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The Work of the Holy Spirit

by Pastor Ray Viola

Take a little journey with me in your mind to the book of Acts. Are you there? Good! Have you noticed that there is not one reference to any group labeled as Pentecostals, or Baptists, or Reformed, or whatever name you choose? Have you also noticed that not once do we read of any person being convicted of his or her sin being given the command to repent ye and become a Presbyterian or a Lutheran (Acts 2:38, 3:19, 17:30-31)? Or how about this: Do you see any reference to a group that declares loudly and boldly, “We are an independent group of followers of Jesus Christ”? Think about it. What does a branch that is independent of the rest of a vine look like? What does a part of our body look like if it is severed or independent from the rest of the body? Yuck!

New Covenant believers were regenerated men and women (John 3:3-8; Titus 3:5) who had repented of their sin and were following The Lord Jesus Christ. These people were identified as the bride of Christ (Romans 7:4; Ephesians 5:25-29), His chaste virgin (2 Corinthians 11:2). They were simply called “Christians” (Acts 11:26c). (Novel idea, huh?) To rephrase a line from John Lennon’s hit song “Imagine”: “Imagine there’s no denominations; it’s easy if you try….” (I guess if Paul can use a quote from a secular poet to make a point [Acts 17:28], it’s okay to use a line from secular song to make my point today.) 

I am not opposed to denominations because there is some merit to them. The way I see it, they are like parts of the human body. They all have a specific function and purpose within the providence of God (1 Corinthians 12:4-6). My problem is with denominationalism, or the subtle message that seeks to conform followers of The Lord Jesus Christ into their particular image and likeness. You know what I’m talking about. There is a Baptist image, a Lutheran image, a Reformed image, and so on. They have their own favorite Bible teachers and styles of worship. Here is the question that we need to answer: According to Scripture, whose image has the Spirit of God been sent to conform us into? The Lord Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18; Romans 8:29). Jesus was sent from the Father to redeem lost man (1 Timothy 1:15; Hebrews 2:9) in order that we might be one body in Him (John 17). In spite of Jesus’ clear prayer in John 17, it is not uncommon today to find the blood-bought body of Christ cutting one another’s throat, or seeking to conform us all into “their image” and likeness. 

 

Inventory Time

By Domenico Danesi

With 2016 upon us we have an opportunity to take inventory of our lives. There are several “inventories” that one can take annually. If you have ever worked for a large business or retailer then you know taking inventory is time consuming and painful but it is also a necessity. What has gone out, what has come in the past year? How are your checks and balances? Are you in the red or black? Is everything accounted for?

Below is a list of inventories I pray you consider taking.

Personal Walk Inventory- How is your walk with God? Are you drawing nearer to Him (James 4:8)? How is you prayer life (Psalm 6:9)? How is your devotional life? Have you drifted away from the things of God? Are you attending church on a regular basis (Hebrews 10:25)? Is God calling you to serve, take a missions trip, or take a step of faith in regards to your finances?

Personal Life Inventory- What has your life been like the past year?  Are you pleased with where you are and where you are headed? Do you feel as if you are aligned with God’s will for your life?  What changes or improvements need to be made in your life? What areas are you excelling in by the Grace of God? What areas are you most vulnerable? What are your goals for 2016?

Parenting Inventory- How is your family doing? Dad, are you leading like a Shepherd (Isaiah 40:11)? Are you feeding your children spiritually? Are you protecting and providing for your wife and children (Exodus 3)? Mom, are you coming alongside your husband? Are you developing a meek and quiet spirit (1 Peter 3:4)? Do you love your children and husband; are you guiding the home (Titus 2:3-5)?

