Fourth Week of Advent – LOVE

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READ

For the Lord, your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. And you are to love those who are foreigners… (Deuteronomy 10:17-19a NIV)

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35 NIV)

UNDERSTAND

Advent is a season of waiting. While in the Bible, this season was marked by the waiting of a Savior, today we live in a world where the Savior has come. Now, we remember. We remember the way God loved His people then by sending them a King that first Christmas, and we remember the way God loves us now by sacri­ficing His Son so that we might have a full and free life in Him.

At Advent, we ultimately remember God’s love. Because that’s what this season is truly about. Christmas is really about love, and primarily, the love God has for us. That love is so deep and profound that He sent His Son to Earth that first Christ­mas all those years ago. He sent Him knowing that He would eventually grow up to make way for the rest of mankind to come close to God once again. That is real love, and it all started with Christmas.

As you’re in the holiday season this year, ask God to keep this picture of love at the forefront of your mind. Ask Him to show you ways to treat others with this spirit of unconditional love. Thank Him for the ultimate show of His love for us—the gift of us Son, Jesus.

RESPOND

Questions for Discussion:

What’s one thing you love about Christmas?

How can you remember the love of God through His son Jesus this holiday season?

What can you do to help practice this unconditional spirit of love toward others this Christmas?

PRAYER

God, thank you for your Son, Jesus. There is no greater gift you could give us, no greater act of love, than that of sending Jesus to walk this Earth with us and make a way for us to be once again close to You. Thank you that even when we don’t deserve it, You love us. Help us to celebrate Your love this holiday season and be bold enough to share it with others. Amen.

FAMILY TIME

One of the best ways to teach your children about real love is to help them put it into practice. There are people all around you who could use some love this holiday season. Together as a fami­ly, look for ways to serve and love those in your community, your church, or your school who might be in need.

Write Christmas cards to the elderly, sick, or shut-in members of your congregation to let them know they’re seen and loved this holiday season. Ask your school if there’s a family who could use a little support, and shop for Christmas gifts for them as a family. Find a local charity your family can serve together one day during this season.

No matter what you do, look for ways to show love to people around you as a family. And as you do, talk with your kids about why it’s important that we show the love of Christ to others not just at Christmas, but all year long.

Third Week of Advent – JOY

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READ
But be glad and rejoice forever in what I will create, for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight and its people a joy. (Isaiah 65:18 NIV)

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kind¬ness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. (Galatians 5:22-25 NIV)

UNDERSTAND
One of the best things about the Christmas season is the way anticipation builds for the big day. From the moment Thanksgiving ends, the countdown to Christmas officially begins. And the closer and closer it gets to the actual day, the more and more we anticipate with excitement what Christmas morning will bring. In other words, our expectations for joy are high. And as the anticipation builds, so does the joy we look forward to feeling.

The people of God looked forward to that first Christmas with a similar anticipation, but what they were anticipating was much greater than any present we might be hoping to find awaiting us this year. They’d long been waiting for a Savior to come, and as news spread that He might have finally arrived, their anticipation grew to new heights. And when they knew that Jesus, the One whose arrival they’d anticipated for hundreds of years, was born that Christmas morning, their joy was endless.

While we can’t imagine what it must have felt like for the people back then to know that the King they’d been promised had finally come, we can share in their joy this Advent season. For just as God filled their hearts with His joy, He can fill ours with the same. And His joy—a deep, unmatchable, life-changing joy—is bet¬ter than anything else we might be anticipating this Christmas season.

As Advent moves on, ask God to fill your hearts with joy. Focus your anticipation on the celebration of His birth. And, ask Him to make your life a living testament to His joy this Christmas.

RESPOND
Questions for Discussion:
What’s one thing you’re anticipating with excitement this holiday season?
What do you think real joy feels like? How is it different than happiness?
What’s one way you can find the joy of Christ this Christmas? How can you help others experience that same joy?

PRAYER
Lord, you are the One we’ve all waited for, and we’re so grateful that you came to Earth for us all those years ago. We’re so grateful for the way you saved us and the joy you made possible for us. Help us to remember that what we have to be most excited about this holiday season is You. Give us your joy and help us to share it with others. Amen.

