What Doesn’t Change

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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

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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

Besides Jesus

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When my children were young they often sat with us through the Sunday sermon. The small church we attended held Sunday school classes for kids and adults at the same hour so the children were always in the main service. Often the preaching was a bit more than their little minds could take in so my husband and I would seek to engage them after church on our drive home. We would ask them questions about the message and we quickly found that their answer to most our questions was the same- “Jesus”.

What did the pastor talk about today? “Jesus”

What do you think was the most important part of the sermon? “Jesus”

—Then we would get the occasional forced variation—

Did you learn anything new from the message today? “Um….that um…(long pause)…To love Jesus!”

In some ways, their one-subject response was encouraging because it pointed to the fact that the pastor made a pretty big deal about Jesus. On the other hand, and probably most often, they knew that Jesus was an answer that would get them out of further questioning on a message they mostly doodled and wiggled through.

Sometimes, in our little conversations about the message, we would add the caveat “besides Jesus” before asking our questions just to try to get a little more from them. Not that Jesus wasn’t a good answer, but we wanted them to engage further. It would stump them and they would stumble for an answer. Usually, other key Bible words would be their response; sin, obey, God, and maybe a biblical name or two. The “besides Jesus” trick didn’t get much more out of them.

It has been several years since we have had those conversations with our kids. They are all grown up and drive themselves to church now. We still talk about the Sunday sermon but the exchanges are much deeper and richer than those of their younger years. But the funny thing is, now more than ever before I realize that their childhood answer -“Jesus”- is actually more accurate than anything else.

As we face struggle or temptation the answer is Jesus. We need him. He is our help and hope. As we face joys and blessings it is because of Jesus. When we endure trials it is because of Jesus. He turns sorrows to joy in ways that often don’t make logical sense. Life may not be exactly how we expected but we can carry on only because of Jesus. And even more, the best is yet to come when we meet him face to face in heaven. One day everyone will know the only answer is Jesus. Every knee will bow in his presence as all things become completely clear. My kids’ simplistic answer was actually the true answer to life’s complexities. The older I get I see more clearly that there is nothing besides Jesus.

This Christmas season many of our children will come away with one message from holiday services- “Jesus”.  As they see nativities, sing Christmas carols, or hear Sunday lessons Jesus will probably be what they take away. It may seem simplistic but one day they too may see more clearly that Jesus is all there is to know.

Eliza Huie – Counselor, Life Counseling Center

A Missional Mission

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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

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 

Christmas for the Outsider

“And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.”

Luke 2:8

We matter to God.  Inexplicably.  Undeservedly… God is watching, listening to us, speaking promises into the cacophony of our worries and the certainty of their fulfillment into our most deeply buried hopes.” – Patty Kirk, Confessions of an Amateur Believer

Blog PicThis Christmas has begun differently from any we have celebrated. At this date (November 29) we have yet to purchase a tree or put up a single decoration or light.

It isn’t that we are any less enthusiastic about the season or that our philosophy of Christmas has changed. It is that we have been sick, Katherine before Thanksgiving, and me since.

And it’s killing us! It is as though Scrooge lives in our neighborhood – and he is us!

But it gives me pause.

Each Christmas I try to remind our church community – and myself – that for all who celebrate the season with joy, there are many who are barely hanging on, observing from the edges, grieving, struggling, even hiding. Family pain, broken relationships, shame, illness, death and financial pressures bring isolation rather than festivity.

It occurred to me that this is why the shepherds are my favorite characters in the Christmas narrative. When it came to the common life of the broader social structure, they were always observing from the margins.

They were outsiders, and yet God found them and invited them in by making them the recipients of the first announcement of Jesus’ birth.

Interestingly God didn’t turn them into kings, executives or land barons. He simply came to them and ascribed value to who they were by virtue of His Son. Upon seeing Jesus, they were tasked with sharing His birth with the rest of the world.

So I take heart in the shepherds’ story – On that first Christmas they were isolated but not unnoticed by God.

Neither are you.

What good news of great joy.

grace & peace.

Mike Khandjian

 

Fear Not

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Luke 2: 10 – “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy . . .”

It was dark. The sheep were doing whatever it is that sheep do once night falls. The shepherds were keeping a watchful for eye for any signs of danger, as shepherds had done in this region for centuries. Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared them. The glory of the Lord illuminated the area around them. Think about it. In the dark shadows of the night, the invisible suddenly becomes visible. The veil that separates heaven and earth is pulled back and they see something few mortals have ever seen. There was nothing in their collective experience that would have prepared them to make sense out what was happening. In the face of this unexpected and supernatural occurrence they were understandably overcome with fear.

How comforting it must have been that the angel’s first words were, “Fear not!”. It was exactly what they needed to hear to stop them in their tracks, calm their hearts and keep them from running. There must be something viscerally terrifying about an encounter like this, because these were also the first words uttered to Zechariah when the angel appeared to him. He spoke these words because he knew something neither the shepherds nor Zechariah knew. Somewhere on the eastern frontier a boy was born who would be their Savior!

Life can be terrifying. It’s full of uncertainty. Bad things happen to people we love and care about. We are mugged by circumstances that are beyond our control. People we count on disappoint us, even betray us. It’s easy to be overcome by fears from within and by fears from without. After all, the world is a very dangerous place and there is no lack of evidence to belie our concerns. It’s in these moments that I need to hear the words of the Angel of the Lord echoing in my heart and mind saying, “Fear not! … For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”

The birth of a boy in a manger in the city of Bethlehem announced to the shepherds the good news concerning the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God. The arrival of the One who brings true healing, renewal and peace has come to pass. Expectation has given way to fulfillment. As we celebrate Advent, all the scenes and signs of the season are pointers to this new reality. The true King of the world has come! He is the one will rescue us from the curse of sin and death. And if we are His, we have nothing to fear. May we hear the voice of the Spirit shouting those words, “Fear not!” in the face of all our fears.

Jim Mckee

O Come

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O come, O come, Emmanuel,

and ransom captive Israel

that mourns in lonely exile here

until the Son of God appear. 

Can you feel the ache, the longing, the sadness, the darkness? 400 years of silence between the books of Malachi and Matthew, Israel mourning in lonely exile…wondering when it’ll ever change, wondering when God will speak once more.

O come and be with us; we can only mourn until You come.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free

Thine own from Satan’s tyranny;

from depths of hell Thy people save,

and give them victory over the grave.

 It’s a little more intense now. Free us from Satan’s tyranny, from oppression and cruelty, from false thoughts and beliefs that rule over us, from the very depths of hell.

O come and free us from evil and death, save us.

O come, Thou Day-spring, come and cheer

our spirits by Thine advent here;

disperse the gloomy clouds of night

and death’s dark shadows put to flight.

 Dayspring means the beginning of; dawn; the beginning of a new era or order of things. Dispersing clouds, shadows swallowed by light. Oh heart, be encouraged by what’s coming – by Who’s coming – and bringing a new order of things.

O come, Desire of nations, bind

In one the hearts of all mankind;

Bid Thou our sad divisions cease,

And be Thyself our King of Peace

Note the pairing of the words, “sad divisions.” So many things divide us – age, race, money, politics, status… For He Himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in His flesh the dividing wall of hostility.

O come, bind us all together and bind us to You. Be our Peace.

Rejoice! Rejoice!

Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

Lauren McWilliams