 

The Power of Gratitude

By Pastor Ben Hiwale

It is not always easy to give thanks, but this is the very thing we must do in order to see God's will accomplished in our lives.  This is how we move into higher realms of faith for ourselves, for our city, and for our nation.  Thanksgiving breaks the power of the enemy. Whenever you give thanks to God, despite the most difficult circumstances, the enemy loses a big battle in your life.  When you give thanks in the midst of difficulty, you bring pleasure to God's heart.  He is looking for Christians who live in a realm of praise and thanksgiving where the enemy no longer has an ability to hold or manipulate that person.  Satan is defeated when we have a thankful heart because thankfulness during difficulty is a sacrifice pleasing to God.

Are you thankful?  Are you thankful for your present circumstances?  Are you thankful for your salvation, your friendships, and your job?  Thankfulness is a key to your life.  It is the key that turns your situation around because it changes you, your outlook, and your attitude.  There is power in a thankful heart. 

For the Christian, the deepest roots of our thanksgiving go back to the Old World, way back before the Pilgrims, to a story as old as creation, with a two-millennia-old climax.  It’s a story that keeps going right on into the present and gives meaning to our little lives, even when we’re half a globe removed from history’s ground zero at a place called Golgotha.  You could call it the true story of thanksgiving — or you could call it the Christian gospel viewed through the lens of that often undervalued virtue known as “gratitude.”  It opens up a few biblical texts we otherwise may be prone to downplay. 

First, God created humanity for gratitude.  You exist to appreciate God.  He created you to honor Him by giving Him thanks.  Appreciating both who God is and His actions for us, in creating us and sustaining our lives, is fundamental to proper human life in God’s created world.  As he describes in Romans 1 what’s gone wrong with the world, the apostle Paul gives us this glimpse of the place of appreciation in the created order: “Although they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” (v. 21)  Part of what the first man and woman were created to do is honor God by being thankful.  And part of what we exist to do is honor God by being thankful, and thus the numerous biblical commands on gratitude.  Humanity was created to appreciate God. 

We all have failed miserably in appreciating God as we should.  We keep reliving the fall.  Satan wanted more power and glory.  Adam and Eve were simply, painfully, ungrateful for what God gave them.  Isn’t that the catalyst of all our sins?  Our fall was, has always been, and always will be, that we aren’t satisfied in God and what He gives.  We hunger for something more; we fail to get the balance right between physical and spiritual.  One extreme is that we can be thankful for the temporal, while we couldn’t care less for the eternal, so we seek the physical blessings.  However, we can also be prone to mute God’s physical goodness to us out of fear that appreciation for such would somehow detract from our thanksgiving for spiritual blessings.  We’re afraid that a focus on the temporal blessings we’ve received might rob us of the eternal blessings to come. In our sin, we fail again and again to get the proportions right.  It’s a matter of proper balance, not an either/or proposition. 

God Himself, in the person of His Son Jesus, entered into our thankless world, lived in flawless appreciation of His Father, and died on our behalf for our chronic ingratitude.  It is Jesus, the God-man, who has manifested the perfect life of thankfulness.  If you’ve ever tracked the texts where Jesus gives His Father thanks, you’ll know it’s quite an impressive list.

Matthew 11:25-26: “At that time” [note the context of unrepentant and unthankful “cities where most of His mighty works had been done,” verse 20] “Jesus declared, ‘I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children; yes, Father, for such was Your gracious will.’” [Also Luke 10:21.]

John 11:41: “…‘Father, I thank You that You have heard Me.’” 

Matthew 15:36 [also Mark 8:6]: Jesus “took the seven loaves and the fish, and having given thanks He broke them and gave them to His disciples…” 

Luke 22:17,19 [also Matthew 26:27 and Mark 14:23]: “And He took a cup, and when He had given thanks He said…”  

So following Jesus’s pattern, Paul in Acts 27:35: “took bread, and giving thanks to God in the presence of all, he broke it…”  1 Corinthians 11:23–24: Our “Lord Jesus on the night when He was betrayed took bread, and when He had given thanks, He broke it . . .” 

