Monday, December 31, 2012

This candle against the wind - year end thoughts

Light in the Darkness
The blasts of chill December sound
the farewell of the year,
And night's swift shadows gath'ring round
O'er cloud the soul with fear;
But rest you well, good Christian friends,
Nor be of heart forlorn;
December's darkness begins again
The Light of Christmas morn.

-- Norval Clyne (1817-1888)
I know that I have life only insofar as I have love.
I have no love except it come from Thee.
Help me, please, to carry this candle against the wind.

-- Wendell Berry, the Kentucky farmer poet

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Learning to be the light

In response to the message I gave today at NRN:

When the stars came crashing down
In tiny pieces to the ground

I was all alone down here
Trapped beneath the atmosphere

Then I thought somebody called my name
I spun around and caught a flame

Gave in to a God I didn't know

And now everything is falling into place

A brand new life is calling and I owe it all to grace

It's so much brighter living in Your world

Savior what You did for me

You gave me something I want everyone to see
When we stumble and it all goes wrong

Only You can make it right
So I say oh oh oh oh oh

I'm learning to be the light


I'm learning to be the light



When a heart is cold as ice
You can't melt it with advice

No one wants to listen to
A list of things they shouldn't do

So I build a city on a hill
And I light a candle on the sill

Knowing You'll be always knocking at the door
Oh God I just want to love on everyone

All I have is Yours to give so let the people come

 It's so much brighter living in Your world
Savior what You did for me

You gave me something I want everyone to see
When we stumble and it all goes wrong

Only You can make it right
So I say oh oh oh oh oh

I'm learning to be the light

I'm learning to be the light

I'm learning to be the light that makes the shadows hide

The light that breaks the curse of pride
he light that takes the weary in its arms

When it all came crashing down

There was only darkness all around
But in the distance I could see a flame

 It's so much brighter living in Your world
Savior what You did for me

You gave me something I want everyone
I mean everyone to see

When we stumble and it all goes wrong

Only You can make it right
So I say oh oh oh oh oh

I'm learning to be the light

I'm learning to be the light

I'm learning to be the light

I'm learning to be the light


I'm learning to be the light

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Preparing for Worship on Sunday Dec. 30, 2012

I am really looking forward to church tomorrow as I bring the final message in the Advent Teaching Series at NRN.   Through out this series I have shared about the aspects of Jesus being the True Light of Christmas and tomorrow I bring a message about the Light of God's People.

Here are some of the worship ideas for tomorrow.  We will sing our praise to the Lord.

“You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden.                         No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed                      on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way,                               let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your                        heavenly Father.                                                   Matthew 5:14-16 (NLT)
When we think of what it looks like to be a Christian, many images and examples can come to mind, both good and bad. But we can boil it down to a few key ideas as to what a true Christ-follower should look like. It starts by acknowledging who God is, then understanding that He made us to find salvation in Him, then being transformed as we follow Him, then sharing the light of His life within us.

Friday, December 28, 2012

A New Year Covenant Service

Each year, John Wesley - the founder of Methodism - would begin the New Year with a "Covenant Service."  The heart of the service, focused in the Covenant Prayer, requires persons to commit themselves anew to God.

Scriptures read at this service included Deuteronomy 31: 9-13, Jeremiah 31: 31-34, Psalm 50, and John 15: 1-8.

The Prayer of Invitation from this service follows:

Commit yourselves to Christ as his servants. Give yourselves to him, that you may belong to him.

Christ has many services to be done. Some are more easy and honorable, others are more difficult and disgraceful. Some are suitable to our inclinations and interests, others are contrary to both.

In some we may please Christ and please ourselves. But then there are other works where we cannot please Christ except by denying ourselves.

It is necessary, therefore, that we consider what it means to be a servant of Christ. Let us, therefore, go to Christ, and pray:
Let me be your servant, under your command. I will no longer be my own. I will give up myself to your will in all things.

Lord, make me what you will. I put myself fully into your hands:

put me to doing, put me to suffering,
let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you,

let me be full, let me be empty,
let me have all things, let me have nothing.

I freely and with a willing heart
give it all to your pleasure and disposal.

I do here covenant with you, O Christ,
to take my lot with you as it may fall.

Through your grace I promise
that neither life nor death shall part me from you.

