First Christian Church Newton

A Community of Companions on the Journey of Faith

Flakey Christians

The complex shapes and uniqueness of snowflakes have confounded scientists for hundreds of years. In the past, it was generally recognized that the formation of a snowflake is a two-step process: making a single crystal and then having it grow.

This process begins as a microscopic speck of dust is trapped in a molecule of water vapor inside the winds of a winter storm. As the particle is frosted with droplets of super-cooled water, it becomes heavier and begins its plunge to earth. The falling ice crystal is sculpted by the varying temperature and humidity—lengthening here, a spiky branch pushing out there—until it grows into a shape as unique as a person’s fingerprint.

But in the past few years, as our ability to study these beautiful flakes has improved with the development of new technology, a great mystery has emerged. Scientists have discovered that very few snowflakes contain a speck of dust or any other particle which has long been believed to be necessary for a snowflake to form! How are these unique flakes formed?

Dr. John Hallett, a physicist at the University of Nevada, has discovered the answer. As snowflakes are being formed, extremely dry or cold air causes snowflakes to break up into smaller parts. The small fragments then act as seeds for new flakes to develop. In other words, it takes snow to make snow!

Sometimes we forget that it is necessary for Christians to give a personal witness of their faith in order for others to discover the love and life Christ has for them. In other words, Christ uses Christians to make Christians!

Whenever we experience pressures and difficult burdens, when we see a part of our lives broken or shattered, these are often the circumstances God uses to let our faith touch someone close to us and be the seed for a new and beautiful life in Christ. To many, the reason we face difficulties in life is a great mystery. But to us, we live expecting to bear burdens for our Savior and anticipating that the pressures we endure will be used by God to produce new life in others!

Remember, Christ uses Christians to make Christians. Look for Him to use you!

Shalom,

Gary

Epiphany: A Time to Shine

The word Epiphany means “to make known.” During Epiphany, Christians celebrate the full manifestation of God’s glory {glow-ery} in the coming of Christ. The day of Epiphany (January 6) brings Christmas to a glorious conclusion, but we are not to stop there. The season of Epiphany is God’s time to reveal God’s glory.

It is a time to worship because it deals with the glory of God made known in Jesus Christ. The season begins with the Wise Men coming to worship the newborn King. The season (of Epiphany) ends with the worship experience on the Mount of Transfiguration. Do you see the connection? The Wise men came with the shinning of the light and on the Mount of Transfiguration Jesus shone with a great light. The early church made this symbolic connection and joined the two celebrations into one season called Epiphany.

It is a time of light because the light of Christ knows no end; it goes to the ends of the earth. He is the light to enlighten the whole world. The light of Christ is not merely to shine on Christians, but through them, for the salvation of humankind.

It is a time to witness because the light of Christ needs to be spread throughout a dark world.

Be an Epiphany. Be a beacon of light or make known the presence of God by the witness of your life!

Happy New Year!

Shalom,

Gary

Yoda in the Creche

A few years ago we were visiting our son and his family in Oklahoma. Our granddaughter brought out a box of Christmas decorations with a manger scene.

It was obviously made for children in that it was made out of plastic, you know the kind; high strength, virtually indestructible; one that will probably last for a million years (really) plastic. There was a donkey, a lamb, a cow, a manger, a baby Jesus, a Mary, a Joseph, some shepherds, three wise men, a camel or two, and a Yoda.

Yah, a Yoda. Those of you who have never watched a “Star Wars” movie may wonder,” Who is Yoda?”

Yoda is the master Jedi knight who had this hardwired connection to “The Force”. Now don’t even ask me to explain “The Force”.

So I held it up and my granddaughter said, “Oh that’s Yoda; He doesn’t really belong in here. He’s just pretend. The rest of these are real.”

She was about 4 years old at the time. I was so glad that she knew the difference between pretend and real. I know many people much older than her who have a great deal of difficulty sorting that out. The “Star Wars” series of movies may have been entertaining and imaginative but I believe that’s where it stops.

