What Does Christmas Mean for You?

What Does Christmas Mean for You?Matthew 6:19-21
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in Heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

When you unexpectedly read or hear the word “Christmas,” what is the first image that jumps into your mind. Is it family gatherings, decorations, giving and receiving presents, cookies, or even Black Friday deals; or is it, perhaps, the image of a newborn baby lying in a manger? As Christians we should make sure that to us the most important part of Christmas is the baby in the manger. All of the traditions that are now a part of our celebrations are important, but should be observed only as they bring glory to God.

It is most important that we join the shepherds, wise men, the angels, and maybe even the animals and get down on our knees and worship our newborn king. This little baby is the one who will grow up be a man and as an adult will take on His shoulders all of our sins and carry them to the cross where He will suffer and die so that we have the opportunity to live with Him forever in Heaven.

Everyday Thanksgiving

Everyday ThanksgivingThoughts for when you are not sure what to be thankful for.

Even though I clutch my blanket and growl when the alarm rings each morning,
Thank You , Lord, that I can hear.
There are those who are deaf.

Even though I keep my eyes tightly closed against the morning light as long as possible,
Thank You, Lord, that I can see.
There are many who are blind.

Even though I huddle in my bed and put off the physical effort of rising.
Thank You, Lord, that I have the strength to rise.
There are many who are bedfast.

Even though the first hour of my day is hectic, when socks are lost, toast is burned, tempers are short.
Thank You, Lord, for my family.
There are many who are lonely.

Even though our breakfast table never looks like the pictures in magazines and the menu is at times unbalanced.
Thank You, Lord, for the food we have.
There are so many who are hungry.

Even though the routine of my job is often monotonous.
Thank You, Lord, for the opportunity to work.
There are many who have no job.

Even though I grumble and bemoan my fate from day to day, and wish my circumstances were not quite so modest.
Thank You, Lord, for the gift of life.

What Does Thanksgiving Mean for You?

Thanksgiving MeansAs we approach the Thanksgiving holiday I am once again reminded that we are frequently led, especially by retailers, to move from Halloween to Christmas. This is the exact opposite of what the Bible says we should do. For many Thanksgiving’s focus has been on food and family. We forget the reason that Thanksgiving was originally established. While the holiday was started many years after the original event, it was still meant to give thanks to God for watching over us during the preceding year. Jesus gave us a perfect example when he instigated The Last Supper after he had been betrayed by Judas. Matthew 26:26 says. “While they were eating Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples.” Knowing that he was soon to suffer and die on the cross, Jesus still gave thanks to God.

I know that life is never easy, but just as Jesus was able to give thanks under extremely bad conditions, so too should we give thanks for the good things in our lives. Paul tells us in
1 Thessalonians 5:16-18, “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

It is still very important that we continue our daily prayers of thanksgiving, but given the chance to raise up to God a thanksgiving celebration we should not skip over the opportunity.

Thank You, Jesus

Thank You, JesusThis prayer seemed appropriate to me after our study of repentance.

Dear Jesus –

You calmed the raging waters and walked upon the sea,

You healed the lepers, deaf and blind, and caused the blind to see.

Your miracles are endless – yet the greatest one to me

Is when I knelt repenting, you saved me; set me free.

You touched the hopeless sinner so filled with guilt and shame

Infused me with assurance and made me whole again.

Thank you, for Grace unfailing, forgiveness – Love divine,

That took my sins and paid the price to make me wholly Thine.

Anna McCalpin

Repentance Means

Repentance MeansIf we were to ask what repentance is, we would probably be told that we should turn away from sin and live a more Godly life. This is true, but the Bible makes it clearer than that. In answer to what repentance is Colossians 3:2 says, “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.” We are told to become a new person in 2 Corinthians 5:17. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, the old has gone, the new has come!”

The Bible also has some definite requirements for what must be included in repentance. They are as follows:

1. Faith – “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” Mark 1:15
2. Humility – “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.” James 4:10
3. Prayer – “Repent of this wickedness and pray to the Lord.” Acts 8:22A
4. Sorrow for Sin – “Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.” Job 42:6

Finally, the Bible makes it clear that we are to show that we are a repentant sinner by the deeds that we do. In Matthew 3:8 John the Baptist says, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” Paul repeats this same command in Acts 26:20B when he says, “I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.”