It is fitting for a creature to be in a continuous posture of gratitude toward his Creator.  And it is even more fitting for a redeemed sinner to be in an ongoing posture of gratitude toward his Redeemer.  The kind of life that flows from such amazing grace is the life of continual thankfulness.  This is the kind of life in which the born-again Christian is being continually renewed, progressively being made more like Jesus.  And so the apostle Paul encourages Christians to have lives characterized by thanks giving.  Colossians 1:11–12: “May you be strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light.”

Only in Jesus are we able to become the kind of persistently thankful people God created us to be, and fulfill the human destiny of giving thanks.  For the Christian, rooted firmly on the good news of Jesus, there are possibilities for a true thanksgiving, which we otherwise would never know.

David said in Psalm 116:17, "I will sacrifice a thank offering to You and call on the name of the LORD."  Let each of us seek to have an attitude of gratitude and thanksgiving, rising to a new level of holiness in our lives. 

May you and your family be renewed and strengthened in this season as we give thanks to our Lord, and thank you for being the steward that He has called you to be.

 

 

 

The Reluctant Prophet

By Collin Zweigle

New Beginnings - we all need them. In last month's article I wrote about origin stories and how the story of where we come from is very important. This month as we begin a new year I want to encourage you with hope of new beginnings. When I was growing up one of the first VeggieTales movies came out called Jonah: a VeggieTales Movie. As with all VeggieTales shows there were lots of songs, including rock versions of “We are the Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything” by Relient K and Superchick, and “In the Belly of the Whale” by my favorite band at the time, the Newsboys. Out of all the songs in the movie the one that gets stuck in my head is “Second Chances.” The lines: “You’ll be floored when you’re restored from your darkest circumstances / Our God is a God of second chances,” gets stuck in my head and repeats over and over, and if there is something I want to remember about God it is definitely that. My God is a God of second chances. He is a God of restoration and comfort.

The story of Jonah tells of the reluctant prophet. This man didn’t want to be God’s mouthpiece to a people who had committed horrible acts and slaughtered thousands. Sound familiar? (Insert rant about how abortion is so evil.) God told Jonah to go preach His message of hope and restoration, and Jonah didn’t want to. He wanted those people to go to hell! The Ninevites deserved every second in those flames of fiery brimstone, but that’s not what God wanted for them. God wanted a relationship with the people who had made the Israelites their enemies. Sound’s a whole lot like “Love your enemies,” to me.

 

Our Giving God

By Lynn Metier

We have been meditating upon the name, studying the nature, looking at the character of the LORD our God, because when we ‘see’ Him, everything else is put into proper perspective. Not only that, but as we see Him - not just for what He does, but for who He IS - we become more like Him (2 Corinthians 3:18), which is God’s plan and desire for each of His children (Romans 8:29).  

“…the living God…gives us richly all things to enjoy.” (1 Timothy 6:17) “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights,” who does not change (James 1:17). Our God is a Giver! This quality is inherent to Him, and opposite to our selfish tendencies. This giving nature of God is nowhere more evident than in His sacrificial love, manifested through Jesus: “… He gave His only begotten Son …” (John 3:16), “who gave Himself for our sins…” (Galatians 1:4). God the Father gave His Son in love, and Jesus willingly gave His life for us (Galatians 2:20; 1 Timothy 2:5-6). And while Jesus is the ultimate and costliest gift that God has given us, He is by no means the only one. Let’s take a brief look at some others.

