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We’re so glad you found our website. Whether you’re visiting us from another part of the world, or from right here in the Huntersville, North Carolina area — welcome!

Pastor Paul's Blog

Advent Conspiracy Daily Devotionals - December 13, 2018

December 13, 2018

Luke 2:1-5 (CEB)

In those days Caesar Augustus declared that everyone throughout the empire should be enrolled in the tax lists. This first enrollment occurred when Quirinius governed Syria. Everyone went to their own cities to be enrolled. Since Joseph belonged to David’s house and family line, he went up from the city of Nazareth in Galilee to David’s city, called Bethlehem, in Judea. He went to be enrolled together with Mary, who was promised to him in marriage and who was pregnant.

As the saying goes, two things in life are certain: death and taxes. Well, we may argue about them being the only two certainties, but death and taxes were and are a commonality for us all. The occasion for this registration/enrollment is during the reign of the Roman Emperor Caesar Augustus. He ruled over the Roman Empire for some 40 years before and after the birth of Jesus. His rule is sometimes referred to as “pax Augustus”, or “the peace of Augustus”, because during his rule he ruled with an iron hand and did quell many uprisings. He did extend the reach of Roman rule, but the peace he fostered came with a high cost and required heavy taxation.

Joseph is from the lineage of King David, and David was from Judah (Judea). Therefore, he must travel to his ancestral home to be registered, in order to be properly taxed. Mary, his betrothed, is traveling with him. As we have seen, betrothal was legally binding, so it was that even pregnant Mary travels with Joseph, not a peaceful last few weeks of her pregnancy.

Later, in the 19th chapter of Luke, when Jesus enters Jerusalem in the last week of his earthly life, the crowds greet him with “Blessings on the King who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in highest heaven!” (NLT) What a contrast between the peace of the ruler Augustus and the Messiah, Jesus! One “peace” comes with the high cost of taxation, violence, and military might. The peace that Jesus brings is provided at no cost to us, is the gracious gift of God, and calls us to reject all forms of violence and intimidation. Indeed, in the certainties of death and taxes, “render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and render to God the things that are God’s.”

Advent Conspiracy Daily Devotionals - December 12, 2018

December 12, 2018

Luke 1:68-79

“Bless the Lord God of Israel
    because he has come to help and has delivered his people.
69 He has raised up a mighty savior for us in his servant David’s house,
70     just as he said through the mouths of his holy prophets long ago.
71 He has brought salvation from our enemies
    and from the power of all those who hate us.
72 He has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
    and remembered his holy covenant,
73         the solemn pledge he made to our ancestor Abraham.
He has granted 74 that we would be rescued
        from the power of our enemies
    so that we could serve him without fear,
75         in holiness and righteousness in God’s eyes,
            for as long as we live.
76 You, child, will be called a prophet of the Most High,
    for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way.
77 You will tell his people how to be saved
    through the forgiveness of their sins.
78 Because of our God’s deep compassion,
    the dawn from heaven will break upon us,
79     to give light to those who are sitting in darkness
    and in the shadow of death,
        to guide us on the path of peace.”

Today’s passage is alternately referred to as “the Canticle of Zechariah”, or “Benedictus” (from the Latin for “Blessed be the Lord God”). Zechariah, on the occasion of the circumcision of his son (John), is filled with the Holy Spirit and utters this prophecy. It can be broken down into two sections, the first praising God and showing how God’s saving work is fulfilled in the coming of the Messiah. In this first section, Zechariah sees the work God is doing in sending the Messiah as a fulfillment of God’s promises to Abraham, a part of God’s plan and purpose from the beginning of the covenantal relationship with Israel. The second part of the prophecy centers around the work that this baby, John, will do, in preparing the people to receive the Messiah. John will announce to the people how they will find salvation “through forgiveness of their sins.”

I remember the first time I appeared before the “Board of Ordained Ministry” to be examined as a person seeking ordination in the United Methodist Church. One of the examiners asked me to “describe my theology.” I answered, “it is a simple theology: Jesus died to save us from our sins.” Well, that answer was a bit too simple for the Board, and needed some fleshing out, but is still at the core of the Gospel today. John was set to prepare the way for Jesus to be recognized as the sacrificial Lamb who was slain for the sins of the world.