As you can see it is not easy to repent. We can only begin and continue with a sincere heart and mind and do the very best we can. When we stumble, we must confess our sin, repent, and continue on knowing that Jesus is our Lord and Savior and that He is with us every step of the way.

Can You Do It?

Can You Do It?In Luke 13:3 Jesus makes it very clear that anyone who does not repent will perish. But what does it mean to repent? The dictionary defines the word repent as “to turn from sin and dedicate oneself to the amendment of one’s life.” Most pastors will also tell you that to repent means to turn away from sin. So we say, “Okay, I’ll do that.” But are you sure? Let’s take a look at what sin really is.

Exodus 20:1-17 contains the record of The Ten Commandments that God gave to Moses. I will not repeat them at this time, since everyone can read them. I will, however, direct your attention to Matthew 5:17-18 where Jesus says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” Jesus continues in Matthew 5 and says that anyone who becomes angry is subject to the same judgment as someone who has committed murder. He also says that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery. He continues explaining why it is impossible to gain salvation on our own.

In Matthew 22:37-40 Jesus introduces The Greatest Commandment. He says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” I am very sure that no one, myself included, can say that no matter what happens we always put the needs and desires of the other person before our own. This means that we have sinned and fall short of what God expects from us.

Finally, there are sins of commission and of omission. Sins of commission occur when we do something that we shouldn’t. Sins of omission occur when we don’t do something that we should, even if we do not realize that we should do it.

The point is that it is impossible on our own to live a sin free life. This is why we have Jesus; our Lord and our Savior. He took onto Himself all of our sins, so that when we stand before God all God sees is a pure and sin free life. But as I said last time, in order to gain salvation we must repent and do the very best we can to live a sin free life. When we mess up, as we most assuredly will, we must confess our sins, repent, and keep trying.

Heaven or Hell – Are You Sure?

Heaven or Hell - Are You Sure?This past week I had the opportunity to hear several people speak, who said they had turned their lives over to God and that they were now Christians. On the surface this sounds wonderful, but as I listened I realized that something was terribly wrong and that these people were probably headed for hell, not Heaven. You ask, “Why? How could you say such a thing?” The words that these people spoke indicated that they had missed a huge component of giving your life to Christ. Repentance!

They understood that Jesus had suffered and died on the cross to save them from their sins. They understood that God is love. John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” The part that they missed is that God is also a jealous God. “He is a holy God; he is a jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins.” Joshua 24:19

The life that we must live in order to have God’s forgiveness is one of repentance. In Acts 2:38 Peter says, “Repent and be baptized every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” Peter speaks again in Acts 3:19. “Repent, then, and turn to god, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord, and that he may send the Christ, who has been appointed for you – even Jesus.” Jesus says it very clearly and to the point in Luke 13:3 when He says, “I tell you. .unless you repent, you too will all perish.”

As we joyfully remember God’s love in sending Jesus to suffer and die in our place, we must also remember that God expects something from us. It is not a free ride. We must repent and do our very best to live the kind of life that Jesus taught and lived. The two are a pair. In the words of a long forgotten song, “You can’t have one without the other.”

An Apple for Jesus

Apple for JesusThis story came from a church newsletter written many years ago. I thought it would be appropriate as we enter apple picking season.

One day an elderly man entered into a hospital. He was grumpy from being on medication and the nurses thought him to be insane, as he yelled for his wife to get the apple basket. By the time they had checked him into his room the nurses were exhausted from the fight he was putting up. “Sir you have to calm down we are doing everything we can for you” they would try to explain. “I don’t need your help,” the grumpy man would yell, “I want my apple basket”. He finally slept. The nurses sighed with relief and talked among themselves whether they should call the hospital psychologist about the old man and his obsession with the apple basket. As they talked and laughed about the situation the wife came in carrying the basket of apples. They looked kind of stunned as she asked if she could see her husband and deliver his basket. Sure, they agreed as they watched her slip past into his room. Curiosity consumed them over the next few weeks as they tended to the elderly man. He was eaten with cancer and the doctors had given him no hope of survival. He turned out to be a very calm, happy man once he had his basket. His wife, they noticed, would come in with apples and go out with apples and the curiosity grew even more till one nurse couldn’t stand the suspense.

