Born in Weakness


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.


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




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


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



Stop pic

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


A Missional Mission

A Missional Mission pic

Christmas and Easter are, at most, 112 days apart. On December 25th we remember the birth of Jesus Christ, then approximately 15 weeks later we reflect upon His death and resurrection.

Year after year the two foundational aspects of our Christian faith occur 112 days apart. Year after year His humble birth in a lowly stable transitions to His sanctifying sacrifice in the span of 16 weeks. Year after year, we celebrate how God’s Son redeemed the world just 4 months after celebrating God sending his Son into the world.

As humans, we are creatures of routine and habit. We park our cars in the same spot and sit in the same seat, or nearly same seat, each week. As our habits form, we find ourselves glossing over the details. You may park in the same spot and walk the same path to your self-assigned seat every week, but when’s the last time you thought about the steps it takes to get you from the parking lot to the pew?

Similarly, after so many years of celebrating Easter four months after Christmas, when is the last time we really thought how Jesus got from one event to the other? It may seem obvious, but more than 112 days passed between Jesus’ birth and His resurrection. I think it is important for us to remember the additional (approximately) 11,636 days that Jesus taught, led, sacrificed, and lived.

“The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us” (John 1:14a). Yes, Jesus came on a mission, but He was also missional. If we reduce Christ’s time on Earth to four months we miss a huge part of the Salvation story. Jesus dwelt among men for 33 years. He spent time interacting with people, both teaching and relationship building. He showed us how to live, how to work, and how to commune with God. Jesus sacrificed in so many different ways before becoming our atoning sacrifice. He denied His own needs when He went out into the desert for 40 days. He eschewed His comfort when He traveled around teaching the God’s truths. He chose to live out His mission in every moment and decision of every day, truly showing us what it means to “glorify God and enjoy Him forever” (Westminster Shorter Catechism).

So often we are quick to judge the Pharisees for so astoundingly missing who Jesus was and what He did. However, when we condense the Gospel to the Christmas-to-Easter mentality we sing a different verse of the same song. The Pharisees missed the point because they were looking for a nation-toppling warrior. If we only view Jesus as the miraculous baby who grew up to die a martyr’s death, how different is our misconception from theirs?

Like Christ, we must also live missional lives. Instead of looking for the Christmas-to-Easter moments (following God in ‘big’ decisions or making ‘big’ sacrifices), we need to choose God’s will over our own in daily life. We need to start elevating the importance of glorifying God and enjoying Him in all our moments and decisions.

How would a missional lifestyle, lived out 365 days a year, improve the way we worship the Lord whose miraculous virgin birth we reflect upon each Christmas season? How would 12 months of living our lives in light of His Love for us draw us closer to the Sacrificial Lamb whose death and resurrection we remember and celebrate each Easter? Yet, the very one who called us to our mission empowers us to be missional every day.

Angie Deibert – Chapelgate member


Fear Not


Ever watched the scene in “A Charlie Brown Christmas” where Linus tells about the angels appearing to the shepherds? Blogger Jason Soroski points out that Linus, who has spent the entire film being ridiculed for his security blanket, drops the blanket at the exact moment (00:38 in the above clip) when he recounts the ‘Fear not’ of the angels. It’s a beautiful picture of what happens when we get caught up in the story of God’s rescue of the world in Jesus. Not that our fears disappear, but they lose their grip on us.


But as Linus finishes telling the story, he picks the blanket up again. For me, THIS is the most powerful moment in the movie. As much as I’d like to be done with my fears, they are constant companions, dogging me as I walk the path Jesus has laid before me. I have glimpses of the future, when I am so caught up in the beauty of the story of Jesus, that my fears lose their grip and I forget they’re there. Often, like Linus, those moments tend to come when I’m retelling what Jesus has done. But then I forget, and grab for the blanket again. I’m thankful that Christmas is about God come to be with us amid the fear that we can’t seem to let go. And I look forward to the promise of Easter in a few months: fear is not the last word in my life.

