Sunday, November 30, 2014

The First Sunday in Advent, Day 1 - God Created Everything - Including You

It's the first Day of Advent, and I want to thank you for coming along with me as we celebrate that Our God Came to Earth For Us.  I wanted to write a series of Advent meditations that could be geared towards children.  The first part of this is written so that kids - your kids, my grandchildren - could read, or hear what is written and "enter into" Advent for themselves.  If you don't have kids you can either read it, or just skip ahead to the section entitled "For Parents and Other Not Kids".  These are purposefully short so that - hopefully - we can keep their interest.

The beginning of Advent this year is going to be about how God Keeps His Promises.  We'll start with Creation and move through the O.T. story to understand WHY God had to send His Son into the world.  As the angel said to Joseph and Mary, "To save people from their sins".

For the Kids:

Advent reminds us about God.  We can’t see God.  That is one of my Granddaughters reminds her Mom – “But Mom, I can’t see him!”.  But we can know that God is real by looking all around us and seeing the beauty and wonder of God’s creation. 

A good question to begin Advent is to ask “Why Did God choose to come as a baby?”  

In order to understand that we need to go back to the very beginning.

God’s word, the Bible, tells us that God created everything.  Genesis 1:1 says,  
“First this: God created the Heavens and Earth—all you see, all you don't see.”

He created the Planets, our Earth, the Sun, Moon and Stars.  He created the sky, and clouds; the days and nights, as well as the water and the land.  In the water he created the fish to swim and on the land the animals and the birds to live.  And, last of all he created human beings – people – and that’s where we come from. 

God created a man and a woman and families began with them.  They looked like God, just like you look like your Mom or Dad.  They were beautiful to God and he gave them a perfect place to live in with everything they needed.  
What do you think God said when he was done doing all that creating? 

Genesis 1:31
“God looked over everything he had made; it was so good, so very good!”

God loved everything he created, and that includes you too.  God has given you a family and he created your family so that you would know He loves you.  

Here’s an Activity you can do together:  Let’s go outside and look around.  What do you see?  How many things can you see that remind you that God created that too?  

Here’s something else to do:  Have someone print this next page off and color it…this reminds us that God created everything including you and your family. 



To Parents and Other “Not Kids”:  

This first day is based off the first chapter of the Jesus Story Book Bible entitled, “The Beginning: a perfect home.”

The beauty of Advent is that it gives us time to think about why God sent His “one and only Son”, our Savior, Jesus, into the world.  With so many activities taking place during this season, we can easily lose sight of the “Reason for the Season”.  Advent reminds us that God did things for a reason.

The first thing God did was create the world.  His creation was “very good”, and that included the creation of the man and the woman – our ancient ancestors.  

God created a world where He would have fellowship with Us.  Fellowship with God might seem too "out there", but believe me, it is as real as God is real.  He designed us to know him and to live our lives "with" him, and "for" him.  

Tomorrow we’ll talk about how Sin came in and tried to destroy what God created.  When that happened, God made a promise – a promise that took a long time to come true.  

That’s the theme of this week…that God Always Keeps His Promises. 

When Jesus came he was the fulfillment of God’s promise.  That’s important for us to think, or meditate on. 

Advent requires “waiting”, but not a waiting that is without hope; but instead a waiting that looks for fulfillment.

Peace

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Advent: What Can We Do?

 Yesterday I began to lay out some thoughts on "Why Celebrate Advent?"  Today I want to give some ideas for what we can do to make Advent part of our own practice, and perhaps also our family's tradition.

First, some more thoughts on the significance of how Advent can shape our celebration of Christ's birth.  The prevailing themes of the Advent season and the symbolism behind the activities which churches and families share are varied among many traditions.  

I've often meditated/mused on different words that came into many Advent celebrations.  Words like  Expectation, Anticipation, Fulfillment, Hope, Preparation, Peace, Joy, Sharing, and most of all, Love all reflect aspects of what Advent is all about.

These themes are varied but whatever the words chosen; they became a means of reflection about the reason for Christ’s coming.  

We often celebrate Advent with symbols, such as using a center-piece of an Advent wreath, which incorporates 5 candles – four around it, and one in the center.    

On each Sunday marking a new week in Advent, a candle is lit (including candles from previous weeks) until we arrive at the center candle (usually a white candle) which stands for Christ.  

The practice of lighting Advent candles began in Germany. They lit candles surrounded by evergreen branches in their windows on cold winter nights to signify their hope for the coming warmth and light of spring!  Later, German Lutherans kept the practice alive and gradually the symbolism of the Advent wreath was added: evergreens represent everlasting life (because they do not die during winter) and Christ as the light of our life.   
The wreath became a symbol of God's eternal love.  The candles represent Christ, the light of the world!  Many traditions use purple candles around the wreath, but it is not a requirement to do so.  

