Christmas Eve 2014 was the 100th anniversary of the spontaneous ceasefire along the Western Front at the beginning of World War I. That night was, unexpectedly, a “silent night.” How do we reconcile a violent world with the angels’ proclamation of “peace on earth” at Jesus’s birth? Listen in to Pastor David’s message:
Many of us at Mt. Haley are about to embark on a year-long journey through God’s Word. We will be reading through the “Chronological Bible” – every verse of scripture arranged, to the best of our understanding, in the order in which biblical events occurred. Whether or not you have read through the Bible before, this will surely be a fascinating experience!
Reading the Bible regularly is an important part of the life of a disciple of Jesus. But if you are like me, sometimes reading the Bible becomes mundane, repetitive, and – dare I say it? – boring. Sometimes I find myself scanning over words on the page and not allowing them to sink into my soul, to shape how I think, to speak new truths to me. I believe this is a pretty common challenge for anyone who does any task repeatedly. It takes constant dedication to such a task to make it continually meaningful.
An ancient Christian tradition may be of some help to us as we go about the task of reading scripture for our personal spiritual growth. This tradition is called lectio divina, a Latin phrase that means “divine reading.” For centuries, Christians have found this four-step process of reading the Bible to be very meaningful. I recently read a book that summarizes this process quite well:
- Lectio. Read the passage carefully, paying special attention to words or phrases that jump out at you. Use your imagination. In a narrative passage, try to picture the scene and yourself as one of the participants… How would you feel? What would you say? … Read the passage again. After using your imagination to place yourself within its world, ask the crucial question: what is God saying to me through this text today? … What am I to believe? What am I to do? Of what am I to repent? For what am I to give thanks?
- Meditatio. Meditate on what you have seen, smelled, felt, and, above all, heard in your reading. Dwell. Linger. Abide. Chew the cud. Having entered into the text, let it wash over you so that it becomes the place where you are more fully than the room in which you sit.
- Oratio. Pray. Having listened for God’s word in God’s word, respond. Tell God what’s on your mind. Tell God everything, including the intruding thoughts that keep distracting you from attention to the text. Say “Thank you.” Say “I’m sorry.” Ask for help in understanding and embodying this text.
- Contemplatio. Contemplate. Remind yourself that in this conversation with the text you are having a conversation with God, that you are in the presence of God, and that by grace through faith God is lovingly with you. As in meditatio, let this mutual presence be the place where, for these moments, you consciously dwell.
(quoted from Merold Westphal, “Whose Community? Which Interpretation? Philosophical Hermeneutics for the Church,” Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, ©2009)
May God illuminate our lives and shape our thoughts and actions through the ministry of his written word.
Christopher Smart was an English poet who lived just before the American Revolution. He contributed regularly to a couple of popular magazines in London, but he was eventually locked away in a mental institution by his father-in-law for various reasons. Smart accumulated so many debts throughout his adult life that he was finally placed in a debtors’ prison, where he died of an illness at age 49.
I just learned about Christopher Smart because of a poem he wrote, entitled The Stupendous Stranger, which has been set to music. One of the choirs in which Tara and I sing will be performing this piece of music at an upcoming Christmas concert this month. The poem is rather short, just two verses long. I offer this to you as an Advent reflection:
Where is this stupendous stranger?
Gentle shepherd, now advise.
Lead me to my Master’s manger,
show me where my Savior lies.
O Most Mighty! O Most Holy!
Far beyond the seraph’s thought,
art thou then so weak and lowly
as unheeded prophets taught?
O the magnitude of meekness!
Worth from worth immortal sprung;
O the strength of infant weakness,
if eternal is so young!
God all bounteous, all creative,
whom no ills from good dissuade,
is incarnate, and a native
of the very world he made.
Sometimes the most powerful ideas are contained in just a few words. I fear that anything I write here might detract from the impact of Smart’s poem on my life – and, perhaps, on yours – so I will keep these comments brief.
Jesus is the stupendous stranger whom we meet as the baby in Bethlehem. The contrasts of this poem are remarkable: great and meek, strong and weak, eternal and young, creating and incarnate, strange and native. Jesus is all of these things.
How can we ask “What Child Is This?”, as the Christmas carol goes, when he is the very one who created Mary, the one on whose lap he is now sleeping?
How can we speak “sleep in heavenly peace,” as the Christmas carol goes, when this tender and mild infant is the immensely powerful God of all creation?
How can we sing “welcome to our world,” as the recent song by Chris Rice goes, when this child is not really a stranger to this world at all?
Perhaps we are the strangers whom God graciously invites to approach his manger. Perhaps we are the visitors who get to meet someone who is so unlike ourselves (immortal, strong, creator, master) yet who is very much like us (enfleshed, weak, vulnerable, native). Perhaps we are the gentle shepherds who are called to escort others to the manger, to the cross, to the tomb, to the Table.
Perhaps we are simply those who read Christopher Smart’s words and pause in awe and thanksgiving. The Stranger is now native. The Creator is among us. The Baby is eternal. The Weak is our Strength.
Jesus is the “Boy Who Lived.” Herod’s best efforts to kill the newborn king in Bethlehem failed. But what about the families that lost children in that massacre? Where was God then? To whom could they turn in their broken world? Listen in as Pastor David preaches from Isaiah 40:1-11, which speaks loudly into the culture of the first century – and the twenty-first.
