Part of the Gift

By Charles W. Christian

One of my favorite Advent stories is about a missionary couple on the eastern coast of Africa. They were waiting to go back to the United States, their home country, after having served for over twenty years and impacting two generations of people in the village where they were assigned.

They were temporarily waiting in a location many miles inland from the coast until their arrangements were finalized for them to return to the U.S. for Christmas and for retirement.

One morning during the season of Advent, a few days before they were to fly out, there was a knock at the door.  A young man, the son of a family they had known during their entire time on the African coast, greeted them.  He was holding a small box that contained a gift that he told them could decorate their tree as a reminder of his family’s love for them.

“Did your family travel with you?” asked the missionary.  He knew they were one of the very few families in the small village that had a vehicle.  “No,” said the young man. “I walked.  I got rides when I could, but mostly I walked.  I left my village shortly after you took the train here a couple of weeks ago.”

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The couple was shocked.  “You didn’t have to walk all this way to give us this gift!” they said.  As much as we appreciate the ornament, we would have treasured it just as much if you had mailed it.”  The young man then replied, “The long journey is part of the gift!”

As we make the long journey through Advent toward the celebration of the birth of our Savior, we are reminded of an even longer journey: the journey of the Incarnation, when “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood” (John 1:14, The Message).

May our hearts be filled with anticipation and gratitude as we walk together toward the Savior and the new kingdom He brings.

Prayer for the Week:

God of hope and promise, be with us throughout this Advent season, and draw us ever closer as we journey together toward the stable and the birth of your Son, our Savior. Amen. (From John Birch at Faith and Worship)

This article was originally posted at: Holiness Today

An Uncommon Mission

By Ken Childress

“As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” John 20:21

A cursory reading of this verse might give us the impression that Jesus is saying, “The Father first sent Me; now it’s your turn.” But there is more to this verse than that. He is also saying, “In the very same way that the Father sent Me, that’s how I’m sending you.” The crucial question then becomes: How did God send Jesus?

Philippians 2 gives us a good understanding of the nature of Jesus’ mission. He humbled Himself, He took the form of a servant, and He became obedient to the point of death (Phil. 2:6-11). Jesus went from heavenly riches to earthly rags; from exaltation to humiliation; from authority to obedience; from ultimate significance to ultimate rejection; from comfort to hardship; from safety to danger; from glory to sacrifice; and from life to death. And He calls us to go into the world in exactly the same way!

Read that list again. Every one of those humbling transitions goes against our grain. We try to work our way up, not empty ourselves. We want more more significance, more safety, more authority, more attention, more comfort. But Jesus calls us to die to ourselves, to take up our cross and follow Him. He sends us out as He was sent.

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Does your attitude match that of Jesus? Do you take your mission seriously enough to go into the depths of this world – whether those depths are in another country, your own city, or even your own family – and live the gospel of humility for others to see? Jesus’ mission is to redeem this world, and He intends to shine the light in every vile, dark corner of it – through you and me. He calls His followers into prisons and concentration camps, into opium dens and brothels, and into leper colonies and psychiatric wards. He also calls them into night clubs, corporate conference rooms, university classrooms, and sports arenas. There is no place too uncomfortable, dangerous, or unlikely. Are you willing? As the Father sent Him, so He sends us into our community.

Why We Wait

By Charles W. Christian

“They that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength…” (Isaiah 40:31, KJV)

The Season of Advent is about waiting; not a passive waiting, but the kind of waiting we see in this passage from Isaiah: an expectant waiting.  If there is a “fun” kind of waiting, it is this kind!  As Christians, we do not just sit around tensely awaiting bad news. Rather, we are people who eagerly wait for the best news of all: the fullness of the presence of Jesus Christ.

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Advent, like all seasons of God-centered rest, is a reminder that God calls us to wait so that we can be prepared for whatever He is about to do next.  In the Gospels, for instance, Jesus is baptized and lauded by the voice of the Father, and is then “cast into the wilderness” by the Holy Spirit for a time of fasting and focused rest.

During this period of rest, Jesus is overcoming temptation and preparing for His next steps. When His wilderness journey comes to an end, Jesus emerges ready for the next aspect of ministry in step with God the Father’s pace and not at the pace that the world demands.

Likewise, as we enter the season of waiting for the beginning of the Christian New Year (Advent), we are called to restfulness, preparation, and expectation. 

