Archives For Christmas

By Autumn Wall

Christmas. The season of joy. Jesus’s birthday. It’s right around the corner!

As believers, we know the real reason for the season is Jesus. This is the day we celebrate our Savior coming to earth to begin his journey to the cross which will give us freedom from sin and shame eternally. But the chaos of the season can overshadow the real reason we celebrate and distract us from the very thing we were put on this earth to do: tell his story.

This Christmas, will you be intentional to share Jesus everywhere you go? Here are some fresh ideas to keep you focused on the gospel:

• Buy some clear or blank ornaments and decorate them with your favorite Scripture verse. Keep a box of them in your car and give them away to people you encounter—at the gas station, grocery store, your kid’s school program, on a family walk, etc.

• Get a stack of invitation cards from your church (or make some yourself) to invite people to your church’s Christmas Eve service or program. So many people are willing to attend a holiday event who might never go to a “church service.” Who are you inviting?

• Host a neighborhood Christmas tea. Invite your neighbors to stop by your home just to celebrate the season together for a few minutes. Present each attendee with a small gift, card, and/or invitation to your church or small group.

• Take time to train your kids how to tell people about Jesus. It can be as simple as telling their teachers and friends that we celebrate Christmas because God came down to us and made a way for us to know him.

It’s simple in this season to share Jesus, but it’s also simple to forget to share him. How will you share him everywhere you go this Christmas season?

Autumn Wall, online at autumnwall.com, is an author, speaker, worship leader, pastor’s wife, and mom of three in Indianapolis.

God and sinners reconciled

ib2newseditor —  December 25, 2017

Even now God is at work, drawing sinners to himself

Reconciled

Michelangelo lay on his back 17 years painting the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, paint dripping on his face as if it were a drop cloth. The result was a masterpiece, and at its center this moment of reconciliation: God reaching down to Adam. In the Second Adam, we see God reaching down to man, not at his creation, but for his salvation.

“So it is written, The first man Adam became a living being; the last Adam became a life-giving spirit.”
– (1 Cor. 15:45)

Hark! the herald angels sing,
“Glory to the newborn King!”
Peace on earth, and mercy mild,
God and sinners reconciled

At Christmastime, the familiar refrain echoes in our churches, our stereos, even our shopping malls. It’s so familiar, in fact, that the magnitude of the concepts in Charles Wesley’s hymn may be easy to overlook. Even at Christmas.

God and sinners, reconciled. Listen up, the angels say. Lend an ear. This is big news.

Wesley’s original intent was to set his “Hymn for Christmas Day” to a slower, more solemn tune. He also wrote verses we don’t sing today, including one in particular that is steeped in imagery of dark and light, of sin and holiness, of the differences between us and Christ.

Wesley’s verses aren’t very Christmas-y, at least not in a tinsel and trees, lights and presents kind of way. But it’s easy to imagine it sung in a hushed stable, long after everyone should be asleep, when the import of what’s just happened is becoming ever more clear.

Come, desire of nations, come,
Fix in us thy humble home;
Rise, the woman’s conquering seed,
Bruise in us the serpent’s head.

Now display thy saving power,
Ruin’d nature now restore;
Now in mystic union join
Thine to ours, and ours to thine.

The “mystic union” Wesley describes is at work every time a sinner turns to Jesus. We’re reconciled to him in one sense of the word—a broken relationship is repaired—but there’s more.

Our purposes are also aligned with his. Our very nature is back in step with our Creator’s.

Hark indeed.

Once empty, now full
Matt Mevert and his wife, Andrea, grew up going to church. In fact, they went to the same church. They were married there and raising their family there, until recently, when something shifted.

“I started to realize that there was something missing, but I don’t even think I realized it before,” said Matt, who owns an auto shop in Steeleville.

The Meverts came to a place in their lives where they realized worshiping God and praying to him could be personal and dynamic—that they could have a relationship with him.

They were baptized Dec. 10 at Steeleville Baptist Church in front of their new church family and their three sons.