I don’t imagine Zechariah understood how that forgiveness was going to be realized. To imagine that the Messiah was going to lay down his life as the atonement for sins would have been unfathomable to Zechariah, as it was to so many who grappled with what Jesus did some thirty years later. And yet, the life, death and then resurrection of Jesus is the light for those who sit in the darkness and guides us to the path of peace. As we discover, peace is not absence of conflict, not “rainbows and unicorns”, but wholeness and completeness in the midst of the storms of life. Jesus will, and does, bring peace, but it is a peace unlike what the world gives. It is a peace that says forgiveness was given in Jesus Christ, and by trusting in him, you are both forgiven and able to forgive others. Simply, Jesus is our peace.  

Advent Conspiracy Daily Devotionals - December 11, 2018

December 11, 2018

Luke 1:46-56 (NRSV)

46 And Mary said,

“My soul magnifies the Lord,
47     and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
48 for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant.
    Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
    and holy is his name.
50 His mercy is for those who fear him
    from generation to generation.
51 He has shown strength with his arm;
    he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
52 He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
    and lifted up the lowly;
53 he has filled the hungry with good things,
    and sent the rich away empty.
54 He has helped his servant Israel,
    in remembrance of his mercy,
55 according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
    to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”

56 And Mary remained with her about three months and then returned to her home.

This passage is called the “Magnificat.” The term comes from the line in verse 46, “My soul magnifies the Lord.” This poem/song is Mary’s response to being told that she will give birth to the Messiah. It is an interesting response, isn’t it? First, she praises God for choosing her and extols God’s holiness. Then, she lifts up this powerful word of the reversal of fortunes the world will experience. The proud and arrogant are going to be humbled, the rich are going to go hungry, while the poor and destitute are going to dine exquisitely. And then she concludes by relating that this was part of God’s plan all the way back to Abraham!

I think there is an interesting dynamic at play here. A word that we hear often in today’s world is a call for “social justice.” With racism, struggles with immigration, and a growing gap between the rich and the poor, we have many “social justice” issues. Yet, there exists a gap in the church between those who believe the church is called to speak to social justice issues, versus those who focus more on personal holiness. Some want to talk about racial divides, economic fairness, and geo-political structures, while others focus on issues of human sexuality, reproductive rights, and religious rights. Interesting dynamic, don’t you think?

Maybe if Mary could be understood in the modern context, we would find that both are important? Maybe it’s not either/or, but both/and? Maybe God is calling us to be concerned with how we treat ALL people, lifting up the least, the last and the lost. And, maybe God is calling us to consider our personal actions and how they influence the world. If we do, then maybe like Mary we are “magnifying the Lord” and the fullness of his nature!

Advent Conspiracy Daily Devotionals - December 10, 2018

December 10, 2018

Luke 1:39-45

39 Mary got up and hurried to a city in the Judean highlands. 40 She entered Zechariah’s home and greeted Elizabeth. 41 When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit. 42 With a loud voice she blurted out, “God has blessed you above all women, and he has blessed the child you carry. 43 Why do I have this honor, that the mother of my Lord should come to me? 44 As soon as I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. 45 Happy is she who believed that the Lord would fulfill the promises he made to her.

When you get “big news” who do you call? Who is the first person you want to talk to when the unexpected occurs? Mary has just received the message from the angel that she is going to bring the Messiah into the world. She must have been feeling excited, overwhelmed, afraid, among many emotions. She “hurries” to the home of Zechariah and Elizabeth. As she does, Elizabeth receives her with joy and excitement, is filled with the Holy Spirit, and her baby, John, leaps in her womb. And she celebrates that happiness, or blessedness, peace, comes from believing that God fulfills the promises made to us.

In this season of Advent, we as a church are trying to live into the tenets of “Advent Conspiracy.” The four tenets are: Worship Fully, Spend Less, Give More, Love All.

God’s promises to us, when believed and applied, bring blessedness, happiness, peace. To worship him with heart, mind and soul, brings life. To recognize that “things” we buy won’t bring lasting joy and peace. To realize it is “more blessed to give than to receive.” To trust that the fulfillment of all God’s will for us is summarized in the simple statement, “Love me, love each other.” We will find happiness, blessing and peace in trusting God’s promises.

