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Tent Peg Migraine

Strange Things Sermon Slide Week 3In case you missed last week’s message, we are studying some strange things that we find in the Bible. Last week was a talking donkey, while this week is a weird one of a woman killing a commander with a tent peg. But as strange as the story is, there is a message for us today. Let’s check it out.

The passage comes to us from Judges chapter 4 and our main characters are Barak, Deborah the judge, Sisera and Jael. The story begins with Israel wanting to defeat the Canaanites with an army led by Sisera. Deborah, who is leading the Israelites at the time, calls upon Barak to lead an army into battle. She tells him that the Lord has proclaimed victory for them and will deliver Sisera into their hands. But Barak is not so sure. He questions this message with a request for Deborah. He asks her to go along with him. “If you will go with me, I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go.” She then tells him that because of his lack of courage, Sisera will still be defeated, but instead of Barak getting the credit, it will be given to a woman. Jael to be exact.

Well, the battle goes on as promised, and Barak defeats Sisera’s army, just as God had said. But Sisera escapes during the battle and runs to a camp well outside the battlezone. He makes it to the tent camp of Heber the Kenite near Kedesh. This is good news because Heber would have been friendly to Sisera as there was peace between Jabin the king and the Kenites. Heber is not home, but his wife Jael is. She invites him into the tent. No one would expect to find him there as men were not allowed into tents of women, unless they were her husband. Sisera felt safe. After giving him some milk, she covered him with a blanket and he laid down. Exhausted by the battle, Sisera quickly falls asleep. Jael, being no stranger to setting up tents in the middle of the desert, picks up a stake and proceeds to drive it into Sisera’s temple, in essence, nailing him to the ground.

After this weird scene unfolds, we hear that Barak was pursuing Sisera and finally arrives on site. Jael welcomes him and lets him know that she has who he has been looking for. Come and see. God delivered on his promise, that the battle would be won, but Sisera would be defeated by a woman.

Courage, this is what Barak lacked. Courage, it’s what God wanted for him. Courage, it’s what Deborah and Jael both had in abundance. To be able to declare this promise from God, Deborah had great courage. To invite the commander of an army into your tent so calmly, and then to kill him with a strange weapon, Jael had incredible amounts of courage.

How much courage do you have? Are you like Barak, or maybe Deborah or Jael? What does Deborah and Jael have that Barak ain’t got? Courage. But I think they have something even more than just courage. Courage by itself can get you into a heap of trouble. You may have the courage to step into a burning building, but if you don’t have knowledge or wisdom about fire, you could be stepping into a grave situation. Blind courage can be a bad thing, but courage, coupled with wisdom and trust in our God, is a force to be reckoned with.

How many times do trust and courage go together? Throughout scripture, I would say almost always. Joshua 1:9; “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.” Deborah gave a message to Barak, and he needed to trust it. He didn’t have full faith in what was being asked so the victory was credited to someone else.

What message are you hearing today, from a friend, a family member, a pastor, or maybe even a stranger, that you need to listen to and obey. The request is made, you just need to step outside of the boat. What victory is God proclaiming to you today.

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Are You Talking to Me?

Strange Things Sermon SlideThis past Sunday, we began a worship series that focuses on some of the strange things we find in the bible. You see, sometimes it is good to look at these weird stories and reflect on what they might mean for us today. How is God speaking through these passages?

Our first story was that of a talking donkey. Now for those of you who know of Shrek, this isn’t too far-fetched, but then again, that was a cartoon movie. Our story today is about Balak who is the king of Moab and he feels threatened by the Israelites. He wants to beat them, but he knows that he can’t without someone’s help. So, he hires Balaam to curse Israel. He sends an entourage with gifts to entice Balaam to come and make this infamous curse, but there’s a problem. When the offer is made, Balaam says that he needs to sleep on it. During the night, God speaks in a dream, telling Balaam not to go with these men. In the morning, he gives them the news which was not well received back home.

