Lament for Aleppo

WARNING: This video contains distressing, graphic images from Aleppo. I recommend watching it but muting the sound, as the images alone are very powerful.

I caught sight of a friend’s post this afternoon that linked to a news report about Aleppo. The quote in the article read, “Aleppo is a place where the children have stopped crying.” My eyes rose to the movie that had begun to play. I was at work, so I muted the sound. A little boy of maybe three or four sat on a table in an orange sweatshirt, his hair tousled, eyes full of horror, lips pressed together, a wound on his forehead. His small hands touched, the fingers brushed against each other. He stared sadly at those examining him. Oh, be gentle, I pleaded silently.
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Oh dear God.

A mother wailed that she had lost all of her children.

A teenage boy sobbed as he clasped the body of his infant baby brother.
Oh God, these dear ones made in Your image… There are thousands.

I cannot ignore this. I weep for the horrors they have seen, the terror on their faces, the agony and despair. I weep because while I have never experienced their specific losses, I know what it feels like to be shattered, traumatized, lost and overwhelmed. My heart breaks, spills over.

I sit alone in the darkness with Christmas lights overhead, and I believe with my whole heart that my God sees and knows and cares, both for them and for me. He knows the depth of their pain and He understands mine. He was here.

Here.

My God came here into the mess, the horror, the sadness, the chaos of this world. And He didn’t come with walls and barriers to shield Himself from it all – no, He embodied it, He suffered, and then He conquered it. So in all the sadness I cling to Him, my hope.

I ask, Oh God, who will care for them? Who will help them? Can I? Will You? Please show me how. Please show them mercy. Please, please, please save them.

Save us.

Save me.

Lauren McWilliams

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A Divine Intervention

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It’s no surprise that we live in a very broken world. As we are involved in ministry, we will encounter many heartbreaking scenes, crises, distressed families, and troubled lives. A wife discovers her husband’s infidelity. A person learns that they have a fatal cancer diagnosis. A family has to grieve the death of their daughter because of suicide. The list goes on and on.

Crises are an inescapable part of life. They provide an unavoidable opportunity to be shaken out of complacency. When a crisis breaks, it changes the life of one or more persons and leaves us saying “We will never be the same again”. Part of us cries out, “It’s not supposed to be this way. This isn’t normal. This is not right.” Some crises make us want to cry and shout with anger.

The good news is that God is working all things together for good for his people. Jesus enters the world of sinners and sufferers and goes to work. The hope of the gospel is what we celebrate on Christmas. Jesus didn’t come because we deserved His intervention, but because He is a God of grace, and a God of mercy. His lovingkindness toward us is absolutely undeserved. He voluntarily gave His life; no one took it from Him. His love was overwhelming. As He entered our broken and sinful world, He saw the inevitability of death and hell, and He paid the price Himself. Nothing deterred Him from that. Even when He came to earth and the mass of people rejected Him, mocked Him, hated Him, and even killed Him, that didn’t stifle His grace. Whatever you may be experiencing this Christmas, you can put your trust and hope in the one who was born to die.

Rich Starsoneck

A Very Nice Nativity

IMG_2965I had a long day at work and when I walked in the house and saw that my husband had put the lights and decorations on the tree that we had chosen with the kids this past weekend, I was overcome with thankfulness. There was so much that I needed to do before Friday when Han would be bringing her college friends home for a Christmas sleepover and Joe had just done a huge job on my list! It was an enormous surprise and relief.

His help in getting the decorations up inspired me to set up our nativity later that evening. Once again, he surprised me by jumping up to help me unpack the big box that held our nativity. The nativity meant a lot to me. My wonderful mother-in-law had bought it for me years ago when I had told her that I thought it was important to have a “very nice” nativity displayed in a home. It is my favorite Christmas decoration. As we unpacked the pieces I saw that the angel’s arm had broken off. I was devastated. My perfect, expensive, big, NICE NATIVITY was ruined and I ran for the superglue. When I returned and began gluing the angel’s arm back on, Joe tried to calm me down and reminded me that we had used it for many years and that it was not the end of the world. I ignored him and fumed that my nice nativity was now damaged.

