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28 Responses

  1. Jean says:

    Dear P. P. Friends,

    I am looking around my living room this morning, and it is fully decorated for Christmas. We have Christmas-themed figurines sitting, standing and crouching everywhere: miniature Santas, snowmen, reindeer, Christmas trees, and ornaments. In the midst of all the festive decorations, I see an angel, a cross and a nativity scene. In some ways, my living room reminds me of how Christians in my community celebrate Christmas.

    Proportionally speaking, Christmas is primarily a holiday built around parties and meals, travel, and the researching, purchasing and exchanging of gifts. However, we Christians differ from our pagan neighbors in that we add in one or a few worship services in remembrance of the birth of Christ. We decorate our holiday activities with a few Christian events. After all, isn’t Jesus “the reason for the season”?

    Our proportionate response to Christmas is an important defense mechanism for us, which allows us to enjoy the Christmas holiday. We like the fact that Jesus came to save us…2,000 years ago, and we joyfully remember His birth in a manger, the shepherds, etc. (it’s all very cute), but Christmas is also the time of year when Jesus comes to each one of us, with the Christmas message: “you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins”. The celebration of Christmas takes on a whole different perspective when first we acknowledge our plight: we desperately need saving, because we are sinners; and without this saving, there is only sin, wrath, death and hell. We cannot endure too much of this message without questioning our secular focus on the holiday, so we take in a little of the message, but not too much.

    But, friends, instead of using Christmas as a temporary tonic to distract us from our personal problems and those of our country and world (or, alternatively, as an opportunity to showcase our accomplishments and largess), the coming of Jesus into the world is an eternal balm which reconciles us to God. Jesus came into the world to save God’s enemies, while we were still His enemies. And He received an enemy’s treatment from the world. But this was God’s will for His Son, because of His love for us.

    God has a gift (actually gifts) for each of us this Christmas. It is His Son – His life; His favor with God the Father; His righteousness; His holiness; His resurrection. Jesus came into the world in humiliation for us. He was born in a manger, rejected by the world, suffered, died and was raised for us. Jesus overcame sin, death, the world, Satan and every evil. In Him we share in His victory!

    In Jesus, our sins are forgiven – we are saved. God’s gifts are irrevocable, and His Word remains forever. Therefore, we can trust the true, enduring message of Christmas.

    We hear many voices and many words during the season of Christmas. Any voices, words and messages coming from the world and our flesh only serve to distract us from the one Word that we need, the one Word that is truth and everlasting. Don’t take down your Christmas decorations, but may we all focus our attention on the good news of Christmas (the truth, not the counterfeit) and allow that message to penetrate our hearts and guide our Christmas celebrations.

    “ ‘Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’ (which means, God with us).” May Immanuel be with you and your family this Christmas.

  2. Corby says:

    Not related to Jean’s post.

    All of the passages in the New Testament that I can think of that have to do with suffering, accompanied by words of more or less comfort, seem to be directly to connected to suffering in the context of persecution. Trials and tribulations, persecution, Paul words to Philippi, Jesus own words, all the ones I can think of are in the context of identifying with Jesus. Not sickness, emotional brokenness due to life circumstances like a death, job loss, broken relationships, you know life stuff.

    The question before the house is this; do the words of comfort, consolation, encouragement, even correction, that are associated with suffering because of persecution, do they apply/are they relevant to suffering that is due to life stuff? Do Pauls words about “I have learned to be content in all things” apply to someone who is sick, or just those who have lost their business, or their freedom, or their family, because they are a follower of Jesus? Have we overextended the application of these concepts to where they don’t belong? Thoughts?

  3. Michael says:

    Corby,

    That…is one hell of a good question.
    I’ll have to ponder that.

  4. Jean says:

    Romans 8 speaks to suffering and comfort in suffering, which is not in its context focused on external persecution, but resulting from the the opposition of flesh and Spirit and the corruption in the world brought about by sin.

  5. Michael says:

    Off the top of my head, I have to bring the OT into play as well.
    Gods love for and concern for those on the margins is actually clearer in the Older Testament.
    Based on the whole revelation of Scripture I think we can apply the comfort of God to all suffering…

  6. Michael says:

    “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hopethat the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”
    (Romans 8:18–25 ESV)

  7. Michael says:

    Good call, Jean.
    I think the passage above is my favorite in the bible…

  8. pstrmike says:

    Gotta get on with my day, but I’ll throw out this in passing.While Paul talks about suffering in persecution in 2Cor 11, his description of the thorn in the flesh (2Cor 12:10) , which I would submit as suffering, was not due to persecution, but a means to keep him humble.