Another entourage is sent out with better gifts, hoping that the money was the issue and this new offer will be enough to get him to come and curse these people. Again, Balaam says he needs to sleep on it. This time he is told that he can go, but he must stick to a certain script, God’s script. They all agree and off they go. Now I’m not sure what happened on the road. Maybe Balak’s people got to Balaam and convinced him to change his mind about listening to this God and following His plan, or maybe Balaam’s pride was beginning to get in the way. Either way, something changed during the journey and God noticed the change in Balaam’s attitude and intentions.

So, he sends a messenger to remind Balaam what he needs to do, or he would die before reaching his destination. But herein lies a problem. Balaam doesn’t see the messenger. It could have been his pride that got in the way, we’re not sure. But we do know that he didn’t see the messenger. How, because of this interesting story that follows.

His donkey, that he has been riding on this journey, gets interrupted three times along the way. Upon seeing the messenger from God the first time, the donkey veers off the path into a field. With a little persuasion from a beating, the donkey returns to the path. The next time, the path is narrower, and the donkey pushes Balaam’s foot against a wall. A beating ensues again, and then they are on their way. But the last time the messenger appears, it is at a spot where there was no room for a diversion. So, the donkey proceeds to sit right down and take a break.

Another beating takes place, but this time the donkey speaks up, literally. He has a few choice words for Balaam. He questions why he is being treated this way because he has never done anything like this before. He was always a trusty steed for Balaam. After a bit of conversation with his animal, Balaam’s eyes were opened by God and he now saw the messenger which was blocking the way earlier. The donkey saved his life because the messenger tells Balaam that he would have killed him if they didn’t stop. Balaam finally realizes his problem and repents, and even suggests that he return home. But God has bigger plans and tells him to go ahead with the trip, but to only say and do what God wants him to.

How many times in our lives, do we travel this life and miss the messages of God? We don’t hear because we feel like we don’t trust the source. We think that God couldn’t possible speak through this person or that experience. So, we shut our eyes and ears to the message. We close our hearts and don’t let God’s word ring true within us. Are we like Balaam, too proud to hear a message from God, because WE think it can’t be from God? What disasters await us because of our pride, because we don’t want to listen to others who may be carrying a message from God?

I am reminded of the story of the Titanic, a ship that no one believed could sink. It was the best, the most luxurious, the elite of all sailing vessels. Everyone knew it, and a few in charge wanted to flaunt it. Ignoring warnings by others, they pushed through icy waters at speeds they shouldn’t have been traveling. When to dangers appeared, it was too late. Unlike Balaam, they didn’t have someone who made them stop. Unlike Balaam, they powered right through the stop sign, and there was no turning back.

What stop sign is right in front of you today? Is there a message for you that you have ignored for too long? Is God trying to get you to slow down, to listen, to grow deeper in your relationship with him? God is speaking today. God is calling today. Are you listening closely?

Reflection on the Season

Week 6 - Epilogue ReflectionsThis past Sunday was also the last day of the year in 2017. This was a day that we celebrated with scripture passages and carols throughout the service. We heard the Christmas story again as we have so many years in the past, but I encouraged all to hear like never before.

As I reflected on our entire worship series called “Christmas Traditions,” I realized that one of the downsides of them are the usual and familiar nature of traditions. We get so used to celebrating them that they become second nature and we lose all meaning as we just ‘go through the motions.’ It becomes as stated in Eccesiastes “Everything is meaningless.”

But it doesn’t have to be. As we heard during worship on Sunday, the words of old, the message of old, can have new meaning if we just allow God to speak through the words and enter our hearts anew. The words can speak to us in fresh ways, just as our traditions can breathe deep meaning into our lives, as long as we approach them a bit differently. If we watch closely, listen deeply, and participate fully in those activities.