I make this covenant with you, O God,
without guile or reservation.

If any falsehood should be in it, guide me
and help me to set it aright.

Mighty God,
let this covenant I have made on earth
be ratified in heaven

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

John Wesley, circa 1780

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Celebrating Christmas with family

Christmas Day was well celebrated with family.  It was wonderful day as we gathered to read the Christmas account from the gospel of Luke.  Then the short walk to the living room where the gifts were located under the family Christmas Tree.  Sharron and I always enjoy at time at the vanAlmen home.  The house is decorated so tastefully and there is a sweet Christmas spirit.  As I sit at their kitchen table to write this post I am sitting beside the Christmas Tree pictured above and I look across the table to a view a Nativity Set from the Holy Land.

We enjoyed the time of opening gifts - here is my favorite picture of the morning:

I have now viewed the Disney movie Brave at least 3 times with Breeley asking to see it again...and again.. and again. 
Sharron prepared a delicious family lunch featuring a honey baked ham and all the homemade items to make it so special.  We then took the evening to travel to our daughter Danielle's home and enjoyed the family time with the Bolder family.  Danielle served some great homemade banana pudding.
Sharron and I heard from several close friends on Christmas Day.  We are truly blessed and thank God for His many blessings to us.  The few days before Christmas were quite full as I preached on Sunday Dec 23rd and had a full afternoon only to then spend the day working on music, media and my message for Monday evening - Christmas Eve - followed by the trip to Charlotte. 
It has been an awesome Christmas this year as we reflect upon the goodness of our God.
I am looking forward to our worship at NRN this coming Sunday as I bring the Advent teaching series to a close with a message that is close to my heart.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas Day 2013 - A Christmas Prayer

December 25, 1864. The son of American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow had recently been wounded in the American Civil War, Longfellow’s wife had been killed in an accidental fire, and it seemed as though the war would never end. Upon hearing the bells ring that Christmas day, Longfellow was stricken by despair and grief. He began to write a poem, Christmas Bells, to articulate the awful darkness that seemed to cover the world. As he wrote, his grief and despair were overshadowed with the hope of Christmas ringing out in the chiming bells.

December 25, 2012. There are many reasons for despair in our troubled world. Senseless killings, unending wars, injustices in so many places, refugees looking for a safe place, famine, drought, brokenness... it is an unending list.

As you survey the darkness around you, it is our prayer that the Light of Christmas will bring a renewed sense of hope to your heart — that grief and despair will indeed be overshadowed with the hope of Christmas.

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

Till, ringing, singing on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!

And in despair I bowed my head;
"There is no peace on earth," I said;
"For hate is strong, and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!"

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
"God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The Wrong shall fail, the Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!"

Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, affirms this hope in Luke 1:

"Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come... to rescue us... to enable us to serve him without fear in holiness and righteousness before him all our days... to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace."

--Board of General Superintendents – Church of the Nazarene

Monday, December 24, 2012

Preparing for Christmas Eve Worship at NRN

Today we will gather at 5:00pm for our NRN  Annual Christmas Eve Service! 
Our worship will be filled with celebration of Jesus - the True Light of Christmas!

Join us for Family Worship featuring Communion and  Candle Lighting !
We will sing several traditional Christmas Carols - Light the Candles on the Advent Wreath including the Christ Candle;  I will bring a short message on the True Light of Christmas then lead us into a time of communion.  The service will close with a meaningful candle lighting and singing Silent Night together.  Then we will depart the worship center to be lights in a darken world. 

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Advent Devotional - Are you ready for Christmas?

It seems like everywhere you go during the month of December people ask the same question. At the grocery checkout counter--"Are you ready for Christmas?" At the bank drive through window--"Are you ready for Christmas?" At the doctor's office--"Are you ready for Christmas?"
I think the answer to that question depends on how you define "ready." Let me ask you this question: "Are you ready for Jesus?" Now that puts the idea of being ready in a whole different Christmas light, doesn't it?

John the Baptist was sent by God to get the people ready to meet Jesus. Here's what Matthew had to say about him:
In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the Desert of Judea and saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near." This is he who was spoken of through the prophet Isaiah:

"A voice of one calling in the desert,
'Prepare the way for the Lord; make straight paths for him.'"...
"People went out to him from Jerusalem and all Judea and the whole region of the Jordan. Confessing their sins, they were baptized by him in the Jordan River." (Matthew 3:1-3, 5-6).