Advent Conspiracy Daily Devotionals - December 9, 2018

December 9, 2018

Isaiah 7:14 (CEB)

“14 Therefore, the Lord will give you a sign. The young woman is pregnant and is about to give birth to a son, and she will name him Immanuel.

The context of this passage is a moment in the life of Judah. After Israel had split into the Northern Kingdom (Israel) and the Southern Kingdom (Judah) circa 922 B.C., they were often at odds. In this passage, the King of Israel had aligned with the King of Syria against Judah and was plotting an attack. Isaiah goes to King Ahaz, the King of Judah, and says to him, “Don’t worry, God has got this. They won’t succeed.” If you want, ask for a sign. God will give it. Ahaz refuses, saying “I wouldn’t dare do that.” Isaiah insists and says God is going to do it anyway. The sign is a child, born to a virgin, who will be named “Immanuel”, which means “God is with us.”

Christians, of course, have understood this passage to be a prophetic word about Jesus. In a time of great turmoil for the descendants of Israel and Judah, with Roman rule and oppression and turmoil all around, we understand Jesus to be the fulfillment of that promise that God will send a sign of his abiding presence, born to the virgin Mary, and he is literally, “God is with us.”

It matters not what turmoil we face, we have the assurance of God’s presence in Jesus Christ. Whether your turmoil is job-related, health-related, relationship related, or emotionally-related, God has given us the sign and fulfillment of his promise, “Immanuel”, God is with us. Trusting that promise of his love and presence is a timeless peace.

Advent Conspiracy Daily Devotionals - December 8, 2018

December 8, 2018

(Today's thoughts brought to you by Jacquelyn Roberts)

Matthew 1:22-25 (CEB)

22 Now all of this took place so that what the Lord had spoken through the prophet would be fulfilled:

23 Look! A virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son,
        And they will call him, Emmanuel.

(Emmanuel means “God with us.”)

24 When Joseph woke up, he did just as an angel from God commanded and took Mary as his wife. 25 But he didn’t have sexual relations with her until she gave birth to a son. Joseph called him Jesus.

Noun: a person, place or thing

Verb: a word of action

Is love a noun or a verb?

Love requires action. Words alone are not sufficient. Joseph heard the word from the angel. So as soon as he woke up, he put love into action.

John 3:16 says, “God so loved the world that he gave. . .” This is love in action.

To say, “I love my family but they get on my nerves, so I just go do other things as often as I can.” “I love my parents but I just don’t have much time to give them.” “I love my church but I just don’t have time nor the money to spend supporting the church.”

Love without action is dead. Christmas is a reminder to us of God’s greatest gift to us and a reminder of what love requires of us.

John 3:17, “For God sent his Son into the world not to condemn the world but that the world through Him might be saved.” Thanks be to God!

Advent Conspiracy Daily Devotionals - December 7, 2018

December 7, 2018

Matthew 1:18-21 (CEV)

18 This is how Jesus Christ was born. A young woman named Mary was engaged to Joseph from King David’s family. But before they were married, she learned that she was going to have a baby by God’s Holy Spirit. 19 Joseph was a good man and did not want to embarrass Mary in front of everyone. So he decided to quietly call off the wedding.

20 While Joseph was thinking about this, an angel from the Lord came to him in a dream. The angel said, “Joseph, the baby that Mary will have is from the Holy Spirit. Go ahead and marry her. 21 Then after her baby is born, name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

In the Gospel of Matthew, the birth narrative focuses on Joseph. He is called a “good” man, or in other translations, a “righteous” man. My working definition of “righteous” is being in the right relationship with God, and that right relationship is simply trusting in God’s presence and believing that presence will lead us to love God and one another. Joseph, a good or righteous man, discovers that his betrothed/engaged wife, Mary, is pregnant, and he is not the responsible Father. As I read and understand it, betrothal was legally binding, like marriage is today, so he not only had moral and legal grounds to consider. Legally, he could have had Mary stoned to death! Joseph is deciding to not embarrass Mary by publicly disclosing this situation, choosing to privately end the betrothal, already choosing mercy over judgment.

It is then that the angel appears in a dream with the news that this baby is from the Holy Spirit. Name him Jesus, or Yeshua, a form of the name we know as Joshua, which literally means, “God saves.” Jesus will save people from their sins, saving us from the ill effects of sin.