    Have good day…

  9. AA says:

    A young couple will be transferring the foster children they had hoped to adopt today. Prayers for the broken-hearted.
    Romans 12:15

  10. Michael says:

    AA,

    That’s a harsh situation…praying…

  11. Tim Brown says:

    I agree w pstrmike. Three times in 2 Cor. 12:9-10 Paul uses the word ‘weakness’. The Greek word is ‘asthenia’ and is translated more often than not as ‘sickness’, ‘disease’. In this passage he is demonized (a messenger of Satan sent to buffet him – ‘to strike him with a clenched fist’) – Paul is demonized and diseased (among other things) and the Lord moves in to comfort him and assure him that His power is perfected in Paul’s weakness. Paul is so greatly comforted that he comes to a place of contentment in his situation. And then there’s this –

    Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort,
    who comforts us in all our affliction so that we will be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

    God comforts us in all out affliction (the word means ‘to be crushed, squeezed’). Those who are sick, diseased, depressed, in debt, going through divorce, in anxiety over career decisions – God has comfort for us in ALL our affliction. This includes and goes well beyond the suffering due to persecution.

    In the West, at least, the pastoral ministry of comfort is chiefly exercised toward those not suffering persecution but to those who are sick, dying, depressed, discouraged, disenfranchised, confused, lonely, stuck… Paul uses the word ‘comfort’ four times in 2 Cor. 1:4. The word here is ‘parakaleo’ – ‘called alongside to help’. The noun form of this verb is a descriptor of the Holy Spirit – the paraklete. The verbal form in 2 Cor. 1:4 demonstrates that the ministry is to come alongside those who are suffering for any reason and partner with the Holy Spirit to bring the hope and help of Christ.

  12. Great post Jean. I’m going to read it tomorrow night to my ki.ds and discuss… being kids, they’re focused upon presents, yet D7 drew a stocking tonight and made sure to point out that she drew a cross, in addition to the other Christmas fare. The Incarnation is as or more significant to point out. That God became one of us.

  13. j2theperson says:

    Well, my church finally got another rector. He seems better than the old one, but still a flaming liberal. A year ago, our youth minister got divorced but has continued to come to church with her ex husband and present herself as being married. She finally wrote a letter to the congregation telling them about it after the Bishop encouraged her to. The new rector has no problem with her essentially having lied about her married status for a year and believes it was workplace harrassement and illegal for the bishop to encourage her to write a letter. The new rector also has no problem with her, half a week after telling the congregation about her divorce, lighting the advent candle with her ex husband and one of their children.

    We can’t stay at a church where the rector doesn’t take marriage seriously. So, 3 weeks after he arrived, we are leaving.

    I really liked the liturgy and the liturgical season and the music and everything, but there’s a reason the episcopal church is hemorrhaging members. The membership in our diocese has halved in the last 30 years. I wish there was an Anglican church in the area but no such luck. Guess we have to start going to a church whose service sucks in every way imaginable but at least it isn’t completely apostate. It would be nice to find someplace that had both a decent service and decent teaching.

    I can’t say I’m angry because I’ve been to enough churches in my time to know how things often end, but I am pretty annoyed right now.

  14. Michael says:

    J2,

    I’m grieved to hear this…the Anglican communion needs families like yours far worse than you need them.

  15. Duane Arnold says:

    J2

    So sorry. As you can imagine, after over 30 years in the priesthood, I’ve heard story after story – all different, but all similar. It’s tragic. You and your family will be in my prayers.

  16. j2theperson says:

    Well, we went to a church that is part of the Christian Reformed Church of North America. It was pretty nice. The sermon could have been edited down a bit and not suffered. I liked that they did not have a worship team; they had a really excellent piano player and then the congregation just sang without a choir or person leading. It was all hymns today because it’s almost Christmas. Not sure I’ll like it when they break out a contemporary Christian worship song.

    I’m not a Calvinist, so that could be a problem in the long-term. But at this point, I don’t really care. It was a relief to be able to not come to church and worry that any moment the priest might fall over into heresy.

    There was no Sunday school today or next week due to the Christmas season, but they seem to have a thriving program, which will be good for our kids.

    My husband and I both felt like we didn’t need to go check out other churches at this point and will go to this one at least for a few months.

