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Archive for the month “December, 2014”

Advent – Day 25: Take It Personally (Chris Francis)

It may not be a popular thought on Christmas Eve, but the very fact that Jesus came assumes something about us as individuals. It assumes we ares sinners in need of him coming. It assumes we are sinners in need of a Savior.
And that need never ends. We don’t pray a prayer one day in church and then have that need met once and for all. Yes, we are forgiven from our sins, but God’s love doesn’t leave as just forgiven. His love then goes to work on our hearts, saving us from the power that sin has over us, shaping and transforming us into the image of Christ.
So Christmas is a celebration of Christ’s Rescue Mission, and it is also a sobering indictment of our continual and constant and desperate need for his grace. We need Jesus every day to save us from our self-centered, self-exalting, self-glorifying flesh.
And so my encouragement is to take some time today to confess the areas of your life  that are still in need of his saving work, ways that your pride and selfishness still manifest (maybe they manifested this week while shopping for gifts…or maybe they will manifest tomorrow while hanging out with your not-so-favorite family members).
Now I know you may be thinking, “But won’t thinking about my struggle with sin make me depressed? I don’t wanna be depressed on Christmas Eve!”
Not if you know Jesus.
Confessing our current struggles with sin, and then confessing Jesus’ grace over those struggles, humbles us to the point where we can take Jesus’ coming personally.
And when we can take his coming personally, then we are filled with a renewed gratefulness for what he has done, with a renewed grace for others’ struggles with sin, and with a renewed confidence that Jesus will finish the work he came here to do in our hearts.
And that is definitely NOT depressing.
So take some time today to take it personally.
And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns. (Philippians 1:6). 
Amen.

Advent – Day 24: In the Middle of God’s Plan (Jill Cubbison)

Hello Friends! I wanted to share something with you. (If you have a minute…) Not sure if many of you know this but I was pregnant with twins between Liam (4) & Audrey (1). They were “monoamniotic” (in one sac) & their umbilical cords got tangled, cut off their oxygen & blood supply & they died when I was 12 weeks along. We were heartbroken. I felt alone, forgotten, I wondered where was God in all this and what’s the point of prayer etc. I’ve since experienced God’s love and comfort and healing, but the sadness still hits me sometimes.

I was getting ready for work a few days ago and just thinking about the crazy story of Mary having her baby in a freakin’ STABLE! Then I started to realize the reality of her experience. We hear, “Jesus was born in a manger and wrapped in swaddling clothes”…beautiful. There were angels singing and Wisemen who brought gifts. He was snuggled up next to a beautiful white, gentle lamb to keep him warm…at least that’s what’s in all the manger scenes. But, I have a feeling that is not how it all went down.

First of all, it all started with someone telling Mary that she had to take a trip to Bethlehem because of this Census….and the only way there was a DONKEY…and she was super pregnant. I imagine she was at the very least not happy and probably nervous. So, after a ridiculously long, and painful DONKEY ride…she gets to Bethlehem. (how would you feel if someone told you that you have to ride for DAYS on a DONKEY at 9 mos pregnant?!) And she’s about to have this baby. The SON OF GOD. The one an Angel appeared to her AND Joseph to tell them that this was legit and this baby will save the world. Surely God has made arrangements for His son’s birth.

No rooms? Excuse me? Guys…really think about this. Remember when you had your babies or when your babies were born? This is not a beautiful “manger”….it is a STABLE where the animals stay. It smells like poop. Your “bed” is sticky hay. Finally when your baby is born…your tiny newborn, minutes old baby….the best place you can put him is a feeding trough…which we call a manger. At least you put some hay down to make it “soft” for him. :o/

Really imagine this experience for Mary.

This is what I feel like God taught me in that moment, while I was getting ready for work. “Don’t you think May felt abandoned and forgotten about?” Like God did not plan this…where was He in this whole birth thing? She’s at the end of this journey to birth the SAVIOR OF THE WORLD and this is how it all ends. This is the climax of the story? A stinky, uncomfortable animal stable with baby Jesus lying in a feeding trough because God didn’t even arrange for them to have a room?

We look for “signs” that God is in something. Mary would have felt good if God had miraculously arranged for there to be ONE last room left…just for them…and she’d say, “See how great my God is? He did this!” But there were no signs. Only pain, discomfort and a feeling of being forsaken.