We don't like the words "repent" or "repentance" very much. They mean "to make a radical change in one's life, to turn and go in the opposite direction from sin (another word we're not too fond of today) to God." Repentance involves an element of grief over the way we have lived apart from God and a decision to run toward the Father. That was God's idea of the way to prepare for Christ's arrival in the book of Matthew, and it is still God's idea of preparing to worship Him today.
Let's reflect for a moment on the words to this poem and then answer the question, "Are you ready for Christmas?"
"Ready for Christmas," she said with a sigh
As she gave a last touch to the gifts piled high...

Then wearily sat for a moment AND READ
Til soon, very soon, she was nodding her head.

Then quietly spoke a voice in her dream,
"Ready for Christmas, what do you mean?"

She woke with a start and a cry of despair.
"There's so little time and I've still to prepare.

Oh, Father! Forgive me, I see what You mean!
Yes, more than the giving of gifts and a tree.

It's the heart swept clean that He wanted to see,
A heart that is free from bitterness and sin.

So be ready for Christmas - and ready for Him.

Prayer:  Dear Lord, I want to be ready for Jesus today and every day. I come to You now in repentance for my sins: my sin of selfishness, stubbornness, and rebellion. I turn from my self-centeredness today and commit to keep my focus on You. God, I cannot do this on my own. I am not able. So I ask that you fill me with the power of Your Holy Spirit Who empowers me to obey. Thank You that You have given me everything I need for a life of godliness and truth. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. In Jesus' name, amen.

Today's Advent reading is from the Girlfriends in God devotional ministry.

Join us for our Christmas Service at NRN on Sunday December 23rd at 10:45 - and then on Monday December 24 at 5:00pm for our annual Christmas Eve Service.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

The Fourth Sunday of Advent - preparing of worship at NRN

As I prepare for worship tomorrow at NRN I am filled with praise for Jesus - the True Light of Christmas! Our world is filled with darkness and the light of world hs steeping into our darkness.

Tomorrow is the Fourth Sunday of Advent - the Sunday before Christmas.

We plan to begin our worship with a greeting and prayer. Then we enter into songs of worship:

Then we pause to light the candles of the Advent Wreath.  A time of singing will follow:

Then the opportunity to celebrate the gift of God by presenting our gifts of the tithe and offering to Him.  The time of offering at NRN is always a time of celebration as we cheerfully present our financial gifts to God. I pray God will find us faithful.

I am looking forward to preaching as I continue in the Advent Teaching Series.  My prayer is for the annointing of God to be evident and I will communicate with passion and with  authority of the Word of God. 

I hope you will join us for this celebration of Christmas worship.   

Friday, December 21, 2012

The World is not ending today - In the midst of the darkness - a light still shines.

Twas' 11 days before Christmas, around 9:38

When 20 beautiful children stormed through heaven's gate.

Their smiles were contagious, their laughter filled the air.

They could hardly believe all the beauty they saw there.

They were filled with such joy, they didn't know what to say.

They remembered nothing of what had happened earlier that day.

"Where are we?" asked a little girl, as quiet as a mouse.

"This is heaven." declared a small boy.

"We're spending Christmas at God's house."

When what to their wondering eyes did appear,

But Jesus, Their Savior, the children gathered near.

He looked at them and smiled, and they smiled just the same.

Then He opened His arms and He called them by name.

And in that moment was joy, that only heaven can bring

Those children all flew into the arms of their King

And as they lingered in the warmth of His embrace,

One small girl turned and looked at Jesus' face.

And as if He could read all the questions she had

He gently whispered to her, "I'll take care of mom and dad."

Then He looked down on earth, the world far below

He saw all of the hurt, the sorrow, and woe

Then He closed His eyes and He outstretched His hand,

"Let My power and presence re-enter this land!"

"may this country be delivered from the hands of fools"

"I'm taking back my nation. I'm taking back my schools!"

then He and the children stood up without a sound.

come now my children, let me show you around."

Excitement filled the space, some skipped and some ran.

All displaying enthusiasm that only a small child can.

And i heard Him proclaim as He walked out of sight,

"In the midst of this darkness, I AM STILL THE LIGHT."

