Sunday, November 29, 2015

Advent & The Timeline of Faith

by Bridgett Clark

The word “Advent” is derived from the Latin word, “Adventus” meaning, “coming.” Scholars believe that Advent began during the 3rd and 4th centuries. It was a season of preparation for baptism that took place in January, either during the feast of Epiphany or the celebration of Jesus’ baptism. It wasn’t until the 6th century that Advent was connected to the second coming of Christ, and the middle ages when it was linked to Christmas and His first “coming.”

Today, during the season of Advent, we connect the two comings as well as to the people 2,000 years ago. In the First Century, Israel was looking back on God’s deliverance in Egypt, while looking forward to the “coming” of the Messiah. Today, we look back on the birth of the Messiah, while looking forward to the second “coming” of Christ.

When thinking of Advent this year I envisioned us standing in the middle of a timeline where we have the best of both worlds. We can look back on history, while looking forward to Christ’s return. Looking back on history allows us to stop and think about the faith of those on the timeline behind us. God purposely recorded the interaction He had with His people for a reason. It gives us a glimpse into how God interacts with us today. Many times, we are looking back on real people with real worries walking through real situations, not necessarily  spiritual powers, or angels or other phenomenal situations. Two thousand years ago, God’s people had the same tools of faith that we have now. Ancient stories of God’s deliverance and God’s promises for the future.

Looking back on the timeline of faith also gives us security in knowing that if God kept His promise to rebellious, doubtful, and ungrateful people back then, He will do the same for us. We can relate to the people in the desert that said, “This isn’t what we signed up for, we didn’t expect it to be this hard, I’d rather be enslaved in Egypt than here in the desert.” Yet, celebrate the fact that God didn’t leave them in the desert to die, but kept His end of the deal and brought them into the Promised Land. We can understand when the people of the Bible try to dig themselves out of situations in their own power, before turning to God, yet celebrate the fact that even though they had adulterous hearts, God still placed His infant son into their arms. There is deep security in knowing that we have a God who gives us the ability to look back in time and see that even in our ugliest moments he won’t forsake us.

One of the greatest fears we face as humans is the fear of the unknown. Not knowing what the future holds terrifies the strongest of people. Having the ability to look back in time gives us the faith to look forward into a future that isn’t unknown, but certain. The second coming of Christ will intimately involve us,  the very earth we are standing on will be destroyed by fire. A new earth will come down out of heaven and Satan will be bound and thrown into the Abyss. Jesus will return and reign as King, and the believers living at the time will transform into His likeness. Believers who had passed will then rise and receive their resurrected bodies. On this new earth, only those who believe in Christ will live. Therefore, every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Christ is Lord. None of us will have to wonder what we will do for a living because we will all be priests of God and will reign with him for a thousand years. Imagine, a thousand years without goodbyes because death will no longer have sting, but will be destroyed. As sure as we are of the birth of Christ, so too are we of His second coming. Infact, the last words Jesus spoke in the Bible are, “Yes, I am coming soon.”

Being able to stand in the middle of the timeline of faith is a gift from God. Looking back gives us a foundation for our faith, while looking forward, gives us a retreat for our minds. This is the same sort of retreat we have when a vacation is planned and inching towards us. No matter what we are going through or how rotten our days might be. When we stop and think about that vacation, the troubles don’t hit us as hard. This is the gift God offers us during the season of Advent. We can be thankful that we have an eternal vacation to look forward to when life gets rough, that no matter what we are going through it’s going to be okay because Jesus has come, and will come again soon.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Insomniac’s Threshold

by Travis Montgomery

I ruminate. It’s how my mind works. Don’t get me wrong, I know that it’s unhealthy to chew on a problem over and over again during all hours of the night, while desperately praying for sleep. However, as of yet, any other alternative has escaped me.

One stressful night, I laid in bed and felt as though my heart was pumping pure adrenaline. Two hours of unsuccessful sleep seemed like an adequate enough attempt to me, so I decided to take a walk down my country road to pray and calm my mind.

The whole village of Gibsonburg seemed asleep as I stepped out onto my back porch. It was a particularly dark night and I felt the cool night air blow gently across my face and arms. I walked down my gravel driveway and stepped onto the blacktop of my county road and noted how quiet my footsteps were--nearly silent. Making my way down the road, I only took a dozen steps or so when I heard rustling from the trees directly next to me.