  17. Jean says:

    A Word About Advent

    The word, “advent,” comes from the Latin word, “adventus,” which means “arrival.” In liturgical churches, Advent is a four week season, which begins the liturgical calendar. The biblical texts during the season of Advent prepare the church for both the commemoration of Christ’s first coming (i.e., His incarnation, Christmas) and for the anticipation of Christ’s second coming .

    For liturgical churches which follow the one-year historic Western Lectionary, the following Gospel passages are read and typically govern the sermon for Sunday services during Advent:

    Advent 1 – Matthew Twenty-One, vv. 1-13 (Jesus’ arrival at Jerusalem as Israel’s humble King).
    Advent 2 – Luke Twenty-One, vv. 25-33 (the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory).
    Advent 3 – Matthew Eleven, vv. 2-10 (John the B. sends his disciples to Jesus with a question, “Are you the one?”).
    Advent 4 – John One, vv. 19-28 (Priests and Levites are sent to John the B. to find out who he is and why he is baptizing).

    There are many hymns written for Advent. My favorite Advent hymn is: “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”

    What do others preach, teach, read and/or sing during Advent?

  18. j2theperson says:

    I appreciate your prayers, Duane. This has all been tough for my husband. He was Senior Warden under extremely tough circumstances and he did his best to keep the church from falling apart, and he and the vestry and the parishioners succeeded. It’s a bitter pill to swallow to pretty much get kicked to the curb and treated like it’s insane to think marriage is a sacred thing and that the youth minister has not handled the situation well.

    I’ll be curious to see if the new rector can turn the church around. If nothing changes and improves, the church has 5 or 6 years before it runs out of money. All the paid staff with the exception of the pianist and the choirmaster are incompetent. And the youth minister has pretty much run the youth program into the ground. We are but one more family in a line of families who have left directly because of her. We’ll see how it goes. I hope he is able to turn things around, but I also won’t be surprised if they end up having to close their doors in 5 years.

  19. Duane Arnold says:

    J2

    It used to be, if a staff person ended up getting a divorce (knowing that sometimes there are good reasons) they would resign their position. The feeling was that it was too tough on the congregation many of whom would know both parties. Whether this is still an “unwritten rule” I don’t know. With fewer churches and fewer clergy/lay workers as well as shrinking endowments, things have changed…

  20. Em says:

    I recall that my late mother in law was not permitted to teach Sunday School in her Baptist church as she had been divorced
    On the other hand, the large Baptist church in my town kept their pastor, even though he was caught messing around with someone (not his wife).
    That was half a century ago….. Things don’t change as much as we may feel that they do…. 🙆

  21. j2theperson says:

    So, it’s been less than a week since my husband tendered his resignation, so we’re only at the very beginning phase of processing what happened over the last year and a half and decompressing. One thing that I’m questioning, now that we’re finally able to step away from the situation, is it seems kind of insane to have a governance structure that leaves an unpaid, untrained volunteer in charge of the church in between rectors. It probably made more sense back when interim rectors were available and a church would only be without a rector for a month or two. But now interim rectors are in short supply and most churches will be relying on supply priests. My husband was in charge of heading up the church for over a year, as was the Senior Warden before him. It seems a little exploitative to not be paying these people–particularly from a denomination that purportedly values social justice. Am I off base here?

  22. Jtk says:

    J2,

    I understand your pain.

    Please know you’re not alone in this.
    I bet God has providentially placed people in your life that can hear you out, even give you godly perspective. I would seek them out.

    Even professionals should be considered such as counselors. I’m sorry for your family’s pain.

  23. Duane Arnold says:

    J2

    You’re not off base, there’s just a lack of clergy. I’ve done long term interim work twice, both for about a year. In both cases it involved driving about a 100 miles both ways every weekend, do the services and pastoral visitations, and being on call for emergencies. It is just hard to find clergy that are available and willing (especially with winter driving). I’m afraid it is just another sign of a shrinking church…

  24. Dan from Georgia says:

    Wife and I would like to attend a candle light Christmas Eve service. The Lutheran church I grew up in had them every year (at 10 or 11pm I believe). Is that still a thing in churches, or have those services also given way to the entertainment vibe?

  25. Duane Arnold says:

    Dan

    Look among Episcopalian/Anglican or Lutheran churches in your area… I think that would be your best bet. They are still out there!

  26. Dan from Georgia says:

    Thanks Duane! Found one one town away that has 4 candlelight services…working til 6pm today and this Lutheran church has an 8:30 and 10:30pm candlelight service.

  27. Duane Arnold says:

    Dan

    Very good! Wishing you a Blessed Feast of the Nativity!

  28. Dan from Georgia says:

    Thank you Duane.

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