Maybe, just maybe, we can learn a bit about the nature of God in this story. Joseph is already showing mercy, and grace, to Mary in this situation. He is quick not to condemn, quick not to judge and show his superior morality in this situation. He is “righteous” or “good” and not going to punish Mary for her perceived transgression. Isn’t it a bit ironic then that when the angel appears in the dream, and tells Joseph the rest of the story, the name of the child will be Jesus, God saves? Joseph saves Mary and her baby from being stoned to death by showing the character and nature of God, trusting in God’s presence and believing that presence will lead us to love God and one another.

What might that say to us today? Are we good and righteous people? Are we revealing the character and nature of God by choosing mercy and grace over condemnation and judgment in our daily lives? Can we remember that the name of the Son is “God saves”?

Advent Conspiracy Daily Devotionals - December 6, 2018

December 6, 2018

Luke 1:26-38 (CEV)

26 One month later God sent the angel Gabriel to the town of Nazareth in Galilee 27 with a message for a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to Joseph from the family of King David. 28 The angel greeted Mary and said, “You are truly blessed! The Lord is with you.”

29 Mary was confused by the angel’s words and wondered what they meant. 30 Then the angel told Mary, “Don’t be afraid! God is pleased with you, 31 and you will have a son. His name will be Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of God Most High. The Lord God will make him king, as his ancestor David was. 33 He will rule the people of Israel forever, and his kingdom will never end.”

34 Mary asked the angel, “How can this happen? I am not married!”

35 The angel answered, “The Holy Spirit will come down to you, and God’s power will come over you. So your child will be called the holy Son of God. 36 Your relative Elizabeth is also going to have a son, even though she is old. No one thought she could ever have a baby, but in three months she will have a son. 37 Nothing is impossible for God!”

38 Mary said, “I am the Lord’s servant! Let it happen as you have said.” And the angel left her.

To be honest, I’m not sure what the difference was. Zechariah questioned and was muted until the baby arrived. Mary seems to have asked a similar question, “How can this happen? I am not married?!”, and she gets an explanation and a reminder. The reminder is that nothing is impossible for God.

But look at the condition and willingness of Mary’s spirit. She gushes, “I am the Lord’s servant! Let it happen as you have said.” Maybe, just maybe, Zechariah wasn’t as gushing and as willing in his spirit. Who knows? God does!

How available are you to God? I am confident that God is looking to use each and every one of us for his good work. Each and every one of us has gifts and, like Mary, are called to “bear Christ to the world.” In this manic season of parties and dinners, celebrations and activities, could you make yourself available to deliver the good news of Jesus Christ? Remember, with God, nothing is impossible, not even us making ourselves more fully available to bless the world in the name of Jesus.

Advent Conspiracy Daily Devotionals - December 5, 2018

December 5

Luke 1:18-25 (CEV)

18 Zechariah said to the angel, “How will I know this is going to happen? My wife and I are both very old.”

19 The angel answered, “I am Gabriel, God’s servant, and I was sent to tell you this good news. 20 You have not believed what I have said. So you will not be able to say a thing until all this happens. But everything will take place when it is supposed to.”

21 The crowd was waiting for Zechariah and kept wondering why he was staying so long in the temple. 22 When he did come out, he could not speak, and they knew he had seen a vision. He motioned to them with his hands, but did not say a thing.

23 When Zechariah’s time of service in the temple was over, he went home. 24 Soon after that, his wife was expecting a baby, and for five months she did not leave the house. She said to herself, 25 “What the Lord has done for me will keep people from looking down on me.”

Continuing the story of John the Baptist, the one who was to come and pave the way for the Messiah, we continue with this story of Zechariah and Elizabeth. From yesterday, we remember they were “barren.” Advanced in age, they had no children. As Zechariah does his priestly duty in the Temple, offering incense on behalf of the people to the Lord, he sees the angel of the Lord. The angel tells him “his prayers are answered” and that he and Elizabeth would have a child, a special child. I think Zechariah does what I would have done, what most of us would have done. He questions. How can this be? How will I know? We are old!

I have always believed and preached that there is nothing wrong with doubt. To me, doubt is a pathway to belief. Yet, Zechariah is “muted” for his questioning, and unable to speak until the boy, John, is born.