Written by Cameo Smith, Mt. Wolf, PA

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Advent Devotional: The Unplanned Wedding

The Unplanned Wedding That Scripture Doesn’t Mention
Luke 2:3-4
 All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee.

In Matthew, we last saw Joseph in Bethlehem. In Luke, Mary was in Ein Karem. Matthew tells us that when Joseph awoke from the dream in which he was instructed to wed Mary, “he did what the angel of the Lord commanded him” and took Mary home as his wife. The text presupposes, I believe, that this took place in Bethlehem. Yet Luke tells us they ended up in Nazareth; for, as Mary’s pregnancy drew to a close, a census required them to travel to Bethlehem. So, were they married in Bethlehem or Nazareth? In the companion book to these reflections, I suggest that after spending three months at Ein Karem with Elizabeth, Mary returned to Nazareth, Joseph joined her, and they were married in Nazareth in a “hurry up” wedding.

I officiated at the wedding of our oldest daughter, Danielle*, a couple of years ago. It was an exciting and emotional time. She invited us to join her in picking out flowers, planning the menu for the reception, and selecting her dress. Invitations, reservations, and a thousand other details went into the planning of the wedding, most of which were carried out by my wife and daughter. I had the joy of writing the check! The night of the rehearsal I was a wreck. I kept thinking back to the times when Danielle was little and I would dance with her in my arms; or the time she told me I was her hero; or the way she said she would love me “from here to Jupiter and back again.” And now I was giving her away. I still get emotional thinking about it.
We can be sure that Mary and Joseph’s wedding did not take place the way anyone had planned. The original plans would have been canceled and a hasty wedding and reception put together. Guests would have understood why the wedding date was moved up. They would have believed that Joseph had taken advantage of Mary, or that Mary and Joseph had been unable to control their passions. This would have been the gossip of the town and perhaps a source of embarrassment to Mary’s parents.

 Yet Mary and Joseph had done nothing wrong. In fact, they were models of faithfulness and devotion to God. They were obedient, and their obedience came at great personal cost. Yet others could not understand this.
Have you ever done something that you felt God was calling you to do but that caused others to question your motives, integrity, or actions? Or perhaps, you’ve had people gossip about you. If so, you are in good company. This surely would have been a part of Mary and Joseph’s story.

 The truth is, it is human nature to pass judgment on others, to share “juicy” gossip, and to assume the worst about others. Perhaps this story, and our own experiences, might lead us to recall the words of Jesus when he taught his followers to “take the log out of your own eye” before taking the splinter out of your neighbor’s eye. He taught them to “do not judge, so that you may not be judged.” And he told them, “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.”1 Is it possible these words of Jesus were shaped in part by the way people whispered about his mother when he was just a child?
Prayer:  Lord, help me not to judge others nor to participate in gossip. And help me to forgive when others have questioned my motives, my actions, or my heart. Amen.

1. See Matthew 7:1-5, 5-11

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

A Surprise Announcement

Have you heard the good news?  We are having a Christmas Eve Service at NRN on Monday December 24th at 5:00pm.  The elements of the service came together within hours of the Sunday morning worship last Sunday at NRN.  I could tell people were surprised and very pleased by the announcements. 

Sometimes the best things in life come in the form of a surprise or the unexpected. 

Here is an example:  This flash mob that took place within the last few days:

I hope you are blessed by this surprise! 

Advent Devotional: who is your Mary / Who is your Elizabeth?

Who is Your Mary?  /    Who is Your Elizabeth?

And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.  Luke 1:56

On the approach to the Church of the Visitation in Ein Karem, Israel, the hillsides are covered with olive trees. The church itself is built atop an ancient cistern where it is claimed Mary drew water for Elizabeth. The church celebrates the role these two women played in each other’s lives. Frescoes, mosaics, paintings, and sculptures abound showing Mary and Elizabeth together. Elizabeth was probably in her late fifties or early sixties when Mary came to visit and was in her sixth month of pregnancy. (She was beyond natural childbearing years, and it is implied in Luke that she only became pregnant by the miraculous intervention of God.) Mary was likely thirteen and was just beginning her first month of pregnancy.
Mary stayed with Elizabeth for the final three months of Elizabeth’s pregnancy. One can imagine Mary helping with things around the home, doing all the things Elizabeth may typically have done. Elizabeth undoubtedly found Mary a help both physically and emotionally. The two women shared in common unusual pregnancies that could only be explained as the act of God.