So, we read and listened to the story again, the greatest story ever told, the story of God’s sacrificial love for each and every one of us. How can we ever become tired of hearing this story? How can the meaning behind God’s actions become less than miraculous? “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” This is the beginning of the story, just the beginning. This story continues on. We follow this story up to Easter as we celebrate Jesus’ life and his death on the cross. But the story doesn’t end there. The story continues in our lives as we live for him, as we strive to complete God’s plan for our lives. The story continues, even after we are no longer on this earth. The story continues…

So, as you reflect on this past Advent season, this past Christmas season, our celebrations, and even our quiet times, what has spoken to you? Did you find one of your traditions with more meaning than years past?  Maybe while attending the candle light worship service on Christmas Eve, you found yourself reflecting on those lives from your past that helped shape who you are today. Maybe during your time of opening Christmas gifts, you smiled a little bigger, laughed a little louder, or thanked a little deeper this year. Maybe you were able to spend some time wandering the streets of your neighborhood, admiring the lights which glowed into the night, illuminating your path and reminding you of the true light in your life, Jesus Christ.

Whatever it was this year, I hope that God was able to open your eyes and hearts to something new, or maybe something old with a new meaning. These are treasures that we keep in our hearts. May God bless them and multiply them in your lives, especially in this new year. May God truly bless you this year.

Week 4 - Christmas LightsSome of my earliest memories of Christmas with my family involve Christmas lights. But not necessarily the hanging of them. I remember getting into the car and just driving around Rockford. My parents seemed to know all the places to go to see the most lights. It was a magical time for me. It was so beautiful to see the ordinary houses, wonderfully transformed by the twinkling lights that adorned the roof lines and windows. There was even a certain weekend every year within the Edgewater neighborhood when they would put out luminaries. Not only did the houses have wonderful colors on the outside of them, but now the sidewalks and driveways were lined with lights.

Now, since we have been talking about traditions over the past few weeks, I needed to research the history of Christmas Lights; where they came from and how they became such an important part of our Christmas celebrations. But as I researched this history, I didn’t hear about a definite connection to our Christian heritage. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a message in there. So, here it comes, that question that we’ve been asking all worship series long. What does the history of the lights mean for us today? How can these lights help us to celebrate the birth of our Savior and Lord?

Two things. There are two things I would like you to take away from this message today. One, they are a representative of the light that shines into the darkness, proclaiming God’s light for this world.

I recently had the opportunity to walk around this community at night while it was snowing. I’m not sure what exactly it is, but the snow seems to make things quiet. Well this night was a peaceful night, quiet and calm. It was almost unnerving because of the stillness. But one thing that I noticed was that during the other times of the year, when the ground is not covered in snow, it is dark, real dark. Not many cars, porch lights, or even streetlights to drive the darkness away. So walking around in the fresh fallen snow with houses lit up with Christmas decorations and lights, gave such a warm feeling to me. It gave me a new perspective on my surroundings, one that darkness used to rule over, now the darkness was dispersed through the light offered through the snow and Christmas lights. This reminds me of a scripture passage. Isaiah. “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.”

I was walking in darkness but yet saw all the lights from the houses around me. The lights were witnessing to me about this season, reminding me of the story we just heard, telling me that we were ever so close to Christmas.

So, let us really let the meaning of this season set in on us. Jesus Christ is born into this world of darkness as light to all living in the shadow of death, walking along paths full of shadows and darkness. Jesus has come to bring light to our world, to guide us, and to illuminate God’s plan for this world. Jesus has come to bring hope to this broken world.

The second point, and maybe the most important one is this. When we decorate our houses with Christmas lights, the lights have an effect on the house. For some strange reason, the little bit of color and light transforms the house. Now, your house may be beautiful, it may be ordinary. Your house may be newer, or it may be getting old and falling apart. But something happens when the lights are put up. I remember a house from my old neighborhood. It was old, decrepit, in desperate need of paint, siding, or maybe even a bulldozer. But once a year, it was changed. The owner would display lights for the season, and the change was nothing short of miraculous.

When we invite Jesus into our lives, his light shines in and through us. The more we trust in him, the more we follow him, and the more we follow the path he has for us, the more his light shines through us. The more his light shines through us, the less people see us and the more they see Jesus. It’s like the houses with lights on. At night we see the lights and the beauty they bring and we see less and less of the house.

That’s what I want. Less of me and more of Christ. Jesus is the light that shines in the darkness. If we choose to follow him, we will no longer walk in darkness, but in his light. So maybe we should leave our lights up all year long, maybe. Or maybe we need to live our lives, making sure Jesus’ light is constantly shining, regardless of what season it is.