Elizabeth, on the other hand, seems to express no doubt when she receives the news. In that culture, to be barren was considered a curse, something to be ashamed of, in which women were often considered less than if they couldn’t conceive. Elizabeth closes the curtains, stays inside the house, but must feel somehow vindicated, to keep “people from looking down on me.”

This interplay between doubt and belief is an interesting one. I preach and teach and live the life of the Pastor/Priest. I have witnessed and experienced many wonders God has done. But, each time it amazes me. Why should it amaze? God is faithful and does amazing things. Yet, I face doubts and fears about the next one. Is that your experience? You know God can. But will he this time? Maybe just shutting up and patiently waiting is a faithful response, in spite of our doubts and fears. Whatever you are looking for from God right now, be patient, wait, your answer is coming. And the answer will likely surprise you.

Advent Conspiracy Daily Devotionals - December 4, 2018

December 4

Luke 1:11-17 (CEV)

11 All at once an angel from the Lord appeared to Zechariah at the right side of the altar. 12 Zechariah was confused and afraid when he saw the angel. 13 But the angel told him:

Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God has heard your prayers. Your wife Elizabeth will have a son, and you must name him John. 14 His birth will make you very happy, and many people will be glad. 15 Your son will be a great servant of the Lord. He must never drink wine or beer, and the power of the Holy Spirit will be with him from the time he is born.

16 John will lead many people in Israel to turn back to the Lord their God. 17 He will go ahead of the Lord with the same power and spirit that Elijah had. And because of John, parents will be more thoughtful of their children. And people who now disobey God will begin to think as they ought to. That is how John will get people ready for the Lord.

This is a fascinating passage to me. Here we have a seasoned, veteran priest named Zechariah. He is from the priestly order, and his wife was from the line of Levites, a descendant of Aaron (Moses’s brother). They are both steeped in this heritage of serving God, interceding on behalf of the people with God, offering sacrifices and leading the people in worship. But when the angel of the Lord appeared, Zechariah was scared to death! Maybe we serve so much in these roles we are surprised and scared when God’s presence is revealed?!

The angel tells Zechariah he is going to have a son, an answer to his prayers, but this is no ordinary son. This will be the prophet who comes to make way for the Messiah to be born. His name will be John, and he will be filled with the Holy Spirit from even before his actual birth.

But did you catch what John’s preaching and proclamation will deliver? The proclamation is that “parents will be more thoughtful of their children. And people who now disobey God will begin to think as they ought to.” What an interesting thing, as the NRSV translation states it “to turn the hearts of the parents to their children.” The reference comes from the last words of the Old Testament, from Malachi 4:6, “He will turn the hearts of parents to their children and the hearts of children to their parents, so that I will not come and strike the land with a curse.” The idea is that God will send another “Elijah” (greatest of the Old Testament prophets), before he sends the Messiah. The Elijah (John) will lead the people to repentance, envisioned to involve all generations within families, ending the division caused by sin in earlier eras that existed from generation to generation.

The last phrase from this translation above says it well, “And people who now disobey God will begin to think as they ought to.” The first step in changing wrong behavior is to recognize that it is wrong, and realize there is a better way. I am hoping that through this Advent Conspiracy series we will see how wrong our observance of Christmas has become, and how important it is to change it. Are you willing to hear the prophetic word that over-spending and over-indulgence in stuff is never going to bring us the presence of God?

Advent Conspiracy Daily Devotionals - December 3, 2018

December 3, 2018

Luke 1:5-10 (CEV)

When Herod was king of Judea, there was a priest by the name of Zechariah from the priestly group of Abijah. His wife Elizabeth was from the family of Aaron. Both of them were good people and pleased the Lord God by obeying all that he had commanded. But they did not have children. Elizabeth could not have any, and both Zechariah and Elizabeth were already old.

One day Zechariah’s group of priests were on duty, and he was serving God as a priest. According to the custom of the priests, he had been chosen to go into the Lord’s temple that day and to burn incense, 10 while the people stood outside praying.