FullSizeRender_1Then something even worse happened. Joe
unrolled the bubble wrap and tissue from around Joseph and we saw that his face was broken. JOSEPH HAD A BROKEN FACE!!! “This is not acceptable! At all! Not at all! My nativity Joseph, my very nice treasured Joseph… can NOT have a broken face!” I yelled. Then, I literally threw the tissue paper in the air and proclaimed, “Christmas is ruined! We cannot have a freakin eighty five dollar perfect tree next to a freakin broken nativity!!! Priorities Joe!!! Jesus before Santa!” We needed to show that the nativity mattered more than the gifts.

Joe just kept on tending to my nativity as I loudly lamented and he put my Joseph front and center facing the child in the manger. He then turned all the others so that their backs were to the room and their faces were towards Jesus. He changed the way we had always set up my very nice nativity. We could no longer see the carefully hand-painted front details but the angel’s missing arm was now hidden and Joseph’s broken face was out of view. Even the cracked donkey ear could not be seen, for he was facing away from us and looking at the newborn. As my husband finished creating the scene he said, “Tonya. It is ok. When you have them all look at Jesus you can’t see their cracks. Just like us, if we just face Jesus, our brokenness doesn’t matter. It’s really ok.”

I smiled at my husband and ran upstairs to take a picture of my VERY NICE nativity.

Tonya Cherry

Give Me Jesus

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John 6:35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

 

As I was putting the lights on our Christmas Tree this year and listening to a playlist of holiday tunes, a song began to play that I had never heard in the context of Christmas and the advent season.  The song is called “Give Me Jesus” and its lyrics are a simple and beautiful prayer recognizing that in life and in death our greatest need is Jesus.

 

As I listened and strung lights my mind reflected on how there are so many things that wrestle for their place at the top of my needs list.  Some of them are material (Apple watch, new car, bigger house etc.) while others are longings of my heart but still things that I think I MUST have (approval of others, respect, good kids, perfect family etc.).  At any given moment one of these things is jockeying for their position as holder of my heart and in so doing convincing me that I cannot live with out it.

 

But as we gaze at the Scripture and look at the beautiful story of the birth of Jesus we see that God knew all along what we needed.  He knew exactly…

 

What the shepherds needed

 

What Mary and Joseph needed

 

What Herod needed

 

What Israel needed

 

What the world needed

 

What my family needed

 

What I needed

 

It’s Him, God gave us the gift of himself.  Real meaning and life for us is not found anywhere but in God alone.  That’s why Jesus came.

 

So this morning, throughout the day the advent season and the days and years left of my life, I pray that as my heart wrestles through all it’s desires, that God will continue to expose and reveal to me my need for Jesus.

 

Give me Jesus, Lord I Pray

 

Steve Dallwig

Flashback

Flashback pic - BrittanyMy name is Brittany. I’m not a pastor, ministry leader, or longtime member of Chapelgate Church. I’m just an ordinary girl living life…often day to day, and sometimes more gracefully than others.

I’m a writer. It’s not what I do on a day-to-day basis, but it’s what makes me feel alive. Needless to say, I was incredibly excited when asked to write a post for this Advent blog. Until I sat down to write, that is. Laptop open…blank white page…and that intimidating blinking cursor daring me to begin typing.

I refuse to call it writer’s block. For me, it’s more like God saying it’s time to listen before I’m given words to speak. Sometimes it’s scripture, sometimes it’s quotes from my favorite authors, and occasionally it’s my own writing that I’m called to read and meditate on. This time it’s the latter.

I swore I wouldn’t do what I’m getting ready to do. I considered it a cop out. But last year I waited too long to share this piece with the world, and I think that others suffered as a result of my shame. So below you will find a copy of a post from my personal blog originally published on January 5, 2015. No matter where you find yourself this Advent season, I hope you will find some comfort in this piece:

The Not-So-Christmas Spirit

 The reality of my situation hit me while sitting in Sunday school right before Christmas. The rest of my family had already left for vacation and I was left in an empty house. Our Sunday school class had been covering various individuals in the Christmas story. This final week was spent talking about Herod. The pastor leading our group asked us which of the characters we identified with the most in the story of Christ’s birth. We talk about Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, and the wise men. Even the little drummer boy. But rarely do we consider the role that King Herod plays in the greatest story on earth.