Week 3 - PointsettiasThis is the third week of our Christmas traditions worship series, a time when we look into some of our traditions and find out how they began, where they came from, and what they mean for us today. This week we will look at the poinsettia plant. Now, if you are looking for the origins and how this plant began its use within the Christmas season, you will need to go to our website where you will find the full message from this past Sunday. But here, I would like to focus on one of the care and nurture elements that poinsettia plants require.

I have to admit that I am pretty good at killing plants, many of you share the same trait with me. I just don’t have that great of a green thumb for house plants. So, taking care of them is difficult. But with the poinsettia, things are a bit different. Did you know that you can drown a poinsettia? It’s true. These plants do not need a lot of water, but there is something more. Many places that I researched about these plants will tell you that you need to water them when the top inch of the soil is dry. But they tell you something else as well.

You need to make sure there are enough drainage holes in the bottom of the pot so that water can drain out. Some people will even tell you that you should let the drainage collect on a drip pan outside the pot, and then empty the drip pan. If the water is not removed, if the water is retained in that drip pan, it will keep the roots wet which will eventually rot them out. Keeping water will kill the plant! Now, where have we heard something like this? Where have we heard about holding water in and how detrimental it is to life? How about the Dead Sea? You might know this, but if not here it is.

The Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee are both fed by the Jordan river. But there is a stark difference between the two. The Sea of Galilee is full of life. Fish are abundant. There is life all around. But the Dead Sea is known for not having any life in it whatsoever. It is called the Dead Sea for a reason. What’s the difference? Why life and no life?

It’s all about the flow of water in and through these bodies of water. The Sea of Galilee allows the Jordan to flow into it, but it also lets the water exit, providing life for many areas downstream. The Dead Sea however, has no exit for the water. It holds all the water it receives from the Jordan. Life does not exist in those waters.

This is similar to the poinsettia plant. If it is allowed to let the water run through it and not hold it in, it will live. If the plant gives its life-giving water to other things, it will thrive. But, if it holds onto the water that it is given, it will rot and die.

Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given. He has come to give us life, and give it abundantly. We are called to in turn, give this life to others, to show them the Father’s love in our actions and in how we love each other. If we keep this wonderful gift of grace to ourselves, not allowing it to be a testimony for others, then we are no better than a drowning poinsettia plant, no more lively than the Dead Sea.

God has blessed us, to be a blessing. We love, because he first loved us. Just like that all familiar song; “they will know we are Christians by our love.”

Week 2 - Christmas Tree and AngelAs we enter into week 2 of our Christmas traditions worship series, we turn our attention to Christmas trees. Now, I have to tell you that during my research for this week, I found many different ideas and origins for this tree we celebrate during the Christmas season. But even through this, I kept coming back to a simple question; so what? What does all of this mean for us? What can we take away from a long and confusing history?

It means Isaiah is right. If we look at the lectionary reading from Isaiah 40, verses 1-8, I see images of the Christmas tree. This passage talks about John the Baptist, preparing the way for Jesus Christ. But I want to pull out a couple of verses for you.

“Comfort, O comfort my people.” God offers comfort in many things, and for me, around Christmas, sitting in the living room while illuminated by the soft glow of a lit Christmas tree, I find comfort. I find peace. The tree is a reminder to me that God is with us. As a representative of Jesus Christ, this tree represents eternal life among us. That alone should give us the comfort and peace we need in this crazy world.

Verse 5; “Then the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.” How can you not be in awe of a Christmas tree? The lights, the ornaments, the tinsel, and even the aroma of pine are all things that remind me of the glory of God. The beauty which is right in front of me is sometimes too much. Do you ever find yourself looking over the tree while you are sitting by it, reflecting on each ornament? It’s like a life history. You can remember where you picked up that ornament, who was with you, what you were doing, even what else happened that year. It is the glory of the Lord, revealed in his actions in the past.