For while we were still helpless, at the right time, Christ died for the ungodly (Rom. 5:6, CSB).

“All around us, we are surrounded by people who have a God-sized hole in their hearts,” said Scott Foshie, the Meverts’ pastor. “We are all made to enjoy a relationship with him, but our sin has separated us and we are enslaved by it.”

But God proves his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8).

For Matt and Andrea, a host of factors led to their decision to follow Christ. Their oldest son joined a Bible study and started asking questions about the Scriptures. They attended a summer revival and felt God moving them to make a new commitment to him. And they started studying the Bible.

“At that point, you can’t get enough of it,” Mevert said of the Bible. “You start studying and making opportunities to learn more all the time.”

How much more then, since we have now been declared righteous by his blood, will we be saved through him from wrath. For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, then how much more, having been reconciled, will we be saved by his life (Rom. 5:9-10).

“In Matt’s case, while he grew up in church, he realized that even though he knew a lot about God, he didn’t know God personally,” Pastor Foshie said. “He was lacking the experience of being born again and experiencing the saving power of knowing Jesus.

“The Holy Spirit revealed Matt’s need to be born again, and he responded in simple faith.”

And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received this reconciliation (Rom. 5:11).

“Without Jesus, our lives are empty and meaningless,” Foshie said. “Those of us who know him need to use the Christmas season (and every season) to offer the Good News that we can come to Christ and truly be reconciled to him.”

Mild he lays his glory by,

Born that man
no more may die.

Born to raise the sons of earth,

Born to give them second birth.

Hark!

Partners in reconciliation
In her work at Angels’ Cove Maternity Center, Carla Donoho sees people in need of reconciliation. With their families, and with God. But it often doesn’t come easily.

“Accepting the love of a Heavenly Father is foreign and difficult when many have no father in their lives or the ones they have do not represent love,” said Donoho, who directs Angels’ Cove, a ministry of Baptist Children’s Home and Family Services.

“For those who have come from difficult circumstances, either from their own doing or acts of someone toward them, seeing the love of God through his people is a miracle.”
Apostle Paul describes that miracle in 2 Corinthians, and gives a clear directive to those who have experienced Christ’s reconciliation.

Everything is from God, who has reconciled us to himself through Christ and has given us the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18).

“Nothing thrills me more than to see one of ‘ours’ come to know Jesus as the loving Savior who has given himself for them,” Donoho said. “Those who feel so unloved, rejected, and unwanted realize they are a child of the True King. This is true reconciliation.”

Scott Foshie heard the message of reconciliation at nine years old from his grandmother, Lois, when she was suffering from cancer. Even if she lost the battle, she told him, she knew she would be with Jesus because she had given her life to him, and he had forgiven her sin.

“When she told me that she hoped I had that kind of relationship with Jesus too, I began to think,” Foshie recounted. “That was when I realized that while I knew facts about God, I didn’t really know him. I needed to begin a personal relationship with Jesus.”

The ministry of reconciliation is at work whenever a Lois or a Carla Donoho or a Pastor Scott or a Matt Mevert shares the work of Christ in their own lives.

That is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and he has committed the message of reconciliation to us (2 Cor. 5:19).

At the manger, God extended reconciliation through his son, Jesus. On the cross, the offer of reconciliation is completed through Jesus’s death for the world’s sins. Charles Wesley married two holy days—Christmas and Easter—and the reconciliation seen in both with another of his hymns for Advent, “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus.”

Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.

Israel’s strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.

-Meredith Flynn

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Springfield | Ten years ago, the Springfield Nativity Scene Committee sponsored a privately funded display depicting the birth of Jesus Christ at the rotunda of the Illinois State Capitol. The first display of its kind in any state Capitol, the nativity scene has become a Springfield tradition in the decade since, and has been followed by similar displays in 15 other states.

Julie Zanoza, Chair Woman of the SNSC, opened this year’s ceremony Nov. 28 by reminding the audience of the two-fold purpose of SNSC’s mission: “We want to be able to celebrate the birth of Jesus, as well as demonstrate the constitutional right we have to publicly meet and celebrate his birth.”

