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Expectant Christ

By Pastor's Blog

The truth is that all of us have expectations of hope, love, joy, and peace. Yet, save one, all our pursuits to meet these expectations fall short. When we come to Christ, our expectations are more than satisfied. Therefore, as we celebrate Jesus’s birth, His coming, let’s explore how the expectant Christ, born in a humble stable, remains the central focus of this sacred Christmas season and the only one who exceeds all expectations.

To fully appreciate the expectant event of Jesus’ birth, it’s essential to consider the context provided by Old Testament prophecies. These prophecies, found in various books of the Old Testament, created a sense of expectancy and hope among the Jewish people, who were eagerly awaiting the coming of the Messiah. The Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah’s arrival date occurred centuries before Jesus’ birth. For instance, the book of Isaiah foretold the birth of a child who would be called “Immanuel,” meaning “God with us” (Isaiah 7:14). Isaiah also proclaimed that a “shoot from the stump of Jesse” would bring justice and righteousness (Isaiah 11:1-4). These prophecies created an atmosphere of hope and longing among the Jewish people, especially during times when they were ruled by foreign powers. The historical and cultural context of Christ’s birth is marked by Roman rule in the region. The Jewish people were subjected to Roman authority, which led to a desire for a Messiah who would liberate them from oppression and establish a new kingdom. The birth of Jesus perfectly fulfilled these Old Testament prophecies and well over three hundred others. These prophecies and the background surrounding Christ’s birth provide us with the foundation for expecting more for our lives.

The Christmas account takes us to the quiet town of Nazareth, where a young lady named Mary was chosen for a divine purpose. She humbly replied, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her” (Luke 1:38). With Mary’s faithful acceptance, the answer to the long-lasting expectancy of the miraculous birth of the Messiah began to take shape. Meanwhile, Joseph, who was betrothed to Mary, a righteous and just man, was also visited by an angel in a dream. In Matthew 1:20, we read that the angel declared, “Joseph, son of David, do not fear to take Mary as your wife, for that which is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” Joseph, a carpenter by trade, was chosen to be the earthly father of the Son of God. This angelic visitation brought clarity and peace to his heart, and he obediently took Mary as his wife. The Annunciation, the pronouncement of Christ’s birth, provides us with a greater understanding of how our expecting more for our lives is to be fulfilled.

In the Gospel of Luke, it’s written, “And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” (Luke 2:7). It’s mind-blowing. The King of Kings, the Savior of all, entered the world not in a palace or amid grandeur but in a lowly stable amidst the company of livestock. This choice was deliberate and carried a profound message: God’s love is accessible to all, regardless of their social status or worldly standing. The humble surroundings of the stable epitomize the humility of the Christ child and His mission to bring salvation to all people, as the apostle Paul writes in Philippians 2:6-8. Jesus’ humble birth in Bethlehem in a stable provides us with a greater understanding of the character and heart of the One, and only One, who can meet and exceed our expectations.

The first who received news of Christ’s birth were shepherds. When the angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds in the fields near Bethlehem, they were filled with fear and amazement. The shepherds, overwhelmed by this divine revelation, hurried to Bethlehem to see the newborn Savior. Their hearts were filled with joy and wonder as they found Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus, just as the angel had told them. We read, “And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them” (Luke 2:20). The account of the shepherds and their reaction to Christ’s birth provides us with hope that each of us can come to our expectant Lord.

The birth of Jesus holds profound significance for all of us. Consider the Incarnation and the fulfillment of the promise that God would be with us. This divine event, as foretold in the Old Testament and revealed in the New Testament, carries deep implications that ought to continue to shape our beliefs and understanding of life. The term “Incarnation” refers to the profound mystery of God taking on human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ. This is wonderfully expressed in the Gospel of John. I like the way The Message words this verse, “The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the one-of-a-kind glory, like Father, like Son, generous inside and out, true from start to finish” (John 1:14). The Incarnation – God being with us underscores God’s desire to be present in our lives, to save us from our sins, and to offer the gift of eternal life through faith in Christ. Christ’s birth opened the door for each of us who receive Him as Savior and Lord to find the hope, love, joy, peace, and ultimate salvation we all are expectant of and need.

Imagine a child’s delight when they receive a Christmas gift that far surpasses their wildest dreams. In Christ, we’re given the gift of salvation that exceeds all expectations, a hope that’s unshakable, a love that’s boundless, a joy that’s everlasting, and peace that surpasses our understanding. Please consider, just as a humble stable became the birthplace of the King of Kings, we can find hope, love, joy, peace, and salvation in the most unexpected places and circumstances, such as right now, where you’re reading this writing when we open our hearts to Christ’s presence. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Expectant Peace

By Pastor's Blog

We all have expectations we don’t just desire but pursue, such as hope, love, joy, and peace. The problem is that when we look for these things in the stuff of earth, we fall way short since, after all, these things can only be found in Christ. As we celebrate the Christmas – Advent season, we anticipate the celebration of Christ’s birth. Advent marks the coming of Jesus Christ into the world and His marvelous provisions of hope, love, joy, and peace.