 As we talked more and more about Herod, I came to the startling realization that there was no one in the entire Christmas story that I identified with more than King Herod. It was everything I could do to contain my tears in that moment of revelation.

 Every year after Thanksgiving, people refer to something called the Christmas Spirit. It usually involves a joy of decorating, singing, and baking. This year I experienced none of it. I did not want to decorate. I avoided Christmas carols at all costs. And as for baking…and here’s the “real” part folks…that just wasn’t happening. I’m knee-deep in eating disorder treatment and festive food is the last thing on my mind.

 Back to Herod.

 While everyone else in the Christmas story joyously celebrated the birth of our Lord and Savior, Herod saw the event as a threat to his kingship–his power and control–everything he had worked for–his life. The presence of Jesus in this world was a direct challenge to everything that Herod valued.

 This year the Christmas spirit haunted me. It burdened my soul. It was not until that day in Sunday school that I realized the truth. That the coming of Jesus threatens the control I’ve tricked myself into believing that I have. My ability to control my food intake and body is an all-consuming illusion. An illusion that brings me nothing but complete and utter misery. An illusion that extinguished the true meaning of the birth of the King. It robbed me of joy, left me in a perpetual state of exhaustion, and slowly drained the warmth from my skin and the sparkle from my eyes. Yet I clung to my illusion and avoided anything that threatened its existence. The thing I feared was the very thing I needed–the only thing that could save me–Jesus.

 I’d like to say that this realization changed my heart and allowed me to joyfully celebrate Christmas with my family.

 It did not.

 Revelation does not always breed immediate change, but it does aerate the heart. Which is exactly what I needed.

 People often confuse the Christmas spirit with Advent. They become blended together, a single entity. But Advent is a season of preparation and anticipation. It involves the heart and the soul, which means it might not always be cheerful or involve an upbeat melody. For me, Advent meant observing my role in the story and realizing my devastation at what had become my reality. In its own way, the Advent season prepared my heart to realize the magnitude of what was to come: an all-powerful King who destroyed my very need for an illusion of any sort.

 I know I’m a little late in sharing this story.  Most people have already begun taking down their Christmas lights.  We’re going back to work and school. Walmart is already filling their empty shelves with Valentine’s Day candy. But I thought it was a story that deserved to be shared because I have a feeling I’m not the only person who found Christmas difficult this year. Perhaps you don’t have a heart like Herod. Maybe illness has shaken your world or a valued relationship has been destroyed. There are many forms of pain that can keep us from experiencing joy. Often our knowledge of this fact can be more devastating than the pain itself.  And that’s ok.

It’s ok to admit a hurt.  It’s ok to feel sad.  It’s ok to cry while everyone else appears to be laughing.

Because a King has come and the story has a happy ending. The pain will not last forever.  This is not the end.

 So cry.  Mourn.  Scream.

 As long as you are breathing, there is room for a revelation. One that will aerate your heart and provide a breeding ground for hope and renewal.

Breathe in.  Breathe out.  Wait.  He will meet you here.

Brittany Bowen

My Bethlehem Prayer

Star of BethlehemOne of my favorite Christmas Carols is O Little Town of Bethlehem. It’s a sweet hymn that I love to sing and listen to throughout the Advent season. Of all the stanzas though, my favorite is the fourth and final. It’s a simple prayer directed to the newborn Jesus and captures so perfectly the beauty and glory of Christ’s Birth and the gospel message.  Here is how I have made it my prayer and maybe can be yours today…

O Holy Child of Bethlehem descend to us, we pray

Father, with thankful hearts we rejoice that you left your heavenly realm and condescended to us and entered our sinful and broken world. We are thankful that your eternal and glorious kingdom broke into the middle of space and time to bring hope, healing, salvation, and peace to our lives, our relationships and the world you created.

Cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today

Father we are a broken and sinful people, our hearts have wandered far from you and daily we seek to gratify our lives and our relationships with things that were never meant to satisfy. As you move in our hearts, reveal to us those dry and empty wells that leave us empty and longing and lead us to the spring of life that comes through Jesus. May the reality and life-giving power of your gospel be born afresh in us each and every day.

We hear the Christmas angels, the great glad tidings tell

As the Shepherds rejoiced with the angels’ proclamation that “A Savior has been born”, may our hearts be rejuvenated with the joy of the gospel. May our hearts be overwhelmed with the amazing good news of your forgiveness, your boundless love, your abiding presence and rejoice that your Kingdom has come.

O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel

Thank you that you have come, for you truly are our Emmanuel, our God with us. Thank you for your abiding presence and the secure hope in knowing that you are with us always; in times of need, in times of sorrow, in times of great rejoicing, in times of fear and even in the times we can’t seem to see you.
Come Lord Jesus. Amen.

Steve Dallwig

Christmas Obscured

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As I was talking with a young man who came very close to destroying his marriage of 5 years, I saw the pain on his face, his voice trembling as he told his story.

His life became a web of lies, fantasy, secrets, and betrayal. He had hidden a porn addiction since his childhood. He became obsessed with it, wanting more and more.  In the last few years he would solicit prostitutes regularly, meeting them in dangerous parts of town. All of this was unknown to his wife, who was pregnant with their first child.

Before we are tempted to judge him, I was reminded of how quickly we all hold tightly to far lesser things. We hold fast to what we desire and what is comfortable. Jesus desires to gift us with himself. How often do we hold on to the things that keep us from gazing directly into His eyes? How often do we replace Him with the things of life, striving for things in our own power and strength?

What are you holding on to that is obscuring your direct line of vision to Jesus, the things that interrupt His best for you?

The Christmas story is about a redeemer who was born to die. It’s a story of how a holy God could communicate mercy and grace to sinful people. How amazing it is that God’s lovingkindness and mercy are never-ending, and that He loves sinners, and delights to forgive us. And we are reminded that the Lord Jesus took our punishment on Himself, bringing mercy and justice together at the cross. How can you resist that kind of love?

Rich Starsoneck

 

Where’s My Joy?

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Joy.  It’s the season for joy. Joyful songs, joyful children, joyful gatherings with families and friends.  Yet for so many this season is anything but.

Stressed, panicked, anxious, lonely  and sad are just some of the words I hear from so many people describing their lives during these holiday weeks.

Illness, cancer, crime, war, death, addiction and broken relationships don’t seem to be taking a holiday so that we can all get just a little break. Why?  Why can’t we have just a little happiness?  Why aren’t our lives filled with the joy the anticipation of this season promises?

The answer actually began in the garden.  When Adam and Eve took of the fruit from the forbidden tree, they forfeited the true joy of a harmonious relationship with God and His creation.  From that moment on the world has been filled with the consequences of life in a fallen world. All relationships,  human bodies, vocations and the very earth itself ache with the pain of sin and in it’s brokenness cry out for a redeemer.

But as God was in the midst of cursing Adam, Eve and the serpent for their sin He inserted an incredible promise of hope.  God, speaking to the serpent, told it that one day the offspring of the woman would deliver a blow that would crush his head. (Genesis 3:15).

Advent began right there.  The anticipation of one who would deal the final blow to sin, it’s power  and reign would be fulfilled thousands of years later with the birth of Jesus in the little town of Bethlehem.  He was the promised one, He was the one the broken world and our broken lives have cried for.  And in His coming God is fulfilling His promise of making right all that was made wrong.  It’s there we find our joy.  It’s not in our circumstances, in the events of our lives both in and out of our control.  No, our joy is found as we in faith anchor ourselves to Jesus.  In faith, believing that our circumstances, struggles and pain are not the final word or the end of the story.