FAMILY TIME
The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear, right? Well, we think so! Make a point to interject some joy into your family’s holiday season by doing something fun and unexpected. One evening this week, tell your family to put on their best Christmas paja¬mas. Then, load everyone up in the car and take them to a local coffee shop for some hot chocolate. But to get their hot chocolate, your family has to sing a Christmas carol to the barista behind the counter!

Take your hot chocolates to go, and hit the road together to explore some of the best Christmas lights your neighborhood or town has to offer. Blast the Christmas music as you go, and sing along to some of your favorite holiday tunes together as a family.

It may sound silly, but we promise it will create some fun, joy-filled memories for your family this holiday season.

Second Week of Advent – PEACE

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READ

For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Coun­selor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this. (Isaiah 9:6-7 NIV)

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. – (John 14:27 NIV)

UNDERSTAND

Is there anything crazier than the Christmas season? The hustle and bustle of holiday shopping, family gatherings, church services, work parties, Christmas performances, and the general busyness that comes with the season. There’s just something about the Christmas season that seems to raise the collective blood pressure of the population, huh?

What’s interesting is that this frantic feeling of frenzy is the exact opposite of what this season is meant to be. While the rest of the world is pulling us toward presents, parties, and planning, Jesus is simply leading us toward peace.

In a world marked by tragedy, division, and corruption (sound familiar?), Jesus came to bring His long-promised peace to the people. His birth permanently turned the page from pandemo­nium to peace, letting all of us know that even when everything around us feels crazy, we can still have peace. Lasting, eternal, deep-rooted peace.

When chaos swirls around you this Advent season, choose peace. When you feel the stress of family dynamics or the tug of tension threatening to break you, choose peace. When you feel rushed and spread thin, choose peace. When you feel the pull toward perfection, choose peace. And when you feel the weight of weariness in this world, choose peace.

So as this Advent season marches on and we move closer and closer to Christmas, no matter what’s happening around you, cling to Jesus. Cling to the One who brings peace. Make His peace the banner over your Christmas season.

RESPOND

Questions for Discussion:

What is one thing that really stresses you or your family out during the holiday season?

What does peace look like to you?

How can you make a choice to let the peace of Christ permeate your holiday season?

PRAYER

God, you are the bringer of peace. You are the One who can sustain us when life feels chaotic. As Christmas approaches, help me to choose peace. Fill me with your peace and focus my eyes on You. Amen.

FAMILY TIME

Grab some pens, small pieces of paper, and your family! Have ev­eryone in your family write down on pieces of paper some things that really stress them out about the Christmas season. Have each person fold their answers up and put them in the middle of the table.

Before you take a look at their answers, read John 14:27 with your family. Talk together about what peace means to each one of you and how peace is possible in our lives because of Jesus.

Then, start going over the things each of your family members wrote on the pieces of paper. As you talk about the things that each of you said might be stressful this season, brainstorm ways you can instead choose peace.

Advent 2017

Advent is a season filled with expectation. It’s a time when we remember the world waiting for a coming Savior, and celebrate the way the world changed when Christ was born. It’s a season filled with the light and love of Jesus, the King, born to save us.

But if we’re being honest, it’s also a season filled with madness. As Christmas approaches, the focus of Advent sometimes gets lost amidst the chaos and craziness that comes with the holiday season.

So to help you focus your attention on the heart behind this special season, we’d like to share with you this four-week devotional guide to walk you through Advent. Each week focuses on a specific aspect reflected in the birth of King Jesus—hope, peace, joy, and love.

As you journey through this devotional, take time to think through the questions, spend time in prayer, and make time to participate in the activities that involve your family. Our prayer is that as you turn your eyes to the coming Savior this Christmas season, your hearts will be transformed as you remember the birth of the ONE SMALL CHILD who came to save us.

Hope

READ

The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness, a light has dawned. (Isaiah 9:2 NIV)

UNDERSTAND

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never been good at waiting. I’ve never been good at not knowing what’s ahead. Looking forward to an unknown future with hope and excitement just doesn’t come naturally to me. I doubt it does to most.

That’s exactly what the people were facing before the birth of Christ. They’d been through so much—the good, the bad, and the unimaginably terrible—over the years. Floods and famine, war and wandering, slavery and suffering—these people endured it all, but always with the ever-present hope of a Savior promised to come. They’d long been shrouded in darkness, waiting for a light to come.

