Vintage Christmas: Making Preparations

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Christmas is just a few weeks away now. I am sure that you’re in the thick of preparations. We began our preparations a few weeks ago by putting up our Christmas lights before Thanksgiving. It was warm and I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to put them up in short sleeves!

Preparing for Christmas was almost magical as a child. Whether it was seeing Dad put up the Christmas lights, mom making cookies, or our Advent Countdown getting hung on the stairs, there was a lot of work that went into our Christmas celebration. That doesn’t even include the shopping, hiding of gifts, and wrapping that takes place before December 25th.

While we work to prepare ourselves to celebrate Christmas, we cannot miss the opportunity to prepare ourselves for Jesus. There is a difference between the celebration and the celebrated. What sort of preparations are we to make to encounter Jesus?

Luke gives us a clue in the song of Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist. Zechariah “sings” or prophesies:

“And you, my child, will be called a Prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the LORD to prepare the way for Him; to give his people knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of sins because of the tender mercy of our God by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death; to guide our feet on the path of peace.” Luke 1:76-79

John was to “prepare the way of the Lord.” He announced the coming of Christ; that God’s kingdom was here. The way people were to prepare for Christ’s coming? They were to repent and seek forgiveness for their sins. Then they would have knowledge of salvation that comes from God.

As we prepare our Christmas celebrations, let us not forget to prepare ourselves for the One we celebrate- that we turn away from our sin and by God’s grace turn towards Jesus, the light that shines in our dark world, illuminating the path of peace.

What are your favorite ways to prepare for Christmas? How are you preparing yourself to encounter Jesus this Christmas?

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Vintage Christmas Playlist: Anticipation of Hope

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This Sunday at Hope/Magnolia Church we began our Advent Series entitled: A Vintage Christmas Playlist. We’ll be looking at four songs in the birth narratives of Jesus. This Sunday, the first Sunday of Advent, our text was Mary’s Song found in Luke 1:46-56. It is a beautiful prophecy by Mary praising God for God’s faithfulness. Even though it was a short week of preparation because of Thanksgiving, I was excited to start the series and to preach on the text.

And I blew it. At least I felt like it!

In between our two services I made some adjustments with the message because it didn’t flow quite like I thought it would. It was improved. But shortly after the 2nd service ended, as I was outside working on a project it hit me: A better way to have preached the text.

While the text speaks of Mary’s hopefulness that God will fulfill God’s promises to bring about redemption (which is the approach I took- whether anyone received that is another story!!), after worship I was struck by this realization: Mary’s world was turned upside down by the announcement of her impending pregnancy. And she still praised God and believed God to be faithful.

There is an challenge for us today that even when our lives are turned upside down that we praise God and trust that God is faithful. The world we live in is dark, but we praise God and trust that the light is winning.

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Wesley Covenant Prayer

This prayer of John Wesley has been on my heart for a while. I wanted to share it with you (The language has been updated a bit).

I am no longer my own, but yours.
Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing, put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you,
exalted for you, or brought low for you;
let me be full,let me be empty,
let me have all things,let me have nothing:
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God,Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine and I am yours. So be it.
And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven.Amen.

As I read the prayer, the line that speaks to me is “let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you, exalted for you, or brought low for you, let me be full, let me be empty, let me have all things, let me have nothing…”

The Mark Swayze Band has incorporated the prayer into a song and it has been a favorite of mine since hearing it. I challenge you to pray this prayer throughout the week!

 

 

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A Healing Community

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The 2016 Election has been unlike any I’ve seen in my short life. Especially with the prevalence of social media to carry out anonymous debates and attacks. This election has only magnified the divisions in our country while creating a few more. As a Christian and a Pastor, I believe that we (Christians and the Church) are called to be a healing and redemptive community. Our words and actions should bring people together and point towards the hope we have in God through Jesus Christ. Below I offer five ways that we can be a healing community.

1 Lean on God: Here is a newsflash for you, people will let you down. I’ve let people down this week. Perhaps even by addressing this I will let you down. As Christians, we are not to put our hope in people or any entity other than God. The Psalmist writes, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we will trust in the name of the Lord our God.”[1] When we put our trust in anyone or anything other than God, we are setting ourselves up to be let down. Lean on God.

2. Listen to One Another: We are different. We have different experiences, views, opinions, and beliefs. The only way that we can learn from one another is to listen to one another.

If you find yourself as a supporter of Hillary Clinton, you need to listen to the people who voted for Trump without generalizing them as the same kind of person you may view Mr. Trump. Many of those who voted for Trump have watched their jobs disappear, taxes rise, and the government ignore what is happening outside our major cities.

If you find yourself as a supporter of Mr. Trump, you need to listen to the fear and uncertainty that people of color, the LGBT community, and others have for a Trump presidency. We don’t have to agree- but in love, we listen to one another in order to understand each other.

“When we spend time listening face-to-face it becomes easier to stand shoulder-to-shoulder.” -Steve LaMotte

3. Love One Another: When Jesus was asked about what the greatest commandment he said, “Love the lord your God with all your heart, with all your strength, and with all your mind.” Then he went further saying, “The Second is this, love your neighbor as yourself.”