In Luke’s Gospel, the story of Jesus begins not with Jesus, but with John the Baptist. And the story begins not with John, but with John’s parents, Zechariah and Elizabeth. How many times have we heard of characters of the Bible and their inability to have children? Abram and Sarai come to mind. So does Rebekah, Rachel, Samson’s Mother (not named in the scriptures), Hannah (mother to Samuel), and Michal (first wife of David). At least seven are noted as “not able to conceive.” Elizabeth is among those named as barren. Her husband, Zechariah is a Priest, from the tribe of priests, and they are both good, honorable people. As we will see over and over in the story of Jesus, about the time people give up hope, God begins to do amazing things.

In this season of Advent, you may be about ready to give up hope of escaping from despair, whatever you are despairing of. Like Zechariah and Elizabeth, staying faithful and living the honorable life of obedience, we don’t give up hope, even when things look hopeless. Good news is coming! John is coming to announce that good news.

I Hope this is Not TOO Late

Some of you may have already done your Christmas shopping. You may be already committed. But, if you aren’t, I hope you’ll watch the video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ccuC87NBpw&t=2s). We showed it a couple of weeks ago at church and I invite you to watch it, even if you have already seen it. It is what we are going to be talking about during the Advent season. It is a movement that is sorely due.

Advent Conspiracy was started a few years ago. This is from the website, adventconspiracy.org/about:

"Over a decade ago, a few pastors were lamenting how they’d come to the end of an Advent season exhausted and sensing they’d missed it – the awe-inducing, soul-satisfying mystery of the incarnation.

For many of us, we were drowning in a sea of financial debt and endless lists of gifts to buy. We struggled to find the connection between our Christmas to-do lists and the story of Jesus’ birth.

An overwhelming stress had overtaken worship and celebration.

The time of year when focusing on Christ should be the easiest was often the hardest. Somehow, this had become the new normal.

So, in 2006, three pastors, Chris Seay, Greg Holder, and Rick McKinley, decided to try something different. They called it the Advent Conspiracy movement, and came up with four tenets—Worship Fully, Spend Less, Give More, Love All—to guide themselves, their families, and congregations through the Christmas season."

I want to join the movement, and I am inviting you to do so as well. It’s simple really, focus on the four tenets – Worship Fully, Spend Less, Give More, and Love All – rather than obsessing over the giving of gifts to our family and friends. I am committing to leading my family and our congregation in de-emphasizing the gift giving pattern, and focusing instead on the birth of Jesus.

It will mean that we will have to have conversations with our family members and our friends. It will take courage to say to them, “I won’t be exchanging gifts this year, in the usual way. I suggest we come up with a different way to express our love for each other.” If money needs to be exchanged, offer it to a church or charity instead. Rather than spend hours at the mall looking for “stuff” to give, why don’t we spend that time together with our family and friends? Let’s offer gifts of our time and talents to God and to each other, rather than bloating our credit card statements. Let’s support the work of God in the world, rather than accumulating junk that will be discarded in days or months ahead.

I might suggest that our Thrive! project would be an excellent avenue to direct the giving that we might normally offer in gift giving to friends. Make a gift in honor of someone to Thrive!, and we will let them know they were honored in such a way.

As we enter this special time of year, as the songs are sung and the decorations are displayed, maybe this year we can focus on what Jesus means to the whole of the universe, and not stress out over unrealistic expectations that are surely never going to be met through gift giving.

Will you join me?

Advent Conspiracy Daily Devotionals - December 2, 2018

December 2, 2018

Jeremiah 33:14-16 (CEV)

14 The Lord said:

I made a wonderful promise to Israel and Judah, and the days are coming when I will keep it.

15 I promise that the time will come
when I will appoint a king
    from the family of David,
a king who will be honest
    and rule with justice.
16 In those days,
    Judah will be safe;
Jerusalem will have peace
and will be named,

“The Lord Gives Justice.”

David, who became King of Israel in 1000 B.C., was one of the most important figures of what we refer to as the “Old Testament.” God says to David in II Samuel 7:16, “your throne shall be established forever.” By the time of Jeremiah, the prophet who wrote the passage above nearly 500 years later, that promise seemed in jeopardy. The earthly line of King David reigned over the people called Judah for many years, but with the threat from foreign enemies, that line was soon to be cut off.   The descendants of David would be killed and removed from their place as Kings over Judah. In the passage above, Jeremiah prophesies that there will be another King, this one very different than the others, whose very name will mean “righteousness” and “justice.”

