Waiting

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Advent – Waiting. Longing. Expectation. These are the words we associate with this time before Christmas, as we count down to Christmas Day and our celebration of the birth of Jesus the Messiah. The problem is…I just don’t like to wait. Not only are we living in a society that demands instant gratification NOW, I find myself falling into that same trap and get frustrated when things don’t happen on my timetable – as if somehow God should be dictated to by my wants and desires.

I feel I have waited for plenty of things in my life…finishing school, getting into a “real” job; then the big question: will I ever meet someone? Then the adjusting to marriage, followed by endless days of caring for kids and family, everything rushing so fast it was hard to grasp onto the joy. And then…a different kind of waiting, as my husband Kevin began battling his depression on a deeper level. Waiting in hope for a healing that would never come, even after years of desperate prayers; and then after his death, waiting for the grief and anger to fade while keeping the kids and house together somehow. Oh Lord, where are You? Constantly I went to His Word for strength:

I lift up my eyes to the hills– where does my help come from?

My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.

He will not let your foot slip– he who watches over you will not

slumber, indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.

(Psalm 121)

 

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the

captives, and release from darkness for the prisoners,

to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor

and the day of vengeance of our God,

to comfort all who mourn,

and provide for those who grieve in Zion—

to bestow on them a crown of beauty

instead of ashes,

the oil of joy instead of mourning,

and a garment of praise

instead of a spirit of despair.

They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD

for the display of his splendor.

(Isaiah 61:1-3)

 

Beauty, instead of the ashes of my marriage! The Oil of Joy instead of the constant weeping; praise to clothe me instead of being sunk in despair! These are rich promises. However, there is no timetable on them – instead, it is understood that somehow we must TRUST that the Lord will do what He says, and these promises will come true in His time – not mine.

Many times it seems that I am still in a “waiting” period – continuing as a single parent although I’ve longed for re-marriage; loving my adult children through their triumphs and trials; finding finances a constant frustrating struggle…yet I count myself blessed. How long were the people of Israel waiting for their Messiah to come, crying out to the Lord? And our Mighty and Loving God came down Himself to answer them in His perfect time – laying aside His glory to become a helpless baby – Jesus, who would have the power to fulfill all of the Lord’s promises and end our time of waiting. Let us rejoice in the Lord our Savior! In whatever time of waiting you are in, trust in Jesus – He is ready to answer with Himself.

“Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage. Yes, wait for the Lord.” (Psalm 37:7)

 

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” (Galatians 4:4-6)

Heidi Bertaux

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My Crooked Tree

Setting up the Christmas tree is a tradition that many families look forward to each and every year. As much as I love sitting in our family room at night lit by the colored lights of the tree, the process of actually setting up the tree up is always one of my most stressful times of the year.

This year, however, things seemed to go fairly smoothly. My boys are older and they were a huge help in getting the tree in the stand, putting on the lights and decorating. In fact, I’d have been willing to admit that this year ended up being one of our easiest years; that is IMG_3109until I was sitting in our family room the next evening looking at the tree and realizing that something seemed off. The tree was crooked, really crooked. From some angles, it looked perfect but from the angle at which I happened to be looking, it looked terrible.

This caused me to reflect. So much of what I do is try to present my life as a ‘perfectly straight tree’. I think about the angles… How do people at church see me? How do my kids see me? How do my neighbors see me? I put effort into making people believe that I am much more perfect than I actually am, and often find anxiety worrying that I’ll miss one of those angles and I will be exposed. The truth is I am crooked, and although I might be able to cast off an appearance of ‘righteousness,’ the reality is I am far from it. Just ask those that are closest to me.

And as I was stared at this crooked tree, a refrain from Handel’s Messiah based on Isaiah’s prophecy was playing:

The crooked straight,

and the rough places plain,

The crooked straight,

the crooked straight,

and the rough places plain

And the rough places plain

The irony was all too real. The gospel reminds us that this little babe we celebrate each Christmas came to do what we couldn’t. He came to make that was crooked, straight, that which was rough, smooth. He who was spotless became stained and broken by our own sin so that our hearts would be restored. The reminder I need each day is that I don’t have to be preoccupied worrying about all the angles people perceive me from, rather, I am free through daily repentance and faith to stand in a righteousness that is not my own but freely given to me.

Thanks be to God that all my crookedness has been made straight. Even if my tree wasn’t.