Let’s consider peace. The world looks for peace in the absence of conflict. The problem is that such peace is fleeting at best on this side of paradise. Peace is not the absence of conflict but the presence of Christ. Christian peace is a state of inner tranquility and harmony that results from a close relationship with God and a sense of reconciliation with Him. It often involves the absence of fear and anxiety, reflecting a trust in God’s providence and the assurance of ultimate salvation. Think about it. The peace the world offers is fleeting, while Christian peace is deep and enduring.

Peace is a biblical theme found throughout the Scriptures. In the Old Testament, we see this prophecy from Isaiah 9:6, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” The phrase “Prince of Peace” is a title given to the prophesied Messiah, who is Jesus. This title signifies that Jesus brings a profound sense of peace and reconciliation. It implies that through His birth, life, and ultimately, his sacrifice and resurrection, He would establish a divine peace between humanity and God, as well as promote peace, harmony, and reconciliation among people. Isaiah 9:6 declares Christ’s role as the source of expectant peace. The point is that the peace our souls deeply desire has been provided to us by Jesus Christ.

A pronouncement of peace, coming with the birth of the coming Messiah, is also made in the Christmas account found in the New Testament. We read in Luke 2:14, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” This verse, in context, is the declaration made by a multitude of angels who appeared to shepherds in the fields near Bethlehem. It’s a message of joy and celebration, proclaiming the glory of God and the promise of peace on earth.

The angels proclaim that Jesus is the source of peace, but notice this peace is for those “whom He is pleased.” Luke 2:14 declares that the peace proclaimed by the angels is not a universal or unconditional peace for all of humanity but rather a peace connected to those who have found favor in God’s eyes through receiving Christ as Savior and Lord. In short, the peace found in Christ is for those in a right relationship with God and have accepted His grace. Here it is. The peace our souls deeply desire has been provided to us by Jesus Christ and acquired by those who have received Him as Savior and Lord.

In life and during the Advent season, various things serve as crushers of the peace of Christ. Things such as commercialism, stress, busyness, conflicts with family and friends, loss and grief, and the concerns of life all can crush the peace Jesus has provided for us. We can overcome these peace crushers by remembering the One who provides the peace. To maintain the peace of Christ during Advent, as well as all of life, it’s essential to focus on the true meaning of the season, Jesus Christ.

Paul writes in Colossians 3:15, “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.” The “peace of Christ rules in our hearts” when we are surrendered to Him and His will. Then, and only then, is our whole being unified in obedience to His plans for us. This work of the Spirit in our lives is made possible because of Christ’s reconciling work on the cross and by His resurrection. Therefore, the peace our souls deeply desire has been provided to us by Jesus Christ and acquired by those who have received Him as Savior and Lord and live surrendered to His will. The gospel truth is that surrendering to God is central to the Christian life and the path to expectant peace and spiritual fulfillment. How unfortunate that many times we choose to do life our own way, when all the while we’re mad at God for not providing what can only be found in Him, living His way.

I remember a Christmas many years ago when my oldest was in High School. She had a Christmas concert that conflicted with my wife Krista’s school schedule. I went alone. The Christmas season is always hectic, but I remember this especially being so. I entered the auditorium, which was full of the clamor of people. Then, the lights went down. To my pleasure, the choir began to sing Christmas music, many pointing to Christ. I could feel the baggage I carried in piece by piece being taken off me. When the concert was over, I had been realigned and filled with the peace of Christ. I share this with you because, amid the holiday rush, we can find profound peace in the Lord. But, we must take time to intentionally recognize Christ’s enduring presence and the peace He offers. We can take refuge and find peace even when life gets hectic. This Christmas may be filled with all kinds of peace crushers, but in Christ, we can discover the peace that’s provided through Him.

The expectant peace of Christ is possible to have this Christmas season. The sense of calm and hope, eagerly anticipated, can be received as we receive Christ as Savior and Lord, surrendering ourselves to him. We are blessed to receive the peace of Christ. Christ’s peace is the assurance that, despite life’s chaos, the birth of Jesus, His life, death, and resurrection have brought a lasting, inner peace. As we await His return, when He will bring us with Him to paradise, we can find our expectant peace by trusting in His love and promises today, letting go of worries, and focusing on the hope, love, joy, and, yes, peace He brings to our lives. Soli Deo (Glory to God Alone)!

Expectant Joy

By Pastor's Blog

During the Christmas – Advent season, we light the candles of the Advent wreath. The Advent Joy candle signifies the growing sense of joy and anticipation as the Advent season progresses and Christmas draws nearer. It reflects the joy that Christians feel in anticipation of celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ and the joy that Christ’s coming brings to the world, as described in His Word and experienced by His people.

Joy can often be confused with happiness. Joy and happiness are related emotions but not quite the same. Happiness is often described as a more intense and fleeting emotion. It’s a sudden, intense feeling of delight or pleasure that can be triggered by specific events, experiences, or circumstances. Joy, on the other hand, is a more enduring and stable emotional state. It refers to an overall sense of contentment, well-being, and satisfaction with one’s life. Joy is not as dependent on specific events and can persist even in the absence of momentary happiness.