The Gospels of Matthew and Luke go to great lengths to establish that Jesus is of the line (lineage) of King David, and that he is the fulfillment of the promise to David that someone from his line will reign over God’s Kingdom forever. He does bring all of those promises God made to fruition, but often not in ways we readily recognize. The righteousness and justice Jesus brings, demands us to live “in the right relationship with God” by taking care of those who are in need. It demands that we advocate for and seek “justice” for all oppressed people.

“According to the Biblical justice that God sets forth, all humans are equal, all humans are created in His image, and all humans deserve to be treated with fairness and justice. The combination of righteousness and justice that God dictates means a selfless way of life in which people do everything they can to ensure that others are treated well and injustices are fixed.” (thebibleproject.com/explore/justice)

As we celebrate the coming of Jesus, are we treating every person made in the image of God with dignity and equality? In our church we have wonderful opportunities to live in relationships that bring righteousness and justice through ministries like Not Here, Room in the Inn, and Loaves and Fishes. Are you seeing the connection between these and the justice and righteousness of Jesus? His coming demands we do so.

"Not Here" for a Thanksgiving Meal

By now you may know the story of how the “Not Here” ministry was started, but the story is so good I like telling it over and over. Justin Stewart and I were standing in the church kitchen looking at a big storage bag of hot dogs that were left over from a Youth event. Justin asked, “What are we going to do with these hot dogs?” My response was, “Oh, I don’t know, we will serve them again for another occasion.” He replied, “I’m going to take them down and give them out to the homeless in Charlotte. I know where they hang out.” Okay then.

That was the start of something big!

From there the ministry grew weekly. The next week Justin prepared soup and took it down for our homeless neighbors. Then, every week, something else. He ended up setting up at different spots in Charlotte, but the police would come by and say, “It’s great what you are doing, but NOT HERE!” Eventually, a space at Hope Chapel was secured, and “Not Here” had a home.

Justin moved to Colorado in 2016, but with the dedication and leadership of several volunteers, the ministry continued. Kirk Sipe took the lead, and others continued to lend their talents and abilities for this vital expression of God’s love and grace.

Now, other churches have come alongside ours, providing additional help. A worship service, led by Charles DiRico, is offered after the meal every week. Most weeks, clothing is available to those who need it. It is an amazing thing to watch how this ministry thrives.

“Not Here” is not in the church budget, per se. We don’t fund the food served, or the supplies used, or the gas to drive the van. When people want to support the “Not Here” ministry, it is through directed giving.

This Sunday, our “Not Here” ministry is going to provide a meal for us. The food comes from the same place the Thursday food comes from, donations from places like Chipotle, Chick-Fil-A (Denver), Outback Steakhouse, Carrabbas, Little Caesars and Bone Fish grill. Our talented chefs take and re-purpose the food and make it even more delicious. This Sunday, you are invited to stay after the 10:30 service to share in a pre-Thanksgiving meal. The money you donate will go to provide for the “Not Here” ministry supplies; the plates, the serving items, gas, etc. An estimated $1,200 per year is needed. We trust that the spirit of giving will be flowing through us as we are blessed by this food and gathering.

Thank you to all the “Not Here” ministry people who are answering the call of God, “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty, and you gave me drink.” May God continue to bless “Not Here.”

Advent Conspiracy Daily Devotionals - December 1, 2018

Advent Conspiracy Daily Devotionals

Welcome to the daily devotional for this season of Advent 2018! This year, we are centering our devotions around the themes inspired by the “Advent Conspiracy” ministry. Here is their story:

Over a decade ago, a few pastors were lamenting how they’d come to the end of an Advent season exhausted and sensing they’d missed it – the awe-inducing, soul-satisfying mystery of the incarnation.

For many of us, we were drowning in a sea of financial debt and endless lists of gifts to buy. We struggled to find the connection between our Christmas to-do lists and the story of Jesus’ birth. An overwhelming stress had overtaken worship and celebration.

The time of year when focusing on Christ should be the easiest was often the hardest. Somehow, this had become the new normal.