But this was exactly God’s plan. Jesus had to be born this way…it was God’s plan to save the ENTIRE HUMAN RACE. Jesus was born humbly, in the lowest of low places….and this begins His amazing journey of REALNESS. Mary wasn’t forgotten…God HAD made arrangements for her. She had to trust Him and know that he is GOD.

And then God gently reminded me that, although we see this amazing story of Jesus birth, it may have felt less amazing for Mary…a real woman in labor feeling forgotten. But God was in it the whole time. And in my pain and sorrow…in my deep sadness and heartbreak…in my confusion and anger…God is there. The whole time. Whether behind the scenes or moving obviously for me to see…He is there…and He never left me. Even in the darkest time; He was right beside me. I still don’t understand it all or why we go though things in life. God didn’t promise an “easy” life as a Christian…he promised that he would NEVER LEAVE US OR FORSAKE US. And through our pain and hard times, can come great joy.

Have you felt forgotten, alone, heartbroken, angry, confused? You are not alone…God is here and sent His son as the ultimate sacrifice and gift. Accepting the gift of Jesus is accepting eternal life in Heaven and true FREEDOM. You will experience got’s amazing love and peace…and it’s awesome. Even when we don’t understand, that peace and joy from God shines through and carries us through our hardest times. THIS is the story of Christmas.

Advent – Day 23: Don’t Drown Out Jesus This Christmas (Rick Warren)

Dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41b-42 NLT)

You and I love to overcrowd our lives. We overbook, overspend, overestimate, and we often walk around tired all the time. As a result, God’s truth often doesn’t get the chance to blossom in our lives.

Too often God teaches you a kernel of truth — maybe through your morning Bible study or a Sunday sermon — and you think you need to do something about it, but almost immediately it’s crowded out of your life and forgotten.

The truth isn’t crowded out of your life because of evil. Often, good things in our lives crowd out the truth that God wants to plant in us. To fulfill God’s destiny for your life, you likely don’t have to do more; you have to do less.

Take Jesus’ friends Mary and Martha for example. One day they invited Jesus over for dinner. Mary spent her evening listening to Jesus. Martha, on the other hand, was busy being a hostess and worrying about the hors d’oeuvres and whether everything was in its place.

Martha got upset that she had to do all the work while her sister got to sit with Jesus. That’s when Jesus said to her: “Dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41b-42 NLT).

When your life is over, only one thing will really matter: Did you get to know the Son of God? The extra Christmas presents you were able to buy because of your long hours at the office won’t matter. All the time you spent preparing the perfect holiday meal won’t matter either. But whether you spent your time getting to know Jesus will matter for ages and ages to come.

So enjoy the Christmas season. Wrap the presents. Prepare your home in a festive way. Make memories with your family. But don’t let this Christmas pass without spending some time at Jesus’ feet. Long after everything else fades from this Christmas, worshiping Jesus is all that will truly last.

Advent – Day 19: God With Us

A great video devotional.

God With Us.

God at Work in Maple Leaf This Christmas Season (Pam Hess)

maple leaf pic

 

The weekly homework club at Maple Leaf has taken on a whole new look this month as we celebrate the Christmas season with them.

On Saturday, Dec. 6th many of us participated in a two-part Christmas party inside the clubhouse. With decorations and Christmas tree in place we invited all the children from the community to join us for an afternoon of games, crafts and desserts!

Our first party, for the middle school and high school students, included a beautiful mason jar craft that they got to take home as a gift, decorating and eating a giant Christmas cookie, and a fun game involving throwing marshmallows through a wreath [and at Jerry!]. A Christmas letter was read that explained the true meaning of Christmas and a gift bag was handed to each student on their way out, blessing them with a yearly Bible devotion. This group enjoyed an added surprise as Officer Kelly and one of his partners from the K9 unit came inside to do a demonstration with Max. While the kids were a little nervous at first, they soon realized that Max was well controlled and learned more about how the K9 unit works here in Brick.