 Mary found great joy and comfort in being with her older cousin Elizabeth. Here was a motherly (or grandmotherly) figure who loved Mary, encouraged and mentored her, and helped her through those first three months of pregnancy. Each needed the other. Each was blessed by the other.
The Church of the Visitation is a celebration of women’s friendships, their sisterhood, and the close bonds that are possible when women care for one another. Those themes can be seen in the art adorning the building, such as a bronze sculpture of the two women, one barely showing her pregnancy and the other well along, that sits in the courtyard outside the church. I found it interesting to stand watching the pilgrims and tourists coming to visit. The vast majority were women. I observed a bus full of African women as they arrived, dressed colorfully and filled with laughter. They would look at the statue and then take each other’s hands, or embrace, and then you could see the love and friendship they shared. I was asked to come and take their pictures as they stood--smiling, laughing, sharing together--next to the statue of Mary and Elizabeth.

It struck me as I stood there that Elizabeth and Mary’s story points to the importance of having friendships that span generations. The older mentor the younger, and the younger encourage and bring vitality to the older. The older bring wisdom, the younger energy, dreams, and fresh perspectives.

This is important not just to women, but to men as well. I have had several older mentors through the years, men who encouraged me, invested in me, believed in me, and counseled me. I have had the privilege of seeking to encourage, befriend, and bless them as well. As I moved into my forties, I found myself being approached by younger pastors who were looking for mentors, and I became conscious of the fact that at some point our task is to invest in and encourage a new generation.
Among the women I know who have been amazing Elizabeths is a woman named Marty Mather. Marty is in her early eighties but shows no signs of slowing down. She teaches multiple Bible studies and corresponds with dozens or even hundreds of people. She is constantly pouring wisdom and encouragement into the lives of others.

 Among Marty’s gifts is baking the most delicious homemade bread you could ever eat. She invites groups of younger women to join her for bread-baking classes. After handing out her recipe and teaching her pupils how to prepare the dough, she has them leave it to rise, and during that time she gathers them in a circle and invites them to share their stories. Then she shares her own story, including the story of her deep Methodist faith.
Marty’s boundless energy comes from these younger women (and men) whom she mentors and encourages. She is blessed by these friendships. And those who sit under her tutelage find that they have an amazing treasure in her love, encouragement, and wisdom.

We all need an Elizabeth we can turn to for advice, wisdom, and encouragement. And we’re all called to be an Elizabeth for someone else--to invest in that person and pass on what we’ve learned. Do you have an Elizabeth? And who is the Mary you are mentoring?

Prayer: Lord, thank you for those older than I am who have invested in my life. Help me to encourage and bless those who are my seniors. But help me too, Lord, to bless and encourage those who are younger than I. Amen.

 Excerpted from:
The Journey: A Season of Reflections: Walking the Road to Bethlehem
Adam Hamilton

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Advent Devotional: Gentle Mary Laid Her Child

Gentle Mary Laid Her Child

"Gentle Mary Laid Her Child," a gentle hymn of Christmas, reminds us of each element in the Christmas story through its lovely verse. It is sometimes listed in the hymnals as a children's hymn.
Mary, the manger, angels, shepherds, wise men-each is briefly mentioned in tribute to the glorious incarnation. And yet, in its short verses, the hymn speaks not only of the baby born that Christmas day, but also of the King of Glory. Because of Jesus' miraculous birth, the King is no longer a stranger to the world; Instead, the world now praises his holy name.

With its longing for glamour and glory, our culture doesn't seem to understand humility very well. We talk about humility as though it were a good thing, but it seems to be the proud and powerful who really get ahead. From business to politics to entertainment, it's those who push their way into the spotlight who get our praise.

Jesus' humble birth stands in stark contrast to all this. While we yearn for better homes, he was born in a smelly stable. And while we seek the attention of the popular, God's angels sought the attention of simple shepherds-people who barely registered on the social ladder of their day.
"Gentle Mary laid her Child lowly in a manger." And so began the life of God on earth. Such a humble beginning that the songwriter went on to ask, "can He be the Savior?" And surely the people of Jesus' day asked this question too. How could a baby in a manger have more power than King Herod, who ruled from nearby palaces and fortresses?