Last week, Dustin Staples reminded us that in order to live a better story that we love God, love others, and do stuff. It’s easy to love people who are like us, who look like us, who believe like us, and who share our religious/political views. But it is more difficult to love those who are not like us. But Jesus teaches us that we are not only to love our neighbors-that is easy- but to love our enemies. While I hope that you don’t view people who are different than you as enemies- we are to love those that the world says is ok to hate, ignore, or mock. John says in our Epistle lesson that

We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.”[3]

 If we hate someone, or treat someone created in the Image of God without love then we are showing those around us that we truly do not love God.

As Christians who are committed to living in community, and who are to love one another, we submit ourselves to one another. This means that out of love and respect for one another we can lay down our freedom (to speak our mind, for instance) if our opinion or belief might cause another believer to stumble in their own faith. We can set aside our freedom to do or say something if it can be potentially harmful to someone else. This is not living politically correct- this is loving others enough not to cause harm.

4. Lift Up Leaders in Prayer: The position of a Christian in regards to our leaders is that we should pray for them. Paul writes to Timothy, “

“I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercessions and thanksgiving be made for all people- for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.”[4]

 As a believer, I believe in the power of prayer. Prayer changes things. Most importantly, prayer changes me. We cannot let our feelings about any person or politician get in the way of our charge to lift them up in prayer.

Each of us should commit to praying for our leaders and especially our president. It is easy to complain- but it is more fruitful to pray.

5. Live Our Reconciliation: There have been a ton of articles written this week in the aftermath of the election. I read one by Ed Stetzer and at the end of his article, Ed had this line:

A divided nation needs a unified church focused on a common mission.”
-Ed Stetzer @edstetzer

 

There is no denying that we live in a broken world. How many of us have experience broken relationships- just from the election this past week? This presents a great opportunity for the Church and for followers of Jesus Christ to live out hope, to live out reconciliation, and to be a healing force in the world. We are called to live differently- and rather than pull away and settle for division- we are called to a ministry of reconciliation. This ministry is between people and between the world and God. The Church, empowered by the Holy Spirit, is the only agency that can bring about this healing; this redemption; this hope.

As we continue to move forward- let us move forward as agents of healing and redemption. Let us move forward with hope.

Listen to the full sermon here.

[1] Psalms 20:8, NIV.

[2] Psalm 46:1-3, 10.

[3] 1 John 4:19-21, NIV.

[4] 1 Timothy 2:1-2, NIV.

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I Believe Black Lives Matter

The past year has been quite unsettling in the area of race relationships. I’ve lost count of the videos of African-American individuals gunned down and caught on film. They have been shocking. The discrepancy of sentencing of white perpetrators versus black of similar crimes has also been eye-opening. Through this, I have been challenged by some of my Black friends about the silence of white pastors, of which I am one, and the white church, to join our voices with those in the black communities that are experiencing oppression and systemic racism.

This summer, I began my own sort of journey to better understand the history of systemic racism and injustice in our country by reading The New Jim Crow, by Michelle Alexander. This book was the most difficult book I’ve ever read because it forced me to own up and recognize the racism that exist even when we don’t want to admit it does.I also recently watched the documentary 13th which provide a moving visual to Alexander’s book (she appears in the documentary). Both the book and the documentary go a long ways to shed light on the racism and oppression that is alive and well in our country.

We do harm to our brother and sisters when we say that ALL LIVES MATTER as a rebuttal to the BLACK LIVES MATTER movements. Both are right. But the very fact that our Black brothers and sisters face injustice, racism, and inequality on a regular (daily) basis means that we (white people) are not living up to “All Lives Matters.” I love what Pastor Carl Lentz, from Hillsong New York, said recently,

“At THIS church, we are not saying ‘all lives matter’ right now because this is a logical assumption that most reasonable people agree with. All lives are not at risk right now. We ARE saying BLACK LIVES MATTER. Because, right now, black lives apparently are worth LESS on our streets. It’s “our fight” not “their fight.”

If we, as Christians, are going to live out the gospel of Jesus Christ- then the fight for equality of Blacks, Latinos, and others is our fight. Jesus says

28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28

If we are “in-Christ” then we cannot justify ignoring the experiences of our brothers and sisters who are thought of as “less-than” equal. We are part of the same family, the same body. When one part of the body hurts, the entire body hurts. Right now, there are parts of the body of Christ that are hurting while other parts of the body ignore the pain or even act as if the hurting part of the body is the reason for the pain. Now, more than ever, the church of Jesus Christ must be agents of reconciliation and healing- and it begins by listening, mourning, and standing with our brothers and sisters who experience this pain on a regular basis.

So what does this look like? I admit that I struggle at times to know exactly what I should do- but I believe it begins with listening to our friends and colleagues in the Black community- to hear and acknowledge the injustice that is present, and to use our voices, churches, and influence to work for the cause of justice.

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Protected: My Concerns About the Wesleyan Covenant Assocation

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Protected: Why I Joined the Wesley Covenant Association

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