Steve Dallwig

Fresh Reminder from a Familiar Carol

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I love the classic Christmas carols. There is something timeless about them that brings up all the feelings of Christmas. This year as I began to play my Christmas playlist one of the carols I have heard for many years struck me very differently.

“Hark the Herald Angels Sing” is so familiar to me, but this particular version contained all the original verses of the hymn written by Charles Wesley. As I listened I could not help but hear the message the hymn writer was so clearly portraying. Wesley was not just drawing our attention to the birth of Jesus. In this classic carol, Wesley penned the entire picture of the redemptive purpose of Jesus’ birth. Here are just a few of the words that caught my attention in a fresh way this year. As you read, see the gospel in the words.

Mild He lays His glory by,
Born that man no more may die;
Born to raise the sons of earth,
Born to give them second birth.

Adam’s likeness, Lord, efface,
Stamp Thine image in its place:
Second Adam from above,
Reinstate us in Thy love.

What an incredible reminder of our own state and our need for Jesus. We have been reinstated in love because of Jesus. That is something we can join with the angels and sing about with all our hearts!

As the familiar tunes of the Christmas carols fill stores, cars, churches, and homes may we be freshly aware of the full purpose of the birth of Jesus.

Eliza Huie-

Counselor at Life Counseling Center

Stop

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You know that scene in Home Alone when the entire family is running through the airport, furiously trying to get to their flight on time? They’re moving at a breakneck speed, completely ignorant of the fact that they’ve left an entire person, the littlest among them, home alone for Christmas.

I feel like I’ve been running through that airport at the same speed this fall, except I’m not ignorant of what I’m running from or why I refuse to slow down.

I don’t know about you, but I find busy to be easy. Busy means less time to dwell on life’s disappointments. Less time to think about the what-ifs and shoulda coulda’s that creep in when you’re lying in bed at night. The more I move, the faster I go from one thing to the next, the less time I have to dwell on the things I’d rather not think about. The busier I stay, the easier it is to avoid the edges of pain that threaten to break into my world.

To stop would mean facing the reality that this Christmas, like every Christmas before, comes after a year of sadness and joy, heartache and blessing, and it comes at a time of such great change. And frankly, I’d rather run away from it all than sit still long enough to actually acknowledge any of this reality. And God knows it. He knows it and I doubt he’s surprised at all.

How often do we see this story play out in Scripture? Jonah running from Nineveh, Moses trying to get out of leading the Israelites, Martha busying herself with hosting duties rather than sitting at Jesus’ feet. There are plenty of examples of the ways we avoid what we know is real sprinkled throughout the Bible. But then there’s Jesus, who didn’t avoid or run from the cross but rather walked straight towards it. The only one who could have successfully run away from the reality before him and he chose, out of an unending love and desire for his children, to give himself up. For a bunch of people who still try and run.

Here’s the thing: we’re actually so much safer when we stop trying to avoid what we’re so afraid of. You and I are held by a Savior who loves us more than we can comprehend, in spite our unwavering desire to bolt at the first sign of discomfort. He desires to know our pain and to comfort us through the change. There is not a second he is afraid or unwilling to catch us when we stop moving.

And so friends, I’m asking you to do what I beg of myself: stop. Stop moving. Sit down and let it all in. Sit still with our Savior long enough to allow his love to cover your fear as his grace covers our sins. Stop moving long enough to hear him whisper of how, in love, he came to be born and to die, for you.

Jessica Bates

Mary

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I pushed my wool-clad feet smoothly into the warm boots I had left sitting on the radiator. It was a familiar feeling, this trudging out to the barn in the dark, one I’d had many times before. As I slipped in through the part-way open barn door I could see the shadow of my dad, “Morning, Mary,” at work with Daisy. I walked over and gave her a quick nuzzle on her soft nose. Then Patsy reminded me with her whining moo that I was needed at her side. Pulling my stool up next to her round tummy I began my daily routine. As the warm milk hit the cold pail, steam rose up to my chilly hands and Patsy turned her head around to give me a nod and once more a deep moo, this time in thanks. I rested my head into her furry side and began to think about another Mary. Another Mary, in another time and place.

She, also, was in a barn, although not a familiar one. She had never imagined herself here, never in all of her 14 years would she have seen herself here, with Joseph. The trip had been a long one. Joseph had taken care of her the whole way. How could she ever have doubted him? But now, tonight, now of all nights, this baby had decided to come.

