Christmas cheer?

Lights, Christmas trees, holiday parties, presents, carols, Rudolph, Santa, parades, advent candles, nativities, and food are just some of the features of the Chrismas season in America.  Does just the mention of these items help you with the “Christmas Spirit?” For some of us, we are on “go” when it comes to Christmas and we are all in when it comes to decorating and enjoying the festivities of Christmas.  However, what about when we are not?

Yesterday, I was visiting in the hospital and for some of the residents, Christmas won’t look like any of the features mentioned above.  Four years ago on December 14, our nation endured the shooting of Kindergarteners and elementary students at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut.  Somehow singing “Jingle Bell Rock” and having parties didn’t seem appropriate.  The peripherals of Christmas were revealed to be shallow and useless in providing joy for real pain.  So we go back to the source of Christmas and see if there is any cause for joy that deals with the pain of a suffering world.

 Isaiah 9:2, 6-7 states,  The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. You have multiplied the nation; you have increased its joy; For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.

Here we have the prophecy and observation that the world is evil and it is to a suffering world that Messiah comes.  This child will be a Wonderful Counselor to a world lost and confused.  He will be a Mighty God to the world that needs power to right the wrongs,  He will be an Everlasting Father to the world that needs an enduring love.  He will be a Prince of Peace to the world that is restless with strife.

 

We see the beginning of the prophecy  fulfillment in some fields outside of Bethlehem.  To society outsiders working just outside of the Herodium, Herod’s fortress for security, a heavenly announcement was made. “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:11-12 ESV) Here God enters a dark and suffering world, not exempt from the suffering but enduring the suffering with us so that evil could come to an end. This news never gets old and produces the joyful heart, from which comes cheer.

Jarrod Scott (below is a field outside Bethlehem from my trip there in 2007)

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A Parent’s Opportunity

“Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.” Luke 18:16-17

As parents, so many of us seem to get caught up in our busy lives and often lean on others to supplement some of the important aspects of raising our kids. One of the more obvious of these abdications is the thought that, “the public schools will teach our kids what they need to know.” Of course, wisdom is not limited to book knowledge and many of our schools are failing to even properly and effectively teach secular knowledge.

One of the subtler places we, as parents, can fail to take opportunities on behalf of our kids, is in the area of spiritual matters. While raising my two daughters, I was a baby Christian and I made many mistakes trying to pass a biblical Christian worldview onto them. Fortunately, God had a plan that did not rely on me. However, the fact remains that…

  • Barna Research indicates “nearly half of all Americans who accept Jesus Christ as their Savior do so before reaching the age of 13 … and half of those reported that they were led to Christ by their parents…comparatively few accepted Jesus in response to a minister’s prompting …. or a special event in their life.”

The Greatest Commandment God has offered us is to love Him and to love our neighbor (Luke 10:27). Further, He commands us to “Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15).

This holiday season, He will bring to us many opportunities to show and share that love with friends and family.

  • The word “Thanksgiving” has “thanks to the One who owns everything” (Psalm 24:1) built right into it.
  • The word “Christmas”, of course, begins with “Christ”, which speaks to John 3:16.

As parents, our greatest responsibility is to our family, and the most important thing we can do for them is to insure they are on the narrow road that leads to Heaven (Mat. 7:14).  The holiday season is a time of extended fellowship, joy, warmth, and peace on earth. It is an opportunity to talk to your kids about spending an eternity with the God of Love. The greatest expression of the Greatest Commandment is to talk to your kids about Salvation.

The Romans Road is a great place to end the conversation, and begin a prayer……

Romans Road

  • 3:23 For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
  • 6:23a For the wages of sin is [eternal] death.
  • 5:8 But God demonstrates his love for us in this, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
  • 10:9 If you confess with your mouth, Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

Prayer

“Lord Jesus, I know I am a sinner, and I know that you died on the cross for my sins, and arose from the grave. I ask you to please come into my heart, forgive me of my sins, and save my soul. You are now the Lord of my life. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Jeff Hilles

 

 

Thanksgiving

So did you know that Thanksgiving is the oldest American holiday? The roots of this holiday  precede our country’s founding with the Puritan’s survival due to the help of the Native Americans in 1621.  In 1789, the year of our first Congress, a representative asked President George Washington to issue a proclamation for our first federal holiday.   After much debate, the President made a request of the states and the first federal holiday was proclaimed. The next significant date for the Thanksgiving holiday was in 1863, in the midst of the bloody Civil War at perhaps the peak of warfare.  At this time, Lincoln called for another Thanksgiving and even recalling the blessings of a year that historians might call our country’s worst year.   The current date of the fourth Thursday of November  for Thanksgiving was established by law in 1941 by President Roosevelt.   Imagine that again, this proclamation being done during World War 2.   Just consider that even in our country’s history, we have burst out in thanksgiving in the midst or just following bloody and difficult seasons.