Yet in his humility, Jesus did have more power than Herod. And in a culture where business gurus are admired and superstars are praised today, he’s still the humble King who really deserves our adoration.
In this Christmas season, let's reflect on Christ's humility. And when we feel tempted to seek praise for ourselves, or to give our praise to another, let's remember our carol's concluding words about the humble baby: "Praise His Name in all the earth, hail the King of glory!"

Copyright © 2011 Center for Church Music

Monday, December 17, 2012

Advent Devotional - Have we missed the idea

On December 17, 1903, Orville and Wilbur Wright made their first flight of an airplane at Kitty Hawk NC. On their 5th attempt, the plane under the control of Orville, embarked on a 12 second flight.

Wilbur rushed to the local telegraph office and sent the following message – WE HAVE FLOWN FOR 12 SECONDS - WE WILL BE HOME FOR CHRISTMAS!

 Upon receiving the telegram their sister, Katherine went to the newspaper office, told the editor of her brother’s new flying machine, and informed him, they would be home for Christmas, if he would like to set up an interview.

 He told her that was nice, and he would be sure to put something in the paper regarding the boys.

 On December 19th, the local paper placed the following headline on the 6th page of the paper: “WRIGHT BROTHERS HOME FOR CHRISTMAS”

 The most important story of the year – man’s first flight – and the editor missed it!

 I wonder if the same could be said about us when it comes to Christmas. Look all around us…

• The trees are decorated

• The music is festive

• The Season is Right – It is Christmas, and there are only 8 shopping days left!

In all of our rushing around, in all of our gift buying, in all the things we have to do during this season – HAVE WE MISSED THE IDEA – Jesus has come to earth!

Video from Jingle Jam: The Gift Wrappers

JINGLE JAM  was awesome this year.  One of the BIG highlights was the video prepared by the youth group. Thanks to Pastor Jordan for the rap he prepared.  Here it is:

Hope you enjoyed it!  PR

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Preparing for Worship on Sunday December 16 2012

On this Saturday evening I am sitting at my desk and preparing for a great worship time at NRN tomorrow.  This morning was Jingle Jam and it was awesome.  We plan to show a video prepared by the teens at church tomorrow.  If you live in the area - you will NOT want to miss this! 

Here is a preview of worship planned for tomorrow:

Followed by the lighting of the candles of the Advent Wreath.

Then lifting our voices in song:

During the time of prayer we will pause to remember the deadly shooting that took place this week.

Then we we share the announcements for the church family and worship by presenting our offerings to the Lord.  Yes - I have a short clip for the offering time ...

We will express worship in song as we give:

The Lord has given me a message for tomorrow.  I hope our people have enjoyed their time in the Word this week and will bring the promises of God they have found in the Bible to shout out to God!
Tomorrow - many people will leave the church different that when they arrived.  I am praying for and anticipating a visit from the Holy Spirit to rock our time together.  

Friday, December 14, 2012

Advent Devotional - A Different Kind of Christmas

A Different Kind of Christmas
by Sharon Jaynes
"Give and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measure to you." --Luke 6:38

Friend to Friend
Of all the Christmases that Mike Wekall remembers, his seventh stands out from all the rest. Mike was the fifth of six Wekall children. Like every child, Mike met December with the anticipation of new toys, freshly baked goodies, glittering decorations, and school vacation. But one week before Christmas, Mike’s parents called the children into the den.

"Kids, I’ve have some bad news for you," Mr. Wekall said, barely able to look his children in the eye. "As you know, things have been pretty tight at work this year. In fact, we are going to have to file bankruptcy, so we won’t have Christmas this year. I’m sorry. Maybe we can make it up to you next year." Then he quietly walked out of the room.

The children just sat there for a while in silence. Mike thought to himself, "What does he mean 'we won’t have Christmas'? Does that mean I’ve been bad and Santa isn’t going to come? And what is bankruptcy?"
It was a confusing time for little Mike, but one thing became perfectly clear on Christmas morning--Christmas had not come to the Wekall house. No presents were under a tree, and the aroma of a roasting turkey did not come from the kitchen. The family did, however, go off to church that crisp, cold morning. When they arrived at church, all the other children were sporting new clothes and chattering about what they had found under their trees.

