Born in Weakness

stars

In the beginning, Jesus Christ, God the Son, in unity with the Father and Holy Spirit, created all–most, with a thought and a few words. He commands armies of angels. He judges the living and the dead. He upholds the universe by the word of His power.

And yet, He took on all the weakness of being a human. He laid aside that power. And this was not just the natural, passive weakness of men; no, it was an active, moment-to-moment rejection of His power, of doing things on His own, and of accomplishing anything by His own ability. From when He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit, Jesus walked in that weakness. He worked miracles out of that weakness, He allowed Himself to be crucified in that weakness, and He was raised by the power of the Father despite that weakness.

Why?

Because the one who does the work is the one who receives the glory, and because weakness is where God’s grace, love, goodness, power, and beauty shine brightest, and because those things are true for our weakness, as well.

Advent, then, celebrates not just the arrival of God on Earth and the start of His march to victory over sin, but the beginning of the beautiful weakness that culminated at the cross. And as we reflect on that, it emboldens us to embrace our own frailty: our sins; our imperfections; our moral, physical, emotional, social, spiritual, and intellectual inadequecies. We embrace our weakness, but are not consumed by it; we boast of it, but do not focus on it; every glance at ourselves should bounce our gaze straight back to the cross.

We are, all of us, not enough. Not now, not for this stressful season, not ever. But, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses,” for, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” and “he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God” (Heb. 4:15, John 1:14, 2 Cor. 13:4). Forget yourself as you stare into that.

Joe Avolio

Advertisements

Waiting

Screen-Shot-2017-11-20-at-3.08.34-PM-1-e1511224100708

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

Blessed Are Those Who Mourn

1

I started writing this post on October 18, inspired by the jazzy strains of Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire floating out of our Senior Pastor’s office. He’d actually started playing Christmas music the week before by way of a “sorry Lauren” apology, but news was slow to trickle to the rest of the staff. Coworkers would stand at my door, incredulous, mouthing “is that CHRISTMAS MUSIC?” and I’d just smile and nod.

There was a time when listening to Christmas music so early would have been unbearable to me, but not anymore. I’ve learned that there are some perks to hearing it before the season even begins. For one thing, when it’s being played in October it doesn’t stress me out. Christmas still feels a long way off and I’m able to listen to the tunes without the accompanying panic of year-end shopping. It also makes me appreciate Mike and his love for the season. I know he’s working hard on his Advent Series. Third, Mike’s taste in music spans many genres. Every year, I hear a song or two that I’ve never heard before. Bonus!

What’s hard for me, though, about Christmas music is the ache that it stirs in my heart. The words and familiar melodies bring about a haunting feeling that something sweet and beautiful and good is missing from this present moment. It makes me long for Christmases long ago and for the love of dear ones who have died or moved away. But it’s more than a longing for the past; it’s also a longing for what should be, what’s meant to be, but isn’t. It’s a deep sadness over the evils, diseases, injustices, and abuses of this world and a longing for it all to be mended. The joyful songs of Christmas stand in stark contrast to the pain and suffering I see, and that’s hard.

In his poignant book, Lament For A Son, Nicholas Wolterstorff writes the following about Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

Blessed are those who mourn. What can it mean? … Why does he hail the mourners of the world? …The mourners are those who have caught a glimpse of God’s new day, who ache with all their being for that day’s coming, and who break out into tears when confronted with its absence. …They are the ones who realize that in God’s realm there is no one falsely accused and who ache whenever they see someone imprisoned unjustly…They are the ones who realize that in God’s realm there is no one who suffers oppression and who ache whenever they see someone beat down. They are the ones who realize that in God’s realm of peace there is neither death nor tears and who ache whenever they see someone crying tears over death. The mourners are aching visionaries. Such people Jesus blesses; he hails them, he praises them, he salutes them. And he gives them the promise that the new day for whose absence they ache will come. They will be comforted. 

Lauren McWilliams

Fresh Reminder from a Familiar Carol

Fresh Reminder from a Familiar Carol pic

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

Present

walkwood_feature_0

It was an uncharacteristically warm day in November that my neighbor and I commiserated on a walk around our village. Both of us, you see, were approaching days of reckoning you might say: For my neighbor, the second anniversary of her beloved mom’s death. For me, the 10th anniversary of my beloved sister’s succumbing to cancer.