The angel had told her what would happen, but still, all of this was so new. Talking to Elizabeth had helped. Even with the difference in their ages they had a lot to ask each other, a lot to tell each other. The angel had apparently come to see Elizabeth also, because when Mary had first arrived Elizabeth had hugged her with a knowing…that Mary was carrying the Savior.

And now, here she was, lying in the hay, with the cows close by giving off their sweet warm breath and she, Mary, giving birth to the long-awaited for Lord. In the midst of the pain, her soul was at once peaceful… and honored… and humbled that God would choose her to bring mercy to His People. And yet He had.

Pam Mckee

Thanksgiving at Christmas

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From them will come songs of thanksgiving and the sound of rejoicing. I will add to their numbers, and they will not be decreased; I will bring them honor, and they will not be disdained. – Jeremiah 30:19

Every year, millions in the U.S. gather around tables with friends and family for the Thanksgiving holiday. For some, it’s a sweet time they look forward to each year, for others it’s a holiday they dread. Maybe it’s because the holiday reminds them of the loss of a loved one, maybe it’s because being with family draws them back into the dysfunction they spend the rest of the year avoiding or maybe it reinforces a sense of loneliness and isolation. But no matter what camp you place yourself in, the essence of the holiday is all about gratitude.

But why just at Thanksgiving? Living a life of gratitude shouldn’t be the essence of Thanksgiving; it really should be the essence of our life as believers. Thanksgiving for many is the inauguration of the next big holiday, Christmas. Christmas is about giving – and it’s centered on God’s greatest gift to us, his son. But as we all know, the message of ‘giving’ quickly turns into a message of ‘getting’. The ads on TV, the displays in the stores or at the Mall, the Christmas lists our kids write become centered on ‘What do I want?’ ‘What do I need?’ I find my own heart longing for nicer cars, bigger televisions, nicer cameras, new clothes, new gadgets and new toys. What happened to Thanksgiving?

A few years ago I helped serve breakfast at a homeless soup kitchen at Christmastime. Before the meal, there was a time of sharing and testimony. Person after person stood up and gave praise and thanks to God for what they had. “Thank you Lord for waking me up this morning.” “Thank you Lord for the breath in my lungs.” “Thank you Lord for a meal to eat.” These were men and women with nothing. Yet thankful.

Take a moment, stop and think about all that you have that you can be grateful for. Don’t compare it with what others have, that’s a losing game, but meditate on what you have been given: A roof over your head? Clothes on your back? Friends? Food to eat? etc.

This video, produced by Forest Hill Church,  captures the essence of what I’m talking about…

This year, let Christmas be a true Thanksgiving as we meditate and remember all that we have, and especially that the greatest giver of all gave freely of himself through the gift of his son, the baby in the manger who was the God of this Universe, sent for us.

Steve Dallwig

 

A Light in the Dark

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“For the people walking in darkness have seen a great light”

(Isaiah 9:2, Matthew 4:16)

There is no doubt that many people are struggling with one form of personal darkness or another in their lives, and sometimes this struggle seems greater during the holiday season. There may be expectations of joy, happiness, being merry! When oftentimes in our own hearts we feel anything but that. We see the lights, hear the music, we paste on a smile, we frantically try to feel something that looks like Christmas Joy…but instead we are faced with a darkness of the soul. I know I have had some years when I went through the season with a pasted smile, particularly right after my husband had died. There seemed to be no light within my heart, even though I showed to my children and others that Yes! Let’s be joyful, it’s Christmastime!! I felt mired in grief and disappointment, and felt this would be my reality for a long time. I had temporarily forgotten how pervasive light can be; stealing through the dark cracks in my broken heart, doing away with the shadows, pursuing me steadily, lovingly.

Let us not forget in the very first chapter of the Bible, in Genesis 1:3, when darkness was “over the deep” – God said, “Let there be light.” Our Almighty Creator was not content to let darkness remain on the earth, and He is not content to let darkness remain in our hearts. Instead, He comes down to walk WITH us through the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4); Jesus comes down to BE the light, declaring “I am the light of the world; whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”(John 8:12) He is the “Word made flesh”, who made His dwelling with us (John 1:14). The book of John also stated, “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

My Friends, as we prepare our hearts to welcome our King, Jesus the Almighty God, let us remember that He did not remain that baby in a manger – He entered into our humanity in order to enter into our darkness; to take it upon Himself, to eradicate the black suffering and evil and to bring us into His marvelous light – may His light shine on you this Christmas season!

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.” (I Peter 2:9)

 

~ Heidi Bertaux

X-mas… Is Christ still in Christmas?