I do think it is rather interesting to note that the series title (Star Wars) points to this imaginative celestial battle between good and evil while in actuality the real battle between good and evil has already been won. It did not take Jedi knights with light sabers and Millennium Falcons to do it.

It was just a baby who was born in a stable.

And the only star involved was the one that appeared for the wise men.

Shalom,
Gary

How to Help Make People’s Advent and Christmas Holidays Holy Days, Not Hollow Days

Hallmark™, the world’s leading greeting card manufacturer, wraps up its mission statement in
that most familiar phrase, “When you care enough to send the very best.”

It’s that time of year, again, for Christians around the world to send their best.

There are many ways to express the message of Advent. We’ll mail packages of goodies or plan
trips to be with loved ones or give food baskets to the needy. Somehow, we find a way to give
witness to God’s love and grace.

However, if we had to choose one medium through which people have tried to convey love
during this season we’d look no further than a Christmas card.

And that’s good news for the greeting card industry. Depending upon the source, sales have
been anywhere between four and seven billion dollars, annually. Advent and Christmas, with
Christmas being the most popular of holidays, provide an enormous market.

From Advent Thursday (Thanksgiving Day!) the traffic-jammed greeting card aisle at any retailer
is only rivaled by the gnarled traffic patterns outside the stores. Whether it’s the seriously
religious themes or the sacrilegiously humorous variety, customers are bumper-to-bumper trying
to find the perfect card that puts into words what they cannot pen for themselves.

This is evidence of the constant search for meaning in our lives.

This is what the apostle Paul does when he pens his own greeting card message. In fact, his
words are intended to reach his readers’ and listeners’ innermost core of being, their hearts and
souls. He cuts to the chase: “Now we can give thanks to our God for you.”

That’s on the face of the card. Open it up, and he continues: “We thank him for the joy we have in
his presence in your faith. May our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus prepare the way
for us to come to you! May the Lord make your love for one another and for all people grow more
and more and become as great as our love for you. In this way he will strengthen you, and you
will be perfect and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with
all who belong to him” (1 Thessalonians 3:9-13, GNB). –Homiletics

Shalom

Gary

Things that Go Bump in the Night

“From Ghoulies and Ghostliest,
and Four Legged Beasties,
and Things that Go Bump In the Night;
Oh Lord, Deliver Us”

The above four lines are actually a prayer found in the Book of Common Prayer which was first composed by Thomas Cramner in the sixteenth century. It is a faint reminder to us that at least once the believers took seriously the forces of evil in this world.

We should never forget that Satan is in this world & he is trying to tempt us away from the truth.

This is the time of year when we see pumpkins in the stores & Halloween candy on the shelves. It is also a good time to look at some of the history surrounding the development of the season we call Halloween.

The word “Halloween” comes from the phrase “All Hallows Eve” (or the day before “All Hallows Day”, or “All Saints Day” as it is commonly known). The word “hallow” means “holy” like in the phrase, “Hallowed be Thy Name…”.

If you translate the phrase “All Hollows Eve” into the common vernacular of the 17th Century, it comes out “Hallow e’en”.

Like other Holidays which came to us out of our European ancestry. All Saints Day (Nov. 1) was a day set aside to celebrate all the Christian saints, known & unknown. The day before All Saints Day
was transformed from an old Celtic or Druid pagan holiday known as “all witches eve”.

Therefore October 31, being the day before All Hallows or All Saints day, came to be known as the last day of the year in which all the disembodied spirits could roam the earth with impunity.

For the Christians, the day took on an air of frivolity because as we all know Christ is victorious over evil (see Phil 2:5-11). Night time pranks & cavorting on Halloween were probably originally nothing
more then joyous celebrations of Christ’s ultimate victory.

The only reason “Jack-O-Lanterns” came to be associated with Halloween is because young people carried lanterns around on Halloween in order to see where they were going. These lanterns were improvised out of gourds or turnips. In 17th century England anyone who was known to carry a lantern by occupation, such as a night watchman, was referred to as a “Jack-o-lantern” which is a shortened form of the phrase “Jack of the lantern”. There was never anything sinister about it.