God the Creator gives physical life: “… He gives to all life, breath, and all things.” (Acts 17:25) However, since all of creation is under the curse of sin and death, physical life is only temporary, and not the perfect state God had originally created it to be. But instead of scrapping it all and starting again, God the Savior gives more by means of salvation and eternal life. “For by grace you have been saved …; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8). “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) “…God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son.” (1 John 5:11) We can only receive God’s gifts because of Jesus! If the Father had not given Him, and the Son had not given Himself, God the Righteous, Just, and ever HOLY One would be forced by His own nature to utterly destroy all life polluted and tainted by sin; that is, anything and everything that is not His original perfect creation. Since Yahweh is the living God and the Source of all life (John 5:26, 1:3,4), He does not want to destroy. Therefore, He gives more, but it can only come because of and through the redemptive, atoning work of Jesus Christ. “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (2 Corinthians 9:15) The ONLY way anyone can have victory over death and damnation is through Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Romans 5:15-18). God’s “grace-gift” justifies sinners and makes them righteous in God’s sight. “But He gives more grace. Therefore He says: ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’” (James 4:6) While we need to receive the gift of salvation only once, we continually need to humble ourselves before God to receive forgiveness and cleansing when we sin (1 John 1:9), and His unmerited favor and blessings in everyday life. “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)

When a person is “born again” through faith in Jesus Christ, he receives the indwelling Spirit of Almighty God (John 14:16-17) and the Holy Spirit, in turn, gives gifts to believers (1 Corinthians 12:7-11). Thus the entire Trinity is involved in giving to us! God also gives the grace, authority, and equipping for various ministries in His Church (Ephesians 4:7,8,11-12). Another of our magnanimous God’s wondrous gifts to believers is “the right to become children of God” (John 1:12) and His legal heirs through adoption, again all because of the redemptive work of Jesus (Galatians 4:4-7). God has also given us the incomparable gift of His Word (John 17:8a,14a), and His commandment to sacrificially “love one another”, that we might be like Him and a witness to the world (John 13:34).

Another gift our gracious God offers to His children is wisdom. “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith, with no doubting…” (James 1:5,6) Here we have some key principles to understand. God gives freely and bountifully, without belittling us for our lack, so we can come to Him without shame or fear. Also, it is important that we: first, ask Him for what we need (Matthew 7:7-11); second, believe in His ability and willingness to provide (1 Peter 5:7); and third, receive His provision. It is all too possible to miss God’s provision because we fail to recognize it when it comes! 

Two more invaluable gifts that Jesus personally promises to His followers are peace and rest. “Peace I leave with you, My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.” (John 14:27) “Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28-30) However, God also sends us times of trials and testing, days of distress and spiritual drought, in order to show us what is in our heart, and to prove His faithfulness and goodness to us. We don’t naturally rejoice over these ‘gifts’, but, “Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?” (Job 2:10) 

Finally, do you realize that God the Father gave us to His Son (John 17:6)? Sometimes you may feel more like a ‘booby prize’, but to Jesus you are a precious present from His Father! And Jesus will one day bring all believers, fully perfected and complete in Him, to the Father (Jude 24-25). GLORY!

 

 

Mighty To Save

By Lynn Metier

“The LORD thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; He will save” (Zephaniah 3:17).  

The word ‘save’ here in the Hebrew means: to free or succor, help, preserve, rescue, (make) safe, bring salvation, get victory. What a promise! The LORD – Yahweh, the covenant-keeping God of Israel (1 Kings 8:23), the “compassionate and gracious, long-suffering,” merciful and forgiving, righteous God of the Bible (Exodus 34:6-7) – He will (not ‘might’) liberate, aid and assist, uphold, deliver, protect, and make triumphant those who welcome Him among them. And not only is He willing to do all this, but He has the might (power, strength, supremacy) to actually do it! Indeed, the message of Scripture is salvation, and the central Figure of the Bible is Jesus (John 5:39), whose very name means, “Yahweh saves”. The “Father has sent His Son to be the Savior of the world.” (1 John 4:14)