In Christian theology, joy is often considered a deep and abiding sense of gladness and contentment that arises from a close relationship with God. It’s distinct from mere happiness, which is often associated with external circumstances. Christian joy is often seen as a spiritual fruit, a gift from God, rooted in faith, hope, and love. It can be experienced even in the midst of suffering or challenging circumstances, as it comes from a profound sense of God’s presence and grace.

Imagine two people facing adversity. One is a person of deep faith, and the other is not. They both lose their jobs and face financial uncertainty. The non-believer becomes despondent and overwhelmed with worry, leading to a sense of hopelessness and despair. Their happiness is shattered because it is largely dependent on external circumstances.

On the other hand, the Christian, also affected by the job loss, experiences moments of sadness and concern, but their faith anchors them. They turn to prayer, seeking guidance and comfort from God. They find support within their church community, and their trust in God’s plan brings them a sense of peace and contentment even in the face of adversity. The Christian’s joy is evident not because they are immune to life’s challenges but because their joy is rooted in a relationship with God.

Joy is a theme found throughout the Bible. Here is a profound verse from Psalm 30:5, “For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning.” God’s anger is paralleled with our weeping, and both are momentary. God’s favor is paralleled with the joy we receive from Him, and it’s for a lifetime, which for us believers is eternal. Genuine joy is found in the Lord.

As I have already said, joy is a theme found throughout the Bible. For instance, in the New Testament, we discover this verse in the Christmas account, “And the angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord’” (Luke 2:10-11). The context of these verses is that an angel is announcing the birth of Jesus to shepherds in the fields. I have been to those exact fields after dusk, and even with modern lights from Bethlehem and far off Jerusalem, it was dark. An angel appears along with an angelic choir, and the message is given that Jesus is born, who is Savior, the Messiah. This is a moment of great significance, symbolizing hope and joy brought to the world and received by those who believe. Consider that the good news is that the Lord has come, bringing greater joy to the world than any other news. Why? Because the genuine joy found in the Lord was made available to all who receive Christ.

Even during Advent, Christian joy can be affected by various factors. We face distractions, stress, loss, and grief. There are unrealistic expectations about how the season should be celebrated, which can lead to disappointment. Worries about the state of the world or personal challenges may dampen joy. Lastly, a lack of spiritual connection can exist where neglecting spiritual practices and not fully engaging with the Advent story can diminish joy. To maintain joy this Advent season, we must focus on our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, and engage in acts of kindness, connect with our church family, and practice gratitude. We need to make time for reflection, hope, and anticipation of the celebration of Jesus’ birth.

The joy of the Lord is not just for a season but is everlasting. One Bible verse that speaks to the eternal nature of joy is found in Psalm 16:11, “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” We have much to be thankful for since the genuine joy found in the Lord was made available to all who receive Christ and is not temporary but eternal.

Let’s try to wrap our minds around the expectant joy eternally found in Christ. Imagine us gathering on Christmas Eve. We participate in candle lighting during the service. The ringings with the sound of “Silent Night” and filled with a sense of expectancy. The story of Christ’s birth will be shared. Our Lord’s coming marks the expectant joy we find in Christ. Just as Mary and Joseph eagerly awaited the birth of Jesus, we, too, can discover eternal joy in Christ’s presence in our lives and anticipation of His return.

Here’s the good news, the expectant joy we find in Christ, like a candle’s flame, can burn brightly and eternally if we keep our faith alive and our hearts open to the gift of salvation that Christmas represents. Let’s celebrate and respond to the truth that the genuine expectant joy found in the Lord was made available to all who receive Christ and is not temporary but eternal. In celebrating the Christmas – Advent season, let’s be reminded that the genuine expectant joy in the Lord is a gift available to all who receive Christ. It’s not a fleeting emotion but an eternal flame that can light our lives with hope, love, and salvation, offering us a profound and everlasting source of joy. How we respond to this truth makes all the difference. Receive Christ and choose to experience His joy. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Expectant Love

By Pastor's Blog

As we celebrate the Christmas season – Advent, I’m reminded of the second candle on the Advent wreath. This candle symbolizes the profound love of God and the love that Christians are called to share with one another, especially during the Christmas season, when the birth of Jesus, who is seen as the embodiment of God’s love, is celebrated. It serves as a reminder of the love that’s central to the Christian faith and the message of Christmas.

Christlike love, Christian love, often referred to as “agape” love, is selfless, unconditional love that reflects the love of God as described in the Bible. Christlike love involves showing love, compassion, and care for others, even in the absence of personal gain, and is considered a central virtue in Christianity. God abounds in this love.

God’s love for His people is expressed throughout the entirety of the Bible, yes, even the Old Testament. Consider this verse in Jeremiah 31:3, “The Lord appeared to him from far away. I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.” God’s Chosen people were in exile. They were probably wondering if God had abandoned them. Could God’s love reach them outside the Promised Land? Through His prophet, God speaks to those in exile and affirms that just as He led Israel into the wilderness, protecting them from the sword of the Egyptian armies, so His lovingkindness will support His people in Exile.