But the darker the cloud, the brighter the sun that eventually shines through. And for them, that light to come was King Jesus. Though they waited in darkness, they did not wait without the hope of a Savior who was promised to come and shine an eternal light on their lives.

Waiting on God doesn’t exactly look the same for us as it did for them. We have the privilege of knowing how their story ends. The Savior they hoped for did come, and not just for them but for the whole entire world as well. For us. The waiting is still daunting, but we can wait with a fresh hope because we know the King has come.

I don’t know what kind of darkness you might be waiting under this Christmas season. I don’t know how heavy the cloud feels over your heart. But I do know this: for those living in deep dark­ness, a light has dawned. As we begin this Advent journey and look forward to celebrating the birth of the Savior who changes lives, do so with a fresh hope that the darkness will not win.

A light will break through.

RESPOND

Questions for Discussion:

What does waiting look like in your life? How does the wait make you feel?

Do you struggle to look forward to the future with hope? Why or why not?

How can you remember the hope of Christ and the promise of the light to come this Advent season?

 

PRAYER

God, thank you that we don’t have to wait without hope in this life. We know that just as it was true for your people back then, the promise of a Savior is true for us today, too. Take the weight of darkness sitting heavy on our lives and replace it with the light of your hope this Advent season.

FAMILY TIME

At dinner one day this week, ask each member of your family to share one thing they’re hoping for and waiting on this Christmas. Depending on the ages of your children and family members, answers could include anything from gifts they hope to see under the tree, prayers they hope to see answered, or an experience they hope to have.

After everyone has shared, read Luke 2:1-20 (what we know as the Christmas story in the Bible) and talk as a family about how those people were waiting for something bigger than anything we could imagine that first Christmas. They were waiting for Jesus! Just as we have hopes for what we want to happen this Christmas season, the people then did, too.

Then, pray together as a family, asking God to help you remember to have hope this Christmas season.

Fasting: The Cloud of Comfort & Convenience

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This Summer, our church is exploring spiritual disciplines in order that we might be nudged into a deeper faith and healthier lifestyle. This week we are focusing on the discipline of fasting (you can listen to the sermon or get the “Digging Deeper” questions here).

We live in a comfort driven society. In the last 7-8 years we’ve seen the service industry drastically change and bend toward increased convenience. You no longer have to sit through commercials (thanks Netflix and Hulu), have to drive yourself or call a taxi (thanks Uber), or even talk to another person while ordering food for delivery (thanks UberEATS and Doordash). You don’t have to write a letter or even pick up the phone to connect with friends on the other side of the world (thanks FaceBook, Twitter, and Instagram). We’re finally living into the Burger King slogan from the late 80’s where you can get “your way, right away” with almost anything (thanks Amazon).

In a world like the one we’re experiencing today, we actually have to work to be inconvenienced. We have to choose to not take what Andy Crouch calls, “the easy everywhere solution.” 

Fasting calls us to be uncomfortable. It is the conscious choice to abstain from the comforts and conveniences around us, with the expressed purpose of leaning into God. It awakens us to the realities of our communities that we might not see when living with all of the options around us. Richard Foster writes, “More than any other Discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us. This is a wonderful benefit to the true disciple who longs to be transformed into the image of Jesus Christ. We cover up what is inside us with food and other good things, but in fasting these things surface.” What controls you? What might you need to fast from this week? 

Find Your “Thin Place”

 

 

This Summer our focus is on creating habits that help us to draw near to God. The hope is – through being nudged into new spiritual disciplines – we would be challenged and stretched into a deeper faith and healthier lifestyle.

This week, we are exploring the discipline of Solitude (if you didn’t listen to the sermon or need the week’s “Digging Deeper” questions, you can get them here.)

 

There’s a concept that is often attributed to Celtic Christianity that hinges on the idea that there are physical spaces where God’s presence is felt more than others. These places are called Thin Places and the belief was/is that they exist in the space where “heaven and earth touch.”

There’s definitely a theological debate to be had around the concept, but it can’t be denied that there are moments throughout history where the Holy collides with the mundane. Scripture is full of them — Moses on Mt. Sinai or the burning bush, Saul on the rode to Damascus, the incarnation of Jesus… The challenge is to find those times and spaces in our lives today. 