If we remember that Christ is, ultimately, victorious over Satan; Halloween can be fun & even a religious celebration. It is only when
we attribute to Satan a certain amount of authority in our lives that we can truly fear this celebration.

Otherwise why not enjoy the crisp fall air, the pumpkins, the candy & the children in costume & have a good time. There is after-all nothing truly to fear & the only things “that go bump in the night” are probably things your cat knocked off the shelf. Of course if you do not have a cat; well then there is always the aforementioned prayer.

Hmmm?

Gary

Waiting for an Invitation

“A Sunday school teacher once visited a poor family in one of the top apartments of a tenement in a small but clean room. From conversation with the father and mother, she soon discovered that since the beginning of a long illness of the father, the family had fallen from comparative comfort to poverty. He was now, however, better, and had been able for some time to work a little, so as to keep his family from destitution, but by no means to enable them to live in comfort.

Having learned so much of their worldly concerns, their visitor next began to speak of their souls’ interests. She asked them if they went to any church. ‘No,’ said the father. ‘We used to go long ago, before I took ill, but we went no more after that.’

‘But you have been better for a good while,’ said the teacher.

‘But nobody ever asked us to come!’

‘Well,’ said the visitor, ‘I’ll ask you now,’ and she directed him to a church where he would hear the glad tidings from a faithful minister.

The next Sunday several of the children were at her Sunday school and told her that their family had been at church. Since that day they have been hearers of the Word.

How many souls are perishing ‘because, though all things are now ready, nobody ever asked them to come?’ ” — Scottish Sunday School Teacher’s Magazine

I never cease to be amazed at how often we do not invite others to come and hear the word. Is it because we assume they do not want to hear? You just might be the messenger of hope that God has placed in that other person’s life. Take every opportunity to share the GOOD news.

Shalom, Gary

The Foolishness of the Cross

In 1967 while taking a class in photography at the University of Cincinnati, Rev. Kevin Burden became acquainted with a young man named Charles Murray who also was a student at the school and training for the summer Olympics of 1968 as a high diver. This is the story as told by Pastor Burden:

“Charles was very patient with me as I would speak to him for hours about Jesus Christ and how He had saved me. Charles was not raised in a home that attended any kind of church, so all that I had to tell him was a fascination to him. He even began to ask questions about forgiveness of sin. Finally the day came that I put a question to him. I asked if he realized his own need of a redeemer and if he was ready to trust Christ as his own Savior. I saw his countenance fall and the guilt in his face. But his reply was a strong “no.”

In the days that followed he was quiet and often I felt that he was avoiding me, until I got a phone call and it was Charles. He wanted to know where to look in the New Testament for some verses that I had given him about salvation. I gave him the reference to several passages and asked if I could meet with him. He declined my offer and thanked me for the Scripture. I could tell that he was greatly troubled, but I did not know where he was or how to help him.

Because he was training for the Olympic Games, Charles had special privileges at the University pool facilities. Sometime between 10:30 and 11:00 that evening he decided to go swim and practice a few dives. It was a clear night in October and the moon was big and bright. The University pool was housed under a ceiling of glass panes so the moon shone bright across the top of the wall in the pool area.

Charles climbed to the highest platform to take his first dive. At that moment the Spirit of God began to convict him of his sins. All the Scripture he had read, all the occasions of witnessing to him about Christ flooded his mind. He stood on the platform backwards to make his dive, spread his arms to gather his balance, looked up to the wall and saw his own shadow caused by the light of the moon. It was the shape of a cross. He could bear the burden of his sin no longer. His heart broke and he sat down on the platform and asked God to forgive him and save him. He trusted Jesus Christ twenty some feet in the air.

Suddenly, the lights in the pool area came on. The attendant had come in to check the pool. As Charles looked down from his platform he saw an empty pool which had been drained for repairs. He had almost plummeted to his death, but the cross had stopped him from disaster.”