"Hey, Mike, what’d you get?" one asked.
“Nothin'. We didn’t have Christmas at our house. We’re having a bankruptcy."
"What's wrong? Have you been too bad to get anything? Didn’t you even get a few switches?"
Feeling rather blue, the family of eight went home for a lunch of lima beans and hamhocs. About an hour later, the door bell rang. "Maybe it is Santa after all," Mike thought as he ran to the door.
Standing in the doorway wasn’t Santa, but it was the Bosky family, all ten of them. Each of the eight children had smiles on their faces and two gifts in their hands. Mr. and Mrs. Bosky held a turkey dinner with all the trimmings.
As it turned out, the eight Bosky children went home from church and told their parents about how the Wekalls weren’t having Christmas this year. Seeing how they had been so richly blessed, the children decided to pick two of their toys and wrap them up for the Wekalls. Mom and Dad joined in and brought gifts for the parents. Even though Mrs. Bosky had Christmas dinner all choreographed for her own dining room, she gathered up the food in boxes and baskets to share with a family who needed it more.
That was over forty years ago, but Mike still gets tears in his eyes when he shares this story. "It was the best Christmas I have ever had," he told me. "The Spirit of God showed me that Christmas wasn’t about getting presents but about giving and caring for others. It is about showing goodness toward other people. Every year, I tell this story to someone, because it exemplifies how Christ gave so freely of Himself for us."

Let's Pray:
Dear Lord, I have so much and I am surrounded by people who have so little. Show me someone I can help this Christmas. Open the eyes of my heart to see the needs of others. Make me an extension of Your lavish love. In Jesus' Name, amen


Today's Advent devotional is from the Girlfriends in God devotional ministry.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Advent Devotional - The Scandal of Pious People

The lowly God-man is the scandal of pious people and of people in general. This scandal is his historical ambiguity. The most incomprehensible thing for the pious is this man’s claim that he is not only a pious human being but also the Son of God. Whence his authority: “But I say to you” (Matt. 5:22) and “Your sins are forgiven” (Matt. 9:2). If Jesus’ nature had been deified, this claim would have been accepted. If he had given signs, as was demanded of him, they would have believed him. But at the point where it really mattered, he held back. And that created the scandal. Yet everything depends on this fact. If he had answered the Christ question addressed to him through a miracle, then the statement would no longer be true that he became a human being like us, for then there would have been an exception at the decisive point...

If Christ had documented himself with miracles, we would naturally believe, but then Christ would not be our salvation, for then there would not be faith in the God who became human, but only the recognition of an alleged supernatural fact. But that is not faith... Only when I forgo visible proof, do I believe in God.
The kingdom belongs to people who aren’t trying to look good or impress anybody, even themselves. They are not plotting how they can call attention to themselves, worrying about how their actions will be interpreted or wondering if they will get gold stars for their behavior. Twenty centuries later, Jesus speaks pointedly to the preening ascetic trapped in the fatal narcissism of spiritual perfectionism, to those of us caught up in boasting about our victories in the vineyard, to those of us fretting and flapping about our human weaknesses and character defects. The child doesn’t have to struggle to get himself in a good position for having a relationship with God; he doesn’t have to create a pretty face for himself; he doesn’t have to achieve any state of spiritual feeling or intellectual understanding. All he has to do is happily accept the cookies, the gift of the kingdom.

           Brennan Manning;   The Ragamuffin Gospel

 But we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.                                          1 Corinthians 1:23-25


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Advent Devotional: The Parable of the Shopper

My feet were tired, my hands cold, my arms exhausted from the weight of the packages, and it was beginning to snow. The bus was late. I kept rearranging my packages, trying to hold them in a different way in order to give my poor arms a rest. I still remember that day as if it were yesterday, and yet fifteen years have gone by. Nevertheless, when Christmas rolls around, I remember that day on the bus.
I was tired. I had been Christmas shopping all day long. When the bus finally arrived, it was packed with holiday shoppers in the same exhausted mood as I. I sank into the only vacant place, near the back, by a handsome gentleman. He politely helped me to situate my packages and even held some of them himself.