Dan Passerelli


God’s Time and Place


It would be hard to overemphasize the importance of Christmas to Christian theology. While the death of Jesus on a cross has become the global symbol of Christianity, his arrival in Bethlehem is no less important.  The stories of Jesus’s birth in the gospels give shape to much of our understanding of who God is, who we are, and even how we do theology. The apostle Paul writes in Philippians 2:6 that the incarnation (that’s the fancy word to describe God taking on flesh and becoming a man) demonstrates that God is, by nature, a being who gives himself in love for his creation. In Jesus’s birth and life, we see the kind of life humanity was made to have – one of dependence and submission to God that leads to fullness of life.

The arrival of God in a specific town, at a specific time and place, shows that God does not exist in a vacuum. Place and time and culture matter. Context matters when we do theology. So today, as you think about what Christmas means, take a few minutes to enjoy a tour of modern-day Bethlehem with one of my favorite video tour guides.  It isn’t the same town it once was, and that matters.

There’s no going back – and that’s ok. Because the incarnation of Jesus paved the way for God to come to you today, in your place and your context…even if the world has changed in the 2000 years since his first coming.

Dan Passerelli


Great Expectations Come True

vannessblogI was told by my mother that one of the last wishes of my grandmother was to live long enough to meet her first great grandchild. Marilyn and I had the great honor of fulfilling that wish when we introduced her to our son, Joshua, about four years before her death. As I recall, she commented that all was well because he had ten fingers and ten toes. Twenty-eight years later, our daughter had the same honor of introducing my mother to her first grandchild, Kayla Joy. Like my grandmother, there was an unmistakable sparkle in my mother’s eyes when she met and held her first great grandchild.

As I consider my grandmother’s wish I am drawn to Simeon, a more obscure character in the story of the Incarnation. He too, looked forward to the birth of a baby. Unlike my grandmother, however, he lived with the promise (Luke 2:26) that he would one day see the Messiah, or as the New International Version translates it, “the Lord’s Christ.” He didn’t have to hope this would happen, he lived in expectant faith that he would one day see Jesus. When that much anticipated day finally arrived, Simeon “took him in his arms and blessed God and said,

‘Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.’” (Luke 2:28-32)

As I recall my grandmother’s introduction to Josh, I can easily picture the quiet joy, wonder, and excitement of Simeon when he embraced Jesus. It was a deep inexpressible joy as demonstrated by his jubilant prayer of thanksgiving to his Heavenly Father. For Simeon and for all who will embrace the Christ child as Savior, Jesus’ birth is the culmination and reality of God’s one-way covenant to mankind as declared throughout the Old Testament.

As we ponder and celebrate the reality of the Incarnation and what it means for us, we can join with Charles Wesley who beautifully captured the desire of Simeon when he penned the following words:

Come, thou long expected Jesus, born to set thy people free;

from our fears and sins release us, let us find our rest in thee.

Israel’s strength and consolation, hope of all the earth thou art;

dear desire of every nation, joy of every longing heart.


Born thy people to deliver, born a child and yet a King,

born to reign in us forever, now thy gracious kingdom bring.

By thy own eternal spirit rule in all our hearts alone;

by thine all sufficient merit, raise us to thy glorious throne.

(Come Thou Long Expected Jesus)

 Joy to the world, the Lord has come! Jesus has come to rescue us in our sin. He has come to give us freedom from the penalty and power of sin, and one day will deliver us from the very presence of sin. This is “good news!”

Rob Van Ness


A Christmas Letter to the Mother of a Child with Special Needs.


For Christmas this year, I would like to put many presents under your tree. There is so much that you deserve.

I would give you a box wrapped in bright red paper and tied with the big gold bow. In that box there would be strength. Strength so that you could continue advocating for your child to have the same opportunities as other children. Strength to sit through one more doctors appointment where the doctors are just not quite sure what the appropriate diagnosis is.

There would also be a big box adorned with silver bells and filled with patience. Patience for all those evenings when your other children want you to help them with homework but you can’t stop what you’re doing. Patience that allows you to listen when other moms tell you how hard it is to carpool their child to so many different sports and birthday parties as you seek to find just one playmate for your child.