I stopped to listen. “It” seemingly stopped as well. After a few moments, I walked directly toward the sound and silently slipped right up to the tree line running down the side of the road. Then I waited. I could barely make out the trees, and the darkness acted like a thick, black blanket, beyond which I could see nothing. If I stretched out my hand, it would have disappeared immediately into the void.

I controlled my breath and stood as dreadfully still as I could. The silence that surrounded me broke with the deep breathing of something far larger than a raccoon. I could hear the rasp of the air traveling down its windpipe. My eyes scanned the darkness directly in front of me. I expected its eyes were doing the same. I felt as though I could reach out and touch it.

Before too long I heard the movement of shrubs. “It” turned into “they” and “they” were ever-so-close. In that moment I felt a mixture of excitement, fear and adventure come over me. My fight or flight response rose up, and I chose to stand still. I wanted to know. I wanted to experience whatever that was… as closely as possible. I imagined what it would be like if a large buck walked right out onto the street right next to me. How majestic would that be? How awe inspiring and wonderful?

I realized that the very thing which drove me to the street that night, was being experienced in that moment. My mind sought to capture every possible option, every variable and every control to manage well this ever-present problem robbing me of rest that night. I had worked it over long enough. It was as if I had come up to a dark threshold that separated me from knowing what was coming--from knowing the outcome of my decisions. At this point, it didn't matter how much longer I ruminated. The darkness would still be there. The only choice I had left was to continue trying to control outcomes, to my own detriment, or to stand in faith and trust.

May we be the kind of people who think things through, attempt to see things from all angles, consider all of the options and make wise judgments to guide each step of our lives. However, when we reach the end our understanding and find ourselves on the brink of darkness, may we also be the kind of people who take steps in faith, through the void, expecting to experience the wonder and surprise of all the Lord has in store.

Pastor Travis

Monday, June 29, 2015

How To Handle The News

by J. T. Bean

I have been amazed recently at how quickly our national conversations have shifted and changed. On the evening of June 17, 2015, a mass shooting took place at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina. As the nation mourned this tragedy, the news (network, cable and social media) erupted with talk about racism, violence and gun control. It wasn't long before the discussion evolved to whether the Confederate flag was befitting of display at state capitals. 

No sooner had that debate been settled than the issue of gay marriage rose to front-and-center. It seems with each change of topic, the discourse of popular opinion seems to get more heated and controversial. It’s enough to want to throw my hands up in surrender and say, “I give up!” We seem to rush full-speed from one crisis or controversy to another. Before I can get a handle on what I know or believe, there’s another front-page headline to consume. I can’t seem to keep up with the news, the debates, the opinions, name-calling, no-nothings, and know-it-alls! Am I the only one that feels like this?!

I know some people enjoy a heated debate or find pleasure in the midst of an argument. People like this relish the fight. Me? I’ve never been in a real fight my whole life. I’ve never thrown a punch, let alone landed one! And when it comes to arguments, I tend to avoid the back-and-forth “war of words”. I learned long ago not to engage in petty arguments on social media because it wasn’t worth the emotional energy I would expend. I back down rather than ramp up because I don’t like conflict. I don’t like taking sides. I am a peacemaker. A negotiator. I want everyone to get along. 

That’s why I take comfort in the words of Hebrews 13:8: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.” The Lord doesn’t change with the shift in news cycles. He is steadfast, firm and predictable. His love never fails. He is a rock. A refuge. An ever-present help in times of need.

Knowing this, we can find peace in the midst of the many changes taking place in our culture at home and in our world abroad. When we build our house upon the “rock” of Jesus Christ, we have no fear when the rain comes, streams rise, winds beat and the storms of life shake the foundations of our life’s house (see Matthew 7:24-27). If our house is built on a solid foundation, we can sleep soundly knowing that it will not fall. 
  • Trust in the Lord. 
  • Stand firm on His unchanging Word. 
  • Rest easy in the light of His love. 
  • He will not let you go. 
  • He will never leave you or forsake you.
Whatever hot topic pops up next, I know I don’t have to win an argument or prove that I’m right. God’s Word assures me of eternal promises that are far more important than the latest Tweet or the newest trend.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t engage in the fight. There are some things that are worth fighting for. There are some things we can’t afford to be “neutral” about. But in the back-and-forth of debate, don’t forget your Christian calling to love like Jesus. In the end, it is the sincerity of your love that will convince others of their need for a Savior.