So, in 2006, three pastors, Chris Seay, Greg Holder, and Rick McKinley, decided to try something different. They called it the Advent Conspiracy movement, and came up with four tenets—Worship Fully, Spend Less, Give More, Love All—to guide themselves, their families, and congregations through the Christmas season. 

Keeping these four tenets in mind, I hope you’ll find these daily devotions helpful.

December 1, 2018

John 1:1-5 (CEV)

In the beginning was the one
    who is called the Word.
The Word was with God
    and was truly God.
From the very beginning
    the Word was with God.

And with this Word,
    God created all things.
Nothing was made
    without the Word.
Everything that was created
    received its life from him,
and his life gave light
    to everyone.
The light keeps shining
    in the dark,
and darkness has never
    put it out.

When you read the Gospel of John, you notice immediately it is not like the other Gospels. There is no “Christmas story” of angels and shepherds, no Mary and Joseph, no gifts and Wise Men. Instead, there is this proclamation that harkens back to creation, to Genesis. Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth. . .”, “God said, Let there be light; and there was light.” John is making a proclamation about Jesus that he is the Word that God spoke and the Word that brought all things into creation. Jesus is God’s light that brings life and light to all things, even the darkness. And just like even a small candle in a dark room pierces the light and shines enough for all to see, so does the light of Jesus pierce the darkness of our lives.

My concern is that with the darkness of commercialism, busyness and sentimentality that we encounter this time of year, can we hear the Word of God in Jesus Christ, and find the light we need in him to shine in our darkness? May we encounter the living Word in Jesus Christ and find light and life, even amidst the darkness.

Thrive! One Year Later...

I was nervous. I had never made such a big, bold ask. $750,000 is a lot of money. Two years isn’t that long of a time. Yet, through prayer and discernment, we had been led to this big ask and it was the time. And in October of last year you responded! As we celebrated our Commitment and Celebration Sundays in October of last year, we were so pleased to know that you had pledged $660,000 (and many give without pledging) and we were on our way to a significant event in the life of the church, paying down the debt on this church building. We were a church that was not just going to survive, we were made to THRIVE!

So, here we are, one year later, and your faithfulness is showing. We are well on our way to achieving our goal of $750,000 by October of 2019. Bob Inskeep will give us the numbers on Sunday. What I want to do is give you information about “what’s next?”

This Sunday, we will announce the amount received so far and give you some great news about what your giving is allowing us to do already! We want to celebrate what God is doing through you with a covered dish meal after the 10:30 service, and there will be games and a bounce house for the kids! We are hoping everyone will purchase and wear your “Thrive” t-shirt on Sunday! We think this is a great way to show our solidarity in support of this project. We have much to celebrate and we want the energy and enthusiasm to shine!

It is also important that we continue to connect the “Thrive!” project to our Mission statement. Our new mission statement is, “God calls us to open the door, make room at the table, and create spaces to foster lasting relationships with Jesus Christ.” We believe building this facility is a part of opening the door and making room at the table. When the church was at its last location, it was landlocked and unable to grow. The rationale behind building the new church at this location was so that we could “make room at the table.” And we did! This building at this location offers us amazing space and great facilities to live out this mission statement. This church functions as a “community center” and enables us to offer so many blessings to our neighbors in the community. We are thriving in this area.

There is one remaining step, though. We have to be more focused at creating spaces to foster lasting relationships with Jesus Christ. Those spaces may not be literal, but figurative. They may be in conversations on a baseball diamond, a basketball court, or a soccer field. They may be at a race that we host with a community partner that helps bless the community by raising funds for a great cause. It may be as we hammer nails together at a Habitat for Humanity house. We must engage with the community, using words when necessary, to connect with a younger generation that is not just going to show up at our worship services just because we have them. To build a “Passionate, Thriving, Loving Community,” we have to meet people where they are, just like Jesus did, earning the right and privilege to share in their lives the good news we have found in Jesus Christ.

Your giving to the “Thrive” work frees us to put the dollars we need in the right places. Every dollar given to pay down debt is like a vote of affirmation that we trust God will complete this awesome work he began in the hearts and minds of the people who started this work a long time ago. We will continue this journey of faith and see the awesome things God will do, as we just trust him more and more with all that we are.

I look forward to seeing you Sunday, wearing our “Thrive” shirts, and celebrating the God who is thriving in this place!