Youth in the New Year

As I sat this afternoon watching a gentle snowfall in my living room with the Christmas tree still beaming and the fireplace keeping us warm, I reflected how God had worked in our life and how grateful we are with his love and the plans He creates in completing His work.  Once again, I thank Mt. Haley for their support, their love and their generosity in having us as part of their family.  We were truly blessed with your Christmas gift that supports building a home in Guatemala for a family that has become very dear to us.

Our prayer requests for the upcoming year would be for the Winter Retreat  – that God might touch the hearts and minds of youth not only from Mt. Haley, but the youth and counselors from all over Michigan who will be attending.  This is Connie’s big week as she completes all the preparation for Winter Retreat and may you pray that she relaxes and rest after God’s work has been done.  We are expecting changed lives in the hearts of our kids.

Closely upon the heels of that request is for our annual mission to Guatemala beginning Saturday, January 28 through Saturday, February 4.  This will be our 5th year going to Guatemala to work with David Beam and the Shack Attack.  We will be working to build house #32 and worshipping, fellowshipping, praying and renewing friendships with people along an area called the “Tracks” in Guatemala City.  It costs a group $5000 to build a small cement house for a family in need and we pay for the transportation, food and lodging for the week.  We are not skilled laborers, but we are working with the people of the Tracks to improve a family’s life.  This has been one of Connie’s and my greatest blessings in life and we appreciate your prayers.

We will begin our “Jesus & the Sticky Questions” series on Sunday nights in January & February.  We are planning a Super Bowl party on Sunday, February 5th plus some other activities.  Our Spaghetti dinner was a super success despite the change in dates and we wish to thank everyone who participated and supported the youth.  We hope to have another gift card ordering time soon, so watch for that in the upcoming weeks.  Our next major event will be the State Youth Convention in May plus Connie and I are making plans to attend the International Youth Convention of the Church of God in Denver, Colorado this summer.  We hope the church might have some youth delegates. Something to pray about!

This month we hope to launch the Youth Prayer Partners ministry.  We hope to match a youth with a family in the church. (Other than those related to particular students).  We are strong believers in prayer and we hope to change our group, our kids and our church through prayer.  To pray is to change.  Prayer is the central avenue God uses to transform others and us.

We would base the Youth Prayer Partner ministry on these tenets for praying for a youth:

1.   Pray that they know God’s will for their lives. (Colossians 1:9)

2.   Pray that they would do God’s will in their lives. (Colossians 1:10)

3.   Pray for productivity in their lives. (John 15:16)

4.   Pray for them to have a growing relationship with God. (Philippians 4:11-12)

5.  Pray for them to have a right attitude. (Colossians 1:11-12)

6.  Pray for their families, their peer relationships, home and school. (Psalm 145:18 & Isaiah 41:10)

Thank you for another great month. May God’s blessings be with everyone!  Love God, Love Others.

In Christ,
Pastor Jerry

Another Year Older

photo by Aih

We celebrated Christmas Day in style this past Sunday with one of our largest-attended worship services of the year.  What a joy it was to be in the Lord’s house on Christmas Sunday!  In a sense, it’s a shame that this particular holiday (or “holy day”) falls on Sunday only once every several years.

I hope you had a positive experience during this season!  Tara and I had a very good Christmas week.  We shared Christmas meals with both sides of our family on consecutive days.  We gave gifts, sang songs, and consumed cookies – all the components that add up to make a pleasant Christmas experience.

On our way home the other day, though, I found myself wondering something.  We have just celebrated Jesus’s birthday once again (although, to be fair, we don’t know exactly which day of the year was his actual birthday).  Jesus is, in a sense, a year older.  (Although, to be fair again, Jesus is eternal; he has always existed as the second person of the Trinity, in fellowship with God the Father and God the Spirit since before the creation of the universe.)  If Jesus is now a year older, so to speak, then what might he be thinking and feeling?

Birthdays often produce introspective, reflective, and pensive feelings in us.  We marvel at how quickly time passes and, perhaps, evaluate whether or not the past year was “good.”  We might even look toward the upcoming year and the opportunities it might present.  Even if we celebrate our birthdays with family and friends, there comes a moment when each of us realizes, “I’m another year older.”

So Jesus is another year older.  We celebrated his birthday with a beautiful worship service.  After the celebration, though, we should pause to reflect:  our Lord is another year older.  How was this past year for him?  How have we, his disciples, grown in relationship with him and with each other?  How have we, his ambassadors to the world, worked to spread the good news of the kingdom of God to our neighbors?  How have we, his hands and feet, shown mercy, love, compassion, and kindness to those in need?  How has Jesus extended forgiveness, grace, mercy, and peace to us and those whom we know?

And then, the follow-up question:  in each of these areas, what opportunities lie ahead for the year to come?

–Pastor David

Just a Few More Days…

photo by estherase

Can you remember Christmas when you were a child?  What was it like?  Did you have certain traditions that still are meaningful for you?  Do you have memories of waiting for the special day?

Of course, not everyone has pleasant memories of Christmases in the past.  But hopefully you do – and if you’re like me, many of your childhood memories revolve around one thing:  presents!  I remember seeing gifts under the tree and wondering just what might be inside the packages.  Visiting grandparents gave me another round of this sense of expectation, too – more gifts to open and to share!

Here we are, just a few days before Christmas.  The level of anticipation and expectation is rising every moment for today’s children (and some adults, to be fair).  Why don’t we experience that kind of excitement during the rest of our lives?

One of the hymns of our faith, “I’ll Fly Away,” expresses this feeling as it relates to our hope for life beyond the grave:

Some glad morning when this life is o’er, I’ll fly away.