“And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)  By the blood of Jesus Christ, God saves us from the slavery of sin (Romans 6:3-11). “For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace. …you were slaves of sin…and having been set free from sin…” (Romans 6:14-18). Christ’s sacrifice on Calvary will also save all who accept His substitutionary death on their behalf from the penalty and punishment of sin, including that which will physically and visibly culminate on earth in the Great Tribulation (Matthew 24:21,22). When God pours out His righteous wrath (Revelation 16:1) on all those who reject His gracious gift of salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9), His children will be exempt, because Jesus already paid our penalty and received our punishment. “…having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.” (Romans 5:9) The ultimate punishment for sin will be the Lake of Fire, where “anyone not found written in the Book of Life” will spend eternity separated from God (Revelation 20:11-15).  But, “God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:9).  And, although there are 3 forces working against us to entice us to sin – namely, the world (1 John 2:15-17), the flesh (our fallen human nature – Psalm 51:5, Romans 5:12), and the devil (1 Peter 5:8) – there are 3 Divine Persons active for us bringing about our salvation: the Father, Son, and Spirit (Romans 6:23b, 7:6). “If (Since) God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things? Who shall bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us.” (Romans 8:31-34)

 

Winter is Coming!

By Collin Zweigle

Winter is coming. Half the room freaks out. “I need to get snow tires.” “Honey, did you get around to cleaning out the gutters?” “Oh no! We need to get the snowblower fixed!” A few of us excitedly wait in anticipation of the first real snowfall allowing the local ski resorts to start building a base so we can get out on our skis and snowboards. Yes, I’m one of those people. We may have different opinions on winter but what we share across the board is that we all must prepare for winter. Storms are on their way bringing with them piles of snow, salt on our streets, boots on our feet, and tea in our tummies. Tea is good. 

I’m not writing about winter just because I like it and think it’s funny when people complain about the most wonderful time of the year. Winter, summer, autumn, spring; these are all seasons. They all have their distinct characteristics that make them different. Summer brings us warmth and sunshine, days spent at the beach or a park, vacations and time off. Autumn brings that crisp fall air, apples, pumpkins, and of course the beauty of the changing leaves. Winter brings snow, ice, hats and gloves, and the occasional snowball fight. Spring brings flowers, rain, and that fresh smell of earth overturned in the garden. These are our seasons. They come in a cycle every year, one after the other without fail. We expect them and as northerners we are particularly adept at adjusting to these changes without much difficulty.

Back to winter. Winter is the harshest of our seasons. It’s the one that actually makes driving more dangerous. It makes our commutes longer and forces us to walk like penguins across the parking lot to keep from falling on our bums. (Really, try it! Put your weight on the balls of your feet rather than on your heels when you walk over ice and you won’t fall as much. That’s how penguins do it.) Winter out of all the seasons brings the starkest change in our environment and with it the greatest challenge to adapt and maintain sanity. Christmas helps. What’s funny about winter is that even with all the beauty of the place where we live, it is the one thing powerful enough to make people move away, quite literally. When I visit my family in North Carolina I always bump into people from Rochester, and the one thing they all say is, “Gosh, winters were the worst there.” 

Many people react in this way to the challenges changing seasons in their lives bring. Every season in life, singleness, engagement, marriage, high-school, college, career changes, breakups, commitments, is the result of some sort of change. High-school is the result of finishing junior-high. Marriage is what comes after engagement. Most of us don’t respond well to change and sometimes end up on our bums because we were unprepared. The changing of seasons will either make or break you. It can cause you to get scared and leave, or it can teach you and mold you into being a true man or woman of God.

The book of Ecclesiastes tells us, “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:” [3:1 KJV]. There is purpose in change. The snows replenish the soil so we can grow more crops. They also make snowboarding possible. A new job is taken to support a family and to pay the bills. A new degree program is chosen to pave the way for a job and hopefully some sort of humanitarian work through that career. 

If God is working through change in my life, what is my response going to be? Am I going to get upset and move away? Like when people run away from winter? Or am I going to stand firm in Him, knowing that He is working all things together for my good? Am I going to trust Him through the change, buy some snow tires and a shovel, and stick it out right in the place where He’s put me?

I wish you safe travels this winter, my friends. 