“My goodness," he said, "did you leave any merchandise still in the stores for the rest of us?"
"I don’t think so," I moaned. "Worst of all, I still haven’t made all of my purchases."

The woman in the seat behind us joined in my grief and added, "No, the worst thing is that the day after Christmas we will be carrying this same armload back to the store to exchange it."
Her comment brought a general chuckle from all those within earshot, including my seat mate. As the laughter subsided, he began in a quiet, melodious voice, deepened with experience, to teach me a lesson that I have never forgotten:

"Hear now the parable of the shopper," he said, speaking gently and indicating my packages. "A woman went forth to shop, and as she shopped, she carefully planned. Each child’s desires were considered. The hard-earned money was divided, and the many purchases were made with the pure joy and delight that is known only to the giver. Then the gifts were wrapped and placed lovingly under the tree. In eager anticipation she scanned each face as the gifts were opened."
"'What a lovely sweater,' said the eldest daughter, 'but I think I would prefer blue. I suppose I can exchange it?'

"'Thank you for the C.D. player, Mother. It’s just what I wanted,' said her son. And then aside, secretly to his sister, he continued, 'I told her I wanted the one with the automatic reverse and an extra speaker. I never get what I want!'
"The youngest child spoke out with the spoiled honesty of her age, 'I hate rag dolls! I wanted a china doll. I won't play with it!' And the doll, still in the box, was kicked under the couch."

"One gift still lay under the tree. The woman pointed it out to her husband. 'Your gift is still there.'
"'I'll open it when I have the time,' he stated. 'I want to get this bike put together first.'
"How sad it is," continued his soft, beautiful voice. "When gifts are not received in the same spirit they are given. To reject a thoughtful gift is to reject the loving sentiment of the giver himself. And yet, are we not all sometimes guilty of rejecting?"
He was talking not only to me, but to all of those on the bus. They had all gathered around. The bus was parked.
He took a present from my stack.
"This one," he said, holding it up and pretending to open the card, "could be to you." He pointed to a rough-looking, teenage boy in a worn denim jacket and pretended to read the gift card. "To you I give My life, lived perfectly, as an example so that you might see the pattern and live worthy to return and live with Me again. Merry Christmas from the Messiah."
"This one," he said, holding up a pure, white present, "is for you." He held out the gift to a worn-looking woman, who in earlier years must have been a real beauty. She read the card out loud and allowed her tears to slip without shame down her painted face. "My gift to you is repentance. This Christmas I wish you to know for certain that though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow. Signed, your Advocate with the Father."
"That isn’t all. No, here is a big, red package." he looked around the group and brought a ragged, unkempt, little child forward. "This package would be for you if He were here. The card would say, 'On this Christmas and always, My gift to you is love. From your brother, Jesus.'"
"One final gift," said my seat mate. "The greatest of all the gifts of God--Eternal life!"
He held our minds and our hearts. We were a hungry audience. Though our shopping had left us drained, now we were being filled by his words.

"How we receive these gifts, these precious gifts from the Babe of Bethlehem, is the telling point. Are we exchangers?" he asked. "Is there really anything else we would rather have? It is what we do with a gift long after we have opened it that shows our true appreciation."
With those words he was gone. That was fifteen years ago, only a wink in time. But not even an eternity could erase the sermon, or the man.

Family Moment

We hear so often the phrase "Jesus died for me" that sometimes we forget the purpose of salvation isn't just to be glad our souls are safe for eternity; it's to follow Jesus’s example--give ourselves to others. That's what the Scripture talks about in 2 Kings, and that’s what Christ did for us.
The truth is, we were saved from something for something.

As a family, you can create a giving experience by going to a homeless shelter or making sandwiches to pass out, and this is a good thing to do. But what if this year you prayed for God to send a giving experience? God is more than able to answer and would delight at your willingness to be a blessing in the life of another soul--or many souls--whom he loves.

An Advent Prayer
Our Father in heaven, thank you for being the gift that holds families together, even over time and distance. Is there someone I know who needs the present and the presence of Jesus in their home this Christmas? Is there a stranger? Please show me who. I want more than ever to give your love to those who need it. You gave yourself for me when I needed it. Help me to do the same. In the name of Jesus,  amen.

 Today's Advent reading is from 25 Days of Christmas by Greg Johnson