Merry Christmas! Our Mt. Haley Church celebrated the “Hanging of the Greens” last Sunday night and I was very excited because of the 13 youth in attendance. This is a GREAT improvement over the last few years, and I am excited students are involved in the church at large. We will be having a couple of Christmas lessons in youth in addition to beginning our study “Who is the Holy Spirit?” We have a young group and have been pleasantly surprised with good participation with the expectation of more mature faith walks as we proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
“GRADS @ Grahams” has been progressing also with very in-depth discussions and Bible Study taking place every week with 6-8 people involved every week (although the names might change week to week). This ministry pulls 18-24 year olds from several churches who really want to grow in the Lord. We work around their busy life – homework deadlines, work schedules, out-of-town, family obligations and who knows what. What’s exciting is we started small, but the potential number of people identified as participants now is growing. God is blessing this ministry!
Registration is still open until December 29th for our annual Church of God Youth Winter Retreat on the weekend of January 9-11, 2015. Although we have already sent the pre-registrations, you can still go. A $60 registration deposit is DUE by December 29th, with the remaining $49 due by January 4, 2015 (total cost $99). It’s a great deal for two nights’ lodging, five meals, snacks, all programming and much of the recreation. This year’s speaker is Brett Talley from the Church of the Crossing in Indianapolis. Josh Lavender (recommended by Tommee Profitt) will be our worship leader. Winter Retreat is a great Christmas gift for students unable to attend because of financial reasons. Connie is already praying for snow and making some of the final preparations!
We MADE A DIFFERENCE again on November 23rd as we helped pack over 500 Thanksgiving baskets (pictured above) at the Aldersgate Methodist Church. Our packing was preparing the contents for Thanksgiving dinners for families in need. The Midland County Food Pantry Network and groups from all over Midland sponsored the event. You can be proud of our group as they worked hard to serve others on this big project. We enjoyed some bowling afterwards to celebrate a great day of service.
Again, for your calendars, these events are being planned. They are as follows:
- Youth EVERY Sunday at 6:00 PM
- No Youth on December 28 (Christmas), January 11 (Retreat), or February 8 (Guatemala)
- December 21: Christmas Party @ Mt. Haley
- January 9-11: Winter Retreat @ Cran-Hill
- January 23: Mt. Haley Lock-In
- February 22: Swimming Party @ Four Seasons
- May 15-17: State Youth Convention
Fundraising has been successful if you participated in them. This Fall, we had 5 different projects in preparation for Winter Retreat. We will begin fundraising again in February as we prepare for State Youth Convention.
Our Guatemalan Mission Team has now met two times. We are anticipating purchasing our tickets in the first couple of weeks in December. Please pray that ticket prices will decline. We have 8 people from Mt. Haley, 1 from the Meridian Church of God, 3 from the Community Nazarene Church and 2 from the First Church of God in Saginaw. These churches will be helping in the fundraising. However, our goal of $5000 to help with the cost of a Guatemalan home is set and we are praying for God’s blessings in helping out another family. THANK YOU for the contributions that have already come in. We will also be having costs for luggage, insurance, and other miscellaneous things as we come closer to departure. Please consider how you can BLESS this church ministry and help our team. Each year it is exciting to anticipate the blessings of Guatemala.
Parents and church, your prayers, support and encouragement are greatly appreciated and we look forward every week to sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with our students through interaction, study, fellowship and relationship. Thank you for sharing your son or daughter and our congregation for holding the youth up in PRAYER.
Love God, Love People, Live It!
This Advent, as we approach Christmas Day, we will be studying the world of Jesus to see just how dramatic his entrance into that world really was. The lessons we discover along the way will shape how we look at our world, as well. Listen in as Pastor David preaches on Isaiah 64:1-12 and the tension that filled Jesus’s world.
Today is my birthday. Today I turn 35 years old. And today I drove from my birthplace to my current home.
You see, my birthday, by virtue of falling near the end of November, is always somewhere around the Thanksgiving holiday. For the past few years, Tara and I have alternated which side of the family we visit at Thanksgiving time. This year, we drove down to West Virginia to see Tara’s family: for three days, twelve of us stayed in the home of Tara’s aunt and uncle who live in a very small coal-mining village south of Charleston.
Thirty-five years ago, my father was a pastor in a small town west of Charleston. Thirty-five years ago, he drove my mother to Charleston so I could enter the world in a hospital of good repute. And for thirty-five years, my life – like yours – has been wandering from place to place, from experience to experience, from decision to decision.
And today, on our trip home, I drove right past the hospital where I was born. Ten hours later, we arrived at our home.
The long road here took thirty-five years. The short road – although today it didn’t feel very short! – took just ten hours.
That got me thinking: on several occasions, I have heard Christians say that they wish God would put a huge billboard in the sky, drop a message from the heavens, or appear in the form of an angel and tell them what to do, what decision to make, which direction to move. We often speak platitudes to each other such as “God’s timing isn’t our timing,” “It will all make sense someday,” or “You just have to have faith.” But those aren’t always convincing in the moment. And they may just be platitudes: statements that have “been used too often to be interesting or thoughtful” (says Google).
At this point, I could write something like this: “My life, for all its ups and downs, has been marked by God’s blessings. And because of that, I wouldn’t take the short road over the long road for anything! I’m glad that it took this long to get here, because the journey has been worth every minute.” But that would be another platitude.
Take a few moments to read the first eleven verses of the Old Testament book Ecclesiastes. It helps to keep things in perspective on days like one’s birthday.
Here is what I will say about the long and short roads. Had I never traveled the long road, I would not have realized the significance of the short road. If I had not been born in Charleston, today’s drive would have been simply a long road trip. The course of my life to this point made today’s drive more meaningful for me than it would be for anyone else.
We wait for God to show us the way to go, but in the meantime our experiences form us into who we are becoming. God uses them to form us after the image of Jesus Christ. The long road defines us.
And then we remember, from scripture, that “generations come and generations go.”
Happy birthday, everyone. I’m happy to be on this journey with you all.