First Christian Church Newton

A Community of Companions on the Journey of Faith

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

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

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

But I Will Pray For You

Be careful when you say that. Do not say those words unless you sincerely
intend to do it. How often have you experienced this: A friend of yours or someone
you know will be talking to you and they will mention some particular need or problem in
their life? You listen intently. You empathize. You lend advice. However, at some
point during the conversation you realize there is nothing that you can (or desire) to do
to help. Feeling somewhat helpless (or guilty), you offer what seems to be the only
thing you can say, “But, I’ll pray for you!”

Now actually that really is a wonderful thing to say. What it means is that you
intend to call upon the divine Creator and Sustainer of the universe to intervene on
behalf of your friend and perhaps change the order of the universe to benefit your
friend. That is what we call a miracle. Of course, miracles happen. There is ample
evidence in scripture and Christian history when God has answered such prayers. I, for
one, pray such prayers everyday of the week. Please understand, I am not suggesting
that you should stop telling your friends that you will pray for them.

I am saying that when you tell your friends that you will pray for them; make
sure that you actually do it. How often have you told someone you would pray for him
or her and then somehow you just never really got around to it? Such insincerity
borders on profanity. Do not say you will when you don’t.

In fact why put it off? When you realize that prayer is the only answer, why
not say, “Let’s pray about it right now!” If you believe there is power in prayer then
prove it. It is not difficult. Why would we be afraid of such a profession of faith?
Are we afraid that God will not answer our prayer as we prayed it?

On the other hand, maybe he will. That is the crux of the matter. It is not our
place to speculate on God’s will in any given situation. However, it is our God given right
as his children to ask him for help. Jesus plainly told us that he loves to give good
gifts to his children. {Matthew 7:11 and Luke 11:13)

The greatest heritage we have as children of God is the gift of prayer. Do not
take it lightly.

Shalom,

Gary

He Climbed in with Us

I read about a grandfather who found his grandson jumping up and down in his playpen, crying at the top of his voice. When Johnnie saw his grandfather, he reached up his little chubby hands and said, “Out, Grandpa, out.”

It was only natural for the grandfather to reach down to lift him out of his predicament, but as he did the mother of the child stepped up and said “No, Johnnie, you are being punished–so you must stay in.”

The grandfather was at a loss to know what to do. The child’s tears and chubby hands reached deep into his heart.  But the mother’s firmness in correcting her son must not be taken lightly.

But love found a way. The grandfather could not take the grandson out of the playpen, so he climbed in with him. That is what our Lord Jesus Christ did for us at the cross.  In leaving heaven for earth He climbed in with us. The Bible says, “The Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” – –      Illustrations Unlimited

Shalom,

Gary

Serendipity!

Have you ever found something when you were looking for something else? I love it when that happens. When that happens, the term to describe it is: Serendipity. It comes from an old tale of ancient Ceylon by Horace Walpole entitled: The Three Princes of Serendipity.

The whole story is about how the three princes continually find something tin the process of looking for something else.

The other day I found a special drill bit that I had been trying to find for years. I was rummaging around trying to find something else, and I found this drill bit. “So, we killed the fatted calf and there was much rejoicing for that which was lost is now found!”

Well not really, but it was great to find it!

Do you realize how many people are “out there” looking for something and yet do not know what it is for which they are looking? We as Christians have found a “pearl of great price” (Matthew 13:46) or a field with a treasure (Matthew 13:44,) and the rest of the world not only does not know where to dig; they would not recognize the treasure if they found it. Can you imagine someone holding the Kingdom in the palm of their hand and not even knowing it?

Serendipity Oyster with Pearl

This is basically what happened with Judas. He perhaps thought he was doing the right thing, but he sold out for money. Satan loves confusion. By raising enough distractions along the way, Satan hopes to trick us into making the wrong decisions.

It is easy for one to be distracted; especially when the alternatives look so good. Frankly, the alternatives usually do look better in the short run. Since it is frequently difficult for us to worry about the long run, Satan hopes to catch us before we know what happened. Because Satan is so tricky; unless a person is raised in God’s word, sometimes it is difficult to know God’s way from Satan’s way.

The only solution is simple. Start the trip to find God, and He will find you. Andrew was a disciple of John the Baptist. In the process of looking for God through John the Baptist, Andrew met Jesus. He ran and got his brother, Simon, and said, “We have found the Messiah!”

That was kind of a serendipity-type experience. How often has it been that in the process of doing one thing for the Lord, you discovered something else? That is the way it is in the Kingdom of God. Jesus said it this way, “Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and all these things will be yours as well.” (Matthew 6:33)

Shalom,

Gary

 

 

What’s Happening with Easter?

Ever wonder why it is that Easter falls on a different day every year?

“In 325CE the Council of Nicaea established that Easter would be held on the first Sunday after the first full moon occurring on or after the vernal equinox.(*) From that point forward, the Easter date depended on the ecclesiastical approximation of March 21 for the vernal equinox.”

Therefore, the Easter date can swing as much as 40 days from one year to the next. The vernal equinox [that is the date in the spring when the day time is equal to the night time] is always on March 21; but the orbit of the moon is much less precise and we get a full moon roughly every 28 days. This makes the date for Easter change every year.

I find it highly humorous that there are some who think that “the government” should just set the date for one date every year. Little do they know that the “government” has nothing to do with it!

That being said, this year Palm Sunday is March 24. Maundy Thursday is March 29. Easter, then, is April 1.

We have many worship services scheduled for the upcoming few weeks.

Palm Sunday we have a puppet cantata scheduled during the church service.

The Eggstravaganza [Easter Egg Hunt for the kids] will happen after church on Palm Sunday.

Maundy Thursday service will be at 7:00 pm, and we will be celebrating a Seder service, which is similar to a Jewish Passover meal. Each part of the meal has special significance.

Community Good Friday service will be at Trinity Heights United Methodist Church at a time yet to be announced.

Sunrise Easter Service will be at 8:00 am under the front overhang, with breakfast following in the Fellowship Hall.

Easter Sunday Morning service is at 10:30 am.

Busy!

But what a blessed time of year!

Make your plans now to attend all of our services.

Shalom,

Gary

*For more information on regular scheduled events, visit the church calendar.

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