Several other guests spoke at the dedication, representing the Thomas More Society, a law firm specializing in religious liberty issues; the Catholic Diocese of Springfield; and Hope Chapel, a Nazarene congregation in Lincoln. State Senator Sam McCann (R-Plainview) also addressed the hour-long gathering attended by around 50 people.

Greg Wooten, pastor of Hope Chapel, described the manger scene as too small for a savior. But, he said, “In a weirdly wonderful point of view, God made that small little stable big enough for the whole world to come to Jesus.”

Bernie Lutchmann, president of Business Men in Christ of Springfield, opened the gathering in prayer after reading the biblical account of John the Baptist’s birth in Luke 1.

“We had very good attendance this year,” Lutchmann said after the ceremony, “But we’re even more excited that 15 other states have adopted our idea too….And we hope that someday, the nativity scene will be displayed in all 50 of our U.S. State Capitols.”

-Story and photos by Andrew Woodrow

Keep Christmas alive

ib2newseditor —  December 29, 2016

pouring-teaIt feels so wonderful! The spirit of Christmas adds oomph to life. We live in anticipation and we’re even nice to strangers. We become very intentional about giving to others.

But as we turned the calendar page to December 26, did that Christmas spirit fade? As you pack up those Christmas decorations, consider these five simple reminders to help keep that spirit of joy and generosity at the forefront all year.

1. Live expectantly. Anticipation is at a high during Christmas, but a sense of expectancy is a good thing all year long. It keeps us on our toes, helps us use time wisely, and reminds us to lean on God. So, live with enthusiasm every day of the year. “Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant” (Romans 12:11-12a MSG).

2. Be extra nice to strangers. Are you kinder to total strangers at Christmas? Your job as a Christian is to be God’s ambassador, representing him with your every word and deed. Take your ambassador job seriously all year long. Be nice to strangers.

3. Practice a “shoebox continuum.” Wasn’t it awesome to stuff gifts in shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child or backpacks for Appalachian children? Don’t stop. Each month this year, gift a carefully prepared backpack or box to a local child in extraordinary need. Include a “God loves you” note.

4. Engage in better benevolence. Use Christmas ministry projects as a springboard to yearlong generosity. For example, instead of a give-and-run delivery of gifts or dinner for a local needy family, make a plan to show God’s love to them all year. Get to know them. Listen to their story. Invite them to church and welcome them. Pray with them. Introduce them to Jesus.

5. Smile freely. The Christmas season lends itself to joy. Joy isn’t seasonal for a Christian. It radiates from inside, and it’s there on happy days and desperate days, on New Year’s Day and Groundhog Day and every other day of the year. Radiate the joy of Jesus in non-December months.

The “spirit of Christmas” is not a December event. It’s a Christian’s lifestyle and mission. It’s our everyday marching orders from Christ. Exude the true Christmas spirit—God’s Spirit—as you live with joy, expectancy, love, and generosity.

© Diana Davis, dianadavis.org

Prince of Peace

ib2newseditor —  December 19, 2016
12-5-16-statehouse-nativity

In the crèche at the Illinois Capitol building, a baby Jesus figurine reaches out with the promise of hope to passersby who mostly keep moving to get their business done.

In a world of chaos, we need peace to reign again. How is it possible?

Henry was despondent. His country was divided. His countrymen were at odds. Angry arguments had led to all-out war. And his son had joined the Army.

“In despair I bowed my head,” he wrote, describing the depth of his anguish. “There is no peace on earth,” he said, “For hate is strong, and mocks the song Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Perhaps it wasn’t unusual at the time for a man to express himself in verse, but with a son in battle and his wife recently deceased, it seems an odd time to opine on peace. But that’s what Henry did.

“It was as if an earthquake rent The hearth-stones of a continent,” he wrote of the breadth of the national suffering. It wasn’t supposed to be this way, not in his America. This great angry gash “made forlorn the households born Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

So much for the forefathers’ intended peace.

