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

 

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Waiting for my Delivery

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Just one more gift. That’s all I’m waiting for. I ordered it so that it would arrive by Christmas, but its not here yet. The confirmation email says it will arrive by 12/24, but every day that passes I begin to doubt.  I keep clicking on the tracking number hoping that I will see those three little words “out for delivery”. I pause at the sound of every passing truck, hoping that my awaited package will arrive. It’s December 23 – Only 2 days left for it to arrive. Waiting is hard.

In Luke 2, we meet Simeon. A devout and righteous man who was told by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he saw the promised Messiah. We don’t know how long he waited, but it appears it was a long time. But one day when led to the Temple by the Spirit, Simeon met a young couple who had brought with them their new born son. Simeon knew this was the one. The one he had waited for.

Simeon faithfully believed that that which was promised would come. A Messiah, promised deliverance and salvation. He rejoiced and blessed the child saying:

“Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation 31 that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” (Luke 2:29-32)

What have you been waiting for this year?

A restored relationship?

Physical or emotional healing?

A new job?

Getting out of debt?

finishing school?

pregnancy?

As you wait, rest in the promise of God’s salvation. Rest knowing that our Emmanuel, (God with us) is here. Rest in the truth that our Prince of Peace sustains us. Rest knowing that the end of the story has been written. God’s timing isn’t always our timing, but His timing is always perfect.

Wait is that a UPS truck I hear?

Steve Dallwig

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

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

Give Me Jesus

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John 6:35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

 

As I was putting the lights on our Christmas Tree this year and listening to a playlist of holiday tunes, a song began to play that I had never heard in the context of Christmas and the advent season.  The song is called “Give Me Jesus” and its lyrics are a simple and beautiful prayer recognizing that in life and in death our greatest need is Jesus.

 

As I listened and strung lights my mind reflected on how there are so many things that wrestle for their place at the top of my needs list.  Some of them are material (Apple watch, new car, bigger house etc.) while others are longings of my heart but still things that I think I MUST have (approval of others, respect, good kids, perfect family etc.).  At any given moment one of these things is jockeying for their position as holder of my heart and in so doing convincing me that I cannot live with out it.

 

But as we gaze at the Scripture and look at the beautiful story of the birth of Jesus we see that God knew all along what we needed.  He knew exactly…

 

What the shepherds needed

 

What Mary and Joseph needed

 

What Herod needed

 

What Israel needed

 

What the world needed

 

What my family needed

 

What I needed

 

It’s Him, God gave us the gift of himself.  Real meaning and life for us is not found anywhere but in God alone.  That’s why Jesus came.

 

So this morning, throughout the day the advent season and the days and years left of my life, I pray that as my heart wrestles through all it’s desires, that God will continue to expose and reveal to me my need for Jesus.

 

Give me Jesus, Lord I Pray

 

Steve Dallwig

My Bethlehem Prayer

Star of BethlehemOne of my favorite Christmas Carols is O Little Town of Bethlehem. It’s a sweet hymn that I love to sing and listen to throughout the Advent season. Of all the stanzas though, my favorite is the fourth and final. It’s a simple prayer directed to the newborn Jesus and captures so perfectly the beauty and glory of Christ’s Birth and the gospel message.  Here is how I have made it my prayer and maybe can be yours today…

O Holy Child of Bethlehem descend to us, we pray

Father, with thankful hearts we rejoice that you left your heavenly realm and condescended to us and entered our sinful and broken world. We are thankful that your eternal and glorious kingdom broke into the middle of space and time to bring hope, healing, salvation, and peace to our lives, our relationships and the world you created.

Cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today

Father we are a broken and sinful people, our hearts have wandered far from you and daily we seek to gratify our lives and our relationships with things that were never meant to satisfy. As you move in our hearts, reveal to us those dry and empty wells that leave us empty and longing and lead us to the spring of life that comes through Jesus. May the reality and life-giving power of your gospel be born afresh in us each and every day.

We hear the Christmas angels, the great glad tidings tell

As the Shepherds rejoiced with the angels’ proclamation that “A Savior has been born”, may our hearts be rejuvenated with the joy of the gospel. May our hearts be overwhelmed with the amazing good news of your forgiveness, your boundless love, your abiding presence and rejoice that your Kingdom has come.

O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel

Thank you that you have come, for you truly are our Emmanuel, our God with us. Thank you for your abiding presence and the secure hope in knowing that you are with us always; in times of need, in times of sorrow, in times of great rejoicing, in times of fear and even in the times we can’t seem to see you.
Come Lord Jesus. Amen.

Steve Dallwig

A Heavenly Contrast

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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

Where’s My Joy?

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Joy.  It’s the season for joy. Joyful songs, joyful children, joyful gatherings with families and friends.  Yet for so many this season is anything but.

Stressed, panicked, anxious, lonely  and sad are just some of the words I hear from so many people describing their lives during these holiday weeks.

Illness, cancer, crime, war, death, addiction and broken relationships don’t seem to be taking a holiday so that we can all get just a little break. Why?  Why can’t we have just a little happiness?  Why aren’t our lives filled with the joy the anticipation of this season promises?

The answer actually began in the garden.  When Adam and Eve took of the fruit from the forbidden tree, they forfeited the true joy of a harmonious relationship with God and His creation.  From that moment on the world has been filled with the consequences of life in a fallen world. All relationships,  human bodies, vocations and the very earth itself ache with the pain of sin and in it’s brokenness cry out for a redeemer.

But as God was in the midst of cursing Adam, Eve and the serpent for their sin He inserted an incredible promise of hope.  God, speaking to the serpent, told it that one day the offspring of the woman would deliver a blow that would crush his head. (Genesis 3:15).

Advent began right there.  The anticipation of one who would deal the final blow to sin, it’s power  and reign would be fulfilled thousands of years later with the birth of Jesus in the little town of Bethlehem.  He was the promised one, He was the one the broken world and our broken lives have cried for.  And in His coming God is fulfilling His promise of making right all that was made wrong.  It’s there we find our joy.  It’s not in our circumstances, in the events of our lives both in and out of our control.  No, our joy is found as we in faith anchor ourselves to Jesus.  In faith, believing that our circumstances, struggles and pain are not the final word or the end of the story.

This Christmas in the midst of whatever you are going through  may you know the joy of being the Redeemers beloved and that through Him one day an eternity devoid of sin and pain will be ours.

This is good news.

“No more let sins and sorrows grow
Nor thorns infest the ground
He comes to make
His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found”

Steve Dallwig

Our God has Come

Our God, mighty and all powerful.

Did not come with pomp and pageantry.

His birth was not celebrated with feasts and extravagant celebrations.

Rather born in crude stable,

Attended by animals, his parents and some shepherds.

Yet here He was.  Our God had come.

As a baby, vulnerable and in need.

And as Mary comforted the one who came to comfort the world,

Heaven rejoiced.

In the bleak mid-winter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen, snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak mid-winter
Long ago.

Our God, Heaven cannot hold Him
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When He comes to reign:
In the bleak mid-winter
A stable-place sufficed
The Lord God Almighty,
Jesus Christ.

Steve Dallwig