There are also "more safe" kid friendly ways to do this using votive candles, sugar/sand and mason jars:

The symbolism of lighting the candle each week reminds us of the way God prepared the world for his Son’s coming; and the realization that God continues to prepare the world for when Jesus will return again.

Of course Advent is the perfect time to read an Advent devotional (I have one available through Amazon as an e-book:

http://www.amazon.com/Advent-Sojourn-Elliott-Pollasch-ebook/dp/B00FN1130C/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1416925005&sr=1-1&keywords=an+advent+sojourn, 

I have read a couple of dozen different books from various authors to help me take time to think, muse within my mind and heart.  I also love to take time to write, or journal, listen to great Christmas music, spend some extra time in worship and prayer.  Using an Advent devotional like this one isn’t meant to replace anyone’s personal time of meditation and reflection – it is meant to enhance it.  
My own practices come from simple traditions.  Every morning during Advent I grab a cup of coffee, my bible, and several devotional books.  I read, pray, and ask the Holy Spirit to help he see the beauty, and wonder, of Christ Jesus’ coming.  Then I journal – which for the last few years has been done online as a part of an Advent blog.  

Create Your Own Advent Calendar

An Advent Calendar can be as simple or as ornate as you'd like. Here are some ideas:

  • Use an actual calendar like the large desk calendars with space to write in. Every night, write in a new verse reference for you and your family to look up and read together the next day. You can either cross out the days, or somehow put a sticke on the square to count down the days.
  • Cut out a Christmas tree shape from cardboard or posterboard. Each day, add a sticker, or a verse of scripture that represents that day’s reading.
  • An alternative to a calendar - make an Advent paper chain. Every day write down scripture, or something that represents an Advent theme and connect it together.
  • Use a corkboard.  Many households have corkboard message boards.  Decorate it and transform it into an Advent calendar and post new messages and/or verses every day.
  • Make an Advent tree. Use a small (3-foot or so) artificial tree and each day hang a new ornament. These can be tiny gift boxes , mini stockings or mini mittens holding verses and/or candy. 
  • Nativity figures. Instead of a calendar, let the Christmas season be a time for the children to construct the nativity scene one person, or animal at a time. 
  • Use old Christmas cards to create a tree shape on your wall or door. Glue verses or other messages written on colored paper inside, perhaps with a note to pray for the person who sent you the card.
There are many more creative ideas out there…be imaginative, involve the whole family.

 For those who think this is too much time out of there already busy day I suggest a simple remedy:  set your clock to wake up 15 minutes earlier to incorporate some of these things into your day, or take a couple of minutes with your kids at a meal together and read a few passages of scripture, or a page from a book.  
The key is not in the busyness of creating “one more thing to do” before Christmas, but rather to slow down, celebrate, reflect on what is going on in the days leading up to Christmas that allows to keep Christ Jesus as the focus in all that is done.  Keep it simple, fun, and short.  It will be well worth the effort.

Peace

Monday, November 24, 2014

Advent: Why Celebrate it?

In less than a week - next Sunday - the season of Advent begins.  For a lot of people, myself among them, I look forward to this with much anticipation.  But it was not always that way, and for many, it is still not that way.  

Advent?  "Bah Humbug"...Why Celebrate it?

I was raised in a family of eight and as a kid Christmas was my favorite time of the year.  Not only did we get vacation from school, but we knew there were going to be presents under a tree.  What I remember the most about December was that it was a busy time of shopping, decorations, family parties and Church pageants.  
Yet, for me, there were two days that we kept our eyes focused towards:  Christmas Eve and Christmas day.  

The other days in that month seemed to drag on endlessly awaiting Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.  We filled that time shopping for presents and Christmas gatherings at school, or relative’s homes.  
On Christmas Eve our Lutheran church’s children's program meant I stood up in front the congregation nervously trying to remember the passage of scripture I was assigned to say.  Christmas Eve couldn't get over fast enough, because back home presents had mysteriously appeared under the tree.  
Christmas Day was bedlam with presents to use and more to open; a meal that was second only to Thanksgiving, and visits to and from relatives.  Once the meal was finished and the relatives gone home, life returned to normal.  This was Christmas for me year after year until my very late teen years.

As a young adult I gave my heart and life to serve Christ.  It was not indicative of the way I lived my life as a teen, but an encounter with scripture aided by a faithful witness and the work of the Holy Spirit pointed me back to Jesus.  God drew me to himself, and I fell headlong into the life of a Christ-follower.  I entered that life with passion and a desire to learn all I could so that I could live my faith with all sincerity before Christ, my Lord. 

Interestingly, not much changed in relation to Christmas.  The church I became part of didn't do much different with Christmas than the one I was raised in.  I was a young believer and the church’s message was Jesus Christ died for your sins, and this is why he came.  
Every year Christmas was celebrated one Sunday before Christmas with carols, and the kids put on a pageant; but most of the emphasis was on “why” Jesus came – to save us from our sins.  Since the major emphasis was on salvation, the majesty and mystery of the Incarnation was left out. 