By the President of the United States of America, a Proclamation.

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor-– and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be– That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks–for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation–for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war–for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed–for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted–for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

and also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions-– to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually–to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed–to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord–To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us–and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

Go: Washington

from http://www.heritage.org/initiatives/first-principles/primary-sources/washingtons-thanksgiving-proclamation

  • Bold emphasis done by the blogger.

You can also read Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation here

If you also would like to read President Franklin Roosevelt’s proclamation then read here.

Much of this information I learned from Melaine Kirkpatrick’s book, Thanksgiving: The Heart of the American Experience, which you can find more information about here.

Jarrod Scott

So What Do We Do Now?

This is a question that no doubt many in our country are feeling in the wake of one of the most contested and bitter elections in our history.  And as the results came in the emotions were hitting on all cylinders.  A friend of mine told me his son, a freshman at Duke, called him the following day and said that all over campus students and professors alike were in tears.  Tests, assignments and even classes were being cancelled due to the emotions of the results.  And beyond the college campus, it got even worse as many found themselves so full of anger that riots broke out in the streets of several cities across the US.  And as crazy as it may sound, without Christ we could find ourselves in the midst of a similar situation.  You see without Christ you will find yourself putting hope and trust in things and people who will ultimately disappoint us and move us to anger and bitterness towards each other.  But that isn’t God’s plan for us at all, he created us to love and be loved. He tells us in Ephesians 4: 31-32 to Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

So what do we do now?  We need to put down our own desires which can lead us to disappointment and anger.  And instead put our faith, hope and trust in God our Father as He is the only one who deserves such as this.  And we pray for our new President and the leaders that will be appointed.  They have a job to do and so do we ~ our job is to be salt and light in a world that desperately needs to see it. Not as those tossed by the waves of emotion and despair ~ but as those firmly planted in the knowledge and love of Christ, tender-hearted, loving one another.

Chris Best

When all we have are ????

So if you haven’t already done so, Nov. 8 is a time when we answer some national questions.  The problem for most us is that we have more questions than answers and our answers have questions.  Have you ever asked, God, why couldn’t this just be black and white, simple right and wrong?  To be sure, there are many clear right and wrongs, more than we might first think.  Yet, it is the question where clarity hides from us, that looms large in our life.  Sometimes, we can wait on answering the question with the hope that clarity arises with the passing of time. Othertimes, situations demand an answer whether you are ready or not.

As much as I hate those times, I am learning to thank God for them. Why would I be thankful for personal confusion and lack of direction? Well, I’m glad you asked.  I believe that the moments of ambiguity are opportunities to learn Proverbs 3:5-6, which states, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.  In all your ways, acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths.”  If issues were always clear, I would trust too much on my understanding and my thinking will be my disaster.  An important lesson in mountain climbing, is never trust the branch with your full weight.  You can’t always tell which branch is dead or barely rooted in the ground.  When your future is out on a limb of personal understanding, then you are in a precarious situation.  There are times when we have to make a decision, even though we can’t connect all the dots.  At that time, Trust in the Lord for the situation and acknowledge that He is the Lord.  Perhaps the results of the decision comes out well, perhaps the impact is dire, either way, we can trust our God to lead us through it for He is lord in every situation.  So vote, trust God with the future of this nation and acknowledge His lordship over our government.

Jarrod Scott

Something truly worth Dressing Up For….

Fall is here and it’s that time of year again.  Halloween has come and will go tomorrow. According to the National Retail Federation, spending projections for Americans this year are expected to reach $8.4 billion dollars on costumes, candy, decorations and other items to celebrate the nationally recognized holiday of Halloween that comes on October 31st each year.  There is no denying, Americans love Halloween.