Can we begin to put the past year behind us and to enter into a time of dedicated rest? Can we refocus our hearts on the fullness of the Christmas season – the fullness of the presence of Christ leading us into new adventures?  In the words of the great theologian Jurgen Moltmann, Christians are “people of Advent:” people who live their lives truly expecting God’s leadership and movement into the future.

Let us allow the Holy Spirit to create such an Advent in us, as families and as churches.  This will set the tone for a truly Christ-centered Christmas season.  More than that, it will open our hearts to whatever God is preparing for us in the days ahead.  May we find rest, refocus, and refreshing as Advent moves us toward Christmas.

Prayer for the Week:

Oh Immanuel, God with us, truly in this Advent season we celebrate that you are not hidden in some faraway cloud, but you chose to be with us in the blur and mystery of our lives.

In the midst of lists and rush, you are with us as a song that echoes in our minds, as the light of a candle, as a card from a friend. They are signs of your presence.

We turn to you this season and pray that you would birth joy and healing, blessing and hope in us.
Let something wonderful begin in us — something surprising and holy.

May your hand be upon us. Let your love fill us. Let your joy overwhelm us.
Let our longing for you be met on a coming holy night: Immanuel with us once again.

Amen. (Written by Rev. Jerry Chism)

This article was originally published at: Holiness Today

 

An Essential Sign

By Rev. Ken Childress

1 Corinthians 15:17, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.”

The Resurrection validates everything we believe in. Without it, the Bible is bold enough to say, our faith is worthless. Those who think Christianity is worthwhile for life in this world alone are disagreeing with Paul; he thought we were pitiful creatures indeed if our faith is only a this-world faith (See verse 19).

No, God gave us the Resurrection – Jesus’ and ours – for a reason. It’s a PROMISE, a PLEDGE, a VALIDATION that our life on this fallen planet is but a tiny fraction of the life we were meant to live. While the rest of the world goes about living for the here and now, we live for eternity. While they make investments hoping for good returns in a matter of years or decades, we make investments hoping for good returns in a matter of timeless “ages.” While they interpret their trials as things that will make or break the quality of their lives, we interpret out trials as events that are shaping us to understand God and inherit His riches. The Resurrection makes all the difference in the world. And beyond.

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This, in fact, was the point of creation from day one. Genesis is the account of God’s creation, but the cross of Christ and the empty tomb are the account of the recreation. The early church was suddenly aware that they were living in the regenesis, the fulfillment of all God had promised, the Kingdom that does not pass away. And that knowledge guided everything they did.

We often think of the Resurrection as an Eastertime phenomenon – a past miracle that gives us faint hope for the future. It is SO MUCH MORE.

The Resurrection validates our faith in the redeeming work of our High Priest, who has taken away our sins. It allows us to live with a sense of risk and adventure, because it makes us part of a new order of creation that ultimately cannot fail. Our lives are grounded in Someone who regins in eternal VICTORY!

He is Risen…He is Risen Indeed. No Resurrection, no Christianity!

Total Victory!

Rev. Ken Childress

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Hate had nailed Jesus to the Cross. Religious men had become devilish in their opposition to the Son of God. Brutal men had carried out the execution of the Son of Man. As Jesus died, the sun covered its face in shame, and the earth trembled in embarrassment

A sound escaped from parched and swollen lips. Was it a moan of agony? Was it the rambling of a mind shoved over the threshold of unendurable pain? NO! The words formed the briefest of statements describing the most important single event in history: “IT IS FINISHED.”

To the hate-twisted minds of the religious bigots who schemed this murder, the words came as a welcome relief. The troublesome yet awesome Prophet who claimed to be the Messiah was quieted. This magnetic Teacher who taught with unique power was silenced. The miracle-working Carpenter was no longer a threat to them.

To the brutal soldiers, the death of Christ offered some excitement and diversion from the normal day of putting the sword to women and children.

To the curious mob, the crucifixion of Christ provided a lively topic of gossip in the bars and taverns on the day.

To the shocked disciples, the sudden end of their leader brought dismay and discouragement. It had been such a beautiful dream. Their years with Jesus had built expectations of dramatic social and spiritual change. Now they would attempt to rebuilt their lives, knowing they would always muse on what might have been.

To Jesus, the words, “IT IS FINISHED: meant that love had bridged the gap between a holy God and sinful man. The three words were uttered as a soul-satisfying proclamation that salvation’s door was opened.