I was first introduced to the Thin Place phrase while at a retreat center in the mountains. A lot of people visit this place with the intention of getting away from the daily grind or to spend time relaxing and in reflection. It’s important that we visit these places on a consistent basis, but if we want to live spiritually healthy lives we also have to learn to find Thin Places in our daily lives and weekly routines.

What does that look like for you? How can you find ten minutes, a half hour a day or a few hours a week? Can you walk on the beach, designate a chair in a room for silence, or sit under a tree in a park? Thin Places are all around us. Psalm 46 says that they exist in the midst of the chaos that so often surrounds us, that God is standing in the middle of it all and saying, “Be still, and know that I am God.”

How do you implement the discipline of solitude in your life? Where is your Thin Place?

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Dave

 

New Sermon Series: When You Pray

 

Years ago I was approached after a worship service by someone who was visibly frustrated with something from the service. The person said, “what is with your new age theology?!?” I paused, trying to quickly think through what I had said to see if there was anything that could remotely be considered “new age theology.” I think the person saw the puzzled look on my face and piped up, “YOU DIDN’T PRAY IN JESUS’ NAME!” I thought through the prayer I led that morning and said, “who do you think I was referring to when I said, ‘we pray all these things in the way that your Son taught us to pray…’”

“BUT YOU DIDN’T SAY JESUS!”

Prayer. It’s one of the most important things we do as Christians. It says a lot about who we are as individuals and what we value as a community. The words we choose are important, as is the time we spend listening.

Who better to model our prayer life after than the one we claim to follow? Jesus spent a lot of time connecting with and listening to his Father. In the Gospel of Luke, the disciples asked Jesus how to pray. He responds with the Lord’s Prayer. In Matthew, Jesus includes the same prayer as a part of his Sermon on the Mount. These words are important. They’re personal, they’re intentional and they tell us a lot about who God is and how our relationship with Him should look.

Over the next four weeks, we’ll be exploring the words that Jesus’ taught his disciples to pray. And as we do I’m going to invite us to think about how we choose our words, both in prayer and with one another. My hope for us as a community during this season is that we would learn to use Jesus’ model for prayer every day, that the words he used would define our relationship with God and would remind us that we serve a relational God.

Journeying with you,

Pastor Dave

Transition Update

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When I was a kid and the calendar changed from July to August, there was a significant shift in my thinking. It meant that Summer break was coming to a close and the new school year was just around the corner. I still continued with Summer activities and a relaxed routine, but I did so with the thought of a classroom and homework creeping toward the forefront of my mind. Transitioning back to school-mode took some mental and emotional preparation. It also took awhile for me to fully get there.

As a church, we’ve been in a season of transition for about a year. We’ve spent significant time processing who we are and discerning where God is leading. Some of us have struggled with the inevitable change that comes in transition and others are asking what is holding us back and are frustrated that we’re not moving faster. In some ways, like a student preparing to go back to school, we’re caught between what’s happening today and  the anticipation of what is coming.

As we head toward Fall and continue in our transition, it’s important we’re all on the same page. We have mapped out a three-phase transition process. That process includes (1) Finding or Identity, (2) Defining Direction and (3) Naming a Pastor. We have a Transition Team made up of elders that is working with the rest of Session to move through the process and we’re currently working to define our direction for our immediate path and to name some goals for the future.

Our aim is to conclude the second phase within the next month or so. Session has asked the Nominating Committee (affectionally, “NomCom”) to start searching for candidates for the Pastor Nominating Committee (PNC) and the NomCom is working hard to fill the nine spots of the PNC (seven members and two alternates). If you are interested in either recommending someone to serve or interested in serving yourself, you can download an application here.

Journeying With You – Dave Rohde, Interim Pastor

What We’re Singing, Summer 2016

Over the last few months our second service worship team has introduced quite a bit of new music. As we explore the Apostles Creed together this Summer, there are a few songs we’ll be singing during our services and we’d LOVE to give you something to listen to throughout the week. Enjoy!  (Note – Spotify is free: If you are using a Windows based machine download it here. If you are using a mac, download it here).

Good Friday. Again.

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The boy entered the small candy shop with his mom, bright eyed and full of anticipation for a chocolate treat as most seven-year-olds would. He searched the store for just the right sweet morsel that would satisfy his desire. His eyes sparkled as they studied the bright, Spring colored wrappings of each box, bag, and foil wrapped chocolate. The eggs…the bunnies…the baby chicks…the pastel colored baskets. And then he stopped for a few moments. A box of chocolates with a cross pictured on the front caught his attention. A sad shadow dimmed the brightness in his eyes as he pondered the box with a cross.

The boy looked up and loudly asked, “Hey Mom! It’s almost Easter already, huh?”

His mom answered, “Yes, son.”

To which the seven-year-old complained, “Aww, Mom! Does Jesus have to die again?!?!?”

There were sounds of a few giggles from the other shop customers, as well as smiles of amusement, and a few looks of disapproval. As the shoppers returned to their activity and the sounds of bustle resumed, I noticed the young boy was still pondering the box with the cross pictured on front. He didn’t mean to be funny or disrespectful with his comment. It seemed that in the midst of all the bright Spring colors…the chocolate bunnies…the foil wrapped eggs…and the marshmallow chicks – the representations of new life…resurrected life…there was an understanding by the boy that death had to come first.

And not just any death.

The death of Jesus.

On a cross.

We call it, “Good Friday.” Like the young boy in the candy shop, it’s difficult to see the death of someone…especially Jesus…as good. But so it is. The ultimate goodness of a God who loves us so much that He would pay the ultimate and complete price for us to have a restored relationship with Him. In the midst of reflecting on the pain…the torture…the cruelty…the betrayal…the brutality of being crucified…we also reflect on how He took upon Himself everything we deserved because of our disobedience…our selfishness…our stubbornness…our blatant rejection of God…

Our sin…

And paid the price. For good.

In one sense I would have liked to tell the young boy in the candy store, “No, Jesus doesn’t have to die again. He paid the price once and for all.”

And in my rather small, simple (Dare I say, childlike?) understanding of what Jesus did on the cross I would be correct.

But then I look at my life since the first time I came to truly understand and believe that Jesus’ death on the cross brought (and bought) my salvation, and I have to accept the fact that I have continued to live a life of disobedience, selfishness, stubbornness, and blatant rejection of God. I’ve continued to sin…and so I need to revisit Jesus’ death on the cross. I feel as if I need for Him to die again…in my place…so that I can walk in a continued restored relationship with God. I feel as if I need His death again…and again…and again.

I often find myself wanting to skip the reality of the death on Good Friday and just celebrate the new, resurrected life of Easter Sunday. Like the young boy, I don’t really want to ponder the cross. I want to celebrate and receive the victory of the empty tomb!! The bright colors! The new life!! The joy that He is risen…indeed!!!

But Jesus had to die first before He could rise. He had to pay the price in order to set us free. He willingly submitted Himself to the torture and death for my (our) sake before He could celebrate the victory and defeat of death. Giving me (us) the free gift of a resurrected, restored, and victorious life.

So I say to that young boy in the candy shop, “Yes” and “No.” Good Friday helps us to see that it’s both/and. “No” – the price Jesus paid by dying on the cross was a once-and-for-all sales transaction. Jesus never has to physically ever be crucified again. Like the hymn says, “Jesus paid it all!” But it’s also, “Yes” – because of our continual weakness, rebellion, and tendency towards sin, we have to revisit Jesus’ death again…and seemingly ask Him to pay the price, again…and die…again. Perhaps not physically, and definitely not for the sake of salvation, but on a spiritual level…a sanctification level.

Good Friday is a time of reflection. We pause to, once again, journey with Jesus through the torture of being crucified. We come to the foot of the cross and revisit the fact that Jesus’ death on the cross was our fault…is our fault. And it’s the one thing…the only thing…that restores our broken relationship with God. We come to the foot of the cross…weeping…wincing…in anguish…realizing the price He paid for our sin…and say…

Thank you.

I (we) receive Your forgiveness…Your grace…Your unmerited gift of salvation. I’m sorry that it’s because of me You had to die; then…and now. But I thank You from the bottom of my heart…my mind…and my spirit…for taking my place. I thank You for restoring my relationship with God; then…and now. I take this time…this moment…this Good Friday…to let Jesus die for me…

Again.

– Richard Bannister