For many Americans whether young or old this is the one opportunity we have each year to wear that unique costume that we’ve thought long and hard about.  We’ll dress up and pretend to be our favorite super hero, fictional character, actor or actress, or maybe just somebody different.  We will plan parties, festivals and even close down city blocks where thousands will come to show off their unique costume they have chosen for the year.  We even have contests to decide who has the best costume and who looks, talks and acts most like the one they are pretending to be.  Of course nothing is wrong with having a good time and doing a little dressing up 1 out of 365 days of the year.  But for those of us who have chosen to follow Christ, we are also challenged to put on something else as we live out our day in everyday life.  Are we to go about our day to day lackadaisical and not be concerned of how we act, talk, what we think about and what we are doing?  Are we ok living as we normally would focused on our self-motives and selfish desires of making sure we look out for #1?

I’m reminded of a few passages in God’s word that tells us of what we should put on everyday if we have confessed and decided to follow Jesus Christ as our Lord.  Romans 13:14 tells us to “clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of your flesh”.  In Galatians 3:27 we read “for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ”.  Colossians 3:9-10 reminds us “do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.”

What a great reminder of how Christ in our life changes us from our old self to a new self that is motivated to live it out by “putting on Christ” to those that we encounter each day.  Renewed in Him, we can outwardly display what has taken place in us inwardly of being made into a new creation.  2 Corinthians 5:17 says “therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”  We are challenged with no longer responding as the world responds but rather in humility.  We have the opportunity to show love and compassion to others which is opposite of what the world shows them.  We are challenged to not live a life of complacency in the fact that we alone know Christ but that we also desire for others created by Him to know Him as well.  The extravagant love that is shown to us through Christ on the Cross is one that moves us to sacrifice our time by praying with others, caringfor others, and sharing with others this love that we know as we put on Christ each day.  As we challenge ourselves to live this out each day we begin to realize that this is something truly worth “dressing up” for.

Jason Hicks

State Fair Fears, Fun, and Faith

As a life long N.C. resident, I have made a yearly pilgrimage to the state fair for as long as I can remember.  My reasons for going over the years have changed, but I always enjoy myself while attending.  A couple of years ago, I discovered that one the perks of being 4o was a newly discovered motion sickness that occurs on almost every single ride at the fair.  So now I found myself as a mere observer of the crowds lined up to go on the rides.  Don’t worry about me, I have found satisfying consolation in the turkey legs and fried faire.   As I ponder my attack strategy on my sumptuous project, I start to marvel at how many people pay a bunch of money to be terrified on a ride.  Why are the scariest rides the ones that people go back to ride over and over for fun?  This drive to have fun by fear easily makes up millions, if not billions, of dollers  of our national economy through amusement parks, horror shows, and thrill adventures.  Perhaps we crave the sense of overcoming our mortality, excitement, or just the thrill of adrenaline.  However, we can not deny the demand in people.

Yet there is disappointment even in this adrenaline rush.  All too soon the ride ends, despite waiting 50 times the length of the ride.  Or the tenth time on the ride is not nearly exciting as the first time and we need something bigger, faster, higher, or scarier.  Or we turn 4o and our stomach betrays our desires.   Have you ever wondered what these desires might have to do with faith?

C.S. Lewis has written in his Mere Christianity, Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for these desires exists. A baby feels hunger; well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim; well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire; well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.

Could it be that following God through this present life and to the future time to come will provide us with the effect of an adrenaline rush like we have never know before?  Yet one that has no end and a new glorified body, mind, and Spirit that can sustain such an intense emotion.  The object of this fear, fun, and faith is the person of God.  The Holiness of God is not that of dull emotions, but a fervency and excitement.

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18 ESV)

Jarrod Scott

The Blessings Are There

So many people are into doing crafts.  For them it’s wicker and glue, ribbons and twine, and all those other things that seem useless until their gifted eye and skilled hands get ahold of it, turning my pile of would-be refuse into a lovely decoration or something amazingly useful.  There’s another gifting that shows itself in the realm of music.  Talented writers translate the ideas in their mind into vivid images on a page without the first use of color, and musicians infuse these tales into strains that sooth and comfort, or impassion and evoke.

And then there’s me.  In the box score that’s gone before us, I would be zero for two.  My eye sees no hidden beauty in your basket of knickknacks, nor do my hands have the ability to transform something from practically anything.  And my musical mind is supremely stunted, and no original tunes lie just below the surface.  But these two areas are just the tip of the iceberg of what I don’t have and cannot do.  And you might be in the same boat, but just on different waters.  You might have the crafty gene, but you were absent the day they handed out coordination.  Or your voice may be angelic, but you couldn’t decorate a mantel if the entire staff of Michael’s helped you.

