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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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

Children of the King

It’s A Wonderful Life is my favorite Christmas movie. Hands down. No competition. I absolutely love it. My wife and I watch it every Christmas Eve and it never fails to deliver. Some of the affection I hold for it is admittedly nostalgic, but it’s an all-time great movie (#11 on the American Film Institute’s 100 Years…100 Movies list), and Jimmy Stewart’s portrayal of George Bailey is brilliant.

As the story goes, George is an eminently likeable, affable, and all-around good guy who spends his life mostly helping others succeed. Because of this, he misses out on college, traveling, and becoming someone ‘important’, to his way of thinking.

This leads to frustration, anger, and even self-pity, all of which eventually boil over when $8,000 of company money is misplaced. The loss appears to put him out of business and a warrant is issued for his arrest on embezzlement charges, leaving George understandably despondent.

It’s at this point in the movie an angel named Clarence enters and, through a series of encounters, helps George gain the perspective he so desperately lacks. If you’ve seen the movie, you know what happens. If you haven’t, do yourself a favor and watch it this Christmas season — it will be time well spent.

Before his experience with Clarence, George believes his life will be worth something only if he is able to, as he says, “shake the dust of this crummy little town off my feet” and do something really big. He fears that he’s living the life described in Thoreau’s famous quote — “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation, and go to the grave with the song still in them.”

In the end, George has an epiphany. He realizes all of the longing for something bigger and better has been replaced by the longing to once again love those who love him. He finally understands that he is loved simply for who he is — a husband, father, son, brother, and friend.

This Christmas season, my hope is that we experience a similar realization. May we be confident there is no amount of doing or being that can add one ounce of worth to who we already are in the Father’s eyes. May we truly live as sons and daughters of the King, rather than those forced to perform for affection or approval. And finally, may we rest in knowing that God sent us his Son at Christmas for one reason only — because he loves us — and that’s reason enough.

Even Santa Needs a Savior

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“He’s making a list, checking it twice, gonna find out who’s naughty or nice….”

The songs and folklore of Christmas tell us that Santa is not only a mystical altruistic giver of gifts to children around the world, but that he is also a vigilant watchman or ‘big brother’ keeping his eye and taking notes on the morality of every boy and girl around the world.

But did you know that Santa has some skeletons of his own in his closet? In studying the history of the man behind the legend, Saint Nicholas, a little fascinating story can be found.

Nicholas of Myra was born in the third century in a province called Lycia, which was a part of the Roman Empire. Today ancient Lycia is a part of the country we know as Turkey. Nicholas is believed to have died December 6, 343 A.D.

Stephen J. Nichols, president of Reformation Bible College and Church History specialist tells us of a time Santa got into some trouble…

“Bishop Nicholas was present at the Church’s First Ecumenical Council at Constantine’s summer palace in Nicea in 325. Hundreds of Bishops gathered there to refute the false views of Arius, a presbyter from Alexandria. Arius denied Christ’s deity. At one point while Arius was addressing the council, Nicholas’s rage got the better of him. According to some of his biographers, Nicholas stood up, crossed the floor to Arius, and promptly punched him in the face.”

According to Nichols, for this assault, Bishop Nicholas was arrested and put in jail. And more than likely found himself on his own ‘naughty’ list.

You see Bishop Nicholas was human like you and me, prone to the same temptations, impulses and passions. As benevolent and caring he was, Nicholas was also a sinner and in need of rescue.

Jesus was also a human, but he was unlike Nicholas, or any of us. He was God made flesh and although he faced the same temptations and pressures we do, he was without sin. That is why Jesus is the only who could be our savior, through his death our sins were paid for and his righteousness made ours.

So as we celebrate this Christmas, be reminded friends that the baby that was born in a Bethlehem stable was and is the only hope for sinners like you, me and even Santa.

This truly is good news! Merry Christmas.

Steve Dallwig

His Presence

At a pivotal point in The Horse and His Boy, one of the books in the well-known series The Chronicles of Narnia, Aslan reveals to a young boy Shasta that he was not only with him throughout his journey to escape slavery, but he had also been guiding and protecting Shasta along the way.