The younger kids showed up early, of course, and had to wait patiently outside until it was their turn. They heard the Legend of the Candy Cane and then participated in ‘Pin the Star on the Tree’ as well as making a Christmas ornament that gave the Gospel message. Around the Christmas tree they all had the opportunity to participate in handing an ornament on the tree as they heard the message of Jesus’ birth and they also decorated and ate a giant Christmas cookie. They too were given a gift bag with a yearly Bible devotion after enjoying some desserts and hot chocolate.

On Friday, Dec. 12th the homework club had their first bus trip to Grace Bible Church. Twenty-eight families, a total of 70 children, enjoyed watching ‘Christmas on Silver Pond’ put on by the Agape FaithWorks Homeschool Co-op. What a wonderful evenings for the families as they not only saw a beautiful play, but also enjoyed many great desserts and then received huge gift bags filled with presents [that their parents had signed up for]. The mom’s also received a gift bag filled with gift cards that they can spend at local establishments. 

God is at work in the Maple Leaf community and we have so much to celebrate this Christmas season!! Thank you for your prayers and participation!!

Advent – Day 16: The Little Drummer Boy In All Of Us (Jonathan Parnell)

The Little Drummer Boy in All of Us

The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. (Acts 17:24–25)

We know about the shepherds keeping watch by night, and then the magi from the east who came to Jerusalem. We know about the innkeeper who told Mary and Joseph there wasn’t any room, and we know about Herod’s malicious edict to kill the male babies of Bethlehem.

But then there’s the little drummer boy, the fictitious character of the popular Christmas song first recorded in 1955. This drummer is, of course, not in the biblical story, but his presence has become legendary in our modern Christmas imagination. And we can learn from him.

So the Song Goes

At a casual listen, though, the song is so simple, and clouded with so many pa-rum-pa-pum-pums, that it’s not immediately obvious what’s going on.

The song opens, as the drummer boy narrates, with the magi recruiting him to join their journey to see Jesus. “Come, they [the magi] told me . . . a newborn King to see . . . our finest gifts to bring.”

Apparently, the drummer boy agrees to come along, and the lyrics fast-forward to him gathered around the young Jesus, acknowledging his poverty, admitting he has no gift to bring that’s really fit for a king. But he does have this drum. And so he asks, “Shall I play for you?” To which Mary nods her approval, and then the drummer boy plays, and plays his best. Then Jesus smiles. Pa rum pa pum pum — which is clearly French for felix navidad.

Me and My Drum

At this point, even though we know this isn’t historical, we know it could have happened. In fact, in different forms, this sort of scenario has played over and over for thousands of years. Worshipers of Jesus (like the magi) compel their neighbors (like the drummer boy) to consider Jesus — to come and see him, as it were. And when the neighbors do, if they would believe, a moment happens when they realize their bankruptcy is exposed. They see Jesus and comprehend his glory, and then they look at themselves: But I am broken. I am empty and poor. I’ve got nothing to bring this King that even comes close to representing the honor that is due him. All I have is this drum.

It starts this way for all of us, you see. I was that little drummer boy, and so were you. Before we can be the magi inviting others to come along, we’re the ones who feel completely inadequate, and in one sense, we always will. If we would see Jesus, and understand his significance, we can’t help but sense our own frailty. All we have is this drum. What in the world could ever be enough for this King? We’ve just got this drum, so we ask, do you want that? Do you want this stupid drum? And he says, Yes, bring your nothing, play the drum.

And so we play it for him, and we play our best for him, declaring that we are small, that we are weak, that he doesn’t need us in the least, but that with all that we are, with every little speck of nothing we have, we are giving it to him. To him.

We know that this King has no lack, that he doesn’t need anything, but that we,because of him, are absolutely, completely, wonderfully his. Me and my drum —all his.

Advent – Day 13: The Birth of the Ancient of Days (John Piper)

Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” —John 18:37

This is a great Christmas text even though it comes from the end of Jesus’s life on earth, not the beginning.

The uniqueness of his birth is that he did not originate at his birth. He existed before he was born in a manger. The personhood, the character, the personality of Jesus of Naz- areth existed before the man Jesus of Nazareth was born.

The theological word to describe this mystery is not cre- ation, but incarnation. The person—not the body, but the essential personhood of Jesus—existed before he was born as man. His birth was not a coming into being of a new per- son, but a coming into the world of an infinitely old person.