 

 

Don’t Sweat Santa

By Domenico Danesi

It’s that time of year again - Christmas. A time of year filled with mistletoe, gifts, stockings, snowmen, caroling, and SANTA. I remember being a young parent. December 25th caused me a bit of stress because of the man with the pot-belly, white beard, and red suit that rides around in the sky dropping off gifts around the world on Christmas Eve. I did not want my children fielding questions from friends and relatives about Santa Claus. “What did Santa get you?” “Did you get to see Santa this year?” “What did you ask Santa for on Christmas?” It both irritated and angered me that most of the people who asked questions like these knew Leslee (my wife) and I were Christians who focused on Jesus during Christmas and told our children the truth about Santa. One day this thought ran through my mind: “God is so much bigger.” My mindset instantly changed when it came to Santa. I realized it is inevitable to hear about Santa at Christmas; he is part of the culture. My children know the truth and the truth (Jesus) sets people free (John 8:32). The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof; He spoke the world into existence! The funny thing is that when I stopped “sweating Santa”, he did not come up as much in conversation with family and friends. When my children were asked questions about him, I would watch and listen as they responded. I felt no pressure, no stress. Sow truth and you will reap truth. 

I want to encourage parents to tell your children the truth about Santa Claus. He was a Christian named Nicholas. But he did not fly around in a sleigh with Rudolph. He does not give you any gifts at Christmas, but rather, Jesus is the giver of gifts. “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask Him?” (Matthew 7:11) Read the following excerpt about the real St. Nick.

 

Patience, Prayer and Thanksgiving

By Domenico Danesi

Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. There is a wonderful simplicity to it. People get together with family and friends, enjoy a nice meal together, watch a football game or two, talk, and just relax. It saddens me that Thanksgiving is now essentially “skipped over”. Could it be that we are not thankful anymore? Have we as Christians fallen prey to the commercialism and craziness of the Holiday season? The Bible warns us that in the last days men would be unthankful (2 Timothy 3:2). People will stand in long lines even before Thanksgiving Day is over to get a deal on what is dubbed “Black Friday”.  What kind of message does this give to our children? Philippians 4:6 states: “Be anxious for nothing (not even the best deals) but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God.” Patience, prayer, and thanksgiving must be modeled. “Follow me” is a simple command, yet it is also deeply profound. Running over people at Best Buy or Target really does not set the best example of patience and thanksgiving. Our children are watching and listening to our every move. Are these the thanksgiving memories you want them to have?

What practical steps can we take as parents to ensure that our children learn patience and thanksgiving during the month of November? Here are a few suggestions: 1.) Have your family devotions center around thanks for November. Every year the Children’s Church curriculum in November is about being thankful.  2.) Enjoy Thanksgiving Day. Do not even mention Christmas on Thanksgiving, but let your children reflect on how much you all have to be thankful for. 2.) Have a set amount of money set aside for Christmas gifts. Don’t let your children see you consistently swiping credit cards to buy for others during November or December. 3.) Spread out your shopping. Start in early November and do not wait until the last minute to run around like a chicken with your head cut off.  4.) Remember that Jesus is truly the “reason for every season”, and take a breath.

The impatience and unthankful attitudes of the holidays is Anti-Christ. As parents we set the tone in our homes. Go against the “cultural grain” and make the month of November and specifically Thanksgiving Day a time of patience, prayer, and thanks in your home. Come up with a family tradition that your children will look forward to each year. Slow down on Thursday, November 26th, say a prayer with your family to begin the day, and simply be thankful as you enjoy the goodness of our God!

 

 

 

 

Why Are Origin Stories So Important?

By Collin Zweigle

I have been a fan of superheroes ever since I can remember. I loved pinning a pillowcase to the back of my shirt and running as fast as I could through the house to jump and fly through the air onto the couch like Superman. I loved playing with my batman action figure and imagining what it would be like to swing from building to building like my favorite superhero Spiderman. Now I eagerly anticipate every Marvel Cinematic Universe movie release date and analyze the characters, thinking about their different character qualities. 