Another somewhat disappointing sports weekend led me to recall the years of continuous failures on the field, a place where I have found some joy while others have found theirs in their own hobbies.  But, rather than dwell on the disappointment, I was blessed to recall just a sprinkling of the good fortune that I have experienced when things could have gone south.  My son lost his wallet and ID at the fair, where any of the close to 100,000 people could have found it and kept it.  The next day, he went back to get what someone had turned in, out only some cash.  My wife had an abscess growing in her throat a few years ago.  The next morning, she went to the ER to get it checked out.  Within a few hours, she was in surgery to remove what was about to completely close off her windpipe.  My young daughter had a growth near her sternum.  The surgeons opened her up and removed what turned out to be just some excess tissue.

I guess I could lament the inevitable losses that seem to pile up for my team, or the lack of talent and skill that I have.  But God has been too faithful in matters that really count.  And I’ll trade a lifetime of losing seasons for the upholding right hand of my Heavenly Father, who tucks into every point of my life the overwhelming opportunity to offer Him thanks and gratitude.

Rich Holt

Can the U.S. Presidency mean too much to us?

Six years ago I toured Washington D.C. and looked inside the famed rotunda of our U.S. Capital to see the image in the picture below. This is Constantino Brumidi’s 1865 fresco, entitled The Apotheosis of Washington.   The title refers to George Washington’s, our first president, elevation to the rank of god and ascended in the Heavens, a la Jesus Christ.  As a worshipper of Christ and U.S. citizen I was aghast that this was in our U.S. Capital.  However, I rationalized it as a classical artist interpretation in honorof Washington’s role in our country, which might have been the intent.  My previous rationalization has been nullified by this election season.

Honestly since the primaries, I have wrestled with a sense of disgust at our primary process to bring us the candidates that are before the country today.  The public slander, vitriol, corruption, and unseemly aspects of this election cycle can be depressing.  My degree of depression is directly linked to my degree of expectation for the presidency.  In additon, is the oft heated and public divisions among even the believers in Christ.  No doubt, as followers of Christ we are to be concerned, active, and prayerful for the future leaders of our country.  However, we must ask the question, “what if the believer places too much of their heart toward the presidency?”  One purpose of the law of God was to help us discern when we worship something more than God.  In our fervency to see a candidate to office, are we sinning toward others?  In our passion to see godly elected officers, are we dismising God’s place in our heart?  There is much I don’t like about our candidates, but I do praise God, that this year I can better see the difference between Christ and the presidency.  Honestly, when there is a candidate I’m personally excited about, it is much harder to recognize my misplaced hope.

We would do well to consider how 1 Corinthians teaches believers who are engaged in the world.  “Brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let . . . those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it.  For the present form of this world is passing away.” 1 Corinthians 7:29, 31  For those of you who will look up this verse, you will see that Paul was not specifically refering to voting.  No something even more intimate and God-ordained as marriage.  If we are to guard the hope of our heart in marriage, how much more, do we guard our hope in our government. As believers, we are in this world, so we will vote, but never put our hope in voting.

Jarrod Scott

apotheosis_of_george_washington

Looking Toward the Future

eternity.png
For some time Judy and I have had the pleasure of worshiping periodically with the Seniors at Carillon. Over the last few months we have worked our way through Randy Alcorn’s book “Heaven” and Erwin Lutzer’s book “One Minute After You Die”, both of which directly focus on future things above… and on future things below.
I would highly recommend these books for insight into the impact the choices we make on earth will have on our eternal future. Honestly, Alcorn stretches Scripture a bit in my view, with his sanctified imagination of what Heaven will be like. However, the picture he paints is both reasonable and detailed, addressing many of the questions we have always wondered about. Lutzer, on the other hand, is more direct and less colorful in his succinct outline of the hereafter. Whichever approach you prefer, the truth is, we will all find complete clarity on what the future holds at the point God chooses our exit from this earth. The sad part is that at the very instant we “see” eternal reality, that is the same instant we lose total control over what that eternal reality will be like. Scripture speaks to this in Paul’s discussion on the importance of love when God says:
Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known(1 Corinthians 13:8-10,12).
In the end, predictions of our future life on the other side of the grave (prophecies), words (tongues), and human thought (knowledge) like Alcorn’s and Lutzer’s will become irrelevant (pass away). The “partial” (our lives on this earth) will be replaced by the “perfect” (our lives in Heaven). God concludes the chapter by saying:
So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love (1 Corinthians 13:13).
Given the reality of what lies ahead, what is the greatest expression of love we can show others while we remain faithful and hopeful. looking toward the future……?
Jeff Hilles