Santa-Claus-and-presentsHe’s making a list and checking it twice, gonna find out whose naughty and nice… Rocking around the Christmas tree, have a happy holiday… I saw Mommy kissing Santa Claus …okay okay, maybe we’ll throw in Silent Night for the religious folks.

WAIT!!!…this is our holy holiday, our sacred celebration. Yes, us—the CHRISTians—CHRISTmas is about Christ.

What child is this, who, laid to rest, on Mary’s lap is sleeping?

I know…it’s Charlie Brown. No wait, maybe Tiny Tim…or Macaulay Culkin?

CHARLIE BROWN AND LINUS DISCUSS THE FORLORN LITTLE CHRISTMAS TREESorry to be the “Grinch who stole Christmas”…well, Christmas as the world knows it today. As I reflect on all that Christmas has become, it so easy to get caught up in the commercialism of this season. Christmas wish lists, letters to Santa, ugly Christmas sweater-themed parties… While all of these things are fun, they miss the real meaning of the season. When we dig deeper, the noble themes of giving and charitable acts also tend to mask the true essence of what it is that we are celebrating. In that sense, we become distracted and quickly forget about the magnitude of the miracle that took place some 2,000 years ago: God in human form entered the womb of a human vessel to accomplish the redemptive plan of reconciliation between God and man. That alone is heavy for me; God…God entered the womb of a human vessel!

In the midst of decorating the tree, exchanging gifts with loved ones, and donating to our favorite charities, let us remember that

 This, this is Christ the King, 

Whom shepherds guard and angels sing;

Haste, haste to bring him laud,

The babe, the Son of Mary…

The King of kings salvation brings,

Let loving hearts enthrone Him. 

     ~William Chatterton Dix

Maame Yaa Manu

I Ain’t As Good As I Once Was

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As I read through the Christmas story in Luke 1 & 2 again on Monday. The story of Zechariah the high priest caught my attention. He was an old man. Both he and Elizabeth were well beyond their childbearing years. Gabriel, the Angel of the Lord, appeared to him as he burned incense the temple. He announced to Zechariah that his wife would give birth to a son, whom we know would grow up to be John the Baptist, the last prophet and forerunner of Jesus.

Although Zechariah was known as a righteous man, he was filled with unbelief when he heard this news and stated it honestly: “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.”

These words reminded me of a line I love in a Toby Keith song, “I ain’t as good as I once was.” It’s a lament that resonates with me more with each passing year and I have all the typical aches and pains associated with aging to prove it. Even as I type I’m literally, painfully, aware that my hands don’t work as good as they once did.

Zechariah’s unbelief didn’t disqualify him from serving God’s purpose, but it did silence him until the moment Elizabeth gave birth. God took away his voice for a season so that he’d have no choice other than to be still and listen. Gabriel’s news was really good news for Zechariah and Zechariah’s story is good news for me. No matter how old we get we are never beyond God’s reach to use us, often in ways we never expected. And I need to be reminded that faith sometimes looks like being quiet and listening.

Jim Mckee – Pastor 

Waiting for my Delivery

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Just one more gift. That’s all I’m waiting for. I ordered it so that it would arrive by Christmas, but its not here yet. The confirmation email says it will arrive by 12/24, but every day that passes I begin to doubt.  I keep clicking on the tracking number hoping that I will see those three little words “out for delivery”. I pause at the sound of every passing truck, hoping that my awaited package will arrive. It’s December 23 – Only 2 days left for it to arrive. Waiting is hard.

In Luke 2, we meet Simeon. A devout and righteous man who was told by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he saw the promised Messiah. We don’t know how long he waited, but it appears it was a long time. But one day when led to the Temple by the Spirit, Simeon met a young couple who had brought with them their new born son. Simeon knew this was the one. The one he had waited for.

Simeon faithfully believed that that which was promised would come. A Messiah, promised deliverance and salvation. He rejoiced and blessed the child saying:

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation 31 that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2:29-32)

What have you been waiting for this year?

A restored relationship?

Physical or emotional healing?

A new job?

Getting out of debt?

finishing school?

pregnancy?

As you wait, rest in the promise of God’s salvation. Rest knowing that our Emmanuel, (God with us) is here. Rest in the truth that our Prince of Peace sustains us. Rest knowing that the end of the story has been written. God’s timing isn’t always our timing, but His timing is always perfect.

Wait is that a UPS truck I hear?

Steve Dallwig