To a home on God’s celestial shore, I’ll fly away.

Chances are, you know the tune to that song.  In fact, you might be singing it to yourself right now.  Christians love to sing this song (and songs like it) because of its catchy tune, its upbeat tempo, and its message of hope.  We live as people of hope, who believe that God will bring about a brighter tomorrow, who trust that Jesus will return, will raise his people up, and will live with them in glory forever.

Isn’t it hard to live with a sense of anticipation that Jesus’s return will happen soon?  I think it’s certainly harder for Christians to live in expectation of that time than it is for children to live in expectation of Christmas morning.  Christmas is a regular, predictable event, but the return of Christ is mysterious, unknown, perhaps distant.  Yet this is part and parcel of our faith as followers of Christ:  that his return is imminent, that we may see him in our lifetime, that the time is drawing near.

Just a few more weary days and then I’ll fly away.

To a land where joy shall never end, I’ll fly away.

Friends, live with expectation!  Watch for signs of anticipation in the youngest among us, and learn from their example.  We are people of hope!  We are people who expect Christ’s return!  We are people who are waiting just a few more days!

–Pastor David

Walk With a Fresh Understanding!

Jesus, the Savior, is born in Bethlehem!  That is the truth behind the Christmas season.  Light has entered the world in the person of Jesus, and our lives should no longer be the same.  Now we are to “walk in the light as he is in the light,” as John wrote in 1 John 1:1-10 (NIV).  What does this mean for us today?  Listen to Pastor David’s message from yesterday to find out!

Listen now!

Should Christian Christmas be automatic?

photo by Alkelda

I read a story online today about a traditional nativity display in Santa Monica, California, that will not have its customary space along a street in a city park.  The city uses a lottery system to give different groups the opportunity to set up their own displays in the park.  This year, the Christian group that sets up the nativity scene – which usually includes fourteen different displays related to Jesus’s birth – was given only three spaces, apparently thanks to several atheists who entered the lottery for their own displays.  The Christian group expressed their dismay at the atheists’ attempt to push them out of the park.  They feel that their inability to express their religious beliefs is an infringement on their First Amendment rights.

That got me to thinking.  Should the Christian version of Christmas be automatic in our culture?  Should we always expect our traditional public nativity scenes to be accepted and allowed?  Should the message of the birth of Jesus Christ become part and parcel of our cultural experiences?

These questions are related to a broader discussion in Christian circles:  How should Christians interact with our culture?  In his 1951 book Christ and Culture, Richard Niebuhr describes five possibilities:

  1. Christ against culture:  The Christian church and secular culture have nothing to do with each other, and the good church will ultimately grow while the evil world fades away.
  2. Christ of culture:  God works in and through our culture to fulfill his purposes.  We find connections between the church and the best parts of culture.
  3. Christ above culture:  There may be some similarities between the church and the world, but there are also many differences; the Christian way is often higher or better than the worldly way.
  4. Christ and culture in paradox:  There is a tension between the church and the world, and that tension cannot be resolved.
  5. Christ transforming culture:  The world is sinful, but Christ can transform culture so that it can serve his purposes.

Each of these ways of considering the relationship between Christ and culture has been used throughout history, and each has its strengths and weaknesses.

Should the Christian emphasis on Christmas be automatic in culture?  If you say “yes” to that question, then you may be thinking in the “Christ of culture” way.  I personally tend to fall toward the “Christ and culture in paradox” mindset.

My response to the Santa Monica nativity situation is to say this:  The world might not understand or appreciate the Christian message of Jesus Christ being born in Bethlehem over 2,000 years ago, and that’s all right.  Our task as believers is to be faithful to the message of Christ and to share it with those around us.  If our communities do not accept that message, then so be it.  That does not detract from the power of the gospel to change lives!  In fact, it reminds us that our work is not complete.  There are many who have not truly heard and understood the good news, that Jesus Christ is born – and that the rest of his story is true, as well!

Be encouraged, friends.  We do not have to put Christ back into Christmas, because he has been there all along, calling us to be transformed and to leave behind the ways of the world, all for his name’s sake.

–Pastor David

Advent: What are you expecting?

photo by Maeflower72

Today, I’d like you to read Isaiah 9:1-7, even if you have read it many times in the past.  As you read, think about what you expect out of the Christmas season.  What are you anticipating?  What do you think will happen in the next few weeks?

Isaiah wrote his prophecy several hundred years before Jesus’s birth in Bethlehem.  Isaiah didn’t know when Jesus would be born, who his mother would be, how Jesus would live and die and live again, or any of those details.  All he knew was that there were people in his time who were in distress and were being oppressed, and that eventually God would send a ruler who would make everything right for all time.

Did Jesus fulfill this prophecy written by Isaiah?  That question leads to one of the most controversial questions in all the world:  how do you understand Jesus of Nazareth?  For those of us who understand the connection between Jesus and Isaiah 9:1-7, we can rejoice that our Savior has come, that the Prince of Peace has broken the bars of oppression, that the newborn child in Bethlehem grew up and now reigns over the kingdom of God for all time.

Sometimes I wonder if we take those statements for granted.  Do we truly grasp the significance of Jesus fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy?  Are we able to identify with “walking in darkness” so that we can understand “seeing a great light”?  Will we allow the Lord’s holy zeal to bring about peace, justice, and righteousness in our world?

Or will we allow Christmas to be a sentimental holiday reserved for seasonal decorations, gift exchanges, and sweet desserts?

Throughout this month (and beyond), consider the truth of our faith:  that Jesus Christ, the Son of God born in Bethlehem over 2000 years ago, has fundamentally changed our world, our society, our relationships, and our personal experiences.  His kingdom will endure forever and ever!

–Pastor David