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:21)

Friday, March 6, 2015

Here's The Scoop

by Bruce Perry

My first job was working in an ice cream store.  They served hand dipped ice cream that was made right there in addition to homemade candies.  I worked there in the evenings after I got home from high school. Some of my friends worked there with me.  There was a jukebox in the corner that played three songs for a quarter.  I had unlimited access to ice cream and candy.  I wore a crisp white apron.  To this day it was the best job I’ve ever had!
It was a family owned business.  Two brothers owned the place and I worked for them.  They were old, had gray hair and were in charge.  I’m guessing they were in their late 50’s or so (about my age now!).  The point is, they were too old to be pals with us.  They were the bosses and we knew it.
One day I was making a sundae for a customer.  I had just dipped the vanilla ice cream into the dish.  Before I could add the topping, one of the brothers took the dish, walked it down to the candy section and put it on the scale to weigh it.  Without a word he brought it back and set it down in front of me and walked away.
I finished the sundae, gave it to the customer and that ended the transaction.  Except…I wanted to know what had happened on the scale.  Was I scooping out too much ice cream?  Frankly, the portion I dipped out looked rather generous.  Was it too much?  The owner never said.  In fact, it was never mentioned again.
The result of that brief scale episode was that I got angry.  If I gave too much ice cream, I wanted to know.  Even if I got into some kind of trouble, I wanted to know.  Of course, if I hadn’t put too much in the dish, I wanted to know that, too.  I wanted the vindication.  But it was not to be.  I still don’t know the answer.
Now I’m all grown up.  I live and work in God’s World.  A wonderful place full of things to discover and enjoy.
God’s World is a family business.  God is the boss and His Son works in the business with Him.  His Son does everything perfectly.  He smiles at the people who come and go from His presence.  He serves quickly and always gives full measure.  He is never late because He is always at work.
When I work with Him I never do things as well as He does.  But instead of feeling threatened by my not measuring up to His Standard, I am always encouraged and I have the Perfect Example to follow and learn from.
Sometimes I’m messy and I spill things on the white apron that I’ve been given.  Instead of having the stained apron get in the way of my relationship with The Son, He gives me a clean new apron whenever I ask for one.
I still wonder about that sundae perched on the scale.  Which was it?  Heavy, light or just right?  In God’s World, I don’t fear the scale.  As long as I work with The Son, He’ll make sure that through His Grace, I measure up.

So come into The Shoppe.  Be served by The Son.  Good things are being dished up and full measure is always given!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Squirrel In The Closet

by Travis Montgomery

I love living in the country. My kids play in the yard and I don’t worry about them. When I get the urge to get away, I can walk through my backyard and around fields without interruption.

However, there are some things I’ve learned about living in the country that I didn’t expect. Every winter we have a mass of rodents that believe I’ve fixed up my old house, so that they can live in it. Groundhogs, check. Raccoons, check. Mice, check. Squirrels, check. As it turns out, the country has turned me into a killer.

I’ve hidden in bushes with my .22 laying in wait for critters to emerge from my foundation. I’ve trapped rodents in my attic with cages. I’ve even plummeted into the disgusting depths of my very narrow crawlspace with a shovel, hoping to battle it out with a massive coon. As shocking as it is to me, even my wife has developed an instant “what have I won?” face when she hears the snap of mousetraps.

Despite all of that, it’s the squirrels that drive me nuts. Punny, I know. In the middle of the night, I can hear these things crawling around in walls of my bedroom closet. That’s where they play squirrel games and have little nocturnal squirrelraves when I’m trying to sleep.

One night, while sleepless in my bed, I pondered the term “skeletons in the closet.” Isn’t it odd that we would use a skeleton, something dead and gone, as a symbol for past sins? What’s interesting is that the inanimate object, a skeleton, seemingly lays dormant and unthreatening unless exposed… but, that’s not how sin really works. Sins don’t just sit idly by until someone digs them up. It’s the opposite.

Past sins act more like squirrels in the closet. They dig, claw and disrupt our peace until, at last, they’re addressed. Sure, we wrap pillows around our heads, hoping to drown out the scratching for moments of silence. We put our attention elsewhere to distract us from the noise. We can even grow somewhat used to the “scratching” after long exposure. All of these offer only momentary peace.

We’re going into a new year. It’s time to put past sins behind us and move forward in peace. God offers forgiveness to those who earnestly repent of wrongdoings. Who other than God could help us resolve past sins and separate them from us “as far as the East is from the West?”

On the other side of a repentant heart is peace. Bring your heart to God.