Marvel recently wrapped up Phase 2 of their Marvel Cinematic Universe series. Both Phases 1 and 2 have really focused on the origin stories of many of these characters. In Captain America we see how this scrawny guy from New York was given a super soldier serum and became Captain America. Ant-Man tells us the story of a thief who was given a second chance and asked to wear the Ant-Man suit. The origin story is hugely important to the characters. Their origin story tells us where they came from, it tells us about who they were before they were given powers, and it gives us a little glimpse into why they do what they do.

Christmas time is the time when we celebrate and commemorate the origin story of Jesus, our Hero. When you look at who Jesus is, His origin story is hugely important. The account of His birth is recorded in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. You know the story. The main thing about it is that He, although God, was born human. This is hugely important to the Gospel because if He were not human then immortality might not have been an issue, but He was human, mortal, killable. If Jesus had been immortal the whole dying and rising again thing couldn’t have happened and the whole “perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world” thing would have been off the table.

We get to see the humanity of Jesus in the Gospels. Matthew 4:2 tells us that, “After fasting forty days and forty nights, He was hungry.” Humans get hungry. In John 19:28 we read that while Jesus was on the cross He said, “I am thirsty.” Again we see the humanity of Jesus. Jesus’ humanity makes Him accessible to us. It makes Him someone we can relate with.

In Jesus’ case His origin makes the redemption of mankind possible. In our cases our origin stories tell where we come from and who we were before meeting Jesus. Yes, your origin story is important too! Many times Christians feel ashamed of who they were before meeting Jesus. They hide that away and don’t talk about it, but without that what are we saved from? Jesus’ blood wasn’t spilled so that we could walk around hanging out with other Christians talking about how good our lives with Jesus are. His blood was spilled because it was the only thing that could wash us white as snow! If we cover up and hide away the stories of who we were before we met Jesus, we don’t allow Him to use something that we have in order to share His love with another person. When you go back and uncover your origin story and aren’t afraid to share it, you are saying, “Jesus, You have my life already from start to finish. You can use all of it.” Then He can use the story of your redemption to open someone’s spiritual ears so that they can hear the Gospel.

So what’s your origin story? How can you allow Jesus to use the things you’re ashamed of to save someone else’s soul? 

“So I will restore to you the years that the swarming locust has eaten…” (Joel 2:25 NKJV)

 

 

Dreamers

By Collin Zweigle

This year’s Accelerate Retreat on beautiful Canandaigua Lake was awesome! We had 35 students and only 7 of them were boys. Yes, 7 to 28 was our ratio, but it was awesome. The weather was perfect the entire weekend, and worship was wonderful, led by our good friend Andy and his friends. The dance party DJ Steeze (our friend Ian) led was fantastic. Dude and Girl times were awesome on Saturday night. Tubing was scary and fun and almost everybody got thrown off the tube into the water but we were wearing life jackets so it was ok!

Last year was my first time leading a Youth Retreat. I had been on them before. I had led worship on them and been a youth leader on them and attended them as a student myself many times, but leading one and being responsible for the whole thing was rather intimidating. Each year, the Accelerate Retreat really is my big summer project. We begin planning it a whole year ahead, picking the dates and such and then we do the rest of the planning and scheduling and shopping and booking throughout the year. I remember last year getting to LeTourneau and really not knowing where everything was (though I had been there a couple times before). It was a whole new thing. I wasn’t sure how the details of the weekend would come together. It’s a lot for a 21 year old guy to be in charge of. In contrast, this year was like going home for the holidays. When we got to LeTourneau I breathed. It wasn’t somewhere new. It was somewhere we had memories at as a group. It was a place we all loved and wanted to show to new friends. It was our home for a few days.