One night as he was nearing the end, the nurse sat down in a chair by the wife. “May I ask why do you have that apple basket? I just don’t understand the significance.” “I am an apple farmer by trade he sighed. From the time I was 20 till the day I do die I will forever have my apples.” The nurse nodded thinking she understood. He just likes his work, she thought, assured now he was a little bit crazy. As she started to leave, the old man asked her to sit down. “At age 20 I was saved, I accepted the Lord as my Savior.” Oh no, the nurse thought. Here comes the lecture on religion. The old man continued. “The day I accepted the Lord as my Savior I got this basket, and each time I had a problem or concern that I could not handle, I put an apple in the basket un-shined.” “Why?” the nurse said shaking her head. “Because it reminded me to give those problems to the Lord for him to shine. See my basket now, he stated. As my problems disappear so do the apples. As I get new problems, ones I cannot handle alone, I put an apple in.” The humble nurse looked into the basket . . only one apple was there. With that, he took a big breath and grabbed his wife by the hand and faded into eternal sleep. The wife paused for a moment and got up from her place to take from the basket the last remaining apple. She whispered in his ear that his reward awaits him in heaven. The nurse stayed still and asked with tears in her eyes, “What do you think his riches will be?” The wife knew what they were, eternal life with Jesus Christ. But she could see the concern and sadness upon the young nurses’ face and handed her the apple and said, “The biggest apple pie you can imagine!” That was the day the young nurse was saved, and from that day on she always had a basket by her bed.

Peace UCC newsletter

When We Talk To God

Talk To God

When a child goes away to college or gets married and moves out of their parents home, the need for communication does not stop. Parents always want and need to hear from their children about how things are going and if Mom and Dad can help. We are God’s children and this also applies to our relationship with Him. God wants to hear from us everyday. The Bible tells us to pray without ceasing.

Unfortunately our lives move so quickly that many of our prayers are simply cries for help: help me get through this traffic light, let me get this raise, make the rain stop so we can barbeque. God does help us, but frequently He sees a bigger picture that helps us even more. Remember Jesus words as He prepared for the cross, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” Luke 22:42

I have included a poem by Frances R. Havergal that I believe makes a wonderful prayer when we can’t think of what else to say.

“Take my will, and make it Thine;
It shall be no longer mine.
Take my heart, it is Thine own;
It shall be Thy royal throne.
Take my love; my Lord, I pour
At Thy feet its treasure-store.
Take myself, and I will be
Ever, only, all for Thee. Amen.”

Learn More Than You Thought You Could in Bible Study

Bible Study

I am wondering how many people are out there like me, who endure Bible studies rather than anxiously look forward to them each week. At least in the Bible studies I have attended over the years it seems that the leader, whether pastor or lay person, does and says pretty much the same thing week after week. A Bible passage is selected, the leader tells the story, explains it and asks for comments. A few people, usually men, may respond but very seldom does any real dialogue happen. Then everyone leaves telling themselves they have learned something, even though they have repeated that same Bible passage in the same way many times.

I have found a Bible study that I am truly excited about. It can be used alone or for some really energetic dialogue with a small group. Titled “Bible Word Search” and written by Charles Christopher Martin it presents a very new way to approach Bible study.

Instead of focusing on a Bible passage and studying that passage in depth, Mr. Martin chooses a topic and researches that topic. Let’s choose one of the topics, “Characteristics of a Believer”. The reader is given a list of Bible passages to look at and find a word or words in each passage that identifies the characteristics of a believer. I must insert here that I found characteristics I didn’t know existed. These new ideas invite discussion, because some will agree, some will be amazed they never saw that before, and some will question the new idea.

After this list is compiled the reader can then take it to a word search grid and do a normal word search, just for fun. There is a small Bible dictionary included, just in case someone encounters a word they do not recognize and of course, the usual answer key.

I found this to be a much more exciting way of approaching Bible study. Too often we get into a rut and do things the same way time and time again. In using this approach one notices ideas and concepts that are looked over when doing Bible study in the traditional way.