Micah 5:2 puts it like this, 700 years before Jesus was born: “But you, O Bethlehem Ephrathah, who are too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel, whose coming forth is from of old, from ancient days.”

The mystery of the birth of Jesus is not merely that he was born of a virgin. That miracle was intended by God to wit- ness to an even greater one—namely, that the child born at Christmas was a person who existed “from of old, from ancient days.”

Advent – Day 11: Savor the Wait (Hunter Hall)

I am not good at waiting. In fact, I can’t stand surprises. If I know something is coming, I want it right then. Obviously this trait is exposed every year at Christmas. Growing up, I remember looking for—and sometimes finding—my Christmas presents each year. I was a joy thief. I was so discontent in the waiting that I missed the beauty in the anticipation of what was to come.

For centuries, the Israelites waited and waited for their Messiah to come. Isaiah prophesied that a child would be born to a virgin some 700 years before Christ was born. That is a lot of waiting! Day after day, year after year, the people of God sat in the unknown of when their Savior would come. I don’t know how they made it. If the Israelites were anything like me, I imagine them asking daily when the Messiah would come. “When will our Deliverer come rescue us?” “When will the Child be born who will carry the government on His shoulders?” But they waited. Like watchmen who wait in the darkness for the dawn of morning, they anticipated His coming.

And then, in the middle of an unassuming night, the sky lit up with the glory of the Lord. A symphony of angels delivered the great proclamation to the shepherds in the field, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” The time had finally arrived. The prophecy was fulfilled. Emmanuel had come.

So where does this leave us today? It is easy to look back at the Israelites and not give a second thought to their longing for the Messiah to come. We understand that Christ came. We know that He lived a perfect life on this earth. We know that He died a horrific death. We are confident that He was raised on the third day. We know that He sits at our Father’s right side. But I think we would be wise to enter into the longing they felt—because Christ is coming again.

Anticipation for the Lord’s return should be in our hearts daily. Our prayers should be filled with requests for the Lord to come rescue us. As we share the hope of Christ with the lost, there should be urgency in our voices, knowing that at any moment the King could return. My hope is that we would be a people who are settled in the assurance that Jesus is coming again. But I pray that, as we wait, we would do so with joyful expectation in our step.

We have something before us to look forward to that is even bigger than Christmas. We have something to set our minds and hearts on that is greater than presents. Our Deliverer is coming for us!

Advent – Day 10: The Advent of Humility (Tim Keller)

Innumerable Christmas devotionals point out the humble circumstances of Jesus’ birth—among shepherds, in a crude stable, with a feed trough for a bassinet. When Jesus himself tried to summarize why people should take up the yoke of following him, he said it was because he was meek and humble (Matt. 11:29). Seldom, however, do we explore the full implications of how Jesus’ radical humility shapes the way we live our lives every day.

Humility is crucial for Christians. We can only receive Christ through meekness and humility (Matt. 5:3, 5; 18:3-4). Jesus humbled himself and was exalted by God (Phil. 2:8-9); therefore joy and power through humility is the very dynamic of the Christian life (Luke 14:11; 18:14; 1 Pet. 5:5).

The teaching seems simple and obvious. The problem is that it takes great humility to understand humility, and even more to resist the pride that comes so naturally with even a discussion of the subject.

We are on slippery ground because humility cannot be attained directly. Once we become aware of the poison of pride, we begin to notice it all around us. We hear it in the sarcastic, snarky voices in newspaper columns and weblogs. We see it in civic, cultural, and business leaders who never admit weakness or failure. We see it in our neighbors and some friends with their jealousy, self-pity, and boasting.

And so we vow not to talk or act like that. If we then notice “a humble turn of mind” in ourselves, we immediately become smug—but that is pride in our humility. If we catch ourselves doing that we will be particularly impressed with how nuanced and subtle we have become. Humility is so shy. If you begin talking about it, it leaves. To even ask the question, “Am I humble?” is to not be so. Examining your own heart, even for pride, often leads to being proud about your diligence and circumspection.

Christian humility is not thinking less of yourself; it is thinking of yourself less, as C. S. Lewis so memorably said. It is to be no longer always noticing yourself and how you are doing and how you are being treated. It is “blessed self-forgetfulness.”