This Christmas in the midst of whatever you are going through  may you know the joy of being the Redeemers beloved and that through Him one day an eternity devoid of sin and pain will be ours.

This is good news.

“No more let sins and sorrows grow
Nor thorns infest the ground
He comes to make
His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found”

Steve Dallwig

Makeshift Christmas

“What was God’s answer to saving the world and righting all wrongs?

God became small and dirty.”

Leonard Sweet & Frank Viola, Jesus, A Theography

This has been a particularly hectic Advent season for our family – for only good reasons. Each weekend has brought new deadlines and challenges, and it will be this way all the way up to Christmas morning. By then one or both of us will have travelled three of the four Advent weekends. Next Saturday Katherine will fly to Jacksonville, Florida in order to meet our daughter, who will pick her up at the airport, having driven from Tallahassee, only to immediately head to Maryland, in order to return that evening. Dizzying.

Makeshift Closet

I am neither proud nor ashamed to disclose that the picture above is from a restroom stall in the Nashville International Airport last Saturday evening, taken as I feverishly changed from the suit I wore at a wedding ceremony I performed forty-five minutes before. The goal was to slip into more comfortable clothing (translation: anything but a suit!) for travel back to Baltimore late that evening, in order to be able to preach on Sunday morning.

Keeping Up? Good, because we aren’t!

No sympathy needed – Life is messy and we embrace this reality. Ever since the fall, the world has been in a shambles, and we are no exception.

It was also messy when Jesus was born. A taxation. An unmarried, pregnant teenage girl. The likelihood of scandal. An 80-Mile journey by mule for a clueless young couple. The pursuit of an enraged king. Flight to a foreign country. Unknowns every step of the way.

And that’s the point.

When God came, it was before the world could clean up (not that it could anyway!). He entered into the mess, the brokenness and sorrow. Clothed in the weakness of a newborn, Jesus embraced vulnerability, uncertainty and dependence. He broke bread with sinners, wept over death and experienced cruelty.   He more than saw the world’s despair, He experienced it. And while the purpose of His coming was to die for sin, along the way, He gained on-the-ground first-hand sympathy for every form of human suffering.

Until Jesus returns, we will experience the effects of the fall, but along our way, we can find comfort in the fact that our God is not some faraway, impersonal deity, but One who has tasted and lived our story, in real time – all to welcome us into His.

This is good news…

grace & peace.

Mike Khandjian

Family Fun

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There are 4 siblings in my family. Each of us has one sibling with whom we don’t speak. It’s not even the holidays yet, and we’ve already had our first holiday drama. My back is starting to seize, and my eye twitch has returned. I really just want to send a loaded email and let someone have it! They are treating people horribly, and they just need to know that I don’t really want to see them. Even while writing this my head starts to hurt and tears start to form. How do they get away with such behavior?

How do I get away with such behavior?

The sweet words of a brother and another darling friend reminded me of the reason Jesus came so long ago. He came to restore the broken and redefine families. Most long to have the large, welcoming, no issue, ever gracious, not bringing up sore subjects, and actually wanting to be together family. We were made that way. But, when Jesus was born he inaugurated a better family.

Jesus’ life told us that it didn’t matter what family you came from, what family you got into, or what family you made. For the first time all that mattered was being part of the family, which he created from the beginning of time, full of broken, fallen, redeemed people – God’s family. And from that family we gain value. Your value isn’t based anymore on your extended family getting along or even who they are. My value isn’t based anymore on whether or not I’m married. Our value isn’t based anymore on if we have children or on how those children turn out to be. Our value is based on Jesus’ life, pursuits, and love.

Truth is, Christmas is difficult for families. The old wounds surface, the simmering tensions boil, and the endless frustrations rear their heads. In the midst of it – remember that baby. That baby who came to redefine families as Jesus is our most perfect older brother. He gave his life for us. He gave his place for us. He gives us value.

Ps 68:6a – God places the lonely in families; he sets the prisoners free and gives them joy.

P.S. Email not sent. Family will get together, and we still need Jesus. We know He is in the midst. Praying we can act like it!

Debby Sutton