Besides Jesus

Besides Jesus pic

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

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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 

All is Calm, All is Bright

“All is calm, all is bright. Round yon virgin mother and child. Sleep in heavenly peace, sleep in heavenly peace.”

silent night

 

When you look at the photo of the keys below, what is the first thing that enters your mind? Maybe nothing, or maybe it reminds you that you misplaced them this morning in the hustle of leaving the house. Or maybe you recall the moment that you locked your keys in the car or, if you are like me, maybe you have one set of keys for work and one for home and you remember the time you got to the office and realized that your home keys would not open your office door.

Keys
The keys have a very different meaning for a homeless family that recently enrolled in the Rapid Rehousing program I lead Baltimore City. A mother with three children under the age of five fell upon hard times when she had sudden job loss. As a single mother, this meant as a result that she wouldn’t be able to afford childcare or provide adequately for her family. Even though the relationship with her family was very estranged, she bravely asked if she could live under their roof just until she regained employment. Only four days after being in this household she was told to leave; no reason was given, just that the family member had changed their mind. Unable to secure a hotel for the evening because of finances and with the weather being so cold for her and her children, she snuck into her storage unit. She and her children slept there every evening for 12 nights. Yes, you read it right—a mother with her three children stayed in their storage unit for over a week. On Day 13 she was referred to our program and was put in a hotel, and on Day she moved into her new apartment.

The keys above in the photo are her keys—to her very own apartment. The keys that will unlock a safe, secure place for her and her children to land every evening after a day of school and work. Keys represent so much.

What does this have to do with Advent? I challenge both myself and my readers to say, ‘what doesn’t this have to do with Advent?’ As we await the birth of Christ, the story above reminds me of the hope that the birth of the King of the World brings. The hope of the already and not yet. As in the beloved ‘Silent Night’ Christmas hymn the night was silent, yet holy—all was calm and all was bright.

Isn’t this the way that it is with our God? Stories of hope; awaiting, trust and often silence as we wait on our Lord. The family in the above story did the same thing: she did what needed to be done to provide protection and care in anticipation of what the future would hold—which has now led to a new beginning and a trust in what God may have in the coming moments as each day, more and more, ‘all is calm and all is bright’.

Author – Laura Starsoneck

 

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.

linus

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

What’s in a Genealogy?

 

Dictionary Series - Miscellaneous: genealogy

Matthew 1:1-17

What’s more boring than a genealogy in the Bible? Some of the names are unpronounceable. We know little to nothing about some of the names in the list. They are mostly meaningless to us. Many readers skip over these genealogies to get to the real story, but occasionally, embedded in what feels like an endless list of who begot whom’s, there is an interesting discovery.

In a time when genealogies didn’t normally contain the name of even a single woman, Jesus’ genealogy mentions five. There was Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, the wife of Uriah who is Bathsheba and finally Mary. Their lives were anything but boring! Tamar was the childless widow of Er the eldest son of Judah. The only security a woman had in the ancient world was tied to her husband and her sons. Denied by both Judah’s surviving sons, in desperation she does something almost unthinkable. Tamar disguises herself as a prostitute to trick her father-in-law, Judah, into having sex with her. She conceives two twin boys, one of whom is in the lineage of Jesus.

The second woman referenced was Rahab. She did not pose as a prostitute; she clearly was a prostitute. Later she became the great-great-grandmother of King David. Ruth is the third woman mentioned. She wasn’t even a Hebrew but a Moabite, an outsider, and when her Jewish husband died, her mother-in-law tried to send her back to her own people. The next female ancestor in the list is Bathsheba, who had an adulterous relationship with King David. The final woman mentioned was Mary. Before she was married she discovered she was pregnant. Finding himself engaged to a now disgraced woman, Joseph, her fiancé, quietly purposed to end their relationship.

These were woman who, for the most part, led unremarkable and sometimes scandalous lives from a human perspective. Several were promiscuous even by modern standards. Others were misfits and outsiders. All in some ways were victims of their fallen cultures. Nevertheless God incredibly used all of them to bring redemption to a fallen wold. Their lives are a reminder that there is no sin so great that God’s grace is not greater still. They point to the reality that no matter how low we have sunk, God’s love is even deeper. They announce that no matter what we have done, there is nothing that can put us beyond God’s reach.

What’s in a genealogy? This one announces the good news that there is nothing in our stories that God cannot redeem and there are no lengths that He will not go to make us His.

Jim Mckee

The Long Wait

I have been blessed to meet Ced & Jean Dale. He turned 100 just before Thanksgiving. She is 95. They will have been married 72.5 years on Christmas Eve. It is so beautiful to be with them. To see the care they have for each other, the love for others they foster, the sweet mercy they display to all around makes me yearn for even a touch of those acts at any age, much less pushing a century.

Sadly, Jean Dale is nearing the end. She’s suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. She has moments of clarity. Times when you can whisper the sweet truth of God’s love for her come seldom, but they are there. You can tell her good news and see her eyes shine like the stars as she comprehends for a moment before the veil returns. The fog sets in and the silence pulls at your heart as you see the light dim from her eyes.

And yet, Ced still hopes. He hopes for the day in which Jean Dale will return to her former self. When she will walk without aid, when she will be the fullness of her sweet self to all who see her, when she will be able to tell of the goodness of her Savior once again – that day will be glorious. For he knows with confidence that one day it will happen. In the fullness of time, in the presence of their Savior, in a moment of erupting praise Jean Dale will be whole once again, but not here on earth. For that we wait.