We, too, live in exile. We are somewhere east of Eden, desiring to return to paradise. But here’s the good news. There is no place we can go; nothing we have done is beyond God’s loving reach. As the psalmist proclaims, Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds” (Psalm 36:5). God draws us to Himself through His lovingkindness. When we have fellowship with God, we emulate these qualities.

When we think about God’s love, especially during the Christmas season, we often turn to the Gospels, and rightfully so. However, the explanation of the magnificent impact of Christ’s coming is found throughout the New Testament. For instance, we discover these words in 1 John 4:9-10, “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.”

God has shown how much He loves us by sending His Son. God, understanding we could not reach Him, reached out to us through the coming of Christ, who humbled Himself, taking upon His divinity humanity and modestly being born in a stable. Further, Jesus is “the propitiation for our sins.” Through Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross, he has released us from the guilt and penalty of our sins, which is death. Think about it. God Himself paid the price for our salvation.

When we repent, turn from doing life our own way, and receive Christ as Lord and Savior, we are given eternal life. What greater love could there be? John does something interesting in His letter. John links believing in Jesus with love for one another. It’s through knowing God’s love in Christ that we are empowered by His Spirit to love others. Here’s the good news. There is no place we can go; nothing we have done that’s beyond the loving reach of God and His ability to use us to share His love with others.

Experiencing God’s love in a broken world, particularly during Christmas, can be challenging due to several reasons. There’s suffering and pain, commercialization, expectations and stress, distractions, changes in family dynamics, as well as doubts and questions about faith, making it challenging to fully embrace God’s love. Also, there is comparison and envy. Comparing one’s own circumstances to others can lead to feelings of inadequacy and envy, hindering a sense of God’s love and contentment. Overcoming these challenges often involves refocusing on the true meaning of Christmas, engaging in acts of kindness and service, seeking support and community, and spending time in prayer and reflection to connect with the message of God’s love through the birth of Jesus Christ.

The birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus all serve as profound demonstrations of God’s expectant love. Through these events, God shows His unwavering desire for a loving relationship with each of us and His eagerness for our reconciliation, redemption, and eventual reunion in His eternal presence. There is no place we can go; nothing we have done that’s beyond the loving reach of God and His ability to use us to share His love with others.

Imagine a child eagerly awaiting Christmas morning. They’ve expressed their wishes and dreams. Each day leading up to Christmas, they look under the Christmas tree, expecting the arrival of their gifts. Their eyes sparkle with hope and joy, knowing something wonderful is coming. This child represents each of us, and Christmas morning represents the birth of Jesus. The child’s hopeful anticipation mirrors the expectant love we can experience through Christ’s coming that first Christmas.

Here’s the gospel truth. Just as the child’s excitement is based on the belief that something extraordinary is on the way, our expectant love at Christmas is rooted in the belief that through Jesus, something extraordinary has already arrived. It’s the love that was born in a stable, lived a life of compassion and grace, died on the cross, and rose from the grave to offer us eternal hope and salvation. The expectant love we experience at Christmas is a reflection of the profound hope and joy that comes from knowing that Christ, the embodiment of God’s love, has entered our lives, and through Him, we find a love that surpasses all understanding as well as the ability to share it with others. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Expectant Hope

By Pastor's Blog

The Christmas season, Advent season, marks the period of preparation and anticipation for the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ on Christmas Day. Advent is characterized by the lighting of Advent candles on an Advent wreath, reading of Scripture, and various other observances. It’s a time of reflection, prayer, and hope as Christians look forward to the coming of Christ.

The Advent Hope candle is the first candle lit leading up to Christmas. This candle symbolizes the anticipation and hope associated with the coming of Jesus Christ. It signifies the hope of salvation and the expectation of Christ’s arrival to bring light and redemption to the world.

Each of us, all of humanity, has a fundamental need for hope. Hope provides motivation, resilience, and a positive outlook on the future. Hope can inspire people to overcome challenges and pursue their goals, even in difficult circumstances. Hope is a powerful force that drives us to seek better outcomes and fuels our determination. The difficulty comes in that anything we place our hope in, that’s of the stuff of earth, will leave us wanting. For those truly searching, hopes unmet can lead us to something more, Someone more!

Christian hope is the confident and expectant belief in the promises of God, particularly the hope of eternal salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. Hope involves a firm trust in God’s goodness, longing for His presence, and the assurance of future blessings in accordance with our relationship with Him through Christ. We discover this hope of the coming Christ in the prophecies found throughout the Old Testament.

We read in Isaiah 7:14, “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” This sign, the birth of a Son, shows that God is with us. Then, we read in Isaiah 9:6, “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” It’s fascinating that God’s answer to the arrogance of the world is a child, His own Son. The promise of this child and what He represents makes these verses worthy of memorizing.

In the New Testament, we read of the birth announcement of hope. It’s found in Luke 1:26-33. Here, the angel Gabriel tells Mary she will give birth to the Messiah. He is described as great because He is the “Son of the Most High.” God Himself came among us. Jesus is great because He sits on the throne of David. Lastly, the angel declares He is great because, unlike human kingdoms, His reign has no end. God’s promise of the One to come, found throughout the Old Testament, including that given to David, hoped for since The Fall, is fulfilled in Jesus’ birth.