Another box would be tightly bound with shimmering emerald paper and inside that box would be hope. Hope that would see you through another day of watching other children on the playground run and jump and skip while longing for a time that your child will walk. Hope that enables you to wait for a teacher who will hopefully understand what your child CAN do.

A large gift bag tied with scarlet strings would be filled to the brim with wisdom. Wisdom for you to understand how the new diet or medicine works in your child’s system. Wisdom to respond to the ridiculous questions that people ask you about why your child seems different.

Wisdom to complete forms and look at research. Wisdom to budget an already stretched bank account.

The biggest box would be decorated with snowflakes and inside you would find an XL portion of resilience. Resilience to bounce back after setbacks. Resilience to smile after stares. Resilience to do the same thing over and over, day after day.

You would find an enormous red and white stocking hanging by your chimney stuffed with joy. Joy for little steps that are really huge milestones. Joy for moments that allow you to feel cared for and understood. Joy in knowing that you have truly been blessed by the love of a very special child.

Merry Christmas!

Tonya Cherry



An ‘Accidental’ Black Friday


I  went Black Friday Shopping last week.


You have to understand I didn’t do it intentionally, In fact It was the furthest thing from my mind.  My idea of Black Friday shopping is sitting at home in my PJ’s with a hot cup of coffee and surfing the web for all the best ‘cyber deals’.  The thought of going out at ridiculous hours of the night or morning, waging war for parking spaces or getting in huge lines of hundreds of people waiting to lay claim to only 3 treasured items, just isn’t my idea of fun and relaxation.


So how did this happen you ask?  On Thanksgiving night after a delightful day filled with gluttonous eating, watching/playing football and enjoying time with family, my wife sent me out to pick up a few grocery items we needed for the next day.  As I headed out my thought was what store would be open on Thanksgiving night?  My answer, Super Walmart! I figured they would be open and I could ‘run in’ grab the groceries and be home.  As I pulled into the parking lot, I noticed how busy it was and wondered if everyone was ‘running out’ for a few groceries as well.  And then it dawned on me, crowds like this could only mean one thing, I’m out with the ‘Black Friday’ crowds!  Panic set-in, I contemplated turning around and heading home but I ‘manned up’, parked a mile a way and journeyed into the madness.


As I entered the store I was stunned, I had never seen such a site, everyone (and I mean everyone) was racing around the store, most carts were full and almost every one had a giant flat screen tv in them.  The aisles were clogged as crowds gathered around Wal-Mart employees unveiling giant boxes filled ‘doorbuster’ deals.  I noticed my own heart started racing and I began getting caught up in the excitement.  I fought through crowds to start grabbing what must be amazing deals.  The next thing I knew I was into it.  My cart started to fill up.  I realized I was buying things just because everyone else was, no time to think, I just figured I could return what I didn’t want later.  And then I remembered why I was there, the milk, the orange juice and cheese. I ventured over to the grocery side of the store, which was a ‘ghost town’ ( No ‘Black Friday’ doorbusters on ketchup ), grabbed my items, stood in the never ending check-out lane, paid for my stuff and headed home.
Now I know what I’ve been missing, I see why adrenaline junkies do this each year.


It will be back to shopping in my PJ’s next year.  But as I drove home I couldn’t help but contrast the excitement for landing a ‘great deal’ and my excitement for celebrating and knowing the presence of Jesus.    So my prayer is that this advent season and throughout the coming year, my joy will be found not in scoring a pair of $20 noise-cancellation bluetooth headphones but as I learn to rest in the arms of my savior’s embrace.  There is good news! Jesus has come, sin has been conquered, death defeated, the grave overwhelmed, the child born in Bethlehem, reigns and rules as our Savior. Now this I can get excited about!

“O Holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us we pray, cast out or sin and enter in be born in us today… O come to us, abide with us, Our Lord Emmanuel”

Steve Dallwig