Humility is a byproduct of belief in the gospel of Christ. In the gospel, we have a confidence not based in our performance but in the love of God in Christ (Rom. 3:22-24). This frees us from having to always be looking at ourselves. Our sin was so great, nothing less than the death of Jesus could save us. He had to die for us. But his love for us was so great, Jesus was glad to die for us.

Grace, Not Goodness

We are on slippery ground when we discuss humility, because religion and morality inhibit humility. It is common in the evangelical community to talk about one’s worldview—a set of basic beliefs and commitments that shape the way we live in every particular. Others prefer the term “narrative identity.” This is a set of answers to the questions, “Who am I? What is my life all about? What am I here for? What are the main barriers keeping me from fulfillment? How can I deal with those barriers?”

There are two basic narrative identities at work among professing Christians. The first is what I will call the moral-performance narrative identity. These are people who in their heart of hearts say, I obey; therefore I am accepted by God. The second is what I will call the grace narrative identity. This basic operating principle is, I am accepted by God through Christ; therefore I obey.

People living their lives on the basis of these two different principles may superficially look alike. They may sit right beside one another in the church pew, both striving to obey the law of God, to pray, to give money generously, to be good family members. But they are doing so out of radically different motives, in radically different spirits, resulting in radically different personal characters.

Advent – Day 6: Christmas Quarrels and the Incarnation of Christ (Matt Younger)

Hope marks the Christmas season as Christians celebrate the humility of God in the incarnation of Jesus. But let’s be realistic: The pervasive hope afforded in the gospel won’t be the basis of every family gathering in December.

The holiday gathers a cross section of bloodlines and legal relatives alike. Some we might like more than others, sharing space and unorthodox amounts of time. A season built to celebrate the “others-centered” love of Christ can be choked by unresolved tension that exists within families. Christmas has a way of spotlighting hearts through the family dynamic. Blemishes are exposed. Annoyances and resentments are inclined to bubble over, viewing others by past indiscretions. Conflict can trump celebration among us. With this potential for family strife around the corner, how might we prepare ourselves to exhibit the true hope for Christmas?

The practical book of James is timely as we consider interacting with our families over the holidays. “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you” (Jas. 4:1). James’ reminder is that the problems among us begin within us. Our presumptions dictate the way we expect others to act. This isn’t to say that every strain in your family falls squarely on your shoulders, as legitimate suffering is often the result of another’s sin toward us. But James warns us that we can be more of a contributing component to broken relationships than we realize.

The crafty serpent loves us to settle on our problems being everyone else’s fault. But the tension in your family dynamic, things you write off as others’ shortcomings, might actually originate within you. Think about this. Passion is derived from the word “hedonon,” from which we get hedonism – the philosophical systems where personal pleasure is the chief end. Our flesh fights for primacy, to control people to be and act a certain way. Are you prone toward annoyance when you’re with family? Ask the Lord for clarity so that you’re not explaining away your dysfunctional family only by their faults. A posture of only seeing the problems of others and being bothered by them misses the profound implications of Jesus’ incarnation – our truest reason to celebrate Christmas with those we love.

Hope persists in the Scriptures amid the incriminating exposure of human motivation. He saw the finger-pointing and self-righteousness in the garden. He sees us, too. Even with the knowledge of every wayward thought in human history, Jesus still comes to rescue us. He overcomes the severed relationship brought on by our own resentment and selfish, blatant disregard toward Him. He breaks through in full divinity and humanity, giving all of Himself to redeem us. He initiates the unmerited favor that saves us from the worst of ourselves.

May the hope of the gospel – the forgiving love of Christ – flow vertically from the heavens and horizontally out of your heart. May those most likely to annoy you be captivated by God’s grace through you.

Ask the Lord to do more in these long hours with your family than you ever thought possible. James reminds us that we don’t have because we don’t ask, or we ask for the wrong reasons (Jas. 4:3). Ask the Lord for help in seeing yourself and others rightly. Ask Him to bless you and keep you in any hardship. He is an eternally good Father, and we are forever His children.

Remember the purpose of the Incarnation – that God Himself would renew all things, including annoying family members with really bad histories. May the Lord change hearts, starting with ours.

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