The Christmas or Advent season, while a time of anticipation and joy for many, can also bring about several difficulties and challenges for people. There is commercialization, stress, loneliness, unmet expectations, spiritual emptiness, family conflicts, overcommitment, and seasonal depression. I am sure there are more you could add to the list. It’s important to acknowledge these difficulties and support one another during the Christmas – Advent season, as well as being reminded of the hope we have in Jesus.

Genuine hope is found in Jesus Christ. We discover this gem in 1 Peter 1:3, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. In other words, Christian hope is not some wishful thinking but living hope rooted in the One, Jesus Christ, who has come, died for our sins and risen for our salvation. Here it is. Our expectant hope is found and only found in Jesus Christ.

The hope that Christ brings to the world, to each of us, is profound and enduring. It’s spiritual hope. Christ offers the promise of forgiveness, redemption, and salvation. His teachings emphasize love, compassion, and a path to eternal life, providing hope for a meaningful and eternal connection with God. It’s hope in suffering. The story of Christ’s suffering, crucifixion, and resurrection demonstrates that even in the face of immense pain and adversity, there is the hope of transformation and new life that provides solace to those enduring hardships. It’s hope for the future. Christ’s teachings inspire hope for a better world. They call for justice, peace, and the care of one another, which is a foretaste of the perfection of such a life with God in paradise. It’s hope of community and fellowship. The Christian faith encourages believers to come together in fellowship and support one another. This sense of community and belonging can be a source of hope and comfort in times of need. Overall, the hope that Christ brings to the world is a message of love, grace, and the possibility of transformation, both individually and collectively. It has been a source of hope, inspiration, and solace for countless people throughout history.

As children, we all have desired the perfect gift. We approached Christmas morning with great hope. Maybe we were disappointed because we never got it or later disillusioned by what we received and left desiring the next perfect gift. We have all been there as children and even as adults as we have faced unmet hopes that we have placed in things and people other than Christ.

Our expectant hope is found and only found in Jesus Christ. Just as the world once awaited the birth of the Savior with anticipation and hope, let us remember that in our lives, we, too, have moments of waiting and longing. In those times, we have more than wishful thinking, but sure hope in Christ and His eternal promises. Just as Mary was presented with the birth announcement of hope, where she trusted in God, which led her to the stable where Jesus was born, and the Christ Child was laid, we too can find our way through life’s challenges and uncertainties by trusting in Christ as Savior and Lord. Christ is the beacon of hope in our darkest hours, the source of grace in our times of need, and the embodiment of the expectant hope that never disappoints.

So, as we celebrate this Christmas season, may we embrace the message of hope and carry it to the places where we live, go to work, school, and play. Let our words and deeds reflect the hope that Christ brought into our lives. In Christ, we find our expectant hope and our reason for celebration. I pray this Christmas season and the year ahead will be a time when we truly embrace and share the hope that Christ has brought into our lives. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

On Thanksgiving

By Pastor's Blog

Thanksgiving in America has its origins in the early 17th century when English Pilgrims seeking religious freedom arrived on the Mayflower in 1620. They faced a harsh winter, but with the help of Native Americans, particularly the Wampanoag tribe, they learned to cultivate crops and adapt to the new land. In 1621, the Pilgrims and Wampanoag celebrated a successful harvest with a three-day feast, which is often considered the first Thanksgiving. Over time, Thanksgiving became a sporadic tradition celebrated by various colonies and states. 1863, during the Civil War, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed Thanksgiving a national holiday, aiming to promote unity and gratitude.

Today, Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November. It’s marked by gatherings with family and friends, feasting on turkey, although ham is growing in popularity, and expressing gratitude for the year’s blessings. It’s evolved into a holiday with parades, football games, and Black Friday shopping.

Thanksgiving is important in Christianity because it encourages believers to express gratitude to God for His blessings and provision. Giving thanks reflects a key aspect of our faith to acknowledge God’s goodness and providence in our lives. An essential part of our small and large gatherings is counting our blessings and offering thanks for the gifts and grace we’ve received from the Lord.

One key teaching from Scripture on thanksgiving can be found in 1 Thessalonians 5:18, which states, “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” This verse emphasizes the importance of being grateful in every situation, recognizing that thanksgiving is a fundamental part of God’s plan for believers. Paul is calling believers to nurture their inner spiritual life. When complaining replaces thankfulness, the abundant life Christ came to give us decreases.

Believers can be thankful in all circumstances by doing several things. For one, followers of Christ must learn to trust that God is in control and working despite all that’s wrong in the world. When faced with challenges and hardships, it’s possible to receive them as an opportunity for personal growth, learning, and spiritual development. In our prayers, we need to thank God for His presence and seek His guidance and strength to navigate difficult circumstances. As we walk in step with the Spirit, we ask Him to help us cultivate contentment with what we have, understanding that true joy doesn’t come from material possessions but from a relationship with God. The Lord calls us to lean on our church family for encouragement, prayer, and support during challenging times. It’s also helpful to reflect on previous times when God has provided and been faithful, reminding ourselves of His goodness. Lastly, I would share that we must accept that there are things beyond our control and surrender them to God’s will, trusting that He knows what’s best.