Then “all people shall see it together,” speaks to me about the placement of our trees. Almost always, the Christmas tree is placed in the front window, so that all who drive or walk by can see it. We even move our living rooms around so we can place the tree in just the right place.

Finally, verse 8, “The grass it withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” As much as we would like them to, our Christmas trees do not last forever. At some point, whether it’s January 1st, Epiphany on the 6th, or sometime in February, we all will need to take down our trees. Always a sad day for me as I love having the tree up giving off its soft glow of light. But it is a reminder that all of this will fade, nothing on this earth is permanent. Grass withers and flowers fade, but something will not fade!

The word of the Lord will not fade. Our God is steadfast and will never leave us. Jesus is that word, “The Word of God became flesh and dwelt among us.” That is what we are celebrating during this season, the birth of Jesus Christ, the Word of God, Emmanuel; God with us!

I hope during this Advent season and beyond, as you look at your Christmas tree or those trees in the windows of your neighborhood, that you remember, maybe not the long and confusing history, but the deep meaning that it holds for us. It’s a reminder of when Jesus Christ came to this world in a lowly cattle stall, a feeding trough.

He did this for you. He did this for me. He is the reason for this season, and he is represented in and through this symbol of the Christmas tree.

Week 1 - Advent Wreath and CandlesWhat helps you stay awake? When the mid-day slumber takes over, the morning came too early, or the night-time is too much to bear, what helps you revive and stay awake? For me, it’s coffee, especially in the morning. For others, it could be a Mountain Dew or a 5-hour energy drink. Some of you like to participate in an activity, maybe go running or another form of exercise. Something else that keeps us awake, is anticipation. We have something that we are looking forward to and we are excited for it to happen, to arrive, or just to begin. That always keeps us awake as it gets our blood pumping. The excitement is in the air!

Christmas is always a time of anticipation. When I was a child, I always knew that I needed to behave around this time of year. Sure, I needed to behave all year long, but it was extra important around Christmas. I can think of so many things my parents would do to impress on me and my brothers about behaving nicely, but none as interesting as the whole ‘elf of a shelf’ thing. Another way, was the cardboard calendars that would have windows that we would open each day, revealing something special until we finally reached Christmas day. These things, as well as many others, help kids ‘keep awake’ until Christmas comes.

During Advent, we have something that helps us in the church. We have the Advent wreath. This is one of the traditions that we will be looking at during our Christmas Traditions worship series this season.

So, where did this tradition begin? Actually, it was 16th century Germany. However, it was Johann Hinrich Wichern in 1839 who brought it closer to what we use today. Johann ran a mission school called Rauhes Haus which served youth from the poorest areas in Hamburg.

The kids would always get excited around Christmas time and continually ask Johann how long it was until Christmas day. Well, he came up with this idea of a wooden wreath and candles in a circle form in order to help the kids ‘keep awake’ during the Advent season as they looked forward to Christmas day. Then, around 1930, these wreaths made it to America and were celebrated in family homes until around 1950 when they began showing up in churches all over the country.

The symbolism found within the Advent wreath is far more than just a countdown to Christmas. The circle shape emphasizes God’s infinite love. Because the branches of evergreen trees are always green, always showing life, they are used to decorate the wreath, signifying the eternal life that Jesus Christ offers in his resurrection.

The four or five candles around the circle have meant different things depending on the church that is celebrating them. Candles have been named for prophecy, Bethlehem, shepherds, and angels, while others were Mary & Joseph, angels, shepherds, and the Magi. Different traditions have diverse ways of presenting the candles in worship. We celebrate them with themes that we find in the ministry of Jesus Christ. We celebrate them with the following themes; hope, love, joy, and peace.

The Advent wreath reminds us to keep awake and to watch with anticipation for Jesus’ birth and eventual return. But what does it mean to keep awake? It’s not just to make sure that you are not sleeping when the time comes. It’s not that you stock up on coffee and Mountain Dew, or 5-hour energy drinks. It’s really not at all about waking or sleeping, it’s about our actions, our attitudes, and it’s about our relationship with Jesus Christ.