Loyal to the Union, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow ascribed this national violation to Southern aggression in a verse not included in our hymnals today:

“Then from each black, accursed mouth

The cannon thundered in the South,

And with the sound The carols drowned

Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Longfellow’s poem, written at Christmas in 1863, became an anthem for people who desperately needed an understanding of their wartime devastation. Was it to be to be attributed to human failure? Unbridged aggression? The natural consequence of sin? Or was it the judgment of God? The people took sides, brother against brother, and a nation at war with itself, in the middle of moral downfall, wondered, Where is this peace we were promised—our constitutional commitment and our biblical hope? Where is God in this unrestrained, unprecedented mess?

The poet drew images in sharp contrast: the ringing of cast-iron bells in church belfreys and the roaring of cast-iron cannons on farms-turned-battlefields. If the poem ended there, there would be no hope, for Longfellow or for us.

An uneasy peace
Thanksgiving 2016 may go down as the holiday that almost wasn’t (and similarly we fear for Christmas). Psychologists were advising families to avoid discussion of politics after the tumultuous and divisive election. The foment that was reported from workplaces and universities and city streets was likely to spill over into family gatherings as political debate became festering, destructive argument. Every family has at least one person who voted for the “wrong” candidate. Those who managed to keep their mouths shut at work would have little reason to hold back with their relatives. “Just don’t talk about it,” the Dr. Phil’s warned, for the sake of the peace.

But peace, by definition, demands reconciliation. A truce only promises a cessation of aggression, but that may not necessarily produce long-lasting, attitude-transforming, life-preserving peace.

Can there be peace after Clinton, peace past Trump? And beyond American politics, in this troubled year will there be peace in Latin America after Castro’s half-century grip on his nation (and ours)? For Aleppo divided down the middle by a narrow demilitarized zone that draws fire from both sides? For Syrian refugees still fleeing ISIS and Assad and for war zones in West Africa? And for persecuted believers in China, North Korea, Indonesia, and all corners of the world?

The fabled Christmas truce of 1914 seems so attractive right now.

Pope Benedict XV recommended in early December of that year that fighting be stopped to observe Christmas. Though the Great War was only five months old, French and German soldiers on both sides laid down their weapons and at many locations, it is told, entered the no-man’s land between their battle lines calling “Merry Christmas!”

“First the Germans would sing one of their carols and then we would sing one of ours,” British rifleman William Graham later wrote, “until when we started up ‘O Come, All Ye Faithful,’ the Germans immediately joined in singing the same hymn to the Latin words Adeste Fideles. And I thought, well, this is really a most extraordinary thing—two nations both singing the same carol in the middle of a war.”

Enemy soldiers swapped packets of cigarettes and plum puddings, played soccer together in at least one location, and generally enjoyed a day of peace. In all, up to 100,000 troops, about two-thirds of the battle forces, participated in this “short peace in a terrible war” as summarized in a Time magazine account. Some troops used the day to retrieve the bodies of their fallen comrades and give them a proper burial.

The next day, the shooting resumed.

If we may borrow Longfellow’s words, “The world revolved from night to day…” in the stanza that precedes the poet’s headlong plunge into desolation, but there was no voice, no chime, no chant sublime, only the tinny rat-a-tat of gunfire—in cities across France a century ago, as in Paris and elsewhere with recent terrorist attacks, as in Mosul, Chicago, Englewood, Urbana, and Springfield.

So much for a cease fire.

Come, Lord Jesus
The world Jesus entered as a baby experienced a false peace. It was enforced by dictatorship and military oppression. It was threatened by zealots, terror cells, and constant fear of revolt by the masses. And yet, the era was called Peace.

The Peace of Rome. The Pax Romana lasted for about 200 years, but it came at a high price. The Caesars were cruel and nervous men, as were their henchmen, the regional governors such as the paranoid Herods. Herod the Great would do anything to keep peace with Rome, and thereby keep his throne, even if it meant slaughtering a town’s entire population of boy babies.