In Amos 8:11-13 (NLT) we find the beautiful longing of others who were waiting. “The time is surely coming,” says the Sovereign Lord, “when I will send a famine on the land—not a famine of bread or water but of hearing the words of the Lord. People will stagger from sea to sea and wander from border to border searching for the word of the Lord, but they will not find it. Beautiful girls and strong young men will grow faint in that day, thirsting for the Lord’s word…” And grow faint they did. That’s what 400 years of waiting will do to a people. Waiting and waiting for the promises to be real, for the purposes to be found, for the praises to be brought. Waiting.

And then it comes.

In the beginning the Word already existed.
The Word was with God,
and the Word was God.
He existed in the beginning with God.
God created everything through him,
and nothing was created except through him.
The Word gave life to everything that was created,
and his life brought light to everyone.
The light shines in the darkness,
and the darkness can never extinguish it. – John 1:1-5 (NLT)

That Light, born as a baby, shines like never before to return the glimmer of hope, to draw us into the warmth of His never-ending embrace of our hearts, and to restore our longing hearts with the sweet song of an always present Savior. And now we wait for he will return. And it gonna be glorious!

Dear Jean Dale/Nana – I am so blessed to become part of your family. Thank you for your legacy. I see it in your grandson’s face and sweet spirit every day. Oh, for even an inkling of that sort of impact – one can dream. With love, Debby

Debby Sutton

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

A Light

ii_151929b60106a543One of my favorite Christmas memories from childhood is driving around after the Christmas Eve service to look at all the Christmas lights. The lights at Christmas are so magical, aren’t they? It’s as if the whole world decided to light up in celebration of the season. It is truly one of the most beautiful parts of Christmas.

Have you ever noticed how dark it seems after Christmas? Driving home after 5pm suddenly seems so much gloomier. The celebration ends and it’s time to put away the light.

But Christmas tells a different story. Jesus’ light didn’t shine only for a season, only for a month before it was put away – it continues to shine now, even when we can’t seem to see it through the fog of our sometimes-gloomy world.

And so dear friend, when the lights are put away, don’t let the darkness of our world take over the light that Jesus brought to us on the first Christmas. He is “the true light that gives light to everyone” (John 1:9), our long-awaited King, the Savior of our hearts, and he’s here!

Maybe you need to be reminded of that light today, or you know someone who could use a little light. That’s the thing about light – it draws you in.

“A Light” by The Brilliance

Jessica Bates

A Heavenly Contrast

angelandshepherdsloop

As I reflect on the narrative of the birth of our Savior, one of the ironies that can be clearly seen is the contrast between the heavenly and earthly response to Christ’s birth. When Mary and Joseph arrive in Bethlehem, no regard is given to them. They do not have great wealth, power or fame, in fact all they wanted was a room in the Inn, yet were given shelter in a stable most likely filled with livestock. There seemed no special care or thought given for this couple and for this young pregnant girl. Yet how radically different were things in the heavenly realm. In sharp contrast to the little notice given to Jesus’ birth on earth we see an entire army of angels appear to a group of shepherds and the entire heavenly host broke into song and shouted their praise and adoration for this precious one’s birth. A heavenly party and celebration had begun for the promised one had come. The heavenly realm had broken into our time and space as the angels sang before the shephereds and as our God humbled himself and entered our world in the form of this tiny babe.

Martin Luther, in the 16th century observed this same irony:

But what happens in heaven concerning this birth? As much as it is despised on earth, so much and a thousand times more is it honored in heaven. If an angel from heaven came and praised you and your work, would you not regard it of greater value than all the praise and honor the world could give you, and for which you would be willing to bear the greatest humility and reproach? What exalted honor is that when all the angels in heaven can not restrain themselves from breaking out in rejoicing, so that even poor shepherds in the fields hear them preach, praise God, sing and pour out their joy without measure? Were not all joy and honor realized at Bethlehem, yes, all joy and honor experienced by all the kings and nobles on earth, to be regarded as only dross and abomination, of which no one likes to think, when compared with the joy and glory here displayed?

Martin Luther, 1521

So let us remember that the very one who the heavens rejoiced over has taken residence in his people. That in the cold, dark and what may at times seem hopeless experience of life on this earth our Emmanuel is here. Rejoice!

Steve Dallwig

Exhausted Pies

It’s become excessively clear this year that I have a type A personality. I like things to be correct, the best, and the most they can be. I enjoy things to shine as they should and to reflect the effort I’ve put into them.

It’s exhausting being me.

This holiday season isn’t any different. I was making pies to freeze in prep for the many yummy dinners just around the corner. The pie with its lattice top had cooled on the counter and was ready to be wrapped. One layer of protection on and all was well. The second layer of protection was placed and I heard it… the crisp snap of a lattice beam being broken on my pie.

In an instant my perfectionism was shattered. My hopes of awe-inspired praises were dashed. My status as supreme baker was washed out to sea. Sigh. But, a little voice called to my heart saying, “A broken pie is just a reminder that you need Jesus.”

That fact alone is why Jesus came and why we celebrate His birth. We have all tried and tried to be perfect, to get it right, to live up to the standard set before us by ourselves and others. We have tried.

And it’s exhausting.

That little baby would grow. He would be perfect. He would get it right. He would live up to the standards. He would do it for you. He would do it for me. He would do it for us. And sweetly he would call to our hearts saying, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

This Christmas, let’s put down the burden, put down the pie, the ornaments, the presents, the stress, and put on his easy, gentle yoke which gives rest for our souls as he leads us in his most perfect way.

No more exhaustion required. Best present ever.

Debby Sutton