We will be wrapping up the year 2016 in just a few days and as I think back over the events of the year, I get pretty tired. Actually, I feel that the world around me was moving so fast I couldn’t even keep up, like I was treading water but going nowhere. Was it like that for you?
We are going into this brand new year of new hopes and dreams and I know I should be excited and ready for it, but I don’t really feel that expectant joy. Frankly, I’m tired and worn out – and the year hasn’t even begun! I don’t think it was any coincidence that God laid on my heart the verses for this week. “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” I need what God has to say. I need rest. Do you too?
Elf on the Shelf. Have you ever heard of the “Elf”? I’m sure you have. The Elf on the Shelf phenomenon started in 2004 when a mom and daughter wrote a book and included a 12-inch figure that is a “scout” elf with a mischievous grin.
One of the main duties of a scout elf is that he or she has to help Santa with his naughty and nice list. Most of the time, though, he ends up getting into lots of predicaments (like getting into the cookie jar or pulling the toilet paper off of the roll because it’s fun to watch pile grow - you get the picture). The elf has become a tradition for millions of people. It varies from family to family as to what the elf really means or represents. For our family, Amie or I think of something funny he could be doing and our kids try to discover what he has done.
But it’s the main duty of an elf, at least by the “official” elf rules, that gets the most attention. “Scout Elves go to the North Pole each and every night during the holiday season so they won’t forget a single detail from the day to tell Santa. This helps Santa and your scout elf keep the most up-to-date record of what you and your family have been up to!” (elfontheshelf.com). Desiree Forrester, a mom who has three kids, says that if her daughter “knows one of these is watching her, maybe it gives her more incentive to make the right choices” (article). Yet, there are some people - like psychologists and professors - who feel that this is just disturbing and that it helps encourage a surveillance-type society.
Now is it any wonder that when we talk about God, we sometimes think something pretty similar? God knows everything we do and say and even think. In fact, He even sent a “Scout” down from heaven to live with us. If we aren’t careful, we could easily fall into the thinking that God is no different than Santa and that Jesus is no more than a snitch. Both just looking for us to fail.
The truth is that we don’t need anyone’s help to do wrong whether we are being watched or not. The prophet Jeremiah said that our hearts are deceitful above everything and impossible to cure. So God wouldn’t need to send Jesus down to spy on us. Since that’s true, then why did Jesus come? Jesus came for many reasons, but there are 2 major ones I think of. He came to give true life, not just a little, but overflowing! And He came to be God’s own presence here on earth.
What would we think of a God that just watched us from afar? What about a God who has never gone through what we have gone through? Jesus came to break the myth once-and-for-all that God is not involved in our lives. He came to go through what we go through, to experience all of the pains and joys so that when we cry out to Him, we KNOW that He knows what we feel. And He came to make sure we knew beyond any doubt how special and loved we are to God.
As we approach Christmas just a few days from now, two worlds will collide – the elf’s world of today and Jesus’ birth of “yesterday” – and only one will stand the test of time. The elf goes away on Christmas Eve. But God is still with us - yesterday, today, and forever more! Merry Christmas!
If you have been in stores the past few weeks, you have undoubtedly been bombarded by the Christmas “spirit.” Maybe you happened to catch a remnant of the reason Christmas is truly celebrated, but invariably what you see is something of the commercialized variety. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy Christmas and the time surrounding it. Actually, I’m one of those people that listen to Christmas music off and on throughout the entire year (gasp!). But Christmas time has now become so commercialized that it’s easy to miss the Prince of Peace in it.
I was recently reading something that Pastor Max Lucado wrote in his book called Christmas Stories. He was writing about how society has transformed the idea of Santa from the person of St. Nicholas. “Santa reflects the desires of people all over the world. With the centuries he has become the composite of what we want:
Does this sound about right? We want someone that comes and helps us out, who gives us the things we need and sometimes even want. We welcome the escape from thinking about the problems in the world. But the problem is that Santa doesn’t stick around. He comes just one day a year and then leaves. The rest of the time, we yearn for his return.