Jesus tells a brief story about a master who goes away and puts his servants in charge while he is away. They are not to just make sure they are watching the countryside, waiting for the master’s return. They are to continue the work of the master. They need to keep farming, keep planting, keep harvesting, until the master returns.

But they don’t know when the master will return, and neither do we. We don’t know when that day will be. It could be tomorrow, next week, next year, or even the next lifetime. But that doesn’t mean we sit around idly and watch. We are to keep awake, and that means doing the work that Jesus Christ calls each of us to do. Keep watch!

Advent is a season of anticipation and the wreath helps to remind us of all that we are waiting and watching for. But it also reminds us that we are not to just sit and wait. We are called to action. We are called to the spread of the four themes which these candles represent.

So, as we look at this Advent wreath and the history behind it as well as the tradition in which we celebrate it, I hope you can see how this helps to remind us to keep awake. I hope it helps you anticipate this very special day, as it approaches, and I hope it brings you comfort and peace in this season.

Rooted…

Can papyrus grow where there is no marsh? Can reeds flourish where there is no water?  Job 8:11

Job is a fascinating person and story from the Bible. This is a man who seemingly had everything; life, health, family, wealth, and status. But that all gets taken away from him. Now, there are many themes we can pull out of this book in the Old Testament, but as I read through this chapter by chapter, I came across the verse quoted above.

This is said during a conversation that Job had with one of his friends. The friend responds to Job’s plight with a number of different things, but this verse is found in the middle and it just struck me about how we grow and learn in our lives. We can look at any activity or vocation and pick out those who thrive. We know who are the ones who seem to be better or more knowledgeable in their field. The one who succeed far greater than the rest. These are the ones who are all in, who spend a good amount of time focused and present whenever they can. If you want to be good at something, you need to practice, you need to be constantly learning, studying, participating.

I think that is what this verse is saying. We need to be present. We need to be where the learning takes place. We need to be a part of a community. We do this with our jobs, why don’t we in our faith? Papyrus doesn’t grow without a marsh, reed don’t grow without water, and we don’t grow in our faith without time spent with Jesus Christ. Whether that’s in our 15 minutes of alone time, a Sunday worship service, a Bible study, or a small group who holds us accountable, these are things that help us grow as a Christian.

So grow, learn, increase your faith and never stop falling in love with God.

Christmas Traditions: Prologue

Week - Prologue_Hanging of the GreensThe Christmas season is full of traditions. We have community traditions, church traditions, even family ones. But have you ever had a tradition stop? You do something one way for most of your life, then all of a sudden for one reason or another, you stop doing it. Holidays aren’t the same, something is missing, and you just can’t get into the spirit of things. Why is it that these traditions are so important to us? Why do we defend them so much?

First, we need to see that we aren’t the first ones to experience traditions like this. Scripture is full of traditions. We have the Old Testament speaking about worship and sacrifice. I mean, Leviticus is full of traditions; how you should build an altar, how you are to sacrifice, how many people and which people do the sacrificing, and the list goes on and on. In Ruth, we find Boaz following a long-standing tradition of redeeming Ruth’s life when he removes a sandal and gives it to someone else. Joshua lays stones as monuments which is another tradition memorializing places and times when God has acted. Jesus is found in the temple and his response to his parents when they found him? Didn’t you know that I would be in my father’s house? It was tradition that he would be, as well as many others, in the house of the Lord, learning and worshiping.

Traditions are incredibly important! But why? I think there are two reasons they are important. They bring us comfort, and they also help us remember our past. There is a peace in repetition. The more you do something, the better you get at it. Things just feel right when it is something you have done over and over again. When you pick up that 7 iron, that bowling ball, that crocheting needle, that instrument, that pencil, the wheel of your tractor, or whatever it is for you, it just feels right. And when it feels that right, you get a sense of inner peace, of comfort.