But while we both experienced, nay, re-lived the sad events leading to our losses, we each maintained that our losses were, in fact, experienced daily, not just on the anniversaries that we so obtusely celebrated.

Which brings this writer to Advent and Christmas.

The candles are in the windows, the firs in the corner a-glow with glitz, the church takes donations for turkeys and poinsettias and parents shop frantically in-store and on-line.

Christmas time is here. Children await it with anticipation. And on that day and its eve, lit candles will glorify God in sanctuaries throughout the world, ribbons will fly through the air as our kids tear through presents and joy will appear as tinsel dangling from the tree.

But while we await this celebration of the birth of the Savior of the World, let us know that God is present each and every day already. He is here already. As Christians, we know it.

Like the memory of a loved one that does not appear only on the anniversary of her death, the Savior of the World resides in us, not just on the anniversary of His birth.

For if we belong to Him, the old self has already died and the new self lives! He lives!

When we begin each day in God’s Word; when we gather in Jesus’ Name for prayer groups and Bible studies; when we prepare a meal for a sick friend or help a stranger in distress; when we praise Him as we sit down to dinner; when we plea to Him for answers and resolutions to life’s many problems, He is already here and He hears.

And so, it is not about the anniversary but about the love living in our hearts, a supernatural love, not just on the 25th of December, not just during the waiting season called Advent, but about Him who already lives in us, Whom we love and Who loves us each and every day of the year.

May we rejoice in Jesus as we recount the circumstances of His birth, His life, His sacrifice!

Marian Falkenstine

What Doesn’t Change

Advent Blog pic

Every year, my family sits together and sets up our nativity. It gained that shiny star one Christmas when we kids decided that that’s what we wanted to give our mom for Christmas. But for the most part, it’s essentially remained unchanged through my whole life. When we were younger, we would squabble over who got to put baby Jesus in the nativity, try and put every figurine on the nativity, and occasionally someone, usually the angel, would end up on the stairs, or the roof. My mom would leave it up for a few days, and then rearrange it so you could at least see baby Jesus.

Now we’re all getting older, and things are changing.

And isn’t that reassuring, that no matter what changes in our lives, the story of Jesus and its message will always stay the same?

Emma Vaughn

Mary Did You Truly Know?

Closeup of motherhood figure

“Mary, did you know

that your baby boy is Lord of all creation?

Mary, did you know

that your baby boy would one day rule the nations?

Did you know

that your baby boy is heaven’s perfect Lamb?

The sleeping Child you’re holding is the great “I am”?”

As a mother, I often wonder about Mary. How she handled the usual nervousness of becoming a first-time mom with the added responsibility of being the mother to the King of Kings. Did she fully know what she was being called to do? Did it weigh on her heart like many of my motherly duties often do?

When Jesus was left behind at the temple in Jerusalem, his response to her worry was “Where else did you think I would be?” In that moment, did she think, “I brought you into this world and I can take you out”? Or did she realize at that moment that he was so much more than just her child? Her patience and grace had to be the reason she was chosen to be his mother.

I love looking at my daughters while they’re sleeping and quietly wondering what they will become as they grow up. Will they choose to follow Christ? Will they be loving, caring women that exemplify Christ’s love through their actions towards others? I’ve done that since they were born: wondering, hoping, and praying. Holding them as newborns, honored (and slightly terrified) with the new responsibility I had been bestowed upon.

Mary must have looked into Jesus’ precious, newborn face and known that he was going to be something more. She must have seen the glory and awe that all mothers experience when they hold their child for the first time. She had to have prayed for his safekeeping and acceptance in a broken world. Imagine the love she must have felt holding him for the first time, knowing he was born for so much more and that she had been blessed to be chosen as his mother. What an honor. What a blessing.

Luke 2:19 “But Mary kept all of these things, and pondered them in her heart.”

Carol Badaracco

Mary

F44EE233-B1DF-4009-956E-CD08F89B62B4

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

IMG_0201

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

5302348207_abdc23116a_b

“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