By integrating these practices into our lives, we believers can maintain an attitude of thankfulness in all circumstances, recognizing that God’s love and guidance are constant, even amid difficulties. So, as you sit around the table this Thanksgiving, take some time to express your gratitude to God. After all, when we consider all the Lord has done, is doing, and is still to do, we have so much for which to be thankful. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Trust

By Pastor's Blog

Trust can be defined as the belief or confidence in the reliability, integrity, and honesty of someone or something. Trust can be challenging due to past betrayals or experiences, but it may come more naturally for others. The difficulty of trust is subjective, and people’s views on it can change over time.

When I was starting college, we had an orientation weekend. One of the events was a trust walk. We were paired up and took turns being blindfolded and led by our partner throughout part of the campus. My partner was much shorter and smaller than me. As she led me, she would clear objects like a tree branch, and I would walk right into them. When we finished, I had several bumps and bruises. Needless to say, the intended result was lacking in me. I did not trust her one bit.

Most of the time, trust is built over time. It also assumes some reasonable limitations. I consider myself a trustworthy person. I would never intentionally desire to break trust. But, if you needed an item delivered by foot and needed it done quickly, say a quick run, I would want to help out, but it would not be wise to trust that I could, for instance, run the item at a ten-minute mile pace. It just isn’t going to happen. This would be misplaced trust.

Sometimes, trust is difficult because we desire something to be done a certain way and don’t trust a particular person, or anyone for that matter, to do it the way we want it done. This can limit us in so many ways. I get that it’s important that things are done right. I wouldn’t want a shoddy surgeon. But I also understand that attempting to control every aspect of my life is fruitless since many things are outside my control.

We live in a world full of chaos. Yet, we are hardwired with a deep need to have something or someone to trust to serve as a firm foundation amidst life’s trials. Where’s the solution? God is the only one we can wholeheartedly trust. He will never let us down.

The psalmist proclaims, “For you, O Lord, are my hope, my trust, O Lord, from my youth” (Psalm 71:5). This verse speaks of a lifetime of devotion and worship as a foundation of faith. Such trust in the Lord requires that we know and trust in who He is as well as what he determines to do. For instance, for me to genuinely trust God, I need to believe He is good and His will is best. When doubt fills my soul, I remind myself of who God is and that His will for me is always what’s right. It’s not always easy, but it’s always best.

Ernest Hemingway once wrote, “The best way to find out if you trust somebody is to trust them.” This is simple enough to understand but more difficult to put into practice. Difficult yes. But, impossible? No! The more we grow in knowing God, the greater our trust in Him. Also, be honest. Declare to the Lord, as the father of a child who asked Christ to heal, exclaimed, “I believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). Jesus will always answer this prayer by helping us learn to trust. If you do these two things, you are heading down the right road to grow in trusting the Lord and living the abundant life Christ came to give us. After all, the victorious Christian life is one of trusting God in all circumstances. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Productivity

By Pastor's Blog

Titus is a book by the Apostle Paul to his young protégé Titus. Its purpose is to guide and instruct Titus, a Christian leader in the early church, on how to oversee and organize the Christian communities on the island of Crete in order to advance God’s kingdom. The letter emphasizes the importance of sound doctrine, good works, the appointment of qualified leaders within the church, and Christlike living. It aims to strengthen the faith and conduct of believers and promote healthy discipleship and godliness in the Christian community.

Titus 3:12-15 paints a picture of sorts for us. Picture yourself in a boat, navigating the choppy waters of life. Sometimes, the journey seems treacherous, filled with storms of doubt and waves of uncertainty. In those moments, we all long for a reliable anchor to keep us steady. Unmistakingly, Christ is our anchor, but He uses our church family to guide and encourage us as believers.

We discover, in Scripture, that the Apostle Paul relied on faithful companions like Titus. We, too, can find strength and support in our Christian community. Titus 3:12-15 highlights the importance of Christian fellowship and partnership in spreading the love and message of Christ.

First, we read in Titus 3:12: “When I send Artemas or Tychicus to you, do your best to come to me at Nicopolis, for I have decided to spend the winter there.” Paul instructs Titus to come to him. Although an apostle of Jesus Christ, Paul was not a one-man army. He needed others. So, do you and me.

Then, we read in Titus 3:13, “Do your best to speed Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way; see that they lack nothing.” Paul instructs Titus to help Zenas and Apollos. Paul encourages generosity and hospitality towards these fellow servants of Christ. Although Paul had his own mission, his willingness to help was not limited to those in his circle; he looked outside and was willing to help others succeed in what God was calling them to do.

Paul’s final instruction to Titus is found in 3:14, “And let our people learn to devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need, and not be unfruitful.” Paul instructs Titus to encourage believers to keep the main thing the main thing: Christ and His kingdom. The call is for the believers to be industrious rather than lazy (Titus 1:12). This will allow them to meet their own needs as well as be able to help others. What would happen if all of our budgets and ministries were evaluated based on the extent to which they produce good works in the world around us, meeting the urgent needs (spiritual, emotional, physical, and financial) of others? This is the church Christ died for. Christ leads us as a Christian community to dare to order our lives around His agenda for us and the world.