The prophets predicted the coming of young king who would specialize in peace,

“…one who is to be ruler in Israel…..

And they shall dwell secure, for now he shall be great

to the ends of the earth.

And he shall be their peace” (Micah 5:2, 4-5a).

But the people who read the prophets understood how this peaceful monarchy would (of necessity) follow turmoil. Micah opened his sweet messianic prophecy with this arch salutation:

“Now, daughter who is under attack,

you slash yourself in grief;

a siege is set against us!” (Micah 5:1).

Even Isaiah, who gave the reassuring pronouncement that a Prince of Peace would be born, said honestly that saving the world is bloody business.

“For the yoke of his burden,

and the staff for his shoulder,

the rod of his oppressor,

you have broken as on the day of Midian.

For every boot of the tramping warrior in battle tumult

and every garment rolled in blood

will be burned as fuel for the fire” (Isaiah 9:4-5).

All this talk of peace comes with this honest admission: The Prince of Peace enters a world in chaos and bring his own chaos with him. The emergence of the Kingdom of God at the natal moment is not peaceful. Birth is not peaceful. It is bloody—and loud and painful. Birth brings its own chaos.

And the One born does not sleep in heavenly peace for long. “The cattle are lowing, the Baby awakes…” and the carol writer Anonymous assures us “no crying he makes.”

Dream on, Anonymous.

That Baby cried in his first minute of existence outside his mother’s womb. His birth announcement was a plaintive wail, and nothing has been the same since. Kingdom burst into existence and crashed into conflict with this sin-stained world. It should not surprise us that we still long for peace, we still wait for peace, even after the Prince of Peace has come. His transforming work is not done.

Our American culture in its religious naivety loves Jesus as a baby, treating him as an amulet against bad things—like Annelle, the misguided hair stylist in Steel Magnolias, who decorated her front door with a score of tiny mangers.

“I went to the fire sale at the Baptist Book Store in Shreveport last month,” she said in a drawl appropriate to her bayou setting. “They were selling mismatched manger scenes at incredibly low prices, and I cleaned them out of Baby Jesuses…”

If only a score of ‘Baby Jesuses’ could ward off our national ills and personal fears.

A meeting with Jesus this year comes with the realization that the supposedly tow-headed youngster in the cradle is but a hint at the reign of peace to come, and that the coming of the Prince of Peace into this world first creates crisis.

“Don’t assume that I came to bring peace on the earth,” Jesus warned his followers in Matthew 21:34. “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” And in John 14:27, his definition of peace apparently differs from our expectations: “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Your heart must not be troubled or fearful.”

His holiness collides with our sin—and by God’s grace overcomes it at Calvary. His peace confronts our warring—and the victory must first be won in our hearts.

The Prince of Peace himself is confirmation of God’s promise that peace will come to the earth. At his second coming, he will usher in peace forevermore. Until then, his peace will reign in believing hearts, even if peace seems remote in a decidedly unpeaceful world.

“Do not be afraid!” the angel told the shepherds on a green patch outside a farming village. One commentator pointed out recently that statement could rightly be translated, “There’s no reason for you to be afraid.” And the angel choir affirms this good news: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, Peace on earth to people he favors” (Luke 2:9, 14 HCSB).

The peace this year may not be political. It is certainly not pervasive. But it is providential. And it is deeply personal. In a world of chaos, the Prince of Peace reigns first and foremost in the heart.

In this time of uncertainty and unrest, we are reminded like Longfellow, who

“thought how, as the day had come,

The belfries of all Christendom

Had rolled along Th’ unbroken song

Of peace on earth, good will to men!”

empty-frame2The period between Thanksgiving and Christmas always ignites the stress of finding just the right gifts for loved ones and friends.

The reality is that Christmas in America is more of a commercial event than a religious holiday. Decrying commercialism won’t change things much, but there are some ideas to make your holiday season a more spiritual experience for your family.

Let me recommend an amazing gift you can give this year that will have long-lasting impact.