“I was the lion.” And as Shasta gaped with open mouth and said nothing, the Voice continued. “I was the lion who forced you to join with Aravis. I was the cat who comforted you among the houses of the dead. I was the lion who drove the jackals from you while you slept. I was the lion who gave the Horses the new strength of fear for the last mile so that you should reach King Lune in time. And I was the lion you do not remember who pushed the boat in which you lay, a child near death, so that it came to shore where a man sat, wakeful at midnight, to receive you.”

– C.S. Lewis, The Horse and His Boy

This beautiful picture of how God meets us where we are can also be seen in the lives of the characters in the Christmas story. The shepherds, Joseph, Simeon and Anna, and the Wise Men were in completely different life situations when God revealed Himself to them. God, however, knew where they were and used their circumstances to meet them in unique ways.

“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, …” (Luke 2:8,9). The shepherds were doing what they did every day, and God reached them in the mundaneness of their everyday life.

“Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream …” (Matthew 1:19,20). Joseph’s plans had been shattered. Although he reacted with grace, the pain of what he was experiencing is not minimized by this passage. When the woman who he had planned to marry cheated on him (or so he thought), God used a dream to quiet his fears and clarify the future.

Because of the familiarity of the story, a mere mention of other characters reminds us that God revealed Himself to them where they were. Mary was simply living in the town of Nazareth when the angel Gabriel appeared to her. Simeon and Anna were in the temple when Jesus, the promised Messiah for whom they had waited, was brought to them. The Wise Men were far from where Jesus would be born, yet God met them in their distant country and led them directly to Jesus, even providing necessary instruction for their journey home.

Do you wonder how God will enter the commonplace aspects of your everyday life? Remember the shepherds. Are you experiencing hurt, not knowing how you will overcome it? Remember Joseph. Are you praying and waiting for something that you think will never come? Remember Simeon and Anna. Are you worried that you are far from God’s reach? Remember the Wise Men. God knows where you are, and He will meet you there.

Hopefully, these reminders from the Christmas story will help you to patiently rest knowing that God will provide you with the guidance you need in His perfect time.

Prayer:

Gracious God, thank you for the Christmas story that reminds us that you meet each of us where we are and in unique ways. Please reveal yourself to us. Give us peace that you are guiding us even when we cannot see your hand. Give us patience to wait for your direction.

In Jesus’ name – Amen.

Monica Dombrowski

 

A Homebody’s Christmas

Settle down, it’ll all be clear

Don’t pay no mind to the demons

They fill you with fear

The trouble it might drag you down

If you get lost, you can always be found

 

Just know you’re not alone

‘Cause I’m gonna make this place your home

Phillip Phillips,  Home

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Being a homebody, I still get emotional thinking of home at Christmas time. I still remember those big retro screw-in colored bulbs on our tree. And one year I drove sixteen hours through the night to get home from college in time to help decorate the tree, only to fall asleep while the rest of the family decorated.

When Katherine and I lived in a tiny furnished apartment in Mississippi while in seminary, along with the lights, we also attached those clip candleholders to the tree, and nearly burned down the place!

Through the years, sharing the season with our children has brought immeasurable joy – It was always about our family experiencing the season together.

At Home.

Home is where all our stories begin.

But sadly it does not conjure good memories for everyone, in fact for some the opposite. So as precious as home is for me, it can’t possibly be the big story.

And it isn’t.

The crazy thing about the first Christmas is that it had all the elements we celebrate – except for home!

Apart from the absence of a tree, wise men brought gifts. Angels lit the sky and sang. And hey, there was no need for a nativity set, because… well, you get the idea.

But no home.

Christmas is the story of a displaced young couple whose lives were turned upside down by an unexpected pregnancy and a decree that dislodged them from their hometown.

And I think this is the point – Because between Jesus’ coming and our longing for something dearer and sweeter than this life offers, God has announced that in that holy Newborn who invaded that couple’s world by leaving His, the Father’s ‘casa’ has become ours.

In Jesus we have found our home.

What good news of great joy…

peace.

Mike Khandjian