Paul closes his letter to Titus with a final greeting and prayer. “All who are with me send greetings to you. Greet those who love us in the faith. Grace be with you all” (Titus 3:15). Paul sends greetings from the believers with him to the believers with Titus and offers a short yet powerful prayer. An encouraging greeting is a powerful thing. Never underestimate what a simple note or text can mean to a person. I have the bottom of a cabinet in my office filled with encouragement notes I have received from people over the past thirty-plus years. Bad notes I file in a circular file that’s emptied every day, but the encouragement notes I keep. I have been amazed over the years by how people react when I send a simple encouragement note. It’s like a small hug from God. I believe Titus and the crew received this greeting as a precious gift.

The short yet powerful prayer is that God’s grace will be with them. God’s grace is His unmerited goodness to every one of us. I can’t think of a more meaningful prayer than that the extravagant love of God will envelop your life. Often, when we leave service on Sunday morning, someone sends us with the words go in peace. As we head off into a chaotic world, to have the peace of God spoken over us is no small thing. This dynamic peace is offered to us because of God’s extravagant love. It’s provided to us by the grace of God.

Here’s the overarching point of Titus 3:12-15. As believers, we need Christian fellowship and partnership in living and spreading the love and message of Christ. Think of it this way. Imagine you’re on a challenging hike up a steep and rugged mountain. The path is tough, and the journey is long. You’ve been navigating this treacherous terrain, and at times, it felt almost impossible to continue. But then, as you reach a particularly difficult stretch, you look back and notice something remarkable. You see a group of fellow hikers who have been with you throughout this journey. They’ve encouraged you when you were weary, shared their supplies when you ran low, and even helped you navigate the most treacherous parts of the trail. Together, you’ve faced the trials and triumphs of this climb, and it’s made all the difference. I know this has proven true over and over again in my life. It’s why we here at Crosswinds, in part, encourage one another to be a part of a connect group, care group, or serving group.

We need the Lord and each other. Our faith is not a solitary endeavor. It’s a shared expedition. We are called to encourage one another, share our resources, and help each other navigate life’s difficulties. Together, we can reach new heights in our faith and spread the gospel more effectively. As we conclude our journey through the book of Titus, let us remember the value of Christian community and partnership. Let us continue to walk alongside one another, supporting and uplifting our fellow believers as we navigate the rugged paths of life. Together, we can make a lasting kingdom impact as we live and spread the love and message of Christ to the world around us. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Responsibility

By Pastor's Blog

Titus is a short book Paul wrote to one of his protégés, Titus. The letter provides guidance for church leadership as well as various aspects of Christian living. Paul emphasizes the importance of sound doctrine (fundamental biblical beliefs) and good works and encourages Christians to live godly lives while awaiting the blessed hope of Christ’s return. Throughout the book of Titus, we have seen the importance of being established in God’s Word, doing good works, and unity. Unity in the church is essential for fostering a strong sense of community, promoting shared values, and working together to do good, fulfilling the church’s mission and purpose.

In Titus 3:8-11 we discover that the responsibility of believers is to avoid foolishness as well as how to deal with a divisive person. In the Bible, foolishness is often associated with a lack of wisdom, understanding, or reverence for God. Paul, in Titus 3:8, begins by writing about the responsibility of believers.

Paul has written in Titus 3:4-7 about God’s kindness and salvation. He emphasizes that God’s love and mercy, not our own deeds, lead to our salvation through Jesus Christ. This passage underscores the importance of faith and grace in Christian theology and practice. In Titus 3:8, Paul instructs to “insist on these things” and to do “so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works.” After all, “these things are excellent and profitable for people.” Those who have experienced God’s saving grace should make every effort to show it by doing good works.

It’s important to keep in mind that good works are not the cause but the necessary fruit of our salvation. We are to keep the gospel in focus at all times and not allow other things to become primary. The point is that believers, recipients of God’s saving grace, are expected to do good and live in alignment with their faith, not focused on useless things.

In Titus 3:9, Paul writes that we believers must avoid “foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law.” We are to avoid such things because “they are unprofitable and worthless.” Paul is more than likely speaking of speculative theology about nonessentials, which brought arguments rather than edification. People who turn nonessential issues into the center of our faith are merely being divisive and must be dealt with rightly. It has no kingdom value if it’s not advancing God’s kingdom. The simple truth is that believers must avoid engaging in pointless and divisive disputes.

Lastly, in Titus 3:10-11 Paul speaks on confrontation. Talking about a divisive person, Paul tells Titus, “After warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him.” Why? Because “such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.” In context, Paul is encouraging Titus to confront a person causing dissension within the Christian community. He’s to take the initiative but be gracious. We can assume a private loving reproof is intended.

Paul is instructing Titus and us to not conduct a witch hunt but to follow biblical guidelines for confrontation and discipline to promote understanding, reconciliation, and a Christ-honoring community founded on our Lord’s example of truth, love, and forgiveness. Isolation is the last resort. If the person continues to sow discord and division after two warnings, the instruction is to have nothing further to do with them. This doesn’t mean total abandonment but rather a separation within the church community to prevent further harm. A mentor, Keith Drury, once told me, “The job of the under-shepherd is to keep the wolves in sheep’s clothing away from the sheep.” The point is that believers must do the difficult work to protect unity and peace within the Christian community.

