate of a larger, national body–that networks churches together to keep people out of homelessness.

The organization does not just aim to keep families off the streets, but seeks out sustainable housing and employment.  No family ever admitted simply “passed through.”  Each family (and children are always included) sets out weekly goals to save money, find employment (or keep the jobs they have), and receive services that help put a sustainable roof over their heads.

The average family stays in the program for about two months.  Each week, the families stay overnight in a different church, which provides dinner and breakfast and transportation to the Family Promise day center.

The day center gives families a central hub to catch school buses, come together for support, tutoring, and services, and get back on their feet.

At the dinner and auction, one mom who went through the program, Gloria, spoke about her experience.  It was a tearful speech of gratitude.  After facing a situation of poverty and divorce, she and her four children now have a stable home and employment.

Trinity Baptist Church is one of fourteen “host” congregations that house families; but since we are a small church, we require the help of “support” churches for meals during the week and other jobs like driving the van to and from the day center.

I am grateful for the opportunity to be on mission right here in our own backyard, helping the people who are our neighbors in a network of neighbors.

What I also appreciate is working with so many other churches and people that I would not otherwise meet or see.  I’ve worked with people from Milstead Baptist and St. Pius when we renovated the day center; I’ve spent time in prayer with people from Conyers United Methodist; I have made friends with folks at Conyers Presbyterian and Epiphany Lutheran.

I drive to Decatur several times a week to minister in the city, and every time I pass by Smyrna Presbyterian Church (a support church) and Heritage Hills Baptist Church (a host church), I give thanks to God for letting us be united for his Kingdom work here at home.

I thrive on the collaborative spirit that exists in this county for I have seen so many other places and religious communities filled with division or conflict.   I thank God because Family Promise gives us the opportunity to overcome denominational, theological and even racial or social divides.

If you’ve never participated in a Family Promise event, I want to invite you to come out to the 24th Annual Ecumenical Thanksgiving Service this Tuesday, November 26 at 7 PM, hosted by St. Simon’s Church, 1522 Highway 138 in Conyers.

It will include hymns, scripture lessons, and an offering benefiting Family Promise. Light refreshments will be served afterwards.  I hope to see you there!