As a youth ministry team we are continually marked by how awesome our students are.This year I have said and continue to say that this is the most well behaved youth group I have ever worked with. Parents, you deserve a Klondike Bar! Your kids have such a wonderful respect for their leaders and for me and their love for each other and for Jesus is seen every time we spend time together. Being youth leaders gives us a special perspective into their lives. I want you to know that what we see is pure gold. Sure, every now and again we have to make sure a student doesn’t drink a second or third caffeinated beverage before bed time, but in their hearts your kids are incredible people growing into young God-fearing, people-loving men and women who it is an absolute privilege to get to know and work with.

This year our theme was “Dreamers.” We covered the story of Joseph and talked about how he followed his God-given dreams, which ultimately led to him being the ruler of the known world and enabled him to save his entire family from death by starvation. Our students were encouraged to identify their personal dreams and to give those things to God. Our prayer and hope is that they would never let go of these things. God has put desires in every one of our hearts. These things beat inside us. They drive us to give up huge chunks of our lives in order to pursue a career or education or ministry opportunity. This is not just a message for students in youth group. This is a message for all God-fearing people. This is a message to the church! Wake up, oh sleepers! Rise up, you dreamers! Go forth in boldness. Your God is in you! Your God is with you! Follow Him to the ends of the earth. You young at heart, you whose passion is not dead, rise up and follow the dream that God has set before you! He is your guide. He is your provider. Rest in Him. He will never fail you.

 

The Incarnation of Jesus Christ

By Pastor Ray Viola

Here we are again. The 25th of December is soon to be upon us. How do most people know that Christmas is right around the corner? Because the local malls and grocery stores start putting up their Christmas decorations right after Halloween! The evergreen trees, the tinsel, the wrapping paper, the invitations to meet Santa are seasonal reminders that Christmas is near. Not to mention the shopping and buying frenzy that plunges many people into debt and despair.

Now don’t get me wrong here. There is nothing wrong with celebrating the birth of our Savior and establishing family traditions for our children and grandchildren. There is nothing wrong with blessing our loved ones and friends with gifts of love and appreciation. But my desire in writing this article is to exhort you to put the proverbial brakes on your activity for a few moments and ponder with me the real meaning of the Incarnation of Jesus Christ - a meaning that goes far beyond December 25th. 

I want to share with you four aspects of the Incarnation.

1. The Promise of the Incarnation

2. The Prophecy of the Incarnation

3. The Mystery of the Incarnation

4.The Proclamation of the Incarnation

 

What I Wish I'd Known Before I Got Divorced

By Georgia Shaffer

Five friends and I were having breakfast one morning when our conversation turned to our friend Cindy.* She was convinced divorce was the answer to her problems. "I wish Cindy would listen to us," I said. "She made it clear she doesn't want to hear anything from us divorcées," said Betsy. "She's made up her mind, and she's not changing it."

That morning, in utter frustration, my friends and I compiled a list: what we wish we'd known before we got divorced—the things we wanted Cindy to know before she made her final decision. Each of us had experienced the upheaval of divorce and watched 12 of our close friends' second marriages end.

We all knew Cindy wasn't casually deciding to end her marriage—few people do. Divorce is one of the most agonizing choices a couple makes. We understood the anger, panic, abandonment, and feelings of being trapped that lead many people to divorce. But we'd also experienced the "other side" of being single again. We'd seen the lives of our children changed forever. Years later, we continue to live with the ongoing pain and complications of a destroyed marriage.

As a licensed psychologist, I've heard many people consider the possibility of ending their marriage. They look at divorce as a solution to their marital woes, a viable answer to their pain and frustration. Ultimately, however, it creates only different problems. In a recent study by the Institute for American Values chaired by sociologist Linda Waite of the University of Chicago, researchers asked, "Does divorce make people happy?" They found that those who ended their troubled marriage in divorce weren't any happier than those who remained married. In fact, two-thirds of those who stayed married reported happy marriages five years later.

Here's the list we compiled for Cindy.

1. Life Will Change More than You Realize

"I thought I'd enjoy being alone," says Lori, who has never remarried. "But I'm lonely. Whenever my friends complain about how needy their husbands or children are, I say, 'Try living without that.'"



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