The church’s call is to maintain good works, fostering unity through truth and love among its believers, exemplifying the teachings of Christ. As we reflect on Titus 3:8-11, remember that just as a ship’s anchor keeps it steady amidst turbulent waters, our faith in Christ anchors us in the midst of life’s storms. Let’s strive to be vessels of God’s grace, showing Christlike kindness and patience, always avoiding divisive controversies, and dealing rightly with divisive people. In doing so, we keep our focus on the eternal, unified gospel faith and are ready to share the hope of salvation with a world in need. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!

Relationship

By Pastor's Blog

The book of Titus is a short letter written by the Apostle Paul to Titus, a fellow Christian and leader in the early church. The letter’s primary focus is on guidance for church leadership and godly living within the community of believers. It ought not to surprise us then that Titus speaks on relationships. Billy Graham remarked, “Relationships are the hallmark of the Christian faith. Our relationship with God and our relationship with others should be a driving force behind all we do.” These are powerful words and ought to cause us to want to pay attention to what Paul shares on this pivotal topic.

In Titus 3:1-8 Paul encourages believers to obey authorities, be kind and considerate to others, and remember God’s grace in their lives. It emphasizes the importance of avoiding quarrels and focusing on doing good deeds. This passage addresses personal and communal transformation.

Paul begins in verse 1, addressing proper conduct toward authorities. Paul instructs Titus to remind people to be submissive to rulers and authorities. Christians are to be good citizens. The danger in a passage like this would be to misuse it to justify passive submission to inappropriate acts and calls to action. Being subject to authorities does not mean we don’t question their decisions. Being subject to authorities does not mean we don’t raise our voices in protest to actions and decisions felt to be unjust or unfair. When the demands of authorities contradict the demands of the kingdom of God, the believer has no choice but to take the often costly stand and speak out – whether it means ostracism, punishment, exile, or even death. Therefore, we must obey rulers unless they tell us to disobey God and help with “good work” in our community.

Paul continues in verse 2 to speak of proper conduct towards all people. We believers must show courteous consideration at all times and under all circumstances. Christians are to influence for good by doing good and being peaceable and considerate toward others. This is only possible with genuine humility.

In verse 3, Paul then reminds us believers of our former state – before we came to Christ. We were “foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, and hated by others and hating one another.” As we look at this list, we can wrongly assume that sin and unrighteousness are primarily defined by outward acts. The Bible penetrates more deeply into the inner recesses of our very being. Sin is not necessarily a matter of destructive or unacceptable external behavior; it’s also a matter of inner attitude and maturation. As long as we major on the outward aspects of sin, we’ll never understand the fundamental nature of sin. However, because we believers were once bound by these ungodly acts and have been delivered by Christ, we should be gentle and try to help those still held captive by sharing the love and message of our Lord with them.

Paul proceeds in verses 4-7 to emphasize God’s grace. He writes, “When the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared.” This speaks of amazing grace! God’s love for us appeared in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Jesus saved us. He did so not because of works done by us in righteousness. Jesus saved us according to His own mercy. Salvation simply cannot be achieved by our good works. It’s all God’s doing from start to finish. Jesus saved us by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit. This inner cleansing is symbolized in Christian baptism. Regeneration (rebirth) and renewing are brought about by the Holy Spirit, who makes us “a new creation” in Christ. This new life results from a fundamental change, a cleansing, from sin to the beginnings of holiness as the believer is initially sanctified by the Spirit. The good news is that our faith places great hope in the future (heaven); our future calls us to take the present seriously, and our future renews our strength amid today’s hurts, failures, and frustrations.

Paul ends in verse 8 by instructing Titus to “insist on these things.” He is speaking of all he has mentioned in verses 4-7. This teaching should be affirmed so that those who have experienced this grace will make every effort to show it by continually doing “good works.” Think of it this way. Good works are not the cause but the necessary fruit of salvation.

We learn from Titus 3:1-8 that we are to be in a right relationship with God and others so that through humility, we who are being transformed will be transforming agents in the places where we live, work, go to school, and play. God’s grace in us should be evident by the respect we give to authorities and how we treat others. We were once ungodly like those yet to receive Christ, but God has changed us in ever-increasing Christlikeness. Therefore, we should maintain the fruit of our salvation, good works.

Imagine a community where people once lived in constant conflict, filled with bitterness and anger towards one another. But then, a transformative event took place. A flood of kindness and love flowed through this community. People started helping each other, showing genuine concern, and speaking words of encouragement. This transformation was not due to a sudden change in circumstances. It resulted from people coming to Christ for salvation, following Jesus, being changed by Jesus, and committed to the mission of Jesus. This is the picture Paul gives us in Titus 3:1-8. When we take Christ and Scripture seriously, lives, families, and communities are transformed. Titus 3:1-8 encourages us believers to be agents of positive change in our communities through sharing God’s Word as well as through acts of love and kindness, reflecting God’s grace, and transforming the world around us. Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone)!