To the world, the words “IT IS FINISHED” represent a Maga Carta, a Declaration of Independence, and an Emamcipation Proclamation all rolled into one – and more. Here is man’s redemptive Bill of Rights!. 

It is finished church, never ending redemption. It is finished! Hallelujah!

Truly Free

By Raphael Rosado

What does it mean to be free? Nowadays it seems that popular consensus has moved towards defining freedom as the capacity for people to make choices without outside interference. The content of the choice doesn’t matter as long as it’s “your choice.”

This definition seems deficient. Think about a certain addict for example. Every day he wakes up and “chooses” to go out looking for the substance that’s killing him. Regardless of all the information readily available on the harmful effects of drugs, every day millions of people decide – in the exercise of their “freedom” – to continue to use them. Is an addict really free? Worse yet, when somebody advises them to stop, many addicts say: “It’s my life, and I am free to do with it what I please.”

Or think about an adolescent starting to discover the world. She wants to exercise her freedom by going to a party with adult entertainment. When her parents advise against going to a place like that, we can almost hear the daughter’s answer: “I am free. You can’t tell me what to do.”

romper-cadenas-2.jpgIf freedom could be reduced to “choosing for the sake of choosing,” we would be forced to celebrate every mistake in its name. There must be a better definition.

In John 8:32 Jesus tells us, “…You will know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” Freedom is not about making any decision, is about making the right decision. Anybody can make a choice. But to be truly free, one must choose well. Good decisions can only be made when they are based on the truth: Jesus is the truth.

Later in the passage, Jesus compares sin to slavery (John 8:38). He wasn’t saying anything new; a majority of the great philosophers before him had already observed that a person that gives in to his desires and passions becomes a slave to them, a conclusion we seem to have forgotten. Still, every solution ever devised to that problem had failed.

Jesus gives the only possible solution: “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed” (John 8:36). Jesus, in whom complete knowledge resides, knows what’s best for us. Only Jesus can help us get past “choosing for the sake of choosing” in order to move us towards choosing well.

In this Lenten season let’s reflect on what freedom in Christ really means. “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love” (Galatians 5:13).

Joseph of Arimathea

By Scott Armstrong

There are always those within any institution that, after the institution has become outdated and ineffective, choose a different path. They work within the establishment and respect all of its levels of hierarchy and protocol. However, they steadily clash with the great monolith in order to jumpstart a movement. They are often criticized for their positions.

And so we find Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the Sanhedrin, offering to bury Jesus Christ, the very threat to the Jewish government.

On one occasion this Jesus had stood in the synagogue and read from the prophet: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” A lot of nodding heads that day, until the Proclaimer issued an audacious proclamation: “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Joseph’s contemporaries went ballistic at that, and he was offended, too. But there was an almost-forgotten hope in Joseph that leapt up and took his breath away as well.

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There was something about how he gave dignity to women who had been forgotten, looking at them lovingly, with no agenda. There was something about the way he laughed with children that caused Joseph to think, “What if Yahweh is different from what I was always taught?”

Even when Jesus was lambasting Joseph’s own leadership council, there was something about his words that rang true to Joseph. Could he be the Messiah?

Thus, in the chaos of all that was happening in Jerusalem, this same Joseph obeyed the stirring in his heart after the crucifixion of Jesus and went boldly to Pilate to ask for the body. It takes courage to go to a corrupt ruler like Pilate and make any request, but especially for the corpse of the man who had caused the whole city to riot. And yet, Joseph’s boldness was even greater due to the barrage of hatred he was to receive from his own religious Council. His reputation in tatters, his influence called into question, tradition tells us he was later imprisoned and beaten for his actions.

Even as he perhaps foresaw the sacrifice his own decision would entail, the sacrifice of the man he started to lower from the tree began to weigh heavily on him. Jesus’ bloody feet and hands blotched Joseph’s comfortable clothing. Tearfully he cleaned the wounds and honored the deceased by wrapping him carefully in new, linen cloth. As hard as he tried, the fabric still stuck to the wounds, and the crimson stains soaked through the pure linen.

The emotions of the moment overwhelmed Joseph.

He had wanted to honor Jesus, and yet, for the first time in his illustrious life, he truly felt honored.

He had come to help, and yet, he had been helped.

He had longed in his sorrow to know the Christ, but he also ended up being known by the man of sorrows.

And as he mournfully hurried to prepare the body for burial before the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea met Jesus of Nazareth for the first time.

There was no need for secrecy anymore. He who had removed Jesus from the cross decided to take up his own.