I get that feeling when I grip my Berkley Cherrywood ultralight fishing pole. It just fits and I don’t have to think about how to cast, it just comes naturally. Picking up the guitar, not so much, but hopefully I will get there soon. What is it for you? What have you done over and over again so much, that it becomes second nature? I know you’re picturing it in your mind right now, and it brings peace to you. Unless it’s a 7 iron, because that will never bring peace, to anyone…

But you see, it’s like that with our traditions. We do them over and over again, or we see them every year, and when we do, we feel all is right in the world. We feel like it is finally Christmas when the angel appears in the front lawn, or the wreaths get hung up in the side windows.

The other thing our traditions help us with is remembering our past. Each one of the items we put up during our Christmas decorations will mean something to each of us. It may not be that wreath or that candle, it may not be that strand of garland or that nativity scene, but it will remind us of another item from our past. These items bring out memories for us and help us celebrate our pasts and help us retell our story, every year. Seeing a nativity scene always reminds me of one that my mom put out every year. I remember it had some straw, which kept thinning out every year until it was all but gone. I know that we lost a couple of figurines over the years, but Mary, Joseph, and baby Jesus remained.

Christmas traditions are incredibly important to us, especially as we celebrate the traditional season of Advent. This is the time we prepare for the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. And so, as we celebrate this season, we will do so celebrating a few of our Christmas traditions. I invite you to join us at Lanark United Methodist Church throughout this Advent season as we look at the history, meaning, and impact of these traditions on our lives. We will look into the symbols we see around us this season, the Advent Wreath and Candles, the Christmas Tree and Angels, Poinsettias, Christmas Lights, and Nativity Scenes.

Let this truly be a season of preparation and anticipation, as we look forward to celebrating the child who would become King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

Messy Thanks!

Messy-Thanks11st Thessalonians 5:16-18 tells us “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” It’s Thanksgiving eve and whether you are preparing a large meal for family, or just going to a community dinner with some friends, we always seem to reflect on what we are thankful for. But I want you to think about something a little different today.

Does God ask us to give thanks in our good times, when we realize just how much God has blessed us? Does God ask us to give thanks when we get married, have our first child, go on vacation, get a new job, or maybe even retire from our job? Does God ask us to give thanks for his gift of Jesus Christ, whom he sent to die in our place, for our sins? Yes, yes, all of this! Give thanks!

But that’s not it. That’s not all, there’s more. God wants us to give thanks in all things. Paul writes this letter, telling us that we should give thanks in all circumstances, not just the good things, not just the things we consider blessings. God wants us to give thanks even in the messy things, even when we don’t feel like we should. Have you ever heard the poem “Thankful for Dirty Dishes?” It goes like this.

Thank you for dirty dishes;

They have a tale to tell.

While others may go hungry,

We’re eating very well.

With home, health, and happiness,

I shouldn’t want to fuss;

By the stack of evidence,

God’s been very good to us.

We should be thankful for those good things, but also for all the ordinary things. I’m thankful for annoying relatives, for needy brothers and sisters, and for that aunt who always wanted to pinch my cheeks and talk to me like a baby, even if I was thirteen.

I’m thankful for all these messy things because life doesn’t always have to look like the perfection that we used to see all the time in sitcoms, magazines, and now see on social media. Life is messy, there’s no getting around that. And we deceive ourselves when we believe that our life can be that way. I mean really, think about it, do you know anyone who has that perfect life, the perfect family, the perfect house, or even the perfect Thanksgiving Day celebration?

Sure, we all try and there have been years that I’m sure you were disappointed when things didn’t turn out just the way you wanted them. The turkey was dry, the kids were too noisy, someone forgot the corn in the microwave, or the hostess that year forgot to take the neck out of the turkey before cramming all that stuffing into the bird.

Life is not lived in that perfect, utopian world. It is lived out in our everyday lives, and those lives are messy. So why don’t we thank God for the messy things in our lives. So, sometimes it is good to give God thanks for those messy things, those ordinary things, those difficult things. God wants us to give thanks in everything, and that means the messy things. Giving messy thanks!

If you were to give God some messy thanks, what would it be? Remember that God wants you to give thanks in everything, because we need to see that Romans 8:28 is correct in telling us that all things work for the good for those who love God. Where have you seen this good, where have you witnessed God’s power to transform things for the good, where have you witnessed messy thanks?