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

1 Cor. 1:18

Shalom, Gary

Finders Keepers

One of my old favorites is the story of the father and son who worked for months to build a toy sailboat. Every night when he came home from work the man and his boy would disappear into the garage for hours. It was a labor of love–love for each other and for the thing they were creating. The wooden hull was painted bright red and it was trimmed with gleaming white sails. When it was finished, they traveled to a nearby lake for the boat’s trial run. Before launching it the father tied a string to its stern to keep it from sailing too far. The boat performed beautifully, but before long a motorboat crossing the lake cut the string, and the sailboat drifted out of sight on the large lake. Attempts to find it were fruitless, and both father and son wept over its loss.

A few weeks later as the boy was walking home from school he passed his favorite toy store and was amazed to see a toy sailboat in the window–his sailboat! He ran inside to claim the boat, telling the proprietor about his experience on the lake. The store owner explained that he had found the boat while on a fishing trip. “You may be its maker,” he said, “but as a finder I am its legal owner. You may have it back–for fifty dollars.”

The boy was stunned at how much it would cost him to regain his boat, but since it was so precious to him he quickly set about earning the money to buy it back. Months later he joyfully walked into the toy store and handed the owner fifty dollars in exchange for his sailboat. It was the happiest day of his life. As he left the store he held the boat up to the sunlight. Its colors gleamed as though newly painted.

“I made you, but I lost you,” he said. “Now I’ve bought you back. That makes you twice mine, and twice mine is mine forever.”

I hope by now you have figured out that this is not just a story about a sailboat!

He made us. We were lost. He bought us back. We are twice His and twice His is His forever.

Shalom,

Gary

Perseverance

Recently our Disciple Men’s Fellowship Group met for their annual baseball game trip. Although we did not have as many attendees as we have had in years past we did have a great trip. We saw a good game and a great time was had by all.

In light of the baseball theme and seeing that summer [the-long-hot-summer!] is finally drawing to a close; I thought I would share some words of wisdom from the world of baseball:

Among other qualities of personal character, what makes a man great is his determination to keep going. Most sports buffs know that from 1960 to 1966 the record for the most stolen bases was held by the incredible Maury Wills. In 1962 he set the current club record for the Dodgers: 104 stolen bases in one regular season.

But Maury Wills set another record in those years. A record probably obscured by his other accomplishments. A rather dubious record, for in 1965, a year in which he again held high honors for the most stolen bases, he also took top billing for the most times caught stealing in a single season. He got thrown out (or “knocked down”) thirty-one times that year. But–he got back up. And that’s why we remember him. –Illustrations Unlimited

Proverbs 24:16 tells us: “For a righteous man falls seven times, and rises again.” Solomon tells us the essence of perseverance. It is not that a person may fail. [We all will from one time to another] It is whether we get back up!

Shalom,

Gary

Do You Know Your Fortune?

According to the story I heard, a man was at the Atlanta airport one day waiting for a flight to New Orleans. He had a little time to kill. As he strolled the concourse he noticed one of those fortune-telling machines. He dropped a quarter into the machine and out came a card that read, “You are John Smith. You are 35 years old, and you are waiting for a flight to New Orleans.”

It was all incredibly true. He was absolutely shocked. Surely there must be a trick, he reasoned. He looked behind the machine. He even wondered if Candid Camera was back on TV.

Then he took out another quarter to try the machine again. But this time he backed up to it. Out came the card that read, “You are John Smith. You are 35 years old, and you are waiting on a flight to New Orleans.

John said to himself, “I have got to figure this out. There has to be an explanation.”

He noticed farther down the concourse was a convenience store. He went in and told the clerk, “I want a disguise.”

He bought fake glasses, a big nose, a mustache, even a cape. He fixed himself up so well that not even his own mother would recognize him.

Back he went to the machine, dropped in his quarter, and out came a card that read, “You are still John Smith. You are still 35 years old. But now you’ve messed around and missed your flight to New Orleans.”

There is only one source of the real truth and we know where it is. Too often we miss out on the important things of life because we have spent too much time seeking truth from places that can never give it.

Shalom,

Gary

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