I propose that you write your conversion story.
You could print it on parchment paper and perhaps frame it as a gift, or just write it as a letter. OK, so your kids and grandkids will want something more but, in the end, your story will be the greatest gift they receive.

As Christians, we need to leave a legacy of faith to our families. This could be a wonderful way to tell your faith story to your family. Title it your “Legacy of Faith.”
Here is an outline of how you might approach writing your story. It doesn’t have to be complicated; just share your story from your heart. And be sure to sign it when you finish.

Place your life in context.
For me, I can tell my family of the rich spiritual heritage I enjoy because of the faith of their great-grandparents and grandparents. I can tell of the spiritual umbrella that was cast over our home because of the living faith in Christ and unreserved commitment to the church displayed in our home.

Your story may be different. The context of your journey may be filled with brokenness and pain. Share your story with truth while not glorifying your past.

Relate what led to your decision to follow Christ.
I cannot remember a time I did not love Jesus. As a child, I knew the plan of salvation. Yet, one morning in Sunday school, my teacher told us the story of the cross and said, “Boys and girls, someday you will give your heart to Jesus and trust him as your savior.”

At that moment, the Holy Spirit made the reality of my sin and Jesus’ death on the cross for my sin collide. I made the decision then to ask Jesus to forgive me and become my savior. I went forward in the service that morning, but I really decided to follow Jesus in Sunday school.

Share your faith journey since your decision.
What are the ways you have learned to follow Jesus? How has Christ made a difference in your life? What are some of the life situations you have faced when Christ has walked through with you? There may have been times of financial struggle, sickness, or death. How has Christ blessed you and your family throughout your Christian life?

My life is transformed day by day as I follow Jesus. As I learned to feed on his Word and communicate with him through prayer, he became my forever friend. In every circumstance, I know I have a friend who will walk with me. Space will not allow me to elaborate, but you get the picture.

Even if your family members are younger and do not understand the significance of the gift you place in their hands, there will come a day when this gift will mean more than gold.

So give a gift to your children, your children’s children and generations who follow. Leave them a written “Legacy of Faith.”

“These words that I am giving you today are to be in your heart. Repeat them to your children. Talk about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up…. Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deut. 6:6-7, 9).

Anthony L. Jordan is executive director of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma. This column is courtesy of Baptist Press.

The BriefingChurches are open for Christmas
Nearly 9 out of 10 Protestant senior pastors say their churches plan to hold services on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, as both fall on a Sunday, according to LifeWay Research. Small churches and large churches are slightly less likely to be open for Christmas. Pastors in the Midwest (92%) and South (89%) are more likely to say their church will be open on Christmas.

Hark! The herald hipster sings
For those that have wondered what it would be like if Jesus was born in 2016 or what a modern day wise man would look like — hint: he wears skinny jeans — the folks at Modern Nativity have the answer. The company has created a hipster version of the classic nativity scene featuring a young Mary and Joseph taking a selfie with baby Jesus in a solar-paneled stable.

Macy’s ends Planned Parenthood gifts
Macy’s Inc.’s latest 990 tax form verifies that the retail giant no longer includes the Planned Parenthood Federation of America in its community contributions, the research group 2ndVote said, describing the news as the latest “miracle on 34th Street.”

Compassion International out of India
Compassion International, a Christian nongovernmental organization (NGO) that aids 145,000 impoverished Indian children, has three weeks left in the country unless officials give it a reprieve. It is the largest humanitarian presence in the second most populated country in the world—providing $50 million in annual relief funds. But India is cracking down on foreign NGOs based on fears that groups are using humanitarian work to mask evangelization efforts.

Graffiti welcomes Muslims in MO
At a time when reports of anti-Muslim sentiment are rising, an Islamic Center in Missouri has received a different message. Kamel Ghozzi, imam at the Islamic Center of Warrensburg, says “Welcome” and “Thank you for choosing our community” were written in chalk on the center’s sidewalk during the weekend.

Sources: Facts and Trends, CNBC, Baptist Press, World Magazine, Fox News