Yet, this form of Christmas can’t be further from God’s reality. On a special night, thousands of years ago, a Son was born, a Child was given. And He was called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, Immanuel - God with us. I don’t mean God with us for just one day each year or God with us only when we are good. Jesus came to earth to be with us fully. He traveled from heaven and earth to be with the apple of His eye - us. And that shouldn’t be underestimated or even passed over because of commercialization.
In this time of giving, God’s greatest gift was His Presence!
Have you ever felt like a prayer has gone unanswered? It seems like you pray and pray, but God isn’t really budging on giving an answer. Sometimes that’s because we don’t understand how He is answering. And sometimes it is because the answer isn’t really the one we were looking for so we either don’t accept it or else we miss it entirely. And then there are other times, when there really is no answer at all, just silence. Kind of like God is having us wait.
Zechariah was a servant of God and a priest. He had been married to Elizabeth for a very long time and they were now old. They had never been blessed with a child and I believe that was their heart’s desire. Why do I say this? In the book of Luke, chapter 1 and verse 13, when Gabriel the angel is sent by God to deliver a message to Zechariah, he says, “Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son.” Those are comforting words, especially to a family whose heart’s longed for something that they could not have.
God wasn’t asking them to wait because He was being a maniac or that He was wanting to hurt them. His upper story plan had to take place and He was saying, “Zechariah, you have an important part to play in My plan. I’m asking you to wait, well beyond your years of being able to do something on your own, for Me to answer your prayer. I will work in mighty ways for I AM faithful.” Even though Zechariah doubted the words of Gabriel from God, nine months later, we see that God was truly faithful and the promised son was born.
Israel had been waiting and praying for 400 years during this time and God seemed to be silent. It’s not that He didn’t answer because He was making a point or wanting to make them pay for rejecting Him. No, He was giving time for men’s and women’s hearts to be prepared to receive the Promised Savior. And the Good News burst forth proclaiming His faithfulness after so many years of quiet. As you are going through this Christmas season, you might be wondering where God is and why He is silent. Maybe He is saying, “Wait my child. There is hope on the horizon. I will work in mighty ways for I AM faithful.”
During the holiday we will change things up a bit. We will not have children's church or study for the teens. We will all stay together for our Christmas Series messages. On Sunday we will have activities for the children as well as a special message for all age groups. We will learn about Zechariah this week. You will find his story in Luke Chapter 1, verses 5-25. Please read this with your children and teens so they begin to understand a little bit more about Zechariah.
Have you ever done anything wrong? That really seems like a dumb, parent-type question doesn’t it? We all know the answer, it’s an emphatic yes. The follow-up question, though, is more of a painful one. Did you seem to get away with it - I mean free and clear, no one in the world knows, get away with it? Last question, how long ago did that happen?
My guess is that it probably did not happen yesterday and most likely was quite a while ago. Sometimes it is truly amazing how we humans feel that we have gotten away with something, and yet are still in bondage because of the event many days, months and years later. The memory is there for a reason, calling us back to the time because we need to do something. When sins are brought up in our minds, it can come from one of two sources. God brings sins to mind because we have never acknowledged our sin before His face and accepted His forgiveness. He knows that unconfessed sin eats away at us and that it is hard for us to escape the neck chain tying us to it. Satan brings to mind all of our past sins so that we can remain entangled, even after God has forgiven us. The reason is because he wants us to be trapped and hindered in our Christian walk.
Cain tried to cover up his brother’s murder. David tried to cover up his sin with Bathsheba. David said that the time when he was “hiding” his sin felt like his bones were wasting away. What are you and I trying to cover up? Are we remembering our sin because God wants us to deal with it once and for all? There is a bright side, even though we still have to live with our sin’s consequences. God does forgive and He does restore. Even if Satan brings it up again, God has blotted it out! And that, my friends, is a forgiveness and renewing worth remembering.
We take turns writing when God gives us an idea. The author will be noted.