I went to a Seminary to follow God’s call to serve in vocational ministry.  The Seminary I attended did not mention the season of Advent.  The Incarnation was a topic for Biblical Theology, but not the mystery of God of the Advent season.  Advent was for the “high church” folk (which by the way I was told may not really be believers).  The liturgy of seasonal celebrations was deemed to be inappropriate for a real “Spirit-led” ministry.

I majored in Church History.  As I became steeped in the story of the church – its beginnings, persecution, growth and development – it gave me a broad brush to see how the church worshiped Christ. My perspective on the contemporary church that I was part of changed as I saw what Christ was doing in the Church’s history – “I will build my church…”.  It was here that I entered into my first Advent celebration of Christ’s Incarnation.  I was hungry for a richer experience in celebrating Christmas.  I had little experience, but I was persistent in reading as much as I could.  As I read the Church Fathers, the Scholastics, the Reformers, and Pietists, I began to see something of the rich diversity these spiritual fathers of the faith saw in Christ’s Incarnation.

I graduated from Seminary and began to pastor a small Congregational church in a rural farming community in Wisconsin.  It didn’t take long for old patterns to return.  The first Christmas seasons were filled with planning services, choral programs, children programs, the usual Christmas decorations, family shopping and gatherings…busy things.  I was returning to the Christmas of my childhood. 

A few years into my first ministry I began to loathe the Autumn, because I knew it meant a lot of busy days ahead, with little personal fruit to enjoy.  It wasn’t the fault of the church, or ministry, it was my own spiritual laziness that made me accept the busyness.  
Again, after several years, I wanted Christmas to be more than what I had made it into.  I knew that I was missing Jesus among all of the good church and family things.

I returned to Advent. 
I came to the season of Advent deliberately, intentionally.  I began to include Advent as a season-long celebration.  Advent meant that Christmas became a month-long celebration: more reflective, prayerful, worshipful!  
Eventually, my family joined in, not because I compelled them to, but because my wife saw what Advent did for me.  
We incorporated Advent candles around an Advent wreath.  Every evening we had brief nightly readings, simple reflections which our children embraced and year after year they looked forward to Advent, and not just the presents at the end.  

My quiet times were reflective, prayerful, and worshipful.  I read Advent books from many different sources.  The reflections, thinking, pondering, and musing made my journey through the season something I anticipated for weeks before it occurred. 

In our Church community I introduced elements of Advent slowly.  I did not attempt to “force-feed” what I wanted and needed for myself upon others.  Our worship services had Advent themes, and I shared the importance of breaking free of the world’s patterns for a consumer Christmas in favor of one that was more Christ-honoring.  
Some came along and embraced the season making a part of their own traditions.  Simple readings, the kids lighting candles each week, and incorporating Advent into weekly messages brought the congregation into the season “softly”.

I have a deep passion for Advent.  I am an evangelical pastor who loves God’s word and seeks to preach it faithfully.  I see in Advent a place of wonder, mystery, fulfillment, anticipation, spiritual “waiting”, and expectation – a few of the words that accompany this season.  

If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, Advent is for you.  Maybe you thought it was for “those others”, but it is not.  
If you have never taken time to journey through an entire Advent season, let me invite you to come along with me.  I promise, taking time to prayerfully journey through the “Advent season” will make Christmas much more “wonderful".

What is Advent & the Advent Season?
The word "Advent" means "arrival" or "coming" in Latin and celebrates the mystery and the wonder of the first “coming” of Christ Jesus in his birth.  
Theologically, the Incarnation and the Trinity belong together.  Jesus is God in flesh, and yet truly human.  John 1:14 (NIV)
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
1 Timothy 3:16 (NIV)
16 Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great: He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.

Advent begins the Christmas season and as well, the Church year for many churches in the western world.  Advent is a seasonal celebration, a tradition that goes back through the Church’s history to the early centuries of the church. 

For centuries before Christ Jesus, faithful Jewish believers waited for God to send His Messiah.  When Jesus asked his disciples who they believed him to be, Peter answered:  “You are the Christ (Messiah), the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:18).  Jesus’ followers were first called Christians in the early church era (Acts 11:26).   The early church’s teachers saw in Christ’s first Advent a fulfillment of the Older Testament’s prophecies concerning the Messiah’s coming.  But, for the early church, Advent meant not only the celebration of Jesus’ first coming; but also the expectation and waiting for Christ's second coming.

The exact time when the season of Advent came to be celebrated is not precisely known. 
It is composed of the four Sundays before Christmas day, and can be as early as November 27th, or as late as December 3rd.  This year, it begins on this next Sunday, Nov. 30.  

For Christians, Advent is a time of reflection about the amazing gift that God gave to us in the person of His Son who came to live among us, and who someday will return to us – a second Advent. 

Advent is an opportunity to restore Jesus to His rightful place as the center of, and reason for, Christmas as a holiday.

What do you do in the Advent Season?  

We'll revisit this the next post:

Peace

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Thanksgiving for Wandering Arameans

THANKSGIVING IS JUST AROUND THE CORNER AND I FIND MYSELF THINKING ABOUT WHAT THIS IS ALL ABOUT AND WHAT WE LEARN ABOUT GOD AND OURSELVES IN THIS SEASON OF THANKSGIVING.

 WHAT I LOVE IS WHAT THANKSGIVING DOES TO ME.
I CAN’T READ THE SCRIPTURE WITHOUT READING THE WORDS “THANKS” AND “THANKSGIVING”, “GRATITUDE”, ETC…OVER AND OVER AGAIN.

Psalm 69:30
30  I will praise God's name in song and glorify him with thanksgiving.

Psalm 100:4
4  Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.

Philippians 4:4-6
4  Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!
5  Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.
6  Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

AND JUST IN CASE YOU FEEL GUILTY FOR EATING ALL OF THAT FOOD ON THANKSGIVING DAY:

1 Timothy 4:4
4  For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving,

WE’VE BEEN LOOKING AT FAITH OVER THE LAST TWO MONTHS, AND GOD ASKS US TO WALK IN FAITH…TO TRUST …BUT CLOSE BEHIND THAT IS OUR ABILITY TO BE THANKFUL.  

I THINK MOST EVERYONE WANTS TO LIVE THAT WAY.
THE QUESTION IS HOW?  HOW CAN WE DO THAT?
THANKSGIVING IS ROOTED IN HUMILITY 

SOMETIMES THIS IS FORGOTTEN.  REMEMBER ONE OF JESUS’ PARABLES:

Luke 18:10-11
10  "Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.
11  The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men--robbers, evildoers, adulterers--or even like this tax collector.

THE PHARISEE IS GUILTY OF COMPARISON…HE BASED HIS WELL BEING IN THAT HE WAS BLESSED OF GOD OVER AGAINST OTHERS.

Luke 18:13-14
13  But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’
14  I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

WE CAN DO THIS SORT OF THING A LOT… “BOY, I’M GLAD I’M NOT LIKE THAT…”  THERE ARE WAYS OF COMPARING OURSELVES WITH OTHERS AND CONVINCING OURSELVES OF THE GOOD THINGS HAPPENING TO US ON THOSE EXTERNALS.

REMEMBER THE STORY TOLD IN THE GOSPEL OF THE TEN LEPERS THAT CRIED OUT TO JESUS FOR HEALING.

Luke 17:11-19
11  Now on his way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee.
12  As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance
13  and called out in a loud voice, "Jesus, Master, have pity on us!"
14  When he saw them, he said, "Go, show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were cleansed.
15  One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice.
16  He threw himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him--and he was a Samaritan.
17  Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine?
18  Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”
19  And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”

YOU NOTE THAT JESUS SEES IN HIS THANKFULNESS, FAITH.

“THANKSGIVING” FOR US TOWARDS GOD IS RECOGNIZING WHAT HE’S DONE FOR US.  DO WE SEE THAT THANKSGIVING IS GROUNDED IN HUMILITY TOWARDS GOD?

HUMILITY IS NOT SOMETHING WE WORK ON…IT’S AN ATTITUDE THAT IS WITHIN US BECAUSE WE DON’T THINK WE DESERVE THINGS.
WHEN WE THINK WE DESERVE, WE FALL VICTIM TO THE 2ND THING: 
 A CULTURE OF COMPLAINING LEADS TO THANKLESSNESS.

Numbers 11:1
1  And the people complained in the hearing of the LORD about their misfortunes, and when the LORD heard it, his anger was kindled...

NOT GOOD SETTING…  SKIP TO VERSE 4

Numbers 11:4-6
4  Now the rabble that was among them had a strong craving. And the people of Israel also wept again and said, “Oh that we had meat to eat!
5  We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic.
6  But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing at all but this manna to look at.”

PEOPLE ARE COMPLAINING, UNHAPPY, AND MOSES IS THE LEADER WHO HAS TO STAND IN BETWEEN THEM!

WHAT’S GOING ON HERE?
·        CHANGE IS HAPPENING…AND,
·         THEIR EXPECTATIONS ARE NOT BEING FULFILLED…
·         THEY’VE FALLEN INTO A CULTURE OF COMPLAINING, WHINING, GRIPING AND MOANING THEIR CIRCUMSTANCES

THAT’S THE KEY - THEIR CIRCUMSTANCES.
THE ISSUE ISN’T THAT WE WON’T HAVE THINGS HAPPEN IN OUR LIVES THAT BOTHER US… WE WILL… BUT RATHER WHAT DO WE DO WITH THOSE CIRCUMSTANCES?

IN ALMOST ALL AREAS OF CHANGE, WE CREATE EXPECTATIONS OF WHAT WE THINK SHOULD HAPPEN. 

THEY THOUGHT GOD’S SALVATION MEANT EVERYTHING WAS GOING TO BE GOOD.  AND WHEN IT WASN’T THEY COMPLAINED.

THE ISRAELITES IN THE DESERT DIDN’T LIKE THEIR PRESENT, AND THEY WERE AFRAID OF THEIR FUTURE…SO THEY LOOKED BACK TO THE PAST.  PRETTY SOON THEY IDEALIZED THE PAST… GRAB AT IT IN A SORT OF A “GRAND OLD DAYS”

REMEMBER THEIR PAST?  THEY WERE SLAVES!

SOMETIMES WE OLDER FOLKS SAY THINGS ABOUT HOW GOOD THINGS USE TO BE, BUT IT WASN’T THAT GOOD.

THE BIBLICAL IDEA OF THANKSGIVING IS NOT BASED ON IMAGINING, OR EXPECTING LIFE WITHOUT DIFFICULTIES.


OUR FAITH IS A TEST OF WHETHER OR NOT WE BELIEVE IN GOD’S FAITHFULNESS THANKSGIVING IS A CHOICE…NO MATTER WHAT THE CIRCUMSTANCES.

LASTLY,
THERE IS IN THANKSGIVING A FREEDOM THAT SEES GOD’S FAITHFULNESS IN OUR LIVES.

Deuteronomy 26:1-2
1  “When you come into the land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance and have taken possession of it and live in it,
2  you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from your land that the LORD your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket, and you shall go to the place that the LORD your God will choose, to make his name to dwell there.

DUETERONOMTY WAS WRITTEN AFTER THAT COMPLAINING GENERATION DIED OFF
IT’S A NEW GENERATION AND THEY ARE ABOUT TO GO INTO THE PROMISED LAND.

THIS IS SOMETHING THAT RELATED TO THEIR WORSHIP WHEN THEY CAME INTO THE LAND THAT GOD HAD PROMISED, AND THEY HARVESTED THEIR CROPS…

THEY SAID 3 THINGS THAT I WANT TO RELATE BACK TO OUR OWN THANKSGIVING – 3 THINGS GOD WANTED THEM TO RECOGNIZE:

1.     WE’RE THANKFUL BECAUSE WE’VE BEEN BLESSED BY GOD IN ALL WE’VE RECEIVED

Deuteronomy 26:3
3  And you shall go to the priest who is in office at that time and say to him, ‘I declare today to the LORD our God that I have come into the land that the LORD swore to our fathers to give us.’

WE HAVE RECEIVED GOD’S BLESSING…OVER AND OVER AGAIN.
DON’T FOCUS ON WHAT YOU DON’T HAVE…FOCUS ON WHAT YOU DO HAVE.
THINK ABOUT WHAT HAS MADE YOU BECOME! 
THAT INCLUDES THINGS THAT WERE HARD ON YOU…THINGS THAT MADE IT TOUGH.

REMEMBER THE MOVIE:  SHENANDOAH?
JIMMY STEWART PLAYS A CRUSTY, CRANKY FARMER AT THE BEGINNING OF THE CIVIL WAR… HE HAS A FAMILY, BUT HIS WIFE DIED, AND HE’S BITTER ABOUT LIFE.
AT THE OPENING OF THE MOVIE, HE PRAYS AT A MEAL…(HE PROMISED HIS WIFE HE WOULD PRAY)
“LORD, WE CLEARED THIS LAND, WE PLOWED IT, WE PLANTED IT, WE HARVESTED THE CROPS AND FIXED THIS FOOD.  WE’VE WORKED UNTIL WE DOG-BONED TIRED.  NONE OF THIS WOULD BE HERE IF IT WEREN’T FOR US.  BUT THANKS ANYWAY.”  J

AS THE MOVIE UNFOLDS, THE WAR COMES TO HIS FAMILY AND HIS LAND.  TWO OF HIS SONS GO OFF – DIFFERENT SIDES,  HIS DAUGHTER HAS A CHILD AND NAMES HER AFTER HIS WIFE, BUT DIES; ANOTHER SON IS KILLED BY A SOLDIER ON THE FARM
AND HIS YOUNGEST IS TAKEN AWAY AS A P.O.W.

TOWARDS THE END, HE PRAYS:  “LORD, WE CLEARED THE LAND…”  BUT HE CAN’T GO ON, HE CHOKES UP.  SUFFERING AS HUMBLED HIM AND DESTROYED HIS SELF-SUFFICIENCY.  HE IS NO LONGER PROUD, BUT BROKEN, AND INSTEAD OF A SELF-SUFFICIENT PRAYER, HE PRAYS FOR HIS SON TO RETURN.

IN THE END, HE IS IN CHURCH WORSHIPING GOD WHEN HIS SON WALKS IN.  EVERYTHING CHANGES AND HE GENUINELY REJOICES AS THEY STAND TOGETHER TO SING, “PRAISE GOD FROM WHOM ALL BLESSINGS FLOW.”

IT’S NOT ALWAYS EASY TO SEE THAT EVERYTHING WE'VE RECEIVED IN LIFE IS A GIFT OF GOD…BUT GRATEFULNESS BEGINS WITH THIS SENSE OF GOD’S FAITHFULNESS NO MATTER WHAT THE CIRCUMSTANCES.

2.     WE’RE THANKFUL BECAUSE GOD IS FAITHFUL IN HIS GRACE & LOVE.

Deuteronomy 26:5
5  Then you shall declare before the LORD your God: "My father was a wandering Aramean, and he went down into Egypt with a few people and lived there and became a great nation, powerful and numerous.

NOTE VS. 5: “MY FATHER WAS A WANDERING ARAMEAN… 
WHAT DOES HE MEAN?  THEY ARE HEBREWS, JEWS???  BUT WHAT HE’S DECLARING IS,  “WE ARE NOBODIES…GOD TOOK US FROM NOTHING AND LOOK WHAT HE HAS DONE.  I’M IN THE LAND HE PROMISED US AND THIS IS MY FIRST CROP... LOOK WHAT GOD HAS DONE."

THINK ABOUT IT IN YOUR OWN LIFE.  LOOK BACK, THINK,  LOOK WHAT GOD HAS DONE.  

Deuteronomy 26:6-9
6  But the Egyptians mistreated us and made us suffer, putting us to hard labor.
7  Then we cried out to the LORD, the God of our fathers, and the LORD heard our voice and saw our misery, toil and oppression.   8  So the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with great terror and with miraculous signs and wonders.   9  He brought us to this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey;

LOTS OF UPS AND DOWNS…SOME SUFFERING, DIFFICULTIES, BUT GOD HAS BEEN THERE.  THIS IS THANKSGIVING.  WE SHOULD NEVER FORGET OUR STORY...NEVER FORGET OUR PAST.  NEVER FORGET THE LESSONS YOU'VE LEARNED. 

      3.  WE’RE THANKFUL BECAUSE IT RELEASES US TO GIVE GOD THE GIFTS OF OURSELF…

THE LAST THING HE DOES IS IN VS 10…

Deuteronomy 26:10
10  and now I bring the firstfruits of the soil that you, O LORD, have given me." Place the basket before the LORD your God and bow down before him. now I bring the firstfruits of the soil that you, O LORD, have given me."

PLACE THE BASKET BEFORE THE LORD YOUR GOD AND BOW DOWN BEFORE HIM.  THE BASKET IS CRUCIAL.  THE BASKET REPRESENTS THAT TANGIBLE, PRACTICAL EXPRESSION OF GOD’S GRACE.

THE BASKET MAY BE YOUR MONEY…YOUR TIME…YOUR ENERGY…YOUR SERVICE.  WHY DO THIS?  BECAUSE, THE GREATEST DANGER OF OUR LIVES…
·        IS NOT LOSING ALL OUR POSSESSIONS
·        IS NOT LOSING OUR HEALTH
THE GREATEST DANGER OF OUR LIVES…IS THANKLESSNESS!

THAT WE WILL FORGET THE LORD’S BLESSING OF OUR LIVES – I’VE SAID IT NUMBERS OF TIMES:  “THE GREATEST DANGER IN OUR LIVES HAPPENS WHEN WE GET WHAT WE WANT.”

DON’T LOSE SIGHT OF THE HEART OF THANKSGIVING – IT’S THAT HUMBLE REALIZATION THAT GOD IS GOOD…NO MATTER WHAT THE CIRCUMSTANCES.
GOD’S ABILITY TO REDEEM ALL THINGS…
DON’T FORGET THE BASKET –  DON'T FORGET WE'RE NOBODIES...WANDERING ARAMEANS!

THE HEART OF THANKSGIVING IS OUR OPPORTUNITY TO GO TO GOD IN WORSHIP.

PEACE 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Preparing for Advent - This Year's Theme

Advent – When God Came To Earth

The page on the calendar turns to December, and Christmas is soon to come.  Christmas is almost here!  
The kids wait in anticipation counting down the days until the gifts are opened.  For many Moms and Dads its a busy time:  there are Christmas programs and parties; carol sings and ringing the bells; shopping for presents, getting the tree, and the decorations to put up; mail the Christmas cards, bake the cookies and candies and...sigh, I’m tired already!  
What’s amazing in all of this is that we find that the reason we are celebrating Christmas can easily get lost in milieu of endless motion of activities. 

Why do we celebrate Christmas?  We celebrate Christmas because God Came to Earth.

The gospel of John introduces this to us:  John 1:14
14  The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

The Good News is that Jesus – God, the Son – Came to Earth; and that is the reason why we celebrate Christmas.  
Therefore, how can we take in the mystery of all that God did in Jesus’ birth?  

We can join thousands upon thousands of Christians around the world and celebrate Christmas as the Advent Season. 

Advent comes from the Latin word, “Adventus” and it means “arriving, coming”.  Advent has been celebrated as part of the church’s calendar for over a thousand years.  
Advent takes in the four Sundays preceding Christmas.  This year it begins on Sunday, Nov. 30th and ends on Christmas Eve, Dec. 24th.

Why Celebrate Advent? 

I do not celebrate Advent because I have nothing else to do around the Christmas season.  I celebrate Advent because it slows the season down and allows us to become immersed in the story of the incarnation.  
Christmas is a story that reminds me over and over again that God saw in us – his people – the beauty and wonder of His “image” - so much so that he entered the world through the Incarnation – Jesus, the Word, became flesh to save us from our sins.

I grew to love the season of Advent – slowly.  I did not start my Christian walk with it, but several years into my walk with Christ I embraced it.  Why?  Because I was leading a church and busy “with Christmas”.  What I did not see was the beauty of Christ in the Incarnation – the reason why we celebrate Christmas.  I put all of my attention on getting to the one day, Christmas, and missed the days of celebration that led up to it.  I came to the end of each Christmas with a sigh of relief, not a heart filled with renewed faith, joy and worshiping love.

It was Helmut Thielicke who said, “When I am asked why, as a Christian, I celebrate Christmas, my first reply is that I do so because something has happened to me, and therefore — but only as I am receptive and give myself to it — something can [now] happen in me.”

I wanted something to happen “in” me.  I embraced the Advent season.  Every year I grew to anticipate and love the Advent season like no other time of the year.  Now, I savor Advent like someone does a great meal…slowly, intentionally, deliberately.

Over the last 20 years I’ve blogged my way through the Advent Season and many have joined me.  A year ago I finished an Advent devotional book and published it on Amazon as a Kindle book (at a low cost of $1.99 a book).  Here’s the link for those of you reading this in my blog, but if you’re reading this in print just go on to Amazon and enter in the title of the book.  http://www.amazon.com/Advent-Sojourn-Elliott-Pollasch-ebook/dp/B00FN1130C/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1415292202&sr=8-1&keywords=an+advent+sojourn.     If you have purchased the book last year, thank you; but consider buying another book this year and give it as a gift to someone in your family, or a friend.

This Advent Season I’m going to do something I’ve not done before.  I’m going to blog through Advent again, but design the devotionals towards children.  As a Grandfather I have a desire for my grandchildren – and kids in general - to understand what this season of Advent is all about.

Each day of Advent – beginning Sunday, Nov. 30th – I’m going to post simple readings that parents can share with their kids; and with those readings, there will be suggestions for projects, crafts, or other things that I hope will be fun for kids, and help to make the Christmas story relevant to kids.  My target age is 4-10, so as parents you might need to adjust the things to do according to your children’s age.  What I would love is your comments, suggestions, and even your own ideas on how you made this relevant to your own kids.

With that as my goal, I have another suggestion which is that you purchase “The Jesus Story Bible” which sells on Amazon for $10.50.  Here’s the link, or if you’re reading this in print, just go on to Amazon and enter in the title of the book.  http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0310708257/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o01_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1.  I’ll use this as the basis for many of the daily meditations during Advent.

Lastly, we’ll celebrate the Advent Season in our church – New Life Fellowship - http://www.nlfellowship.org/.  We’ll worship and learn through the Advent season.  Each Sunday we’ll let Christ’s Advent become front and center with music, readings, candles, and teaching. 

This year the theme for our Advent worship is the title of this blog: 
“When God Came to Earth”
Nov. 30th          -           God came to show fulfill his Promises
Dec. 7th            -           God came to show us He wants us to Know Him
Dec. 14th          -           God came to show us His Love (our Christmas Kids program is this Sunday)
Dec. 21st          -           God came to show us His salvation, joy, & life
Dec. 24th          -           Christmas Eve, “Oh Come Let Us Adore Him”.

The time for Advent approaches quickly.  I pray you can “enter in” with me and let us celebrate together all that God has done for us in the Advent of our Lord, Jesus Christ.


Peace

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Faith - A Way of Life, Part 2

This teaching is part 2...with the first part posted yesterday.  If you haven't read it you may want to go back and look at that first.
I ended yesterday's blog with a simple premise:  Faith is meant to intersect with every area of our lives.  Jesus' invitation is to "come to me..." and it reminds us that that our lives are meant to experience freedom and joy that comes from a life of faith - trust in our Faithful God.

Today, let's finish this up and go back to Hebrews 11 as it looks looks at the history of mankind.  As we do, remember, it’s always FAITH that makes the difference – whatever the outcome.
Our Faith in Success and Our Faith in Brokenness

Over the last two months, we looked at Faith in some of the great heroes of the Old Testament. 
Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Joseph, Moses.  These guys were heroes of Faith in trusting God in really tough places.
The writer of Hebrews now reminds us that the scripture is full of people who acted in faith…BUT, what I want you to notice is that GOD sees our actions of faith.

Some of these represent Faith that is successful…or victorious…and some of these are not – they represent Faith in Brokenness.

First the Faith of the Success:

Hebrews 11:30-40
30  By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days.
31  By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.

The Victorious:

§  Joshua - a leader and warrior who obeyed God to lead his army
§  Rahab - a prostitute who trusted in God and believed in a future with God as her Savior.

Two dynamic individuals from completely difference areas of life.  The list goes on, but we need to note, even though all of these were heroes and successful in what they did, they were all flawed humans.

32  And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets—
·         
          Gideon - a frightened farmer
§  Barak - a frightened warrior
§  Samson - a flawed selfish hero
§  Jephthah - a flawed warrior
§  David - a flawed leader
§  Samuel - a flawed Judge
§    the prophets - Heroes who suffered and were rejected.

And, what did they do by faith?
33  who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions,
34  quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.
35  Women received back their dead by resurrection.
        

     David certainly subdued kingdoms and wrought righteousness.
 ·         Daniel's faith "stopped the mouths of lions"
 ·         the three Hebrew children overcame the power of the fiery furnace
 ·         Women refers to two stories of Elijah and Elisha’s ministry where children    were miraculously raised from the dead.

All are Successful, Victorious.  If we stopped there, we’d think that this is what Faith seems to be about.
But when we turn to the next set of verses, we’re reminded that not every action of Faith leads to something good.

Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life.
36  Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment.
37  They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated—
38  of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

This is a reminder, that God sees not only the heroes, however flawed they might be, but also those who’s Faith didn’t lead to success, the Broken!

Most of us can’t understand how failure can be an outcome of Faith.  We hide our brokenness…BUT God loves you in your brokenness!

But all we have to do is think about the people we know – even ourselves – where we entered into things by faith but things didn't necessarily work out.
·         Many people entered into Marriage by faith, but it didn't work.
·         The Education Goals that many went into and it didn't work out.
·         The Job that you took, but it didn't work out.
·         Our Possessions, Homes, Cars, things…where you bought it with a sense of this is right before God and it didn't work out.

When life’s circumstances hand us painful things, brokenness, things that didn't work out…it does not mean we have to abandon Faith, Trust in God.

39  And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised,
40  since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.

We have to be careful not to judge the circumstances of life as the absence of Faith.  Our Faith carries us “through” difficult things with a sense of trust in God…that he cares and he knows what’s best for us.

The Apostle Paul is a good illustration of this truth.  Paul himself described his life like this: 

1 Corinthians 4:9-13
9  For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like men condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to men.
10  We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honored, we are dishonored!
11  To this very hour we go hungry and thirsty, we are in rags, we are brutally treated, we are homeless.
12  We work hard with our own hands. When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it;
13  when we are slandered, we answer kindly. Up to this moment we have become the scum of the earth, the refuse of the world.

Paul was God's servant to the church and probably the greatest Christian who ever lived but his life wasn't rosy!

Faith enables us to turn from the approval of the world and seek only the approval of God.

If God is glorified by delivering His people, He will do it.
If He sees fit to be glorified by not delivering His people, then He will do that.  

But we must never conclude that the absence of good things happening means a lack of faith on the part of God's children.

Finally, let’s turn the page on this chapter and conclude with something that shows us why we can always have Faith.
The Faith We Have Is Available Because of Jesus.

History is full of Faith Heroes, but no person modeled faith than Jesus:

Hebrews 12:1-3
1  Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
2  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.
3  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

    • Look around – I remember my Coach saying:  “You can do this”… “Do this…” because others have done it already...you can do it too.
    • Look at Ourselves – Deal with Hindrances, Sin that Entangles, the Need for Perseverance
    • Look at Our Savior...he stands at the finish line and knows the power and the difficulties of living by Faith.
Think about the goal of Living…what do you want for your Life?  At the end of Jesus' life, on the night of his betrayal and arrest; he prayed to the Father.  What he says in prayer can be our goal in living by Faith.

John 17:1-5 
1  After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed: "Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.
2  For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him.
3  Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.
4  I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.
5  And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.


 Faith is the committed goal of following Jesus, trusting in His purposes for our lives and deciding to live our lives for a singular purpose